Chetan Shah is on a mission to help event planners and suppliers connect and collaborate, quickly and easily. Chetan is the founder of micebook, the definitive inspiration hub for eventprofs. Before starting micebook, he spent 20 years in the conference and incentives industry working for agencies including The Black Tomato Agency and Grass Roots.
Share with us a brief description of your career journey to date.
Well, I actually began with aspirations to be a banker or an accountant, joining HSBC after graduating, only to realise after a year that I was bored out of my mind. From there I joined a PR agency for a third of the wage — which of course my parents were horrified at — where I discovered my love of creativity, which lead me to the events industry. I’ve been at agencies for most of my career starting off at MotivAction then to Grassroots, even doing a stint in Australia working at Sydney Opera House. I then came back to London, and having loved working for a city I joined the Mayors office doing special events which was fine. After a while I realised I wanted to go back to agencies and I joined DBMT, then Black Tomato where I finished as Head of Operations a couple of years ago.
It was whilst I was at DBMT that I became very frustrated with how we worked in our small little team - we were shouting round the office asking questions and we were just relying on someone being there to pass the business card or the contact list over or provide a recommendation. That’s when the brainwave happened where there had to be a digital solution to just shouting round the office asking for intel. But I realised it couldn’t just be a directory, it had to be more, so I did a lot of research and while at Black Tomato I begun to build the product micebook, which has been a 4 year journey taking me to where we are today.
What is micebook and how did the idea come about?
micebook we like to call a ‘definitive inspiration hub’ for event planners. The ‘definitive' relates to having a supply base that covers DMC’s, convention bureaus, hotels, representation companies, airlines, and all of the parts that makes an event planner choose a destination. The ‘inspiration’ comes from when you get a brief, you don’t necessarily know where you want to place that brief, or what destinations can inspire you, so you can explore that through the virtual brainstorm or the imagery gallery we have. And ‘hub’ relates to back to the collaboration - how do you get the event planners storing their intel somewhere in a really inspiring way? We’ve got boards similar to Pinterest boards where you can pin all your photos and your notes, any proposals and documents, which is all presented in a really beautiful and fun way which helps the agency or corporate share intel with their colleagues.
What prompted the concept of micebook 2.0 and when does that launch? Whats the idea behind the #MustBeOnIt tag?
micebook first launched in 2014 with the key tools being you could find who you wanted to find in event planning when you needed to find them, whilst being able to write notes on each profile so you can collaborate with your colleagues and share intel. So the idea was simple and we built a really good supply base of about 3000 suppliers over about a year and a half. But I was still at Black Tomato at the same time, and at the end of 2015 I realised that the idea was great but the design and functionality wasn't as user-friendly as it could have been. So I bought in a consultant, Paul Evans, to tell me the truth about what we can do to get people really using it, and the feedback I got was that it wasn’t engaging enough and event planners are exceptionally busy, so unless it’s incredibly inspiring and very easy, planners just won’t take the time to use it. So that was the revelation that also coincided with our first bit of investment in early 2016, which allowed us to rethink the whole project and start working on micebook 2.0 to deliver all the great stuff that it should do, whilst also offering a variety of new tools to help better serve the industry.
When we first went out to our advisory groups, one of the DMC’s from Cape Town, Green Route, were so inspired they exclaimed ‘Everyone must be on it!’ which is a phrase we then coined into the hashtag #MustBeOnIt because it was the perfect message — especially as it was from one of our advisory members and not from us!
It’s been a long journey and we are finally about to soft launch the new portal with the profiles. We have a preview event on the 23rd May in Shoreditch to shed a light on what we’ve been up to and all the new features, but it’s only a preview as we don’t quite have full functionality yet. But once we have all those in place, that’s when we’ll do our official relaunch.
There’s a great interest in what technology can bring to the meetings and events industry, can you talk us through your experience of developing software and some key principles to make new technology successful?
Well, I think our industry is quite archaic in terms of adopting technology. We’re all heads down and too busy focusing on our next pitch, that adoption is slower than perhaps other industries, but I do believe that’s about to change. The amount of millennial entering this industry is going to be more than 50% by 2020, and these people have a different way of working. So technology is going to be at the forefront of how work is done and it’s going to be more mobile and they're going to want digital solutions to the issues the rest of us have come accustomed to. User experience is key, which is why we decided to redevelop the whole site. All of these things have been factored into micebook 2.0, and we’re adopting very familiar technologies such as the Pinterest-style boards to make sure that people adapt to the user experience quite quickly.
You’re a start up and lots of our readers are currently on that same journey, what can you tell us about the crucial learnings that you’ve taken from your experience?
Well one of the things people always used to say to me was ‘What a great idea, I can’t believe nobody’s done it before!’, and I guess 3 years later I kind of understand why. It’s a real challenge, and that’s because as a start up, you’re juggling so many plates. You are writing press releases, managing developers, you’re trying to get a sales cycle in place, trying to do accounting and sending out invoices, so you have to do everything and you have to do it well. Having a mentor and people to guide you is fantastic because you need someone to make sure you're focusing on the to do list which is forever piling every day, but also asking ‘What does 3 months look like? And 5?’. Because you can easily find yourself being very busy and like you're making progress, when actually you’re losing sight of the bigger picture. A valuable mentor to me has been Richard Waddington, who I came across a dinner and he loved the idea so much he became not only my mentor but my angel investor.
Because we’re a technology start up, the other key learning is you can start with an MVP, a minimal viable product, just to get something out there. Get it out first, learn from it second. I wish I’d had that advice earlier on, because we’ve taken a long time to get to where we are. Even the mistakes have been great learnings, but technology is not about getting it perfect before you get it out, it’s about getting it out, getting feedback and working to make it better each time.
Looking ahead, three years from now, where would you like to be?
I’d love us to be regarded as a multi-solution portal for our industry where our supplier directory is just one element of several very useful services for the event planner. Whether it’s paying for an invoice or writing your pitch proposal, using the technology with micebook you can utilise several tools to serve the needs of any event professional.