In part one of my conversation with Ben Hindman, the co-founder and CEO of Splashthat, he talked about his company’s efforts to rapidly transform the focus of their product to meet the needs of a world that had shifted to online events.
In this second part of our conversation, Ben tells us how Splashthat originated as a hail Mary effort to promote his other company, which needed a lot of help. He also offers some tips about the right way to speak to potential investors.
More information: https://splashthat.com/
Ben Hindman is the CEO and co-founder of event marketing platform, Splash. Ben brings to life his vision of democratizing event marketing across an organization by giving people the tools to market and scale event programs that are branded, measurable, and compliant.
Ben has an unstoppable passion for bringing people together through events. Before launching Splash, he led the national events program for Thrillist, crafting one-of-a-kind experiential programming to match the brand’s in-the-know digital reputation.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Ben Hindman 0:00
Look, at some point you change from being a founder to being a CEO. And you go from being fully about evangelizing, and selling and building and doing all that stuff to thinking about how do you connect, finding the money and allocating it?
Alexander Ferguson 0:24
Ben, I’m excited to continue our conversation. This time to hear more about your journey. Your story tell me eight, eight years ago coming up on nine for splash. Where did this all star Tell me about your story,
Ben Hindman 0:38
we this happened was South by Southwest 2012 We had built a piece of workflow technology for events called one clipboard. And it was not working out, no one was using it. And South by Southwest, we Hail Mary pass launched a piece of technology to promote our other company one clipboard. And we call it splash. And it got picked up by Mashable, they launched it. And then all of a sudden, we had Spotify and Google and began the word Hotel Group, which at the time was a big deal using our product at South by, and we knew that it was catching fire. So, you know, I had previously been an event planner, I was the head of events for Thrillist. And one of the cofounders of a big conference called the Summit Series. And I have been just, I’ve been banging my head for so long against just trying to make my events look as cool online. And then the invitation in pre and post as they did in my mind, or even as good as the event was, sometimes the event was so cool, I couldn’t tell anyone about it, it’s hard to really put it out there. And so really, what what, you know, stood us out was our willingness to really make sure your event looked awesome. And it ended up really contributing to a viral loop. People who are asleep IID were able to pick up the software and create their own events. And that’s still a viral loop that we have in the system now, which is great news feeds are freemium product. Fast forward, one year, two year, three years, it’s a typical software journey, you listen to your customers, you build pieces of tech, and services to match them. And you kind of add it on until lo and behold, you have an enterprise business. And then you get to a certain point, you realize that, you know, you need to change the engine. And you do that. And so it’s that’s in the process at this point. And we’re really proud we serve several Fortune 500 companies. Some of the top technology companies in the world use flash power all their events. And also, we still have a small event planner, you know, contingent of of event planners, small businesses, or small teams at large businesses, who pick us up on their own, and host events. And it’s great, it’s really cool to watch, you know, it still has this organic engine to it that really makes the business rewarding. It’s fun to see the whole thing grow.
Alexander Ferguson 3:19
There’s a lot of stages, and I say a traditional tech journey, right? The first in founding and getting started funding is one big thing. How did you bootstrap? Why did you get funding? How did that all work for you what challenges you had to overcome?
Ben Hindman 3:34
Oh, man, you know, the funding environment. Anyone who’s had an easy time, fundraising will have to tell me about it. You know, it’s never been so easy. A lot of nose, especially early, a lot of finding believers and getting getting them to buy in early. And also, you know, we’ve gone through a couple cycles at this point of the economy, especially this most recent one. So, you know, making sure to keep investors focused on that long term vision. It’s been a it’s been a game, it’s been hard. But I gotta tell you, we were able to get some really top tier investors early on, and they’ve been supportive ever since that’s been a big deal for
Alexander Ferguson 4:18
us. Any particular tactics that you would recommend? You’re like, this, this worked?
Ben Hindman 4:23
Yeah. All right. Let’s get into it. Look, I think that the the biggest on lockers for me, were number one, recognizing that the people that you’re talking to that are investors are financially oriented. And so they like to speak money. And so if you’re talking product, or you’re talking marketing, they’re just waiting for you to start talking about money. And when I say money, I mean unit economics. I mean, you know, they can be future facing unit economics. They can be bottom line, essentially or eventual growth, and that’s what they’re interested in talking about. I think that’s number one. Number two is, look at some point you change from being a founder to being a CEO. And you go from being fully about evangelizing, and selling and building and doing all that stuff to thinking about how do you connect, finding the money, and allocating it, allocating those resources, to the right departments who know what to do better than you do most of the time. And that’s a process. And look, as I’ve become, as I said, as I, as I’ve been trying to become a CEO, a lot of that has been forcing my mind to think about it through the investor lens, and it really does still come back to money. That’s what this is about is building a valuable enterprise that creates wealth for everyone who’s part of it all the stakeholders, employees, and investors.
Alexander Ferguson 5:54
That’s a powerful realization of the mind shift from founder to CEO and just allocation of the right resources with the right people who know what to do to make a scale. So then, speaking of the growth in the kind of the next, once you’ve got funding, you’ve got to get the team it’s actually building the team. How, what was that like to build the right team? And how has that changed over the years?
Ben Hindman 6:18
I mean, the whole gig is recruitment, right? And identifying who’s the right person for the right time and the right job?
Alexander Ferguson 6:24
Was there any tactics that have jumped out in your mind thinking back like, wow, actually, that was a good way to build the right person, find the right person or build the right team collected?
Ben Hindman 6:32
Wow, you know, I think the thing that I would offer to any entrepreneur is remove hope, from whether or not someone can do a job, know that they can do a job, ask and get very specific about whether or not they can do a job. I think that’d be number one. I think number two is being really cognizant that you’re kind of making, you’re making longer decisions as the business gets bigger. What I mean by that is, you’re thinking about somebody who can fill a role for three, you know, three years, five years, at this stage, and earlier, you’re looking for people who can fill roles for a year, or even six months. And so kind of the time horizon of the roles that people fill, interesting change. But I think, just to put a finer point on that, um, the people who really end up sticking with you, I’ve found are the ones that also understand that, that they’re playing a role. And even if their title doesn’t change, that their role drastically does almost every quarter. And so I would offer that, you know, keeping track of the people who really get that mindset of it’s about change, and how fast you can change. They’re going to be able to kind of to play this game. And if not, it’s helpful to communicate that to them.
Alexander Ferguson 7:53
Ben Hindman 7:54
I guess that’s, that’s the big download their roles, just shift both in terms of what they are. And as long as well as how long they last as the business changes.
Alexander Ferguson 8:04
What was it like to get the first couple clients now you mentioned, like you actually got the one who put on South by Southwest? What is it like to get those first couple clients on board? What do you do? What’s a tactic that work for you?
Ben Hindman 8:17
Okay, I think that I’d offer the same thing about specificity plays, we have a value at slash called Love the details. And I put that into hiring. But I’d also put that into selling. I think that especially in the early stages of things that clients really respected about us was that we got our hands dirty, we made sure that that we were really working with we’re often complex programs, I mean, again, I’m in the event space events are just by definition, super complex. And then many events are just turned out, you know, exponential eyes that, but at least our organization, we always spent a lot of time making sure that people were successful businesses were successful, the program’s worked. And a lot of that means getting into the weeds, especially in their early days. And what I find is that, yeah, like, we hire people who can get in the weeds, I personally, would, you know, or at least in early days, would really get in the weeds. And then the game is how do you scale that? You know, how do you find ways to automate that and grow that?
Alexander Ferguson 9:15
Did you personally, like reach out to build those first initial clients showing like, Hey, we’re, we’re in this, we got the details. How did you get those first couple clients?
Ben Hindman 9:24
Well, again, we really benefited from our viral engine. And so I would offer that if there’s an opportunity to put a free product free trial, some sort of reality into your business. I’d spend all your time on that because it really decreases the cost of acquisition down the road and can it can change the economics drastically. But yes, oh my gosh, look. I was told, yeah, you got to get in everybody’s face. I mean, it is it is a sales job to be a CEO. And look, I would argue that there is a lot of CEOs that that’s not their best talent, they’re their zone of genius, as they say, that’s okay. Find somebody who can put you in front of those people and help you also contribute your vision, I’d argue that every founder is the seller, right is getting out there. And that can be on the recruitment side. Sure, but also just with clients, it really helps to hear from the founding team. And there’s ways for anybody, deliver
Alexander Ferguson 10:25
your you’re a big fan, you stated there of the freemium model, you feel like that there’s built in virality. And that you would you attribute then your a lot of your growth to the fact you have a freemium model.
Ben Hindman 10:35
The coolest part about freemium is that like, it does so many things for the business, it creates a layer of testing people who tested and QA it because you better believe that freemium people, our audience, even before the enterprise can be, it also helps you under it gives you a wider net, of who’s actually using the products, you can really start to test things out, see what the markets responding to, you also just start to see just a lot of creativity out of the freemium product. And as I mentioned, it delivers leads, I mean, this is the best way to give someone an opportunity to work with you is to let them try it, you know, especially in today’s day and age, I would argue that there is any business, freemium can be very challenging to it has its downsides and security risks it has. You have to think about your user set differently. And that can be really, that can be a lot to handle. So I’d argue that maybe if you’re thinking about a free offering, you can also be thinking about a free trial, a smaller package is a way to take a bite of the apple, I do feel strongly about that for any business. You, you start
Alexander Ferguson 11:43
off, you need just anybody, right? Just give me some customers give me some clients on board, you start working with them, you get your proof of concept, you got customers great, but now, how do you really go to market? How do you scale? Any thoughts or tactics that you found that have worked to to be able to make that?
Ben Hindman 12:01
Okay, so I think the essence of your question is around. How do you essentially develop multiple channels, and know that there are, and essentially measure and track each of the different sources that are coming into your business? Yeah. You know, I guess the only thing I’d offer is to really think about each of those channels as its own p&l and its own funnel. And each one is gonna have different tactics. I can speak to ours, you know, we have a outbound team, we have an inbound marketing engine, we have our freemium product, which delivers leads, we also have a partnership strategy, which essentially is looking to do cross selling alongside organizations like Marketo, or Salesforce. We’ve even started to break out territory, such as a meal or a pack. So long story short, something that I wish I had done a better job of in the very early stages was measure what worked and what were the best methods and how did the funnel move in each of those different channels? I think that would that would have saved me a couple steps.
Alexander Ferguson 13:06
Because you could easily waste a lot of time on one that’s not performing where another one if you weren’t paying attention to the metrics, is actually doing really well.
Ben Hindman 13:14
I think the major point there is that they will perform differently and will require different tactics and will require different investments and teams, it’s they’re just, they’re just different businesses.
Alexander Ferguson 13:24
What What challenges do you see you’re going to need to overcome going forward in light of the current circumstances COVID, both externally reaching out sales, marketing, as well as internally with your own team?
Ben Hindman 13:35
Look, you know, I think that any leader out there has has to be scratching their head as to how they lead effectively, in this new reality. You know, I can tell you, I feel disconnected from the people in our business. Our office, we office at the top floor of the Woolworth building, we put a lot of elbow grease into making our culture come through the walls there. And it’s it’s hard to do that, digitally. Look, in my mind, if we can unlock what I call micro connections and the business, really allowing people to have intimate conversations to have reasons to connect and feel the energy and the momentum of the business. I think we’ll get through this. I personally don’t believe in a fully distributed team. I think that FaceTime of some sort is important. So I can’t wait to get back to that. But to get to your question, it’s an area that I’m thinking a lot about how do I step into a leadership role? Virtually and my best answer right now is a lot a little conversations, micro interactions that make all the difference.
Alexander Ferguson 14:52
Last question I have for you, what kind of tech innovations do you predict we will see in the near term, next year or so and then Long term like 510 years. So two questions.
Ben Hindman 15:02
I mean, how much you want me to get into it? I’m spending a lot of time looking at the virtual event space. Is that what you’re asking about? Yeah. Okay, um, the thing that I’m most excited about is basically that there are a lot of new services that now you can build on top of to create virtual experiences. And so you’re starting to see both a lot of investment into creating virtual experiences, and a lot of services for those. So similarly to when my business was being created, there was stripe being created, and AWS was taking off. And, you know, send grids, you had all these services that allowed us to build a business fast and focus on the nice to haves, right, because a lot of those need to have were taken care of by best in class point solutions. That’s happening right now. It’s happening in streaming, it’s happening in presentation software, or Open Broadcaster Software, OBS. It’s happening in chat. It’s happening, you know, even in like, data layers right on top of this stuff. And so when you’re starting to see it, a lot of really interesting ideas finally being possible with a lot less investment. And so look, that’s a lot of why we chose this strategy. We did I believe fully that we don’t even know yet what the best experience is for virtual right, we’re probably three years away, right? From a great virtual experience. Probably, if we were to continue at this pace, I would even put it up three years away from being like, awesome. And so for that reason, our game and my kind of my stance is integrate with everything. Watch the big players, because they’re going to be moving even faster, right? And then a lot of effort and attention on their experiences. And keep an eye on the small guys make sure that they’re you they can also work with our software. And yeah, so long story short, I think the attendee experience is like two years away, like the real one. And you know, my expectation is when someone unlocks, I’ll call it serendipity or true navigation, in a virtual experience, like moving in and out of conversations activities, Feeling connection with a person through that collaboration and a collaborative navigation. I think we will have been, we will have entered into a brave new world.
Alexander Ferguson 17:26
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTechreport.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.