Edward Tromczynski knows how to listen. That, an open mind and nimble feet have fueled Twinsburg-based PlanSoft from an idea to a $60 million company in just seven years.
Along with partner Bruce Harris, Tromczynski founded PlanSoft in 1992 with a simple idea: To provide meeting planners with fingertip access to hotels, airlines, buses and all of the services that go into a meeting. The idea took shape while Tromczynski was working with Harris’ Twinsburg-based Conferon, the largest meeting planner in the U.S.
“The hospitality industry, as an industry, is incredibly inefficient,” Tromczynski explains.
Everything from searching for hotels with appropriate accommodations to registering guests was and still often is done manually.
“Meeting professionals usually use expensive brochures, CD-ROMs, Web sites,” he adds. “There’s never been a source for you to say, ‘I’m looking for all the hotels that have 500 guest rooms in the Midwest.’ You’ve never been able to do that in our industry.”
Until PlanSoft came along. In1992, Tromczynski and Harris developed Ajenis, a software program that lets meeting planners set up meetings entirely electronically. The destination hotel receives a clear, organized plan of every detail included in the meeting. That’s a lot of information, considering that a side event for a mid-sized conference can include up to 200 details.
Tromczynski and Harris then developed the idea for a complete meeting planning Web site, The PlanSoft Network (plansoft.com). The site gives details on more than 21,000 meeting facilities and suppliers. Viewers can browse the site for the exact specifications they are looking for and collect all of the information they need including price quotes to plan a meeting.
Changes in the industry contributed to the need to expand Conferon’s product menu. Tromczynski says that much like travel agents, Conferon was being squeezed by the amount of free, easily accessible information on the Web. To counteract that, he and Harris developed the cutting edge technology to boost Conferon forward. While PlanSoft is now a separate entity, Conferon uses the applications sold by PlanSoft to expand its ability as a meeting planner.
When the Ajenis prototype was unveiled, the partners realized that they needed the backing of their industry.
“It was clear that we couldn’t do this on our own,” Tromczynski recalls. “So we went out to the two big groups of meeting professionals.”
With a don’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude in hand, the two lined up investors in the industry, including the two largest associations of meeting planners Meeting Professionals International in Dallas and The American Society of Association Executives in Washington, D.C. Both groups now own a piece of PlanSoft.
In an even more important deal, the two partners got three of the biggest competitors in the hotel industry to invest in PlanSoft: Hyatt, Marriott and Sheraton.
That’s where the good listening skills come in. “When the industry says, ‘No, it has to be modified,’ you can’t close your eyes to that,” Tromczynski says. “You have to keep on listening.”
Now, with big-name industry backing, $11.25 million raised and 100 employees, PlanSoft is poised for its next move. Tromczynski says the possibilities are unlimited in this $100 billion industry.
One of his short-term goals is to teach his employees how to be better listeners. With an eclectic group of programmers, creative types and sales people, in PlanSoft meetings, ideas were often shot down before they reached the table. Now, he’s imposed what he calls a “green card/red card” process into every staff meeting.
Employees must first share reasons why an idea can work (green cards) before they give their objections to it (red cards).
“When someone says it’s not going to happen, you have to really, really be able to listen,” Tromczynski says.
How to reach: PlanSoft, (330) 405-5555