I recently visited with an entrepreneur whose journey over the past nine years included excitement, challenge, transformation and growth. Brand Castle founder Jimmy Zeilinger and I first crossed paths in 2005 when he and his wife, Andrea, were honored by Smart Business as one of that year’s “Rising Stars.”

At the time, Brand Castle was a scrappy startup with a few cooking products — some under the Crafty Cooking Kits name; others licensed under the Crayola name. The company was born from the Zeilingers’ passions of cooking and doing crafts with their children.

Today, Brand Castle looks much different. It employs a few dozen people (more than 50 in the busy season); does business internationally; holds expanded licensing agreements with well-known brands like Disney and Hello Kitty; engages in private label creations for top retail and grocery chains; and sells more than 500 active SKUs. For the Zeilingers, it has been an amazing journey that Jimmy says is still in the early stages. 

Take stock

All of us have our journeys, whether they are in life or in business. Each journey has its own purpose and length of time. Some take days; others weeks, months or even years. And what better time than a new year to pause and reflect on our journeys — those completed, those still in progress and even those that are just beginning.

Ken Lanci is another entrepreneur whose journey I watched this past year. Lanci has been on a journey of faith since 2007, the year he nearly died.

His journey involved re-evaluating his purpose in life. He re-devoted himself to his family and friends. He invested more of his personal time and money toward giving back to the community. He even ran for public office. And Lanci took the time to chronicle his journey in a book, “Working For The Greater Good of All … Really!!”

Next month, one of my personal and professional journeys reaches a milepost as my fourth book, “The Unexpected: How to Build Market Share and Earn Loyal Customers for Life,” is published by Smart Business Books.

Looking at lessons

What makes this journey so special is that the Smart Business brand will grace the book’s spine. Taking the time to reflect on this journey reminded me of a few important lessons:

1. Going to market is not a journey’s end. Unlike my first experience writing a book, I now recognize that publication is not the end. Instead, going to market — whether it’s a book or your company’s new product or service — is just the culmination of the first or second leg of a much longer journey. Too many of us forget that once the product or service hits the market, the real work actually begins.

2. You must embark on a journey for the right reasons. Many people fail to establish a concrete goal when they begin a journey. If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll likely end up running in circles with little to show for your efforts.

3. Few things beat compelling storytelling. People love stories. They are what connect us. One of the greatest lessons we learned while researching “The Unexpected” was that strong storytelling can help enhance — or damage — an organization’s brand.

4. Entrepreneurship is the bread-and-butter of innovation. Speaking with more than 100 entrepreneurs during my journey reinforced a long-held belief that entrepreneurs are among the most innovative and energetic people on the planet. They are constantly on a journey. Never, ever, doubt an entrepreneur’s ability to achieve his or her goals.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: We all have our journeys. What is yours?

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

 

Published in Columnist
Monday, 18 July 2011 06:26

Channel partners

Entrepreneurship arises from the strangest of places.

For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of Eved, her winding path began shortly after she accompanied her musician husband to a meeting at a hotel where he hoped to generate more referrals for his band.

“I have a technology background,” she says. “But I love thinking about business models. I had done some back-office work for his band, and he figured I could help with some ideas that would lead to more business.”

The meeting didn’t go as planned.

“I went with him and the hotel executive said, ‘Well, we don’t just want to offer bands. Our catering and event managers spend so much time manually handling logistics and dealing with these multiple suppliers that come in for an event, can you handle everything for us?’”

Mashiach didn’t know anything about the event business, but she did understand how to deploy technology-based solutions. “When I looked at the opportunity to aggregate all the individual suppliers and sell and manage them for the hotel, I really saw a supply chain play, which has been done in other industries, but not in Meetings & Events,” she says. “I couldn’t get over how manual and fragmented everything was, how many logistics between multiple supply chain members and how often things needed to change throughout an event. So we came up with this idea.”

Smart Business Publisher and Executive Editor Dustin S. Klein sat down with Mashiach, who was named to the 2009 class of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and talked about the roots of innovation for her 30-plus employee organization.

What were the early applications you developed at Eved?

I saw a big opportunity for a global event portal in the long-run, but knew we needed to start with understanding the event industry, how the supply chain members worked together and what ultimately the client wanted. We needed to build our own service company to figure this out. We came up with a model in which we would put people in-house in the hotel, providing the client with a one stop shop when they came to a hotel.

We developed technology to communicate and transact between ourselves and the suppliers we bought from – florists, transportation companies, entertainers. We also created technology that enabled our sales people to view a catalogue of our suppliers’ products online and easily add items to a quick quote or proposal reducing the turnaround time to clients by an average minimum of 48 hours.  Automated purchase orders and change requests took out the manual back and forth, saving thousands of hours in labor from sales and operations to finance.

We were able to manage an average of 1,800 event orders to our suppliers per month with one finance person and 25 people in sales and operations.

The hotels had become channel partners, so when their clients came to the hotel and were looking for something, they’d say, ‘Anything you need outside of rooms and food or beverage you can work with the expert team from Eved, who is on-site and works closely with our catering and event manager to create a great event.’ This model proved that with the right technology, even small one-off orders, like a single sedan transfer or VIP floral bouquet, can be profitable. For the first time, it allowed a company to service the client for their large event needs and their very small ones. This was a key service the client was looking for.

I’m sure this was eye-opening. What did you learn from this?

Through this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about the industry. How the markets and supply chain members work together. What  clients are really looking for in an event service partner and the real inefficiencies that are experienced daily by this industry. We put a plan together to really scale this company. We created a global platform that would bring all the members of the event supply chain online to be able to communicate and transact through an online marketplace.

In 2010, we launched our global marketplace, Eved, and took the experience and technology and offered it to all members of the event supply chain to interact and transact online. Now anyone can sign up to automate their entire process – from proposal creation to purchase orders to transactions.

We are just finishing our beta and will offer online Event Galleries where event suppliers can create storefronts to sell their services online. Companies and individuals will be able to purchase all their small meeting needs online.

What do you offer in products and services for your clients today?

Eved is a B2B marketplace that allows members of the meeting and event supply chain to communicate and transact online. There’s about $150 billion spent on event services in the U.S. All of this is currently transacted offline by literally thousands of destination-specific small businesses that are involved in providing services for events – from ground transportation to restaurant reservations. Our cloud-based platform gives those businesses the ability to quickly and efficiently conduct business with each other. Whether a business is using our vendor management capabilities to search for a new supplier, or employing our online commerce tools to streamline the proposal, purchase order, invoice or payment process, The technology takes a lot of the manual labor out, significantly reducing the cost of sale. Eved is all about helping our clients grow, strengthen, and control their businesses.

How would you describe segments of clients?

We target all the members of the event supply chain – corporations and organizations that hold meetings or conferences,  third-party meeting planning companies that are hired by corporations, hotels, destination management and event companies, restaurants, suppliers such as florists, entertainers, décor companies and transportation companies. We believe that the meeting, incentive companies and destination managemetn companies play a major role in the future of events and ensuring events bring measurable results to a corporation. Our technology enables these companies to provide more cost effective and new services to their existing corporate clients.

We were fortunate enough to have some great clients come on early and clearly articulate how our technology can help them work with their suppliers. When we met their expectations, they invited their global suppliers to join them on Eved, providing value for both buyers and sellers. This also helped us quickly populate that segment of the supply chain globally. We have now provided valuable tools for these destination management and event companies to streamline how they work with their suppliers. This creates new opportunities for everyone. We have engaged all of our early adopters and clients to give us their input and continue to help us develop technology that enables all members of the supply chain to reduce costs and increase sales.  Perhaps most exciting about Eved is that you can streamline the way you do business with whoever you choose as long as both of you are on Eved. Eved creates the bridge.

What is an example of a business challenge that your organization faced and the solution you used?

What most people don’t realize is the magnitude of pioneering technology that will transform an industry. Many people assume that if they create the best technology, then people will use it. But it’s not just the technology. You have to understand and communicate how by using the technology your business can grow It’s not so much training – how to click, where to click and what to do within Eved – it’s much more about how you help these companies, especially small businesses, maximize the business opportunities Eved can create for them.  One comparison could be what businesses thought of having a website when the internet was in its early stage. Some people bought into the vision early and got their websites going and created new business models around having this new technology. Others waited and were pushed to create a website because their competition had one. The early adopters created a huge advantage for themselves. Our clients can see the Eved vision, but we need to continue to help them understand how it helps their business.  So it’s about reaching out personally, and working with them on how to use Eved to better change their business practices and grow their companies. Our future offerings will be continuing to introduce and evolve new technology that will help our clients grow their sales and cut their costs.

How do you consider yourself an innovative leader?

A lot of people realize the meeting and event industry is a good 15 years behind when it comes to technology. I think we are unique in our approach to incorporate the existing supply chain and enable them to better work with one another. I think the industry has embraced us because no one gets displaced. Everyone wins when they work with us.  What is being cut out is all the no value-add manual labor that can be reallocated to grow one’s business. I also think we have earned the respect of some of the industry leaders because they appreciate our deep industry knowledge and innovative approach.

We’re in a unique situation. Either technical people see an opportunity in the meetings industry and want to build technology to solve a problem without knowing the ins and outs of the space, or they are familiar with the meeting industry but don’t know a lot about technology. So they outsource it, with instructions on what they want it to do.

As the founder of Eved, I was a technologist that spent six years in the trenches building an actual business in the meeting and event space. I have a thorough understanding of the pains of all our clients. I also understand what it means to own and grow a business and how valuable technology can be to achieve those goals. As a technologist, I can translate those pains and develop technology to solve them.

From an organizational perspective, how do you employ innovation on a day-to-day basis to keep the company on the leading edge?

We continue to encourage that through creating a culture of innovation. Celebrate new ideas and encourage people to take some risks. We have something called an innovation box where if you come up with an idea, we are going to celebrate it. Based on how much it impacts the company, you can get a monetary award. We also have brain storming sessions twice a month where we bring everyone together just to talk about an idea.

Is there a management style you use to spur innovation?

I definitely think there is. A lot has to do with how you make people feel when they interact with you. Are you open to a discussion? How available do you make yourself to those that don’t report directly to you? How do you react when someone gives you a suggestion to improve something? Even if you don’t like it, you don’t want to say, ‘I don’t like your idea’ especially in front of other people, or they will never bring you their next idea. You want to at least think about and consider the ideas that are brought to you. You may want to give them direction and (say), ‘Ok, well think about it a little bit differently, have you thought about xyz and come back to me.’

One of our strategies to foster innovation between people was to create a small contest. Everyone was assigned to do an innovative project that could benefit the company. The team that scored the highest got a spa day. It encouraged people to work together to create something new for the company.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how do you apply that to how you run the company?

The greatest lesson I’ve probably learned is from a mentor who taught me that everything in life, but especially in business, revolves around your relationships with other people. Whether it’s managing people, building new sales, working with clients, or dealing with investors; it is crucial to take the time to understand the person as an individual, what is important to them and how do they get value from the relationship with you. I learned that focusing on the other person and adjusting my style for them is what will make me successful, instead of assuming that everyone else should adjust to me.

I have had the privilege over the last seven years to work with many different kinds of people; the hard working banquet staff at a hotel to a hotel general manager; CEOs of large corporations to owner-operated small businesses, strategic partners and investors. I have learned something different from all of them.

How do you think your organization makes an impact on the community?

We do a number of different things. As an entrepreneur you’ve got a limited amount of time, and the things I do, I want to be impactful. We have a philanthropy program in the company where we match donations. We also offer paid days off to volunteer. But personally, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and children’s education. I sit on the board of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center – a great organization that fosters and support entrepreneurs in Chicago. I am also very involved with projects that involve innovating the way our children learn. It is also very exciting for me that Eved as a technology platform is impacting small businesses all over the world to help them grow their companies, add more jobs, cut costs and find new revenue streams.

What are your plans in terms of growth?

Eved is soley focused on technology. The event service company that we started as seven years ago is now called Access Chicago and a client of the Eved Platform. We need to stay very close to our clients and understand how we can continue to bring value to them. It is hard to transform the way you do business so we want to make the experience as easy as we can.

As a global event marketplace, we see tremendous growth opportunity. Event suppliers include tours, gift items, printing, signage, restaurants, special event locations, team building, concerts, and so much more. There are businesses that don’t even realize yet that they can sell into the event market. They just need a cost effective way to do it. Then you think about the fact that events happen all over the world.  There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars that we want to streamline and aggregate on Eved.

How to reach: Eved LLC, www.eved.com

Published in Akron/Canton