10 Questions with John Machacek: Event Conex

Written by: John Machacek

John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Jon Melgaard, Co-Founder and CEO of Event Conex.

Contents
1. Will you please tell me your Event Conex elevator pitch?2. Knowing that there are many facets to event planning and that your software could have many bells and whistles if you wanted, what are the core areas or sweet spots you are starting with?3. Thinking about your days as an event planner, what features would have excited you most?4. Do I assume correctly that your past experience and work relationships have been helpful in validating the product and connecting with initial customers?5. If I recall correctly, your cofounder Paul lives in New York. How did you meet and start collaborating?6. I was surprised at your quick progress on your software when you first showed it to me. How has this process gone on building and tinkering with your tech?7. From my research, I can see you dipped your toe into entrepreneurship while at the University of Minnesota, and that you were an entrepreneur In residence with Kilbourne Group a decade ago. Then you were in the workforce for about eight or nine years, before now being back in the thick of it. Did you always see yourself founding a startup?8. I heard you mention on an Innovate North Dakota advisory call how the Fargo-Moorhead entrepreneurship ecosystem is one of the reasons that drew you to move back here after working in Colorado for a while. Can you share a bit about that, please?9. If you could go back in time to Jon from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?10. Then my last question always is, what can we do as a community to help you and Event Conex succeed?About John

1. Will you please tell me your Event Conex elevator pitch?

Event Conex saves event organizers time by streamlining back-of-house workflows for conferences and summits. Event Conex strives to be the co-pilot organizers use to ensure all event stakeholders have the right information, at the right time, and in the right place, allowing the event to operate smoothly.

2. Knowing that there are many facets to event planning and that your software could have many bells and whistles if you wanted, what are the core areas or sweet spots you are starting with?

Over the past ten years, we’ve seen a lot of innovation in the event tech space with regard to attendee-facing experiences, registration, virtual event experiences, and mobile apps. However, there hasn’t been as much innovation around the back-end operations for managing these events. What we see are teams using an array of spreadsheets and Google Docs to plan their events. These tools are easy to drop information into, but it’s more challenging to pull that information out and use it in different ways, which results in teams spending a lot of time reformatting this information for different stakeholders.

Event Conex strives to be the central repository for event information. By keeping this information in one place, we can then more easily report that information in different formats or push it to other tools via integrations. We are focusing on speaker management and content planning because this is where a lot of that tedious work occurs. We want to make it easy to manage speakers from before they are even invited, to the moment they walk off stage and leave the event.

At the end of the day, event organizers are tasked with making sure event stakeholders have the information they need, when they need it, and in the formats that are best for them. I’ve been in the shoes of front-line event organizers, so we are building the tools I wish I had when I was producing events.

3. Thinking about your days as an event planner, what features would have excited you most?

One of the key pain points I often encountered was the potential for information to get lost or miscommunicated between the various teams involved—from programming to production. The feature that would have excited me most about Event Conex is the ability to generate detailed, minuteby-minute run-of-shows for each event. These documents are essential for keeping everyone aligned and ensuring a flawless execution, but they can be incredibly time-consuming to put together, especially as an event nears and content changes.

With Event Conex’s Session Manager, event planners can easily plan and organize each session down to the minute. This not only helps the programming team capture their vision, but it also allows that information to be seamlessly passed along to the production team. By creating a centralized hub for all event details, we are eliminating the risk of critical information falling through the cracks during the handoff. This type of tool would have been a game-changer for me, as it would have given me back the “night before” that is so often lost to frantically pulling together those last-minute rundowns. Instead, event organizers can focus on higher-level strategic planning and problem-solving while being confident that the execution details are well-documented and accessible to everyone who needs them.

4. Do I assume correctly that your past experience and work relationships have been helpful in validating the product and connecting with initial customers?

Yes, my past experience and work relationships have definitely been helpful in both product validation and connecting with initial customers. I used to be a producer for the Aspen Ideas Festival and other programs at the Aspen Institute. Having those existing relationships and connections within the event planning community has been invaluable. The people I used to work with have been incredibly helpful in providing feedback, testing features, and even becoming some of our first customers.

I think it’s really helped that they already know and trust me. Event producers can be quite cautious about adopting new tools and systems because if anything goes wrong, they’re the ones who have to deal with it. But because they know me and my track record, they’ve been willing to give Event Conex a chance.

At the same time, I’ve also really enjoyed connecting with event planners from other organizations. As I’ve learned, no two event teams plan and execute events in exactly the same way. Getting that broader perspective has been crucial in shaping the product to meet the diverse needs of the industry.

Overall, I feel incredibly fortunate to have those existing relationships and that insider knowledge of the event planning world. It has allowed me to validate the product, gather critical feedback, and build that initial customer base—all of which have been instrumental in getting Event Conex off the ground.

5. If I recall correctly, your cofounder Paul lives in New York. How did you meet and start collaborating?

We first met while we were both skiing in Montana last year. Paul is originally from New Zealand but has spent the last several years working as a VP of Product for NBC Universal in New York. I was producing an event in New York last June when we met up for dinner and I complained about the same old pain points that come with the types of events I produce. I told him about the platform I mapped out in my head to solve those pain points and he told me that he could probably build it. So we prototyped a few features last summer and then he spent the fall building the product. And this winter we started selling it.

It’s been a really great partnership. I have the domain expertise, Paul has the technical know-how, and together we are figuring out the rest. We are learning how to work effectively as a remote team and have been using all sorts of tools to do so. Slack and Loom are two of my favorite tools. Paul is eager to come visit Fargo and see what all the hype is about. He is impressed by how supportive the state is for entrepreneurs.

6. I was surprised at your quick progress on your software when you first showed it to me. How has this process gone on building and tinkering with your tech?

I was a bit surprised at the quick progress we were able to make on the Event Conex software when I first showed it to you as well. The truth is, building technology these days can happen a lot quicker than it used to, thanks to the suite of low-code tools we’ve been utilizing.

As someone who has wanted to be a technology entrepreneur for a long time, I was initially hesitant because I thought building software was a slow and expensive process. But working with my co-founder Paul has really opened my eyes to how the landscape has changed.

Paul has helped me understand that building a modern application is more akin to building a website years ago—there is a lot less intensive coding required now, as we’re able to build on top of existing technology and infrastructure.

Having a technical co-founder like Paul has been hugely important in this process. His expertise in product management and design, combined with my domain knowledge of the event planning industry, has allowed us to rapidly prototype, test, and deploy new features.

The low-code tools we’re using have been a game-changer, enabling us to test ideas and get feedback from customers much faster than a traditional software development lifecycle would allow. This has been crucial in ensuring we’re building the right solution to address the pain points event planners are facing.

7. From my research, I can see you dipped your toe into entrepreneurship while at the University of Minnesota, and that you were an entrepreneur In residence with Kilbourne Group a decade ago. Then you were in the workforce for about eight or nine years, before now being back in the thick of it. Did you always see yourself founding a startup?

Yes, I think I did. I studied nonprofit management and entrepreneurship in college–I was very interested in social enterprises and how business models could create impact and financial return. I love being surrounded by creative, entrepreneurial people, and my time at the University of Minnesota and the Kilbourne Group reinforced that.

Also, impact is very important to me, especially since I have worked in the nonprofit space for the last 10 years. And although Event Conex isn’t explicitly a social enterprise, our hope is that these tools help make people’s working lives better. I struggled with burnout after the pandemic, which ultimately drove me away from producing events. Event Conex can help event organizers streamline their work so they have more time to focus on the details that matter and prevent the event from becoming all-consuming as the date nears.

8. I heard you mention on an Innovate North Dakota advisory call how the Fargo-Moorhead entrepreneurship ecosystem is one of the reasons that drew you to move back here after working in Colorado for a while. Can you share a bit about that, please?

I lived in Aspen, CO for five years and loved so many things about it. But one of the reasons I moved back to Fargo was to be part of the creative, entrepreneurial community that has taken root here. While I was away, I was always a cheerleader and ambassador for Fargo, and it’s been fun to see the entrepreneurial ecosystem grow and mature over the last decade. Now that I’m back working on a startup, I’m grateful for the infrastructure that is in place to help early-stage companies grow. Starting something new is risky, so it’s nice that North Dakota recognizes that and does what it can to help lower those barriers to entry. We are currently part of gener8tor’s gBeta program along with the Department of Commerce’s Innovate ND program. Both have been extremely helpful as we think about how to scale Event Conex.

9. If you could go back in time to Jon from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?

I think I’d tell myself not to be afraid to ask for help. I think in many ways we are conditioned to be so self-reliant, but startups are truly a team sport. It is nearly impossible to do it all alone. I’ve been impressed by people’s willingness to help. People want to see you succeed, especially here in Fargo.

10. Then my last question always is, what can we do as a community to help you and Event Conex succeed?

If you know any event organizers, please share this article with them. We’d love to help them eliminate the tediousness in their event operations. Our hope is that Event Conex can help them work smarter, not harder so that they can find more work-life balance.


About John

John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.


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