By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
In 2016, entrepreneur and event manager Tim Gill contacted brothers Ben and Gary Wong to find a technology-based solution for his event management problems. The pair of software developers began planning a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that allowed managers of multi-vendor events, like art fairs and trade shows, to handle all aspects of the event using a single product.
It was just the solution the busy event manager had been searching for.
Before long, the trio co-founded BoothCentral, an event management and hosting platform aimed at event managers who were looking for a way to streamline the process of vendor management.
The new product was well-received, but the onset of the pandemic in 2020 quickly changed the landscape of the event planning industry. Worldwide, live events were cancelled and businesses that relied on face-to-face interactions were struggling to find new ways to connect with their customers.
The Wong brothers, both engineers, were inspired by the problem and began to look at the ways in which BoothCentral could offer solutions to a market hobbled by quarantine restrictions. “Promoters came to us and wanted to know what we can do to still make their shows happen,” Gary said. “The conversations quickly turned into us helping them create a virtual event. So, we pivoted to adding a virtual event component to our platform where now we are the venue for their events online.”
By the end of April 2020, the company used the tool they created for their first online show.
“It was actually a very nice event. I think it had like 800 people coming to that event, and about 40 or 50 vendors,” Ben said. “Once we got that going, we were able to use that as a proof of concept to show other promoters that we already had (the capability to host online events) on our platform.”
By the summer of 2020, BoothCentral was finding success with its pivot into the customer-facing user market.
“I think that one of the biggest events we hosted was a festival in Colorado. They had almost 5000 people come to the virtual event, and they had about 120 vendors. It was a lot of fun,” Ben said.
This experience inspired the Wongs to create Boothy, a SaaS tool that allows businesses to connect directly with their customers in an interactive online space. With the proof of concept and demand for the product established in the early months of the pandemic, the developers continued to refine the new product to match the emerging needs of the user.
The company provides user support for live events but has found that the need for support has waned as users become more adept at using cameras, microphones, and other pieces of communication technology.
Initial reactions to Boothy have been overwhelmingly positive.
When a customer enters a vendor’s Boothy space, the experience mimics entering a physical location. The customer sees the vendor’s branding, the items in their store, and can video chat or text chat with the vendor.
Despite the increase in in-person events, the demand for Boothy is growing. Through user feedback, the team has discovered that some formerly live events work better in a virtual forum.
Gary Wong provides the example of user Milwaukee Public Schools. The school district used BoothCentral tools to host a recruitment fair.
“They basically said ‘this is so much better than in person because we get much better participation. They don’t want to go back to doing an in-person event,” Gary said.
He also predicts an increase in hybrid events, where attendees will have the opportunity to attend in person, or as a virtual participant.
“Career fairs are a really good example (of a successful hybrid event),” Gary said. “They still want to have in-person events, especially when it’s hosted by a company. But they also know that because tools like this are readily available, they can have their in-person event and augment it with a virtual event. It doesn’t even have to happen at the same time as an in-person event. They just need to put it out there that there is a virtual event that’s also available to job seekers.
“They can have much further reach. Imagine having a community job fair where people from other states can participate and those who are interested in moving into that area, which they wouldn’t have traveled to a physical event, because it’s too far away. But the reach is now greater with the augmentation of virtual events.”
Boothy does not officially launch for several months, but it is available for customers to use right now. The BoothCentral team encourages those looking for an interactive online presence for their business or organization to experiment with the new platform ahead of its anticipated third quarter launch.