Event Hacking 101 — Creating Events For Customer Acquisition

Zero To €100k Revenue In 12 Months — Month 3

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Welcome to post 4 in a series exploring the first 12 months of my startup and our journey to €100k in revenue. 

This month, I’ll show you how to create low-cost events to acquire customers and tell you happens when a much larger company tries to take you to court. It’s another rollercoaster month as a startup.

Winter Is Coming!

By month 3, the business had greatly exceeded my early expectations. I still could not pay myself a wage but we were making revenue. Glass half full.

Then, January happened. Cold, dark, and wet January. Running a business that relies on tourism in January in Ireland is difficult but not impossible.


Deep Breath — Don’t Panic

January is traditionally a quiet month for most businesses but in the hospitality sector, it was dead! When you start a new business, you don’t have years of data or experience to know what to expect. The critical lesson is not to panic and use that time to build for the future.

I used the time to start ramping up my marketing efforts. I was also trying to interview as many hosts as possible to tweak and perfect my product offering. With this in mind, I decided to hit my two goals with one single marketing event. I organised a free event for Airbnb Hosts in Dublin to share stories, learn from experts and get free tax advice.

The aim of the event was simple. Create an event that Airbnb hosts or potential hosts would find useful and use it as a subtle marketing channel for HostButlers. There would no hard sell of my business. I give a quick introduction and then let the experts do the talking. As I discussed in my previous post, the aim is to build a business so good you don’t need to hard sell.

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Event Marketing — 5 Steps

  1. Create a free Meetup page or Facebook event. Invite everyone who has liked your page or is already on your email list. Create a number of Facebook ads targeting your local area.

  2. Build the event exclusively with the intention of creating value for attendees. Attending a physical event requires a lot of effort in today’s world so you must give people a very compelling reason to come.

  3. Find interesting speakers! Seems obvious but the temptation can be to use people you know or can access easily. Inviting people to speak is actually a great opportunity to expand your network. Ahead of the event, send the speakers a breakdown of the events schedule, how long they need to speak for and directions to the venue. Details matter and you want them to be relaxed and as prepared as possible.

  4. Tap the speakers’ social network. Ask the speakers to promote the event, using their own network including social media. This is a very cost-effective way of gaining momentum. It should also incentivise you to get the best speakers possible.

  5. Have a backup plan. On the day of the event, something will go wrong. The microphone won’t work or the projector will break down. Be flexible in your approach and don’t get flustered by the unexpected. Ensure you arrive at the venue early to do a practice run.


Did It Work?

Over 40 people attended the event in a Dublin pub. I negotiated use of the venue for free by having the event midweek in a traditionally quiet time of year. When starting out, its key to keep costs low so get creative and avoid unnecessary costs such as venue hire.

Janet Newenham, a travel journalist and blogger shared her experiences of Airbnb's all over the globe. An Airbnb Superhost shared her stories of guests both good and bad and a financial expert advised hosts on the tax implications of hosting.

Directly from this event, I got 5 new customers for HostButlers. Overall, the event cost around €100 to run with the majority of the spend going on Facebook ads to promote it. In total, the net ROI for this event was around 10 times what I spent on hosting the event.

Events as a marketing channel are hugely successful if done correctly. Intercom, an Irish technology company, is a great example of a company who have nailed it. They are running a world tour of events that create value but more importantly, showcase the company and their products.

Unintended Consequences

The unintended side effects of the event almost killed the fledgeling business but it also resulted in press coverage that brought me more business that I could have expected in my wildest dreams. I’ll fully discuss the press coverage in my next post.

Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth - Mike Tyson


See You In Court

Thanks to the magic of email, when you get a letter in the traditional post, its rarely good news. The letter I received on January 30th, 2015 was very bad news.

My event had brought my company to the attention of a big company who had taken exception to my branding. They deemed it much too similar to their own and had got their legal team on the case.

Legal Letters FAQ!

Despite my various entrepreneurial ventures in the past, this was my first time getting a legal letter of this scale.

I reached out to one of my mentors who put me in touch with a “startup legal specialist” here in Dublin. I dashed off a quick email to him outlining the issue, attaching a copy of the letter and seeking further guidance.

I got a short reply, stating he would only open the letter if I paid him a €2,000 fee. For that fee, he would read the letter and then tell me whether to fight it or to concede. He wouldn’t even be representing me, he would just give advice. Considering my startup was less than 4 months old and a turnover of less than €1,000, I politely declined his offer.

Instead, I got in touch with a brilliant college lecturer with a legal background who had been an advisor in one of my previous businesses. He quickly advised, that my assumption was indeed correct. I could fight it but it would cost me thousands of euro and ultimately, I would lose to a bigger budget. I was f**ked.

It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business - The Godfather

As an entrepreneur, you are deeply emotionally invested in your business. It consumes every waking hour and you pour everything you have into it. You feel the business is an external representation of who you are as a person.

You must learn early on, that you need to remove your personal feelings from business decisions. Within 24 hours, I had completely rebranded my business, designed new logos, registered a new domain and redesigned my entire website. When faced with a tough situation, act decisively and commit fully to your decision.

Don’t let pride or ego influence your decision making. My startup was only a few months old, and in reality, very few people were aware of our name. I was losing very little in the grand scheme of things.

Key Tip: As an entrepreneur, the best choice is the right decision, the second best choice is the wrong decision and the worst choice is indecision.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”John Lennon

Read More

This is post 4 of 12 in a series exploring how I went from zero to €100k revenue in 12 months. You can read my previous posts below.

Month 0 — Zero to €100k in 12 Months

Month 1 — I Launched My Startup Without A Product

Month 2 — Size Matters! How to make your startup appear bigger than it is

Next Week — Month 4

Our darkest hour transforms into the tipping point for HostButlers as we get national press coverage that changes everything. I’ll reveal how to use traditional media coverage to earn thousands of euro for your business.

Gary Fox