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Podcast

Fobi Insider - Episode 20: Conferences & Events Done Differently

On this week’s episode, we talk to Mike Canevaro, Fobi’s Senior vice president of Business Development. Mike attended the Society for Independent Show Operators (SISO) Summer Conference where Fobi showcased our newest Venue Management service for registration and check-in.


This year's SISO Summer Conference in Louisville, Kentucky was a very special summit for leading conference & tradeshow organizers.  With live-attended events finally reopening after 18 months of disruptions and cancellations, the industry is eager to get a leg up with innovative ways to bring back guests safely, cut costs, and create more valuable experiences for attendees and sponsors.

Fobi's Senior Vice President of Business Development - Mike Canevaro - joins us from SISO, where he spent the week introducing Fobi's new Conference Management solution to an elite gathering of event management experts, whose combined operations produce over 3,500 events and create an overall $122B impact on the global economy. 

Hear Mike talk about his experience at SISO, and why Fobi's new Conference Management solution caught the attention of events industry leaders.

Listen to Fobi Insider - Episode 20: Conferences & Events Done Differently

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Fobi Marketing Director Devon Seidel and Fobi Senior vice president of Business Development Mike Canevaro.

Fobi Marketing Director Dev Seidel: Welcome back to the Fobi Insider podcast. Our guest today is Mike Canevaro, Fobi's Senior Vice President of Business Development. Mike is currently at the Society for Independent Show Operators Summer Conference, where we are showing our newest venue management service for check-in and registration. How's it going down there in Kentucky, Mike?

Fobi SVP of Business Development Mike Canevaro: It's going well. It's going well. It's a unique group of some of the largest trade show owners and operators in the world. It's a select group of people, really only maybe 100, 150 of the top executives. It's our first time here, and it's been good so far.

Dev Seidel: Before we actually jump into talking about our new service, can you tell me a little bit more about what the conference is and who it's for our listeners?

Mike Canevaro: Sure. I think this year, and again as I said, this is our first year here, but I think this year, it seems to me to be one of the more important years that this SISO event has kicked off. It's somewhat of an exclusive event really directed at the event industry as a whole. But I think this year seems to be so important for this group of people and this group of organizations just based upon the period of time that we just came out of or are coming out of with respect to COVID. And so I think what's happening in the industry as a whole is companies, trade show organizers, the big events that we've all heard of and many of us have been to, are trying to figure out how to get back to some semblance of normal.

What that means is a lot of breakout sessions around hybrid events. Those events that may usually have 45,000 people in attendance, now may only have half of that actually in attendance and the other half virtually. How do they extend the reach to streaming services? How do they extend the community that are these trade events and trade organizations that put these events on? So it's actually quite interesting. From our perspective being a technology provider to this industry, it's been really good for us to get a peek into the way that the show organizers are approaching the next 2, 3, 4, 5 years of digital transformation. And like many industries that we've been a part of over the last 18 months, that digital transformation seems to be accelerating.

So it's been really good. The sessions have been great. They've also taken us on some interesting excursions around Louisville, Kentucky here, so the home of 95% of the world's bourbon. So it's been good. It's been a good show. I've had a chance to rub elbows with some of the top event organizers really in the world like Freeman, like Emerald, and Informa Markets. So it's been good. It's been a really good show.

Dev Seidel: Why has Fobi decided to choose this conference to showcase our newest service? I know there's a lot of synergies and connections between the actual product and the event that you're at-

... but tell a little bit more about that.

Mike Canevaro: Well, as I said, I mean, I think coming out of the pandemic, the opportunity to not just launch a product that is really fit for purpose, and I know we'll talk a bit more about that, but to launch a product to help bring safety and peace of mind and digital transformation to this industry, the timing was really right. 

There's obviously been a lot of talk in the news around getting large-scale events, live events, events that we've been a part of like the NCAA and PGA events back to some sense of normalcy and attendance. And so drawing from that experience our ability to bring that as an end-to-end solution to this marketplace, automating the event registration and check-in process, helping across not just the NCAA and PGA events we've been a part of but now migrating into the broader event and conference marketplace. I mean, the companies here make up well north of maybe 1500 global events per year across all industries. I think because of that, it's good timing for us and good opportunity to present our solutions to this audience.

Dev Seidel: And just mentioning what you mentioned there about the venue management and what we've been doing with the NCAA and PGA tours, for our listeners, we recently released our press release that talks about the end-to-end mobile, first contactless solution, which is the event registration and check-in process. We will talk a little bit more about how that actually works, but how is it being received by the people that are in attendance there that you're meeting with?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah, look, I think it's been received really well. As I said earlier, the opportunity for digital transformation has been accelerated in this marketplace, as with many of the marketplaces that we operate in. And so, I think the idea that we can provide not just a full contactless end-to-end digital solution that automates and digitizes the traditional badge-wearing public, so to speak, but also the analytics and understanding more about where users are attending within conferences and where they're spending their time and how successful the sessions have been. What I've found in sitting in these sessions, the type of data that we can collect from this type of an automated digitized process using our Wallet pass technology will really help inform what has worked and what hasn't worked at these events, understanding who's come into the conferences, not just did they check in? Did they download their badge? Have they attended the conferences? But also how successful were the sessions? Did we have the right sessions, the breakout sessions, the round tables? Were those the right ones? Were they well attended?

Mike Canevaro: I think that kind of information is really helpful and informative to these organizers who put these events on, and it will help steer the direction of next year's events, or maybe even some of their upcoming events that they've got that are in different industries. I think the unique thing about what we bring to this marketplace is it's not a streaming platform. It's not a me-too platform. It's something that is new. It's something that helps them, and it brings that digital transformation to market.

Dev Seidel: For our listeners, let's give them a lay of the land of how a current check-in and registration process works for our conferencing and events. So probably the one that you're at right now had a very similar, more legacy version of how this works. Can you lay that out for our listeners so maybe people that haven't been to a large conference understand the hassles that you have to go through to actually get into this venue and check in?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah. I mean, if I think about being in technology for 20 years, consumer electronics show immediately comes to mind. Clearly one of the biggest trade events in the world business-to-business trade events in the world. You go through your registration process online. When you get to an event or a venue like CES, you stand in line with 100,000 of your closest friends to collect your badge, which is really just a piece of paper in a lanyard. As you've got that, now you can enter into the various halls of the event, which has, frankly speaking, very little ability for tracking, security, analytics, any sort of the features that we provide.

I can tell you firsthand how much I hated and dreaded the first day of the conferences or the events or the trade shows because it was standing in line, spending hours. Maybe the registration didn't go through, you have to go over and see this person, they have to print you a badge onsite. It's definitely a process that I think a lot of us are accustomed to, have to plan for. You described it as legacy, and that is, in fact, the right way to describe it.

Dev Seidel: Adding to that too, there's so many new probably hurdles that you have to jump through with COVID screening, and do they require a test? Is there proof of vaccination-

Mike Canevaro: Sure.

Dev Seidel: ... that you need? So all of these are just trying to be bolted on as easily as possible. And going forward with different conferences, there's going to be people that do it differently, people that don't require certain things like that. So the bolt-on process always isn't the best because people don't have that fluid registration process. They may have to go over to this table like you said. Maybe some that don't work out, they have to go over here. And it just creates that headache of even getting into the conference.

Mike Canevaro: I think you've touched on it too. I mean, you have to remember, we've had so much success these last 18 months of deploying a solution and learning from what's occurred at all the various events that we've done with the NCAA and the PGA and these other types of events. And so I think we've taken those learnings, we've listened to the market. We've obviously watched the changes as you referenced there, the testing or even vaccine validation, and trying to incorporate that is something. In fact, here at SISO, it's been a topic of conversation because while these event organizers and trade show owners want to deliver a compelling solution to the industry, they also have to work within the confines of what the city, state, local municipalities may require in this new world of COVID testing.

And so when we deliver a digital solution, that digital conference pass solution that incorporates those pieces, it becomes a very, very compelling piece of tech for them to not have to think about, just to know that they can come to Fobi, get a solution that incorporates the requirements that they've got to address some of those new challenges.

Dev Seidel: All right, so let's talk about the solution. So we've kind of hit what are the issues, what are the main pain points. Now how does Fobi solution actually work and what does it look like for a customer to come in, register, and check into an event?

Mike Canevaro: Sure. I mean, it's a pretty streamlined process, I would say. I think as you come to the private label, we'll call it CES or even the SISO conference here, you would come to their site to register as you normally would online. You'd be delivered a digital conference press that sits right in your mobile wallet, right alongside your boarding pass that you're going to use to fly to that conference. That becomes, effectively, the key to your event. When you arrive on-site, we can use our geolocation capabilities within the wallet to bring the pass up to the top of the phone. Or you can tap on the phone and bring the pass up from your mobile wallet. Once you're on-site, the event we'll have smart tap devices, our smart tap devices typically, or barcode or QR code scanners on-site, and you'll be able to just check in yourself automatically. They won't be hitting that registration table or the information desk or any of that sort of stuff. You will have preregistered before you've even arrived at the event.

Mike Canevaro: The unique part about that process is that as I come in and I check in, and then maybe I hit some of the different sessions as well as the main expo hall, each time I'm tapping to enter these areas, all the data, all of the analytics about myself the user, is being collected in the backend and passed automatically to our Fobi portal. And so, what that allows us to do, I touched on earlier, is delivering analytics and data solution to these operators. And there's so much that they can learn from that.

We also, because we've heard from these operators, both through our experience we've had to date and throughout the event, we've also had the ability then for those that still want to have a physical badge like I'm wearing today, we also have the ability to print that digital badge effectively for them, so that you've got both a wallet pass on your phone as well as a badge present for those attendees that either wish to have that or for those operators that wish to continue for a period of time to have that kind of experience. And so, the reason why we've done that is because we realize that the trade show industry isn't really something that can just start anew, so to speak, today with a digital process. And so, we feel quite strongly that having support for both your digital badge ID in your mobile wallet alongside your credit cards and your boarding passes and the ability to print your traditional badge on-site is a win-win solution. And we've heard that from attendees here today.

And then again on the output side, after the event, you can actually get into the analytics of the platform. You can monitor session attendance as I said earlier. You can really see what worked and what didn't, and that will help shape how you put these events on in the future.

Dev Seidel: We've had great past experiences over the past 18 months working with all of these different events and doing our bubbles and our contact tracing and our venue management. It's really given us the understanding of, "Okay, what are the pieces that we need? How do we make this journey as easy for the user to really take all that experience, package it up, and now create this product that we can sell to anybody?" They have that experience. We have the past understanding of how to make this very fluid for everyone, that it's really great that we're launching this now and being able to have all that learning from our previous events.

Mike Canevaro: Yeah. I mean, I think as I said before, and you've just touched on it, I mean, we've had such good success and such good learnings. The market has changed, it's been dynamic. We've had to be dynamic with the market over the last 18 months during this pandemic. And as events come back, whether they're small conferences like this one or they're large scale events with 45, 55, 100,000 people, the opportunity to digitally transform... which I think, candidly, a lot of attendees expect. I don't think attendees are expecting to come back and be where they were previously. As we say, the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak. We're delivering a solution that's scalable. It's up and running in minutes. It delivers a much better guest experience than we've had before. And as we've talked about, it's streamlined, it saves time, labor costs, paper costs, printing costs. I mean, there's a lot of hidden costs along the way in putting these events and these trade shows on, and we feel like we've addressed so many of those pain points for these organizers.

Dev Seidel: I think you just touched on some of the benefits there. When you're pitching this to somebody or you're having a conversation about the venue management and maybe somebody's saying, "Oh, I already have a set venue management system that I'm using or a set way that I'm doing this currently," what are your top benefits of this product that you give to them right away that's going to pique their interest?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah. I mean, I think a couple of those pieces that I just touched on. I think the fact that it's scalable, can be up and running in minutes. I would dare say anybody can use it. We've made it to be really user-friendly. We believe it offers a much better guest experience. It reduces check-in queues and times. It streamlines that process. It's going to save money, which everybody likes that. And I'm going to tell you, coming back to the trade show industry, most of what I've heard this week is that any events that have occurred, these virtual events or some of these hybrid events, have been lost leaders. So moving forward, they need to find ways to save money, and I think the cost savings that we bring to the table in just this process alone is substantial.

And I think the output of the event is giving them a deeper view of their attendees, understanding the real-time analytics, the post-event analytics. That's been an important conversation that I've had this week as well is how do we learn from not just the past 18 months, but the events that are happening now? We as a trade show industry don't have access to a lot of data because we're using paper badges and these sorts of things. And so I think the output analytics is also going to be a very, very key piece. And I've heard from some of the biggest ones this week that they feel that's a key piece missing from existing solutions today. So really understanding how successful the events were. And you get the ancillary benefit of the fact that the wallet passes, as you know, Dev, are really sticky. They're persistent. They remain on the phone after the event is done.

What does that do? That affords the organizers an ability to reach out, maybe provide surveys or polls or other communication methods that they want to continue to reach the attendees after the show. Historically, that hasn't happened other than your traditional email spam that you get from the conference organizers. I think it's probably a longer answer than you wanted, but it's scalable, it's quick to get up and running, and the insights and analytics that are provided are incredibly informative for these users.

Dev Seidel: And you mentioned cost saving there, so let's talk about the cost of the actual service. The two option ranges, two packages ranging between 3,000 to 10,000 and then a per user per pass cost. How do we determine this, and is this a no-brainer pricing for large-scale conferences and such?

Mike Canevaro: Well, look, I mean, I think when we launch a product, we do what all good companies do. We probe the market. We talk to these organizers. We understand what existing legacy solutions cost. We don't want to just price on market, we want to price on value. We understand the value that we're bringing with our solutions, the value of the data, the value of the personalization, the value of the communication. And as such, we came up with pricing that we think is palatable to the market, it's in line with what digital solutions would cost. And I think based upon the conversations we've had this week, I think we're right in line with where we need to be.

Dev Seidel: And then going into actually creating the product. So we're using our existing hardware and software that we were for venue management processes through the past. And then we've added that new component, as you talked about too, being able to actually physically print an ID badge right away. There's no flipping through paper, pulling off stickers, or trying to find ID badges. That as soon as that user comes in, they tap, it's printed, it goes on their badge, and they're ready to go. Does this speak to the scalability of this product, and how easy is it for us to deploy? Or how easy is it for us to provide it to multiple different conferences at once?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah, look, I mean, I think frankly it speaks to the ease of use, the power of the past creative platform that we've purchased, and our ability to use that in so many different areas outside of perhaps what was originally contemplated for the mobile wallet, our ability to use it for this type of access, for potentially testing and validation access, membership ticketing, all the great things that the mobile wallet capabilities provide. I think the fact that we've had this experience of the last 18 months of scaling, building, learning, I think that has really allowed us to deliver to market a fast fit-for-purpose solution that I think most companies would struggle to if they came at it from scratch. We've got the data ourselves from how the passes have been used at previous events. And I think that really helped inform engineering and our development teams in terms of how they're able to bring this to market, make some small adjustments, and stand up a solution that the market's ready for.

Dev Seidel: For these specific conferences, what does the actual integration or implementation look like? Let's talk about details. So there's actually the smart tap devices that are actually at the conference that you use to check in. There's the printers. What does setup look like for an event?

Mike Canevaro: Look, I mean, I think it's pretty straightforward in terms of setup. I mean, we wanted to deliver a product that was easy to use, and I think we've done that. So in terms of setup, you'll get access to the backend. You'll be able to set up your badges as you need. We've provided templates and other pieces at the backend as well. If you want to provide different levels of badge access or badges, all of that is really built into the system. For these show and event operators and organizers who have been using pretty sophisticated video streaming platforms and other pieces, I mean, I think from our perspective, the setup and the integration required by the host themselves is pretty straightforward, and it's pretty simple to use.

You mentioned the smart taps. We've also got a companion app that we've developed. If you don't want to have physical devices there on-site, your staff can utilize that to scan the badges as well. So we feel like we've covered both sides of that process. And we think it's a pretty simple process to use. As I say, if I can do it, just about anybody can.

Dev Seidel: And who do you see as the primary customer? So we've talked about large-scale conferences. Can this also be used for smaller scale ones as well too?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah, and I might argue that the smaller conferences are even easier to set up. I mean, this SISO event, while it's small and intimate, it's also that intimacy that provides the power of the networking in those pieces. And so when you've got 100, 150 people on-site, it becomes a pretty straightforward process to where you don't need to integrate with a large convention hall or convention center. You can come in with your own solution, set up. Your attendees already have their badges on their phone, and away they go. It's not a challenging integration for the smaller scale companies.

But I will tell you, the large ones that I've mentioned, the Freemans, the Emeralds, the Informa Markets of the world that put on both business to business trade shows like an NNB, like a Mobile World Congress, like a CES versus things like the Natural Foods Expo that anybody can go to, that you buy a ticket for online. It's a great fit for both of those scenarios, and I think it speaks to the desire to move to a contactless and touchless experience whether you're coming to the Natural Foods Expo in Southern California that will see 200,000 people over a couple of days or you're coming to an event like SISO that will be this intimate 150-person event. I think it's fit for purpose for both of those and scales quite easy.

Dev Seidel: You're talking about these large scale or small events that obviously have partners or pieces of this already. What does the competitive market look like out there? Is it a partnership that we can provide, so Fobi can be added on top of it? What does that look like?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah, I mean, it is interesting. I mean, I don't think this solution has really been pushed hard to market. I mean, there are variations of your traditional badge that have a hard key card in it that perhaps you can use to tap at the individual booths. That still requires some fumbling with a badge and that sort of thing. So I don't think a complete badge list or a digital versus paper solution has been brought to market. So from that perspective, we feel pretty strong about our position from a differentiated or competitive piece.

There will certainly be, as we've seen in retail and other verticals we operate in, there will certainly be opportunities to build partnerships, build integrations with some of the existing players, and even integrate with what some of these big trade show owners and operators have. They're tech companies themselves. They don't just build beautiful stages and lighting and events, they also have technology arms themselves. And so, we've built this in a very modular approach. And I think that's going to afford us and our customers an ability to come in, stand up a solution, or potentially allow us to integrate with some existing tech that they may have.

Dev Seidel: Now as we start to develop more products under our venue management, we have updated our website to show so far three modules that customers can pick and choose from to create the perfect venue setup. So the first that we were talking about today, being registration and check-in, and then coming very soon, booking and appointments and health screening. So how does this modular approach help Fobi remain agile but also customizable to each customer?

Mike Canevaro: Yeah, I think the module approach is actually quite interesting for us at this point in time. We've had success with event check-in, we've had success with some of the booking engines with some of our clients and helping them stand that up inside of the wallet pass. And of course, over the last 18 months, we've had good success with the screening aspect of it. What's happening in the marketplace is a couple of things. One, screening is going to be required, it sounds like, in most of these big markets where these trade events are happening. And so our ability to bolt that module on and have it be fully integrated. It's not just a utility. Are you tested? Have you answered the health questionnaires? Are you vaccinated? Our ability, for example, to do that as part and parcel to event management, getting a digital badge, that module approach I think is really well received.

I think more so it's going to afford the ability of these trade organizers, these big corporations who in effect will be reselling their service into the brands and the events that they put forward, I think it also affords them a menu of services they can choose, dependent upon the state, the local, ordinances or what have you that may be in place relative to health screening or relative to other pieces. The booking module, I think is very, very powerful. As you go to these events, many times, the websites are difficult to navigate, but your ability to schedule meetings, schedule sessions, and other things from the past within the booking module will be critical. As I touched on, the health screening piece with what's happening in the marketplace, it really like I said, it affords a menu of services to be provided by these large organizers and corporations to sell to their clients.

They don't have to think about it. It's something that we're providing completely turnkey and custom to them. It's not an area they have to focus on. They can focus on the things that are important for them and their clients like building big, beautiful sets or building hybrid events that bring in people that aren't maybe comfortable being on-site in person along with those people that are on-site. And so I feel really good about where we sit, about where the solution is that we've delivered, and we've got some exciting other capabilities we'll be adding to this in a short time.

Dev Seidel: Well, thank you for taking a break from the conference to update us and our listeners on Fobi's new venue management for registration and check-in service. Good luck with the rest of your meetings. To our listeners, thank you again for tuning in, and don't forget to actually subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, just to make sure that every time a new episode comes out, you're notified right away, and you get the news as soon as possible. Thanks again, Mike.

Mike Canevaro: Thanks, Dev. Good to see you.

Click here for all episodes of the official podcast of Fobi: ‘Fobi Insider' (Previously Loop Experience).

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