In March 2020, I was standing in a ballroom in Phoenix, Arizona. My production team and I were just about to wrap a four-day medical conference when all of us started getting text messages and phone calls from colleagues across the country. One was managing an expo floor set-up for an association conference in Orlando with 150+ exhibitors where she was instructed to immediately cease all booth installs. Another was at the airport about to board a plane for San Diego, to kick-off the set-up for a three-day conference nine months in the making, when his client called to tell him the conference, he spent months planning was indefinitely postponed.
Without notice, as COVID numbers increased around the globe, the live event industry came to a screeching halt.
In the weeks that followed, many thought that things would go back to normal rather quickly. We were instructed to stay at home, wear our masks, wash our hands, and be prepared to hunker down for a few months so the spread of the virus could subside. Something told me it wasn’t going to be such a quick recovery, however, as our balance sheet started reflecting wide-spread event and conference cancellations through the end of 2020.
Just like that, without any warning, we lost $2.8M in business.
As we rolled into April, I clung to my guiding principle of putting “faith over fear” and worked hard to keep my team motivated and optimistic. As May approached, however, with little change in the business climate, I knew we had to do something to reinvent ourselves – and it had to happen quickly. I started looking at virtual meeting software solutions for purchase. That seemed to be the direction events were heading so I thought it was best for us to invest in an existing platform and offer that to clients, at least for the short term. The established providers weren’t quick to respond, overwhelmed by demand. And those that did were offering poor customer service and off-the-shelf solutions that wouldn’t meet our client’s needs. And worst of all, pricing was ridiculously high.
That’s when necessity turned to innovation and Virtu-Meet was conceived.
On May 15, 2020, I was standing in the front room of my house, looking out the window as I took a break from my new routine of working from home, when I decided to call my Controller and run a “crazy idea” by him. I explained that I wasn’t having luck finding a virtual meeting software solution that was going to work for us, so I casually suggested that “we just go ahead and quickly build our own.” I told him I would report back with costs after I did a bit more research and figured out how I was going to make it all happen. I remember telling him that “we are certainly doomed if I don’t try something drastic, so I am going to figure it out. I mean, isn’t that what bad a$$ women do?!” With that, I hung up and embarked on the quest to build a software platform. In that very moment, Virtu-Meet was born!
I will always say that “Virtu-Meet was meant to be as all the pieces just fell right into place overnight!”
Looking back now, I realize how incredibly lucky it was that the right people were already in my tribe or were quickly initiated by people who understood what I was trying to do and believed in me, and all that Virtu-Meet could be. My web designer – who was the person I reached out to first – introduced me to an amazing team of programmers. My graphic designer – who has always been a mentor and sounding board – introduced me to a streaming expert with experience in platform creation. At every turn, another piece of the puzzle was falling into place and things were happening at a rapid pace. The Event Lounge team strategized to compile the features offered by the ideal virtual meeting software platform, and then we set out to build it.
My spirit was renewed as I worked to build the solution that would save The Event Lounge.
When the pandemic first started, I stayed busy working on whatever I could find that felt productive. After all, every event on our calendar through August had vanished overnight. I would schedule video calls with the team, call and chat with clients and vendors, comb over our website making small edits and tweaks. The list of mundane tasks rolled over from day to day. But overnight, as Virtu-Meet came to fruition, I started working with purpose and intention, setting my sights on our target launch date of August 15, 2020. We had less than three months to make Virtu-Meet a reality and I was going to work around the clock to make it happen no matter what happened along the way.
From concept to launch, Virtu-Meet went live for our first test event in just 82 days.
My schedule and the schedules of my teammates were suddenly booked solid. Daily calls with our programmers and our solutions architects coupled with hours dedicated to understanding the back end of the software, made for long and often frustrating workdays. Everyone on the team was being asked to do something they had never done before – from beta testing the software, to overseeing the load and failover testing, to writing manuals for the end-users, we were all doing things that constantly had us working outside of our comfort zone. But in the end, it all paid off, as we were able to successfully take Virtu-Meet live in just 82 days.
The next few months were bumpy as we continued building the plane while we were flying it.
I will be forever grateful to the clients who embarked on the first few deployments completed using Virtu-Meet. Although the attendee experience was polished and positive, the “control room” was a nail-biter for The Event Lounge family and our whole development team. Things were moving at a rapid pace as virtual meetings and events were booking with ridiculously short lead times. Some as little as 14 days. But the team always rose to the occasion and figured out how to implement the next new feature and integrate with the latest software widgets to make Virtu-Meet even more robust and effective for our clients. You asked for a functionality, we figured out how to make it happen. Things sometimes got turbulent in the cockpit, but we always landed safely!!
Virtu-Meet allowed us to survive 2020 and continue to allow up to thrive into 2021.
No doubt that 2020 was a year that stretched everyone involved in the creation of Virtu-Meet, but it was and continues to be well-worth the struggles and challenges. Since the platform launched in August 2020, our success has been benchmarked by countless fully customized virtual events produced for wildly satisfied clients. We filed for the Virtu-Meet trademark on July 7, 2020, and after months of waiting, the trademark was issued on February 2, 2021. To this day, we continue to tweak and upgrade the software to make it even stronger and more effective. Truthfully, we will be working on it in perpetuity because we will always want it to be capable of the latest and greatest.
WHEN the pandemic ends, Virtu-Meet will live on and continue to be a software solution for live events.
Without intending for it to happen, Virtu-Meet has evolved into a suite of technology solutions for both virtual and live meetings. Sure, clients are still loving the virtual meeting and production capabilities that we offer, but as live events slowly return, they are taking advantage of the event website module and the registration module that we rolled out at the end of 2020. And with great excitement, by the close of 2021, we will have launched the mobile app module that will inform, connect, and engage attendees as they return to show site.
My regrets are few. My take-aways are many. My gratitude is abundant.
If I had to do it all over again, my only regret would be the moments of self-doubt I allowed to creep in throughout the process. At times, the uncharted territory felt overwhelming, and the fear of failure would take hold. Thankfully, though, those moments were fleeting. And I owe that all to my team. I am grateful for my Programmers and Solutions Architects who never told me NO. Instead, they would calmly tell me that my next crazy idea was doable and then quietly (and often frantically!) make it happen overnight. I am thankful for my TEL team who was always willing to blindly trust my leadership, willing to do whatever unfamiliar or challenging things I tasked them to do. I am thankful to my production team who worked ridiculously long hours to pull rabbits out of hats and make client visions a reality. And I am thankful to my Controller who told me my idea wasn’t insane way back in May 2020. Rather, has since continued to tell me “Hell ya, girl. You got this! Virtu-Meet rocks!” And honestly, it does. Virtu-Meet is proof positive that necessity plus innovation can be an unstoppable combo.