Five With: Marc Halpin, CEO, Kapow Events
“Chaotic,” “big,” and “ripe for disruption” were three key characteristics on Marc Halpin’s checklist when debating in what vertical to launch a business. And he knew that the events industry, a typically non-technical one, not only hit all of those marks, but also sorely needed to become more technologically savvy. So in 2012, with an appetite to start a B2B marketplace, he founded Kapow Events, an online marketplace for companies to book their dinners, outings and events at no cost.
In the past two years, Chicago-based Kapow Events has quickly expanded into New York and Dallas, with plans to launch in Phoenix and Boston on the horizon. Marc’s team of over 50 now strive to intertwine technology with the traditionally non-tech event planning process, all while maintaining a highly client-focused business where they have the ability to move quickly and nimbly to provide clients what they need, when they need it.
Much like Marc, a long distance runner who competes in the Chicago Marathon every year, the team moves quickly but with stamina — working with large brands like Google, Salesforce and Facebook to help them enhance client relationships through memorable, unique events.
We talked with Marc about the importance of staying client-focused, turning on a dime to stay ahead of competition, and adopting new tech into a traditionally non-tech industry.
1) Why did you start Kapow Events?
I really wanted to build a marketplace in B2B. That was the catalyst. The next step was finding a vertical which was chaotic, big and ripe for disruption. After 6-9 months of heavy client interaction, events became a clear winner. The serendipity was that I knew the space well growing up in the food and drink business in the UK.
2) How has Kapow evolved since it started?
We’ve become more and more focused. Essentially the evolution looked like this: B2B Marketplace – Event Marketplace – Client Event Marketplace. We have become immersed in how large brands use events as vehicles to win and retain clients.
3) How do you maintain the personal touch for events while integrating the strong technology platform Kapow is built on?
We have a thesis that is absolutely client focused. If a client wants on-site support, they get it. If they want to buy online, they get it. If they want to talk to us on the phone, they can very easily. If they want to meet over coffee, we’re buying. Technology to us is an efficiency tool in making what we do for clients more scalable. We want to support our clients literally everywhere they need an event… Everywhere.
4) What industry trends are you seeing that you’ll need to adapt to?
We’re pretty much disrupting an industry (local client events) that has had very little technology application ever. Understanding individual’s comfort (in adoption), using technology to facilitate better events, and at the highest level, their trust in buying significant purchases online.
5) What are the biggest challenges you face as a startup CEO?
Same one every time you start a business and one that gets talked about very little in my opinion. You have to make good decisions with limited data points. That for some is paralyzing. As the team grows, the balance between consensus thinking and decisiveness is very hard to hit, but if you do, you move forward much more aggressively than your competition. Why? Because they’re spending all their time analyzing at the whiteboard when they should be deciding and doing. Never gets easy though.