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Taking the world of conferences online

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Taking the world of conferences online
Schäffer said that being a successful entrepreneur makes it difficult for him to devote time to himself. Photo: Submitted
11:09 CET+01:00
In the latest instalment of our weekly feature series, we speak to Jon Schäffer, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Conferize, an online platform that opens up professional events to the world.
Conferize's platform connects events, people and thought leaders from any industry and also helps event organizers build communities to increase the quality and turnout of their events. Google, Microsoft, the New York Times, The Guardian, and Buzzfeed are among the thousand-plus companies that others use Conferize, which is also an official partner of TEDx and Eventbrite. We spoke with the company's co-founder and CCO, Jon Schäffer.
 
How did you come up with this business idea?
Conferize was originally the idea of founder Martin Ferro-Thomsen. We were working together at Issuu disrupting the publishing industry. Armed with our experience and digital expertise from Issuu, we were keen to revolutionize another industry facing similar limitations. Many industries – like music, film and publishing – had already been digitalized but the event industry had not seen significant changes. That's when Conferize was born in 2011.
 
What were the initial challenges? How did you overcome them?
Things aren't the same as they were in Issuu. We have not been able to simply apply our previous experience to a new company in a completely different industry. We have changed the product at least five to ten times and still continue doing that.
 
Conferize operates in a complex market. Customer needs are very diverse as we cater not only to event organizers but also companies in different industries, including those in the public sector as well as associations. Companies need different, highly-customized solutions. Events on our platform are streamed live to the public but we now have to offer private event communities too in case companies don’t want to divulge sensitive information, so we have to go in different directions to serve diverse customers and their plans. 
 
If you have not clearly defined your customer segments, you will be pulled in different directions to serve various customer needs. This is the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make. You have to be very clear on your market segment, customer profile and the problems you are trying to solve. That’s why we have had a narrow focus on conferences. Then, as we mature, we will cover events in general.
 
We spent our initial two years building the entire event community platform - making it easy for users to find, follow and attend events online. During the past twelve months, we have shifted our focus toward event organizers and we are now fully focused on creating a powerful solution for them. This is also our initial revenue model: selling our solution to the event organizers, which is starting to look very good.
 
How has the journey been so far?
It has been a roller-coaster ride but enjoyable. There’s a constant pressure between wanting to develop the company quickly and effectively while simultaneously trying to raise money and hire the right people. The event industry may be a difficult one but it is also incredibly exciting; the most interesting one I have worked in so far. During the past six months, we have met a lot of our goals and seen a lot of brands approaching Conferize. When brands start calling us instead of vice versa, it's a milestone.
 
How has becoming an entrepreneur changed you, personally?
I have been an entrepreneur at the age of 26. I was an easygoing person earlier but am more serious and concerned now. My wife would agree. I would like to devote more time to myself though. 
 
It's like becoming a father - you have to handle responsibilities. I think and dream about work all the time. I am more or less always in work mode, which is not very healthy but it's a phase. Conferize is starting to mature now and I feel a bit relaxed and more on top of what's happening.
 
Any other personal reflections and/ or message to budding entrepreneurs?
You have to work for a long time to make your business successful. It's a difficult process both emotionally and physically. No matter how much experience you may have, you become calmer psychologically, and your ability to push harder - even if it's a uphill task - increases. You get experience in leading a team and understand what works and what doesn’t. What's vitally important is to continuously talk to your customers and improvise products according to the feedback.
 
Look at entrepreneurship from a business point of view. I see many great ideas and interesting products out there that are not commercially viable. So you need to think whether you are solving a real need that people are willing to pay for or just delivering a 'nice-to-have-product'. Think big in terms of revenue potential on a global scale. If you don't, you will be eaten by the big fishes out there. 
 
Finally, make sure you are not a lonely rider. Build a killer founder team from the get-go. If you are looking to raise money, venture capitalists and business angels invest in a great team with a great product.
 
Sparsh SharmaSparsh Sharma holds a Master's in business administration and a Bachelor's in electrical engineering. After having worked in top Indian media companies, he came to Denmark in the fall of 2012 to study at Aarhus University and later worked at Lego. A Danish green card holder, he is currently looking for marketing or consulting opportunities globally, while working as a freelance journalist for The Local Denmark and blogging about his experiences in Denmark. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparsh_s.
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