K.C. Hopson is the founder and CEO of EventRebels, an event planning software suite. EventRebels provides online conference and registration solutions through a variety of products designed for events and trade shows of all sizes. Citybizlist interviewed K.C. as part of our conversation series with the staff and entrepreneurs operating out of Emerging Technology Centers (ETC), the city of Baltimore’s hub for technology innovation and entrepreneurship.
A nonprofit 501(c)(3) venture of the Baltimore Development Corporation, ETC is split across two campuses and offers three major programs: the ETC Incubation program; Beehive Baltimore, a coworking space; and AccelerateBaltimore, a 13-week intensive providing up to six local startups with mentorship and seed funding. Since 1999, ETC has helped over 350 companies grow and achieve success. Today, about 85% of those companies are still in business, and 75% have remained in Baltimore.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Where did you get your start?
K.C. HOPSON: I was a programmer by trade in the 90s. I actually wrote two of the first books on Java, the programming language, and I made a lot of money just being a freelance consultant with that book, but I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I used to do a lot of work in events, and I realized that I had a treasurer and a registrar and we were all separated, so it occurred to me that the Internet might be a good way to bridge the gap a little bit, so EventRebels was born. The oldest ideas go back to, like, ‘94, so I’ve been thinking about this thing for a long time. I made the dive, started EventRebels in 2000. The very first day we went live was September 11, 2001, so that was a bad day to go live, but we got through it. You know, I’ve seen a lot of the ups and downs in the industry. We started off with a conference registration software, added the trade show software, which is actually my favorite module—it’s an online floor map where exhibitors click and buy their booths right on the map, and it’s my easiest sell. I think it’s our best product. We have software for speaker management and logistics that’s very conference-centric. Then, last year, we rolled out three mobile apps and they really have helped us get to the next level.
Q. Tell us more about how the mobile apps have changed the business?
A. The Mobile Attendee App has kind of changed things a little bit There’d been a bunch of well funded companies—I forgot the number; there are hundreds of companies that say they can do mobile apps, but there’s probably ten or so that are well-funded and are good, solid companies—but the mobile app is just what they are—mobile apps—and they do not have all the conference registration logic that we have. There’s really only one or two companies out there that I think have the depth of understanding of the industry with their software that we do.
Q. How does EventRebels differentiate itself in the marketplace?
A. We’re able to differentiate ourselves in that we’re trying to be a one-stop shop for conferences and trade shows. Most of these companies really focus on one or two products in that space, and we try to cover all the products needed in that area.
Q. How would you characterize your customers?
A. Our bread and butter are associations. A lot of them are in D.C., but pretty much all over the country are represented. We have a decent amount of clients up in Canada, and even a few overseas. U.S. Travel Association is one of our oldest organizations, Mortgage Bankers Association uses us, so we got some name shows. Our typical show goes anywhere from 50 people to 12,000 people. Our sweet spot is the 500- to 2000-attendee conference range.
Q. What made you decide to join the ETC?
A. We were a virtual company, and we were virtual for about the first 10-12 years of existence. All the co-people I knew were down at the ETC, and I was feeling like I was getting a little bit behind in technology, so I decided to move into the ETC so I could stay up-to-date with all the other technology. I developed a real interest in social media and mobile. It was kind of funny at the time, our client base just was not interested in it. They were still trying to assimilate the old software, so I actually got bored with the company for a while, and started up a liquor app called Holler and I kind of had a year and a half where I was splitting my attention around, but then I came back to EventRebels and everybody was ready for the new software. They got me real jazzed again about the company, and we’ve been doing great ever since. But the ETC—I talked to all the people and get all these new ideas and think about things in ways I did not think about before.
Q. What’s your main goal moving forward?
My biggest goal in the next couple of years is get to the Inc. 5000 that is my, I am just zeroing in on that target. I guess the next big hurdle is $15 million, and that’s going to take real effort to get there, so I got my next two targets clearly up for us.
Our software is a pretty high-end software and there’s a lot of learning involved in it. On our back end software, I think that’s where we want to try it make it a little easier for people to learn and use the software. From the development standpoint, I actually think that’s where probably most of my energy is. Our online tools and mobile tools are almost 100% where they need to be, so it’s pretty clear-cut what we need to do.
To me as a businessman, I think about cash. I am all about cash and how much money is in the bank, how much is coming in, how much is going out, receivables—that’s really what I think about. The nice thing is we’re in a business where the cash is going through our system. We’re an ecommerce system, in effect, so I always look at everything from a cash, financial standpoint. I think that’s an area I’m pretty smart at after doing this for so long.