We talked to Debbie Pinard of InitLive about the all-in-One staff and volunteer management solution for programs and events, and she had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Debbie Pinard: Thank you for asking. We are coping. All of my family is working from home to stay safe.
We are looking forward to the vaccine bringing an end to this forced separation!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded InitLive.
Debbie Pinard: InitLive was founded by me and my daughter Melissa in 2013. I was a tech executive with 40 years of development and management experience, and Melissa was a new grad who was keen to start a new career.
My background was in PBX’s, and I have over 50 patents to my name. Melissa was a long-time volunteer and was educated in user interface design and marketing. We were both working for Wesley Clover (our eventual funder) and had an idea for a new product in the event space. After a lot of research, we found a hole that wasn’t filled, and InitLive was born. InitLive is a web service and mobile app for managing staff and volunteers.
As mother-daughter founders, we have naturally inspired a family culture amongst the InitLive team. A regular day at the office consists of lots of laughs, celebrations for every new development, and encouragement to try new and exciting things. Our team is also dedicated to giving back to our local community. We are strong advocates of diversity and women in tech, and our office consists of employees from all over the world and an even female/male ratio.
Today, we are both proud to say that InitLive is the only company that equips live event, day-to-day programs, and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) teams and their staff and volunteers with both a real-time communication system and a comprehensive scheduling service. The company’s hard work has resulted in numerous industry awards, five granted patents (and 2 pending), and a rapidly growing customer base around the world.
How does InitLive innovate?
Debbie Pinard: We have an in-house development team that is constantly updating the product with new features while keeping the tech stack and architecture up-to-date. We constantly get feedback from our customers and incorporate their suggestions into our roadmap. We file patents that differentiate us from our competition and also give us an advantage when talking with future investors.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Debbie Pinard: In January of 2020, we finished our best quarter ever. We were on track to accelerate the live event business’s growth and had signed some very prestigious customers. When COVID hit, we lost most of our pipeline overnight. At that point, we had to regroup and decide how we were going to weather the storm. Fortunately, our investor was willing to ride it out with us, and with help from government funding, we were able to keep going.
Everyone moved to a home office (we were already set up for this, so it pretty much happened overnight). In the short term, we added in some specific COVID features to the product, renegotiated many of our existing customer contracts, and gave a COVID guarantee to any new customers.
We also knew we needed to do some kind of pivot. We had a lot of event customers who were also non-profits, and they had been asking us to create a day-to-day volunteer program management to go along with the event volunteer management so they could consolidate to one tool. It was on our 2021 roadmap, so we decided to pull it forward. To help in defining the features, we offered our product for free to any non-profit doing COVID relief.
We had many organizations take us up on the offer, and we quickly found the improvements we needed to make in the product in order to satisfy this market. Eight months later, we are one of the only companies that has a volunteer management product for both the non-profit and live event spaces. An unexpected side-effect of the features we added was that it opened up the CSR market as well, and we now have some very large customers on board managing the volunteer efforts of their employees. This should give us an even more accelerated growth path once live events come back. As a result, the team is very optimistic, and we are keeping a positive attitude.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Debbie Pinard: We had to lay off a couple of people and close some open positions. The whole team had to pick up the slack and retool some internal processes. This would not have been possible without having a great team of people that were dedicated to keeping the company going.
We had a short time to learn about the non-profit space, so we were back in start-up mode again from a business development perspective. LinkedIn was the key to making new connections. We set up calls with non-profit influencers and gurus.
We learned what the existing non-profit culture was like, the challenges, and how the money flowed. This led us to make some strategic tech partnerships with companies already in the space so we could quickly open up new channels to market.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and InitLive in the future?
Debbie Pinard: I am a member of a master’s swim team that has practices 3 times a week.
Fortunately, the public pools put some very strict COVID guidelines in place, so we were able to start swimming again in July. Early morning swims are great for clearing the head and setting up for a productive day.
We have a great product, so I see nothing but good news going forward. This is probably my last job, so I want to make sure that InitLive is successful and makes a difference in communities worldwide.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Debbie Pinard: We have competitors on the events side and competitors on the non-profit side, but we do not have many competitors that can do both. Our main differentiating features have been protected with patents.
Our User Interface is easy to use and one of the best (current customers and tech partners have told us this). Now we have to ramp up the sales and marketing efforts so that potential customers will also see these advantages.
Your final thoughts?
Debbie Pinard: This has been a tough year for many people. Staying positive and working through problems is the only way to stay sane and keep the dream alive.
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