First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Henry Schueller: These are trying times, but our family is well. 2020 has been very challenging for us, but we’ve managed to stay healthy and ready for whatever comes next.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AVLancer.
Henry Schueller: I’ve been in the audiovisual industry for over 20 years now. I started my first business, Stamina Productions, with a couple of friends from high school in 2000 and sold that business in 2004. After that, I worked in many areas of the industry, including live events, national theater touring, corporate AV, and hotel AV with various titles like Director of Operations, Project Manager, Stage Manager, and Account Executive. Almost all of those positions were serviced as a freelance contractor. All of that experience opened my eyes to how valuable freelancers are to this industry as a whole. So I started AVLancer in 2015 to help freelancers find their place in the industry and build their businesses while also helping our clients find the top-notch freelance talent they needed to succeed.
How does AVLancer innovate?
Henry Schueller: Success in a technical industry requires constant innovation. We’ve found that the key to staying on top is listening to our contractors and clients so we can really understand what will help them be successful. For our company, that means faster payments for freelancers, easier bookings for clients, and continuing education for contractors as well. We are working to build all of our innovation into our custom software platform to make it easier than ever to succeed as a freelancer and, in turn, easier for companies to book the best freelancers in the industry wherever they work.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Henry Schueller: The impact on the live events industry has been nothing short of immense. Our industry was one of the first to lose work and will likely be one of the last to see that work return. AVLancer, in particular, saw a 95% decline in revenues before the lockdowns had even been implemented. We had plans for a recession and were ready to weather the storm, but I don’t think there is any way for a growth company to plan for a 95% loss of revenue. We were fortunate to be able to obtain stimulus funding to carry us through to a pivot into supporting virtual events on platforms like Zoom, Webex, and Adobe Connect. Our ability to pivot quickly and support our clients in the virtual events realm was the only thing that kept us from going out of business.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Henry Schueller: This was the most challenging experience I’ve ever gone through as a leader. I had to make a lot of extremely hard decisions and ultimately had to lay off a lot of amazing people who are also great friends of mine – family really. There were a lot of emotions, long nights, crunching numbers, hard conversations, and a lot of tears. When you start a business, you have a huge responsibility to take care of your people. And when you can’t reasonably provide for them, it’s heartbreaking. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is never to give up. We never stopped trying, and because of that, we’ve now been able to start rehiring some of the employees slowly we let go, and we’ve also begun sending work to some of our freelancers again.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and AVLancer in the future?
Henry Schueller: This pandemic definitely brought stress and anxiety levels to all-time highs for me. Our industry is inherently stressful, but the stress of a technical event is completely different from the stress of a pandemic. As a permaculture enthusiast, gardening was a huge stress reliever for me. Time in the garden (without a cell phone or emails) was a great way to disconnect despite the lockdowns. Our industry still has a long way to go before it can start to recover. We don’t anticipate a real return to live events until the middle of 2021 at the earliest. We do see events coming back, though, once it’s safe for them to do so. And when it does come back, we anticipate the industry reaching new heights in business levels due to the pent up demand.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Henry Schueller: Sadly, a lot of our competition has gone out of business due to the extremity of the impacts of COVID. This will mean a huge increase in market opportunity for us but also brings its own challenges. The AV industry is a very small “big” industry, and a lot of our competitors were also our partners. This means we will have to work harder than ever to keep up with demand without sacrificing service.
Your final thoughts?
Henry Schueller: Never give up. Tough times will give way to new opportunities. Stay mindful, stay humble, look out for your people, protect your environment, and help your community. If we keep focused in this way, we will certainly find a bright future ahead of us.
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