We talked to Matthew Funge, Managing Director and Founder of Your Stand Builder, a free online matching and comparison platform for exhibitors, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Matthew Funge: Thankfully, we’re all healthy and staying safe – which is the most important thing in times like these! As myself and my wife live quite far from the rest of my family, it’s been difficult not seeing them for months, however with lockdown slowly easing here in the UK it hopefully won’t be too long until we can visit them once again.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Your Stand Builder.
Matthew Funge: I’m based in the UK and have lived here almost all of my life. However, there have been short spells in France & the USA too during my student days which were brilliant life experiences that definitely helped me develop as a person. I started my career at a healthcare company immediately after leaving university, and one of my main responsibilities there was planning and organizing all of the exhibitions & trade shows around the world, which was incredibly interesting and exciting! I regularly traveled around the world with our sales team to attend the events and ensure that all went as planned, which fully immersed me in almost every aspect of the global events industry. Through this experience, I gradually developed a passion for business events and identified pain points along the planning process, which I felt could be solved through digitalization in order to make them more efficient than ever before. I was surprised to see nothing already existed in this area, so I made the decision to create it myself! From that point, I haven’t looked back, and I’m proud to say we’re now an established (and growing) company with a bright future as in-person events return following a very difficult period over the last 12 months.
How does Your Stand Builder innovate?
Matthew Funge: We take inspiration from other industries and see what technologies have revolutionized them in recent years, then find intelligent ways to apply them to the events industry on a global scale. We regularly review case studies from disruptive technology success stories – such as Uber, Airbnb, Booking.com – and learn from their approach to overcoming challenges that we ourselves often now face. We also place a high value on user feedback at all times and regularly speak with our platform’s registered members to identify improvements that can be made to make it even better for them. Our overall goal as a company is to provide a user-friendly platform that offers benefits to all members – whether that’s a saving of cost, time, or both!
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Matthew Funge: Significantly, and that’s probably an understatement! Back in March 2020, we lost 99% of our projected turnover almost overnight and went from expecting another strong year of consistent growth to drawing up survival plans to ensure we get through this period of unprecedented disruption. Unfortunately, given the nature of our industry – physical, in-person events – it was the first to stop, and it will be the last to reopen, which is quite simply the worst position to be in. Despite our strong start and upward trajectory pre-COVID, we were still a young startup and therefore didn’t have cash reserves to rely upon to see us through. Instead, we needed to get creative and find ways of reducing costs whilst keeping everything running, as we didn’t know then how long it would be until our industry returned to normal and our service was needed again. If I had to sum it up in a phrase – it was a delicate balancing act to try and get it right.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Matthew Funge: We’re fortunate that as a young company when COVID began, we didn’t yet have a large team or high monthly staff costs, so we actually avoided the need to make difficult decisions in this area. We have kept our team in place and found ways to stay busy, which has been a real positive to come out of this whole experience. Unfortunately, across our industry, many people haven’t been so lucky. However, I’m absolutely sure that within the next few months, when the recovery gains a little more momentum, all of these experienced event professionals will be in high demand once again!
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Matthew Funge: Zoom has become our best friend, as it has for almost everyone! We’ve used it to regularly touch base with customers and keep them updated with what we were doing behind the scenes, to ensure that we maintain a close relationship for when normality resumes. As a tech company, I think our overall customer management process was already solid prior to this difficult period, and we already utilized tools such as an excellent CRM, industry-leading communication software, and of course, our custom-coded web platform. We did recently install some very good AI chatbot software on our website to improve customer experience, and the early feedback has been very positive, so we’ll continue to watch this closely.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Matthew Funge: Unfortunately, we were unable to secure a government grant – similar to many events businesses in the UK – however, we were fortunate to be successful in receiving a government loan during the first lockdown, and this really helped us with our survival by giving us the cash flow we needed to remain afloat. It will need to be repaid, of course. However, it was vital for us in our moment of need and is definitely a major reason we were able to get through this period. In addition to this, we did, however, receive a Facebook Small Business Grant, which was incredibly helpful and provided us with an injection of cash at just the right time, and again was hugely appreciated.
Your final thoughts?
Matthew Funge: It’s been the worst possible period for many businesses across many industries, and those who come out the other side will surely have a very bright future. In our industry, the signs are incredibly encouraging for a strong bounce back, and over the coming months, we’re anticipating high demand from all stakeholders to return to doing business in-person face-to-face in expo halls around the world. Of course, the recovery won’t be immediate, and it will take some time to get back to where we were in 2019, but eventually, we will all get to a point where we look back on “COVID times” as memory and appreciate normality more than ever before.
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