Global expansion looms for high-tech events planners

Organizers at major festivals and the Olympics are ditching maps and brochures to invest in local companies making mobile apps to promote their events

QuickMobile CEO Craig Brennan | Photo: Chung Chow

While most attendees at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) were captivated by the hundreds of musical performances at one of North America’s largest festivals, Jeff Sinclair was preoccupied with one thing for nine days: beacons.

Last year at SXSW, Eventbase installed 40 of the wireless devices that detect when a smartphone running an appropriate app is in close proximity.

From March 13 to March 22, Sinclair’s company had 1,000 beacons deployed at different venues during the festival. Each time someone with an Eventbase app installed on his or her smartphone would walk into a venue with beacon, the app would send an alert letting the person know who else checked in.

“What’s so unique this year is just the enormity of the scale,” said Sinclair, who brought about 20 employees to Texas to ensure the 1,000 beacons were running smoothly.

The Vancouver-based company had previously developed tailor-made apps for the Celebration of Light fireworks show and the 2010 Winter Olympics that provided everything from maps to different venues to search functions for different activities at the events.

After partnering with SXSW five years ago, organizers invested $2 million in seed funding for Eventbase last fall – the first time the tech startup has sought any sort of financing since its founding in 2009.

“Getting $2 million from South by Southwest has really changed our company trajectory,” Sinclair said. “Our booked monthly revenue has doubled in the past six months since we signed that.”

The company employs more than 50 people in Vancouver and has opened an office in London, England, to service about one-third of its clients.

Vancouver’s QuickMobile, meanwhile, has experienced a similar high-growth story since its founding in 2008.

While Eventbase is serving premier events like the Sundance Film Festival or the Calgary Stampede, QuickMobile is going after “Tier 1 enterprise” clients, according to CEO Craig Brennan.

Companies like Oracle, Adobe and Symantec use QuickMobile’s apps – which provide schedules, analytics, photo-sharing features and search functions – to help organize sales meetings with five people or conferences with 50,000 attendees.

“My background is primarily with CRM [customer relationship management] and analytics,” said San Francisco-based Brennan, who became QuickMobile’s CEO five months ago after serving as its chairman.

“And so when I look at the possibility of the types of integrations [with registration systems and marketing and sales applications] … it’s going to help the company become more integral to these big customers, where it’s just seamless flows of information from different enterprise systems to us and from us.”

QuickMobile will shift away from organizing events for companies of all different sizes to focusing primarily on tier-one enterprises, Brennan said. He added that the startup is in the midst of a major growth phase, and while it has an office in London – like Eventbase – its engineers are based at the Vancouver headquarters.

That’s putting pressure on QuickMobile to recruit globally and add to its workforce of about 150 people.

“We are absolutely considering expansion into Asia,” he said, adding he just got off a call about potentially setting up an office in Singapore and expects to open “a couple of offices in the U.S.” in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Our global customers will definitely want us to have a global presence.”