Today our guest is Jordan Schwartz CEO of Pathable.com. Pathable is geared at the MeetingsPodcast community of Meetings and Conferences professionals. In an increasingly complex world pathable makes it easier for you to network and connect with like minded people at conferences. If you want to to increase your event communities satisfaction Pathable is a great resource networking tool.
*NEW*we released a site today that has Web 2.0 / social networking resources for event planners at http://resources.pathable.com/. In particular, there’s a guide for event planners new to Twitter:
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Mike McAllen: Thank you again for tuning in to Meetings Podcast. This is Mike McAllen with Grass Shack Events and Media and today we have Jordan Schwartz of Pathable.com. Hi, Jordan.
Jordan Schwartz: Hi, Mike. How you doing?
Mike McAllen: I am well. Thank you again for taking the time out to talk to me and can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you ended up as a CEO of Pathable.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, sure. So I – prior to working, to starting with Pathable, I spent 10 years at Microsoft working on a variety of consumer-facing products or what’s in a [00:01:09] program there, photo sharing service, a couple of versions of Windows and you know, I’m a little bit of an oddity in that I have to say I hate computers. I just – I hate the idea of people sitting in front of their glowing screens all day. You know, not talking to anyone and not going anywhere and not doing anything. So, when I left Microsoft, I really wanted to get involved in a product that had people getting out and talking to other people and meeting in the real world and so Pathable was kind of an obvious choice for me.
I had gotten a call from an old friend of mine, Shelly Farnham who I knew from years ago and also, she worked at Microsoft Research in the Social Computing Group and she had started working on this project that was what became Pathable a way to help people who are attending conferences and events, find out who else is going to be there and make the best use of their time while they’re there, identifying you like people to talk to and making some [00:02:12] connections.
Mike McAllen: So can you tell us a little bit about Pathable and kind of how it works maybe …
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, sure.
Mike McAllen: … and some key features.
Jordan Schwartz: Sure. So Pathable is a social network or online community for a conference. You can think of it as a mini-Facebook or LinkedIn where everybody in the network is someone you’ll actually have an opportunity to meet at the conference. So an attendee shows out a short profile, their photo and a bio or links to their websites and tags were things that they’re interested in, short words or phrases that identify their interests by their professional or hobbies and things like that and then the Pathable system provides tools for them to start to get to know each other. You can search for people who share your interest. You can send messages to people who share your interest or this is a unique feature that we have that – I don’t think anyone else in the industry offers right now and that, that the tags function as dynamic mailing lists.
So Mike, I know you’re a beekeeper as well. I’m a beekeeper as a hobby and so, I can send a message to a beekeeping tag at a conference and everybody at the conference who specifically said they’re interested in beekeeping gets the message and I can have conversations with them. And so it’s a way for me to start conversations with people who share my interest before the event, get to know them, I see their pictures, I read their profiles. So that by the time I arrive, I already have this list of people that I know and so the conference should feel a little like home to me and less like a nerve-wracking social anxiety provoking experience.
Mike McAllen: Yes. I – well, I’ve looked at your website obviously now and I have never used – actually I did use Pathable before the New Media.
Jordan Schwartz: The New Media Expo, that’s right.
Mike McAllen: Yes, I did use it and it really is great because I am one of those people that kind of – I mean, I don’t have problem talking to people but I have so much anxiety like you go to the conference and you kind of – you’re trying to meet people. It’s just a fantastic idea to before hand do a little – I mean, just like we do. All of those meeting planners or production people, we do such pre-production as you know, the whole process. Actually, on site is not really the hardest part. It’s making sure everything is in the right way, the right order and with Pathable, it seems you know …
Jordan Schwartz: Yes.
Mike McAllen: You totally make up – you know, get meetings together and have everything set up in between. Anyway, sorry …
Jordan Schwartz: I just – I always have this image in my head of attending a conference and there’s that networking reception. We get the little glass, white wine or you know, a ticket for a beer and you go in, you get your drink and then you’re standing in this room and you know, a trickle of sweat running down your forehead and you know, you have an our and a half to network. Go. Do it. Who are you supposed to talk to? You got this room full of people and everyone is kind of talking to everyone else and you’re not sure who the right people to meet are and so you end up talking with whoever is standing next to you and it just – it’s not a good use of your time. It’s not targeted and so, that’s what we’re trying to do at Pathable is give you the tools so that when you’re in that moment, you know exactly who to talk to but people you connected with before hand. You know another thing Pathable does is produce some unique name badges. So, instead of just the usual, “Hello. My name is,” the badges include a list of people on the badge itself that we recommend you meet based on common interests and your tags from your profile. So you make great ice-breakers. So you know, you’re standing at the conference, you know, and a networking reception and you can look at the person next to you and maybe you’re on their badge and your name is there or you know someone who is or if not, you can at least look at and find out what their interests are and say, “Oh, you know, I see you’re interested in, you know, hiking,” or “I see you’re interested in,” you know, something relevant to the conference and start a conversation with them about that. Through this – they function as great ice breakers.
Mike McAllen: Yes. That’s a great idea. I went to a networking thing last night for this (media bistro 00:06:24) in San Francisco and, you know, you’re really searching for people – is this networking things is – it’s just a big search so this really cuts to the chase.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes.
Mike McAllen: Because you can really get to the people you want. It’s great.
Jordan Schwartz: Someone [00:06:37] you know, Match.com for conferences. We’re not a dating service but in the sense that networking is like dating. You know, you’re trying to find the right people to talk to and make some matches. That’s what you were doing.
Mike McAllen: Right and also when you meet these people at conferences, after meeting them, then there’s the whole portion of, “Oh, let’s get together and talk about this,” because not necessarily when you meet that one person at that networking event, you don’t want to spend the whole time talking to them. You want to move on and try and meet some other people too.
Jordan Schwartz: Right.
Mike McAllen: So this gives you an opportunity, I guess to get meetings together or meet-ups while you’re at the event.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, exactly and we have a session scheduling feature. It allows you to look through the talks that are going to be at a conference and sign up and you can see who else is going to be at the same talks that you are which is again another great way to find people who share your interest but also a convenient way to help you coordinate your meet-ups with the conference itself.
Mike McAllen: Can you – while you’re in the sessions, is there – did I see something about that? I was reading through it.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes. So we used to have a feature that allowed you to have a chat with what we call back channel …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Jordan Schwartz: … with everyone who was in a session with you at any given time and we actually found that it was being used a lot which – it’s probably a good thing. I mean, you don’t know necessarily want people chatting with each other during a talk. You want them paying attention to the speaker so we’ve replaced that with is wikis that are per session. So in each session I can go in and I can suggest questions to the speaker before hand. I can take notes on what they said during the talk and then save them and all the attendees have access to this. It’s like a group bulletin board or whiteboard that is per session.
Mike McAllen: Yes, it is – nowadays, when you give a talk, I gave one recently and it was interesting that – most of the people have their computer open or the BlackBerrys and I guess I’d say a lot about my speaking capabilities but they were – most of the people are all, you know, doing multiple things, seems like.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes.
Mike McAllen: So maybe that’s the other reason why it’s not a great idea to have a little chat going on. If you have another …
Jordan Schwartz: I mean, we experiment – we’re still experimenting with some of those ideas so we have – we did one show where we had an SMS or touch messaging system that allowed attendees to send text messages to each other using Pathable in our tag-based system so I could send a text message to all the beekeepers at a conference for example. They were meeting up at, you know, table four now and we’re playing with ideas like that, ways for panel moderator to take questions from the audience that may be more effective than just having people line up at a microphone or kind of pick hands out in audience. So I think there’s a lot to be done to make a meeting more effective both in terms of, you know, the flow of a session and the social dynamics of the attendees that we’re trying to fix.
Mike McAllen: So, that kind of brings me to the question of like I’ve had a lot of my clients that I’ve talked to and I try and bring in things to make it more engaging for the attendees. How could someone like myself or a meeting planner or an event marketer to sell this to their bosses to use Pathable? Because I know so many of the companies are so shy about, you know, trying to do – they’re always afraid of course to, you know …
Jordan Schwartz: Sure.
Mike McAllen: … to flop. But this one seems to me like it really is a good – a great idea and how would you sell that to – how could I sell that to my boss? I guess that’s the question.
Jordan Schwartz: Sure. Well, I mean, you know, putting it in the return on investment terms, there are really two avenues and the main one right now is attendee renewal. We know that people are going to conferences to network and I’ve actually talked to some meeting planners who have – it’s a self ticket to their event that only entitle you to stand in the hallway and network. They don’t get you into any of the sessions. They don’t even get you into the tradeshow but they allow you to have those hallway conversations so that’s how important we know networking is to people. And we’ve done surveys and studies of attendees at conferences and they told us that the extent to which they intend to return to a conference will be determined by the number of business connections they make at the conference and the degree to which they regard themselves as successfully networked so if you want to tie this back to the bottom line and you want to make sure that attendees are going to return to your conference year after year, you have to make them feel part of the community. You have to make them feel like they’re getting something, business connections and networking out of the event and that’s exactly what this tool does and it does it in a way that can be measure. Our host dashboard will tell you the number of, you know, contacts that people have marked that they want to follow up with, the number of private messages sent, the number of public messages sent. The number of times people have spent searching for each other’s profiles.
And so these are all ways that you can measure exactly how much – the degree to which Pathable help attendees network which leads to more renewal and then, you know, the other thing is sponsorships and we know that sponsorships lead to a third to two thirds of the revenue coming in to any give event and when sponsors – they, you know, they typically will get a package of offerings for gold level or silver level and that includes [00:12:50] on the tote bag or, you know, the right to send an e-mail or to give a talk at the key note and what we offer is the ability for sponsors to communicate in a targeted way with attendees who have a specific interest. So, you know, if I’m John Deer, I don’t want to just send a message to every attendee at a particular conference. What I really want to do is send a message to attendees who are specifically interested in farming equipments or you know …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Jordan Schwartz: … whatever is specific to my industry. So there are two ways that we can help conference organizers use Pathable to increase the revenue that they’re earning.
Mike McAllen: So, can this be used for like internal – I’m sorry. [00:13:39] before internal conferences too for I guess the same thing, to build up community and they’re not necessarily looking for maybe contacts but you may want to keep that community?
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, absolutely. Anytime where you have people who don’t know each other well, are distributed or have a limited amount of time to get to know each other, Pathable is going to be appropriate. If you have a work group that works together in the same building, probably not. Pathable probably isn’t the right solution for a case like that but if you have a sales force that’s distributed across the country you’re pulling in together for, you know, an incentives meeting, something like that and they’re going to be together for a few days. You want them to get to know each other. When they disperse again, they have some special connections that they can use and leverage on their ongoing business. You know, it doesn’t have to be an external conference or you know, association or anything like that.
Mike McAllen: Yes. I can see that working well with – because we do a lot of – produce a lot of sales meetings for the – for a lot of companies and they have these, you know, networking parties but this would be perfect that they could really find the people they want to talk to about whatever they want to talk about. Is it easy for non-techy people to use Pathable?
Jordan Schwartz: Yes – we’ve tried to make it easy. You know, actually, when I started at Microsoft, I was originally a usability engineer before I was put into program management so I spent years sitting behind a one-way mirror watching people use software and actually, my background is in Social Psychology as [00:15:20] one of our co-founders and so, very focused on usability, ease of use and channeling the flow of interaction so that anyone can use this. And I’ll b honest. People who get social networking will just gravitate to this. I mean, we’ve seen 80%, 90% adoption at conferences that are tech-oriented but we see above 50%,70% adoption at non-tech conference when there’s a focus on networking, when people have this need and desire to get to know each other. They’re willing to invest the time in filling out our profile and uploading a photo. So, yes – we just try to make it – make it so easy to use.
Mike McAllen: Is this also for a – I should have asked this before but is it – like if you do it internally, it is – you have – basically, it’s password protected. You have to be part of the event to go look at it.
Jordan Schwartz: That’s right. There’s a kind of a check box that you as a host set that determines whether anyone can come in off the street and create an account or whether you have to have bought a ticket or has been provisioned by the host and there’s also a separate setting that allows you to let anyone see these conversations that are going on but not participate in them or just keep the entire site private. So there are sometimes when you want to say, “You can’t participate until you bought your ticket or unless you’re invited but I want the world to be able to feel all the activities that’s happening at my event.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Jordan Schwartz: That will help me advertise it.
Mike McAllen: Right, get them excited about coming to the next one.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes.
Mike McAllen: What – what – can you brand it with whatever? Is it branded as Pathable or is it – can you – is it?
Jordan Schwartz: No, it’s a – yes, we – it will look and feel like it’s your part of your website so you’re [00:17:20] your logo at the bottom of the page which just says, “Powered by Pathable” but her – you can – we even have a way to make it appear to be your URL so if it’s, you know, your organization.com and from the end user’s point of view, it will look as if it belongs to the rest of the organization’s website.
Mike McAllen: That’s great. So can you give me – how about giving me a couple of examples how you have used it for some clients maybe and I know you have a video of it on your site which is very cool and I’ll put that on our site too to [00:17:57] share it which is great.
Jordan Schwartz: Sure.
Mike McAllen: But can you give a little example of a …
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, sure. I’ll just try and pick and some different examples that will probably show the breadth of use. We just – we did a show recently, the Oregon Business Plan Leadership Summit. It’s a meeting of about business leaders in Oregon including the governor and mayors and legislators. So these are not particularly technical people and after the attendees had completed the registration, they got an e-mail that said, “We’d like – now that you’ve registered, come join the community.” And the organizers in that case used the conversation forms that we offer as a way to generate conversations around white papers that they had published. So they – turns out these white papers on various issues relevant to Oregon business and ask for opinions and then everybody who is attending the conference in the weeks leading up to it offer their opinions and their suggestions for how Oregon could improve its business environment and then in the weeks afterwards, they continued those conversations.
Mike McAllen: That’s cool.
Jordan Schwartz: And in events like Gnomedex which is a technically-focused event, small, I think 300, 400 people. We – again, integrated with the registration system and there – was a two-day event, single track and with more focus on networking and we made more use of our – we got a chat feature for that so people could have conversations during the talks and use that – use those conversations to drive – question speakers. We have a mobile iPhone and BlackBerry interface that people were able to use to look each other up and send each other messages during the conference building …
Mike McAllen: That’s cool.
Jordan Schwartz: … to meet up and things like that.
Mike McAllen: So you did actually have the chat room basically in each session there that …
Jordan Schwartz: We did for that one. That’s right, yes.
Mike McAllen: It is not an option? I mean, if somebody wanted to do that?
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, yes, absolutely. We’ve taken it off the standard set of features that we turn on by default but if someone is interested in that, it’s – the codes all fill there and it also works.
Mike McAllen: Because you know, unlike the techy ones who are going to be on Twitter or whatever anyway. So …
Jordan Schwartz: That’s right, that’s right. And so, we will actually – if people input their Twitter address, we gather everybody’s tweets and present them in an aggregate feed for the whole event so that when you go to the home page for the event, you can see what everybody is talking about on Twitter, on their blogs and those of any other source.
Mike McAllen: Oh, that’s fantastic.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes.
Mike McAllen: So I guess you are now going to go after the largest meeting organizers now to see if this is going to work with the MPI, MeetDifferent Conference at Atlanta. I saw that you guys are going to be there.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, that’s right.
Mike McAllen: That’s pretty fantastic. That’s – a lot of our listeners will be at that which is great.
Jordan Schwartz: Yes, we’re very excited about that. We went live with that yesterday and started to see attendees coming in and filling out profiles and reaching out to each other so that’s exciting and I – you know, I’m actually – I’m nervous that chefs or doctors make the most difficult patients and chefs make the harshest restaurant critic but so far, so good.
Mike McAllen: That’s it, yes. You hit (around on the head 00:21:27) with that one but I’m sure it’s going to be great. That will probably draw up a lot of business for you.
Jordan Schwartz: I hope so. I think it’s really – you can – I can explain it to you. I can show you how to slide deck. There’s nothing like trying it out to feel the experience of …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Jordan Schwartz: .. you know, being a part of the community to get it and so this is just a great opportunity for us let people get it that way. We’re actually – we’re also serving MPI’s, Washington, Oregon Chapter Annual Meeting, the Cascadia Educational Conference coming up in March.
Mike McAllen: Oh great.
Jordan Schwartz: And the Green Meeting Industry Council conference in late February as well so again just focusing on letting meeting planners try this so they get a sense of how it works.
Mike McAllen: Yes, that’s fantastic. I think it’s very exciting. Well, Jordan, thank you so much for talking with me. And then how can people get a hold of you? Do you want to give more information?
Jordan Schwartz: Well, easiest way is you visit our website Pathable.com. P-A-T-H-A-B-L-E- dot com and our phone number is up there. You can e-mail me, [email protected] and I’d be happy to show you a demo or tell you more about it.
Mike McAllen: That’s fantastic. All right. Well, thank you so much and maybe we can talk again later on to see how this is all going. It would be great to get all kind of you know – talk a little bit more to see where Pathable is going later on.
Jordan Schwartz: That would be great. Thank you, Mike. I appreciate it.
Mike McAllen: Okay. Bye now.
Female: We appreciate and thank you for listening to the Meetings podcast. You can find Mike McAllen at GrassShackRoad.com, Jon Trask at AlliantEvents.com and Tom Hillmer at CreativeGroupInc.com. The Meetings Podcast theme music comes from the Delgado Brothers which can be found at DelgadoBrothers.com and a special thanks to RipTideGraphics.com for the audio editing of this podcast.