Identifying the Problem
“Volunteering for our son’s Boy Scout troop was supposed to be rewarding”, I said to my wife. “Instead, it feels like a second job!” Like many boys, at age 10 our son joined the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to make new friends and experience the outdoors. Our local troop was very large, with over 150 scouts and 100 assistant scout masters (ASMs). Each of the ASMs served as a volunteer with one or more roles in the troop and, as one of those ASMs, my first role was to coordinate the transportation to and from our monthly campouts. With over 200 attendees each month, this turned out to be an enormous task, requiring dozens of hours of planning. No wonder the other positions filled up first. My volunteer role was killing me!
Organizing our troop’s campouts required insane amounts of time and effort. Even though I had spent years working at Microsoft as a software developer on Word and Excel, planning for these regular troop events presented a different form of logistical challenge that remained frustratingly unsolved.
To get started, I used the tools I knew: spreadsheets, emails, texts, and phone calls. Each month, I’d start with a list of potential attendees, review the trip itinerary, use an email template to send out the RSVP questions, consolidate the responses into the original spreadsheet, and finally assign activities and roles. Sending an email with 200 addresses in the BCC line is easy enough but sifting through the corresponding responses takes hours. To make an immediate improvement, I introduced an online survey tool, SurveyMonkey. Using SurveyMonkey allowed me to streamline the collection of RSVPs and follow up questions.
While a survey tool automated and improved the planning process, I still had to extract the data out of one system and re-integrate it into another. I wasted hours moving the data back and forth between all these tools. So, you can imagine that after two years, I was glad to pass the role on to another ASM and take on a new role; but I knew there had to be a way to streamline our troop’s event planning. This experience had shown me firsthand how inefficient event planning can be without the right tools.
It turns out I was not alone in this dilemma. Many of my friends are often asked to volunteer in similar ways with their kids’ school, youth organizations, sports teams, and other community groups. If the tasks are simple, such as hauling sporting gear or serving as a line judge for a volleyball game, there’s virtually no preparation required. However, if parents are asked to handle logistics related tasks, like collecting RSVPs, organizing carpools, or arranging activities, the effort required grows considerably. The volunteer’s initial enthusiasm can quickly wear off, especially once they spend dozens of hours planning an event. I can certainly relate!
The good news is technology can solve this problem. Unfortunately, non-profit social organizations often lack the budgets for specialized software. Volunteers must therefore rely on their own effort to make up the difference. Savvy volunteers may scour the market to find clever solutions, but often they end up relying on the same basic tools that they know well. The timing is right for an affordable event planning solution to streamline the process for both price-conscious organizations and individual event planners. Clearly, this was a complex problem and solving it would require fully addressing that complexity.
Building the Solution
The solution came to me years later, once I realized that most event planning involves the same essential tasks. Organizing campouts has a lot in common with organizing just about any other kind of event. Combining these essential planning steps—creating invitation lists, collecting attendance responses, and assigning event responsibilities—into a single system allows the data to move efficiently through each step of the workflow. Users no longer have to rely on cobbling together numerous tools and moving data into and out of multiple systems. From this key idea, Eventene was born.
As entrepreneurs know, it’s an arduous journey from idea to product launch. I knew I was facing a mountain of challenges and a multiple year effort. Fortunately, I had my experience at Microsoft to draw upon.
I set out by sketching a solution using a series of storyboards for common event planning scenarios, much like how films are developed. Once I had worked out the solution for the original transportation problem, I expanded my design to handle the planning elements for a wider variety of event types. By breaking down events into a series of parts, each with distinct arrangements of people and places, I arrived at a broader solution. However, for this solution to be immediately helpful, the technology needed to do the heavy lifting by sending out individualized email invitations, automatically tracking responses, assigning roles, and generating reports.
The next step was to hire a development team to build the “MVP” version. My team and I made sure to incorporate the entire planning workflow into the design. A key goal throughout the design phase was to preserve the human-touch element in event planning. Organizers need to send out personalized emails, allow for RSVPs to include personal notes and comments, and weigh the personal preferences of the attendees before assigning roles and responsibilities. Likewise, it was equally important to consider ease of use and incorporate reactive software design to support a wide variety of screen sizes. Clearly, there were a number of challenges, but with a great deal of thought and energy, we were able to build the first version of Eventene.
Finally, we realized that an event planning solution would be incomplete without considering the needs of the event attendees. Our solution would need to benefit the entire organization, not just the organizers. In the days of our son’s campouts, I would email the trip itinerary and directions to participants and then post the carpool assignments and volunteer duties on a single piece of paper, taped to the side of a van. With Eventene, each event participant can download the companion mobile app, providing access to the event details, attendees, navigation links, and personal assignments. Plus, we saved money on tape!
Delivering the Vision
Once we completed the beta version of Eventene (www.eventene.com), I was eager for our son’s troop to be among the first to test it. It turned out they were still using the same tools and workflow I had set up nearly 10 years prior. Within six months, this large troop completely transitioned to Eventene and now relies on it to plan every monthly campout and troop event. It was incredibly gratifying to finally solve the problem that had stumped me for so long, but I was also pleased that Eventene proved useful for many other events besides Scouting. Other beta test cases for Eventene included a parent/student ski trip at a local high school, a monthly dinner excursion to restaurants around Los Angeles, and a tennis league with weekly matches.
With over a hundred successful events planned, we have proven Eventene delivers an effective solution at a price point that customers will buy. It’s rewarding to see other event planners get excited about Eventene when they see it in action. I hope that, in the future, volunteer event planners won’t be able to relate to this maddening experience because the process will have become simply effortless. That’s the goal of Eventene, and I believe we have taken a giant step towards achieving it.