This week on Mastering the Art of Failing, we chat with someone who has seen lifetimes worth of change across the startup ecosystem and has been in the middle of it all. Jen Consalvo started her career at a little company called AOL. Having spent 13 years there, in the company's prime, she was a developer, product manager, and later a director overseeing new products.
Seeking some life changes, Jen set out on her own and built her first startup, Thankfulfor.com. A few years of tinkering later, she found herself teaming up with Frank Gruber, and they jointly built a community-driven company called Tech Cocktail (later TechCo). They brought local startup communities together, exposing founders to investors, creating awareness for new concepts, and helping entrepreneurs connect and form new companies.
With success found in their community-driven approach, they expanded into a tech and startup media brand driven by funding from Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh. Unfortunately, hard lessons were learned as their vision was no longer theirs alone, and they ran into turbulence as they had to choose between seeking more funding or achieving a profitable status. But then, one day, an email landed in their inbox that gave them an alternative route forward and led to the creation of Established.
Producer’s note: The guest for this episode is not Glen Helman as the outro indicates. Bad robot!
Jen shares what sparked the creation of Tech Cocktail, a community for startups
Tech Cocktail focused on building connections and bringing together startup communities in different cities
Tech Cocktail evolved into TechCo, a media company that covered the startup ecosystem
The company received investment and moved to Las Vegas, which changed how they ran the business
TechCo eventually explored additional funding options but unexpectedly received an acquisition offer from a company in London
Jen emphasizes the importance of staying in tune with oneself and being open to opportunities
Letting go of the company they built was a mix of sentimentality and excitement for what the future held
The Journey to Entrepreneurship
Jen shares her journey to becoming a co-founder and co-CEO of a company that works with startups and startup communities. She reflects on the pivotal moment she decided to leave a secure job, face personal challenges, and embark on a startup journey. Despite the uncertainty, she found herself drawn to the world of startups and the opportunities it presented.
The Evolution and Challenges of Tech Cocktail
Among the success initially found for Tech Cocktail, and now Established, Jen looked back on what drove their business forward. She highlighted the importance of building a community in the startup ecosystem and how Tech Cocktail filled a gap by connecting startups, investors, and enterprise companies. She also acknowledges the challenges of navigating changes in the market, competition, and the need for funding.
Jen explained how the company had a culture shift when they initially accepted external funding and how their vision wasn’t the only one up for consideration after. Time tables change, growth metrics become drivers, and other opinions hold more weight.
So here we are trying to stay very nimble and shift, yet we have to remember that we are on this timeline to either get to profitability or raise. And that's, it impacts everything you do and I cannot stress that enough for anyone who's out there considering funding because you may think that you have this great plan and you're going to be able to do whatever you want.
But it's going to change the way you think; it has to because all of a sudden you're beholden to other people. Now, we were very fortunate in that we had such a great investor and partner that there was some flexibility, but we still had to make some hard decisions.
TechCo Sold so Established Could be Born
Jen Consalvo describes how TechCo, formerly Tech Cocktail, which she co-founded in 2018, helped startups and larger organizations fulfill their potential. The company focused on innovation programs, building connections, and supporting startup communities. This spiraled into supporting incubators, hosting pitch events, activities built into SXSW, and, eventually, the annual Startup of the Year competition.
Amongst the groundswell of community building, Jen and Frank built out a media company and became a vital source of startup news, the latest tech, and related resources. Years after the rebrand and shift towards work as a media publication, they struggled to find new external funding. Then, one day, an email landed in their inbox that changed everything. With potential financial struggles on the horizon, a proposal came in at the right time that allowed the duo to sell TechCo to a company in the UK. It was at this point they went back to their roots of developing a community-based company, and from there, Established was born.
Mastering Failing uses automated tools to create a transcript of our show. Please excuse any typos and hallucinations that we’ve come to love from our new AI overlords.
Alex: Jen, thank you so much for joining us today. So let's talk a little bit about where you are today, right? Let's talk about the company that you just, you founded and the mission that you guys are currently serving.
Jen Consalvo: So our company today which we brought to life in 2018 is called established and it really, the name of it is really about every company out there has an established upon date. And that date is the beginning of endless possibilities. It's very aspirational. And our goal is to help companies, whether they're startups or larger organizations helping them fulfill that opportunity.
Whether it's helping them with innovation programs, helping them build the connections they need startup programs, that's the space we operate in today.
Alex: I absolutely love the orientation of that name, Established. So let's go back to your establishment, right? So you alluded to 2008 you're at this critical point, both personally and professionally Elliot and I both understand we're both divorcees and have ripped apart our lives, so a good conversation for all of us, right?
We've all been there, right? We've all had that critical moment where what the heck am I doing? I gotta start over. So put yourself back in that space, right? In 2008, Why did you decide to leave a very secure job and what pivoted you to say, you know what, I have a couple of great ideas and I want to go try this on my own.
Jen Consalvo: Wow. I'm putting myself back in those shoes. I remember, so AOL was the company and like I said, I had been there for about 13 years. I had done everything you can think of. I started there as a developer. They taught me how to code. I worked my way up to be a product developer, product manager director of products.
I worked with every. Section of the company, it was an amazing place to grow and learn everything about tech and media for that matter. I Think, the company had been through. Massive changes for a long time. And I was so happy. I loved the people. I loved everything I was doing, but I just hit this wall where it's hard to explain.
You, you just internally feel like there's this everywhere you look, there's a billboard saying like something needs to change, like you shouldn't, you don't need to be here anymore. There's something else. And sometimes that's hard to explain. It's something very internal, but I just felt it everywhere I looked and everything, all of my activities at the company, the feedback I was getting just seemed to support that.
Not to say I didn't have great opportunities there because people were so wonderful, but I just felt no, nothing is really ring in the bell anymore for me. At that point, I was really fortunate. I had done well enough that I could take off. I could take some time. I literally did my own eat, pray, love.
I went to Kauai for a few weeks and and just got in touch with myself again. I was one of those workaholics who did not really take a lot of time to myself. I could do, I could pull those, all nighters. I could do anything at work and it was really time for some self care. So I just, I started doing personal projects.
I loved photography. I, that was part of my my formal education. So I started doing more in that space. Started some startup projects. I had I had a coworker I had worked with for a couple of years. Who's now my partner in life and partner in my business. And he had personal projects, one of them was called Tech Cocktail that was really focused on the startup space.
And I, I just loved it. We really started spending a lot of time together and started not only building that up, but just trying new things. And so we launched a product Elliot may remember called Thankful 4. It was a gratitude journal product. We got. Tens of thousands of like users. I couldn't believe it.
People logged in all the time just to, write in with, it was just, it was like Twitter, but just focused on what you're grateful for. We started building a few other products. We were really in a high high creation point in life. And so it was just, it just, I took some time to just feel it out and see what was next for me.
Alex: you're in this new space of creativity, right? You just left this really established job. You have a ton of changes happening in your personal life. And all of this now creative freedom, right?
All of this time to just invest and relearn who you are and what, your passions are. Talk us through some of those initial projects that started to develop and how you started to narrow down and figure out, this is my passion.
This is the direction that I want to go.
Jen Consalvo: Gosh, I remember. Blogging a lot. Again, 2008, think about it. Tumblr was popular at the time. So I built out not just 1, but probably 2 or 3 tumblers plus a WordPress blog, plus, doing my photography projects. I wrote a book of self published book on photography. I really loved. A book someone gave me called the artist's way fantastic book, just to help you get more in touch with yourself, your creative process. There's a, it's a very famous book. And part of the process that she takes you through is writing every day. And so just starting to. Stream of consciousness every morning, get out your pages and just write.
And I think that, and just, just trying a lot of things. I mentioned that we started a lot of things, right? Like I loved thankful for and working in gratitude. I loved some of the other projects we picked up, but when I started helping Frank with tech cocktail and taking something that was really it brought joy to people. It built connection with people. And when I was there, it was just so alive and so vibrant that I felt that pull. It was just, it was so obvious at a certain point that's where we needed to focus or where I needed to focus. And and we were able to do that.
We were able to, Frank was eventually able to quit his job. We were able to look at. Where we were where we wanted to be and take something that was a hobby pet project and turn it into an actual business. And I think if I had to look at this objectively
if a lot of people would have made the same choice.
Because it's if you think about it, it felt like cocktail parties what is this? This is a business. What? Let's focus on something where we're going to, really build in some recurring revenue. At the time, it probably seems a little crazy, but I'm a big believer that sometimes you just know you just know, deep down this is a path.
I don't see, I don't see it all yet. But it's going the road is going to present itself.
Alex: When you all started to get deeper into, the founding of TechCocktails, what was your vision, right? What were you hoping to accomplish with that company? And where did it start to evolve and really make sense for you?
Jen Consalvo: it began as just gatherings. And Frank had started it with another partner, actually Eric Olson, and they had started it in Chicago and brought it to D. C. when Frank moved there. And all of a sudden, people from all over the country started reaching out, saying, Hey, can you bring this here? This is before Twitter.
This is before maybe Eventbrite had just started. So we were, this was all groundwork. This was email. This was, reaching out, making phone calls, building connections. How do we go to Boise and bring together a startup community that, that isn't, that has no place to coalesce. There's no coworking places, et cetera.
A lot of it was just feeling our way through that, seeing okay how much do we think we could expand this on the ground and build up communities and be able to do that and build out the sponsorships and the ticket models and all that to support it? At the same time, looking for what else can make this into a viable business.
And at the time, Frank had been very into blogging. I had worked on community platforms at AOL for a long time. So it felt very natural to bring all of that and the startup lens that we had with these tech cocktail events. Into the online space, and that's where we took the blogging turned it into tech co.
Media and built the whole thing into a media company. Whereas a lot of other companies were starting with the publishing aspect and then trying to build out the event model around it. We did it the opposite way. So we started, we built this community, and then we were able to roll out this content to this existing community, which worked really nicely.
Elliot: If I could jump in there, I will say that is still a critical failure point on most organizations where they try to build community as a secondary element around these concepts. And I've literally been in those shoes myself. So unfortunately, I know how that works, but you all created a groundswell is before like D.
C. Tech meetup and all these other little things before. Incubators are a thing, but not like doing large pitch sessions and all these other activities that y'all helped pioneer across, I don't know if you spanned outside of the US, but every major city, you were making some waves.
Jen Consalvo: And Frank did a couple of events in Spain and we did a few in Canada. So we did, we had a little bit of an international touch, but but we actually over the years did have a lot of startups from other countries join us at our national events, which was really exciting. But yeah, I, I.
Part of it, I think
Were in the online community at AOL, which built that company, like I literally, my first job at AOL was with people connection, which probably most of you out there will never remember, but people connection was enormous. It was chat. It was chat rooms, message boards.
It was the original foundation of community. And so I learned a lot from there. And I think Frank came from a completely other, another perspective, which was he loved in college, the Greek system, the fraternities. He went out into the working world and he was like, Why isn't this as fun? Couldn't it be, let's look at he looked at Silicon Valley as a model.
Like those people, the start community there is getting together all the time. They're having meetups. People know each other. He was in Chicago and he's like, why? I know there's gotta be startups here. Are they connecting? Are they talking to each other? Where are the investors? Where are the big companies?
Why does nobody connect and know what's happening? And so we were able to take all of this experience that we both had and bring it together. And build out this offline and online. Beautiful startup ecosystem that just, just had some magic to it.
Alex: Yeah, that's definitely the critical piece, right? Both sides of the coin. As a former sorority girl, I get it, but also as an introvert, and Elliot always calls me out and says I'm not, but I am, appreciate both the opportunity to connect online and in person, right? That's so critical. As you're moving from TechCocktail into this new media company in TechCo, what are some of the pivot points or maybe lessons learned as you added that additional layer into the company and started to really turn it into a viable business model?
Jen Consalvo: Yeah. So at the beginning, we were bootstrapped a hundred percent. So everything was based on, do we have a sponsor for this? Do we have sales for this? Do we have, at the beginning to ticket sales were actually a thing. Like you could have a mixer event. You could get. Thousands of dollars because people were willing to pay.
There were no other options. There weren't a lot of ways to connect. So we were able to actually build out models for this, but yeah, we were completely bootstrapped. But when it came time for growth and we only, we're just a couple of people we brought in a few, we'd hire people as we could, when you're bootstrapping like that, every employee hire you make is still like a, Hey, I'm going to make sure I try to pay you regularly, but once in a while.
Once in a while, this could still go south. I need you to be flexible. wE had some of those tough times at the beginning. But yeah, so we, it took us a little while and then I think we started getting into a flow. We hired our first salesperson. We started to have a lot more consistency and and then at a certain point we, we took investment.
That was a very big inflection point for us. We ended up moving to Las Vegas Our investment came from tank Tony who's no longer with us today, but at the time he had been a friend of ours. He had invited us out to Las Vegas to see what he was doing his vision for the downtown project. And I've just got to tell you, here we are in Washington, DC.
I'd lived there for 20 years. I'm very happy there. Vegas had never been on my radar other than CES once a year, never thought that would be a place I would live. And before we knew it, we had packed up everything, drove across the country and made Las Vegas our home and home base and started. After taking some investment, building out the company there in a much more directed and professional way.
That's when we officially changed our company name. We brought in more people, we build out our sales and we really start in earnest. We, I think at our high point, we're doing over 100 events a year in 30 cities.
Elliot: So if I could add one question in there and this is always a fun challenge to look into between the world of bootstrap and when there are investment dollars. Would you say there were any like critical lessons I'm sure there were several, but what was like the culture shift?
Obviously, I joined you all later in the journey, so I was able to experience that. But obviously there was a shift in mentality of do we spend like crazy now? What was like the culture shift? What was the structure and the strategy shift like? I'm going
Jen Consalvo: Yeah, all of a sudden you're on a timeline, and sometimes it's it takes you by surprise. It can take you by surprise because you have this plan and then you get the funding and then when your plans shift, because every startup. I'm sorry, the best laid plans out there are going to change the market changes.
Your competition changes everything. Especially if you think about the fact that our focus was the startup ecosystem, and that is 1 of the most rapidly changing spaces you can be in. All of a sudden, if you think about that timeline, we're in a, we're in that same time frame That all the WeWorks, the startup hubs all of a sudden there's a proliferation in startup blogging and just all of it is exploding at the same time.
So here we are trying to stay very nimble and shift, yet we have to remember that we are on this timeline to either get to profitability or raise. And that's, it's just such a, it impacts everything you do and I cannot stress that enough for anyone who's out there considering funding because you may think that you have this great plan and you're going to be able to do whatever you want.
But this is, it's going to change the way you think it has to because all of a sudden you're beholden to other people. Now, we were very fortunate in that we had such a great investor and partner that. There was a, there was some flexibility, but we still had to make some hard decisions. And at a certain point,
We were making that decision of we're looking around and all of a sudden, we had grown our traffic.
We had millions of readers. We had all these things going on with events. And we realized. Wow. One change to Facebook's algorithm or to Google and our traffic can drop in half and our ad revenues can disappear. And, all of a sudden we're getting, our heels nipped by a thousand events in every city and we're no longer.
Needed everywhere. So there's all this change coming in that we start making, thinking about, okay how do we stay alive? What do we do? And so we're making lots of changes. And at the same time, realizing we've got to either raise funding or get acquired for this to continue to work.
So we started going after the funding looking at all kinds of different things. And we're flying around the country, talking to everybody. We had some really strong prospects. We had some potential investors. And then we got a random email and this random email from across the pond. Frank and I laugh at the story every single time because Frank had gotten an email first, but he's, you have to remember he was our like editor in chief, he was like our, he got pitched every day, like thousands of emails, so he would often fall behind and never saw this email.
Or if he did, he just deleted it. I get the email and I opened it right away because it was someone saying, Hi, I'm very interested in your company and would like to discuss an acquisition.
Alex: Hard to miss.
Jen Consalvo: Just, it was just wild. And I'm just going to go back. I'm a big believer in synchronicity when things are right. I talked about how I got to this point.
Jen Consalvo: it again, it just felt like the whole universe conspiring for us, not against us, but for us, which is such a beautiful feeling.
Even when things are hard, it doesn't mean everything's lining up perfectly. It just means you can tell, I think at a gut level, this is going to work out this gentleman Titus, who reached out said, Hey, I'm going to be in, in Austin. I saw that you guys were going to be in, in Austin for South by Southwest.
Would you just want to meet up? And so we did, and what was supposed to be, 1 drink turned into like this 4 hour long dinner and drinks and then followed by another meeting where he flew out from London to Las Vegas. Turns into us flying to London, having all these conversations and strategy meetings pivot points where we think, oh, there's nothing here.
Darn, we've lost all this time. We need to, change our whole strategy now to all of a sudden, closing and we've just sold our company. So it's, it was a wild ride, but again, I felt You really with any kind of journey like that, you just have to stay very in tune with yourself and what's going on around you and try not to be so upset or distracted by all of those.
Elliot: So I just jumping back a little bit before we go to where and what you have built today, which is a fantastic story in itself. I'd love a little bit insight into kind of like the mentality of you built a baby. How, how did you go through that thought process of like, how do you let it go?
How do you let it go back into the world now that someone is approached to you as here's some money, but, obviously it's not just a money exchange. You built something something that people deeply care about. You've essentially launched startups into the world that have had huge impacts.
Anyone who's been to your events would know exactly how that feels, but you were there obviously every step of the way. That mentality, the connection, I'm sure there's some sentimentality maybe that went into it. So I'm curious what the thought process felt like for y'all.
Jen Consalvo: and funny timing, I was just looking through my phone and a video popped up of the day that Frank and I were signing the papers and it brought back so much. So let's see. We, I think part of it was, as you go through the fundraising process again, and start, we were talking to a lot of companies about acquisition and mergers and things.
Number 1, I think when you're going through that process, you realize that change is inevitable. That no matter what happens, if you take funding, things are going to change if you have a merger acquisition, things are going to change. And we were talking to a lot of large media companies at the time and understanding whoa, if we went this direction, we'd have to understand this is what we would have to turn into.
And if we go here, this is so you're already in a mindset of it's time where things are going to change no matter what, and we may or may not even have control. Of what's going to happen, so that's 1 thing. I think we had already decided, even from day 1. We frankly, I spent a lot of time talking about the company and the things that were important to us.
And I think we always felt like as long as. We were true to our mission, which was about the startups. And about the startup journey, then the how and the things that we did that we could not stay married to those things. So that was from the very beginning, sort of part of our own mindset, which helps a lot throughout that process.
Also, when we started talking with the company who eventually acquired tech co media, number one, I think we felt this immediate kindred spirit with the team. It was really a beautiful thing. We spent time together. We talked about the future. For a long time, we were supposed to be part of it.
Frank and I were either going to be moving to London. And keep in mind, this is all while, we had gotten married, we're pregnant. Now we have a baby and I'm looking at preschools in London. Or so we went from thinking that way to, Oh, they may actually send us to Austin because they're, they've been building up a satellite office there.
So we're going to have to move to Austin, Texas. So there's a lot of different things flying. And through that process, this was a nine month. Process from the day that we met and started talking with them through the acquisition. It was 9 months. Lots of conversations about what this could look like and some complete pivots where it went from MVF wanting the entire company to a very sharp pivot of, what we've decided we don't want.
The startup event piece or any of the sort of clientele you've built up around it. We just want the media. We just want the media components. And that was a huge shift, but it also felt very right. We were like, Oh. We get to keep the baby we love most. Like we get to keep that piece and turn it into something else and see what else we could do with that.
And hand off the piece that is becoming the hardest. That media piece was just a beast at the time, right? How do you have a staff of writers? How do you manage that constant flow of content and the advertising climate and all the stuff that comes with that. You just have to stay really open minded.
That's the best I can say to anyone is. It things could change so much and you just have to stay open minded and think about what is good here. And what is the potential here?
Elliot: Yeah, and I think for just some added context for like timing for people to map this up for the rest of the world. This was also when like Vox, TechCrunch and all these other big publications were just blasting the world with they were, from the tech side, primarily the content was written but they were starting to invest in like video and all these other things.
So they were just everywhere and they had a lot of money being dumped into them or they were tied to like traditional media companies and just have a different layer on them. So
Jen Consalvo: is exactly. We were staring at looking at these companies who are friends of ours, right? I, we worked today. With Jim Bangkok, right? He offered us jobs at it was pre box, right? When it was, I can't remember what it was called. But yeah, we were looking, they're raising hundreds of millions of dollars and here we are thinking, oh, gosh, how are we going to compete in this landscape? And it was just, we just knew that we had to look at it in a completely different framework.
Pulling that piece forward and creating established, looking back, any regrets or things that you wish you could have either changed or gone a different way?
Jen Consalvo: Oh, great question. Thinking back, we always team around us. Always loved I look at the people who we brought into that team over the years. I just think God, what a fantastic group of people who are doing such wonderful things. Now, I don't know. I don't have a specific answer, but I feel like if there's something else, maybe it just would have been like, learning how to. Manage a better manage a team in that type of environment, because because there is a lot of fear to write like, you're as a startup, you're on the defensive all the time. You're really trying to try to manage the money. You're trying to grow the company. You're trying to do all these things and. At the same time for us, especially we were hiring young, right?
This was a young group of people for the most part. We had some older folks too, but for the most part, we had a lot of young people working with us and trying to foster this team spirit and create experiences and make a really great environment for them while also building this company had its own challenges because it was a Because it's just hard.
It's a difficult environment to be in. And so I'm sure if I could go back, there would be some things if I could get more advice there, maybe work more with some mentors to understand how to better work with those teams.
Elliot: I, hAving sat in those shoes for a little while with y'all I, I know exactly what you're talking about, but I think you might be even a little bit too hard on yourselves in that regard. Just for a little added context, I was one of your writers for a period of time, helped out in events and all that good stuff.
I had a freaking blast. It was probably one of the best job opportunities out there because it was just like full creative control to do really cool shit. And you don't get that anywhere else. So I think from the structure side of the house, it's maybe there was stress tied to the revenue pieces because it's hard to balance.
between doing really cool things and doing things that just make crap tons of money. But you all always had the heart in the right place. And I think that it's, there's the balance between the revenue and the heart and just, things that people actually care about and love. I, that's my only anecdote that I'll add in there.
Jen Consalvo: Thank you. I appreciate that very much because we, I'm not lying when I say I, I loved our team. I love everyone who ever worked for us. It was just, it was a great time. I love seeing where everyone is now. It's just so fun to watch all the things that people have been able to do in their careers.
Elliot: Yeah, absolutely. The connections that like everyone that I know has worked there, Ronald's an editor for a large company. Two of the writers are still writing tied to tech. Oh, so they're still doing their thing. But yeah, everyone else is just out there thriving. And it's because of the atmosphere you created.
So again, I think you were being a little bit hard on yourselves as far as
Jen Consalvo: we always want to be better. And there's there are probably other things too. We probably, I think maybe everything just ties back to maybe just working more with some trusted mentors. I think there's this. Sometimes there can be a hesitancy, right? It's no, I've just got to run fast.
I don't have time to invest in myself in that way. But I feel like you can't ever go wrong by stepping back and working with folks who have been there. Fortunately, we have always had a lot because we were in the startup space. We actually had a great network, so there were people who we could always reach out to for advice, but it was a little bit more ad hoc and it would have been nice to maybe have some folks that I'm more regularly sat down with and just, just bounce more things off each other.
Elliot: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think if we, Alex, we loop back to the conversation we had with Glenn Hellman about that shift from a loyalty company to a performance one, that's that critical inflection point that we're looking at here. The folks that we worked with, we were loyal to what we were doing because we absolutely loved it, but, again, and it comes to the revenue side when you're focused on the quality and performance and you don't have to move as fast.
You just need to move in the right direction. It's just a nice little loop back to kind of these conversations and seeing that there's a lot of common trends between them. Transcripts
Alex: Awesome. So let's pivot to today, right? You peel off the media piece. and you keep the critical baby piece that you loved, right? The startups, the relationships, how does that manifest into establish? And what are you guys tackling today?
Jen Consalvo: So I'm gonna, I'm gonna take us back a little bit because it was really fascinating how not just fascinating. It was challenging and it was pressure when we sold and had that piece because we couldn't, in order to keep that piece, we needed to keep some staff. And in order to do that, we had to keep working and after doing literally a sprint for all those years, building tech co, it would have been nice to take a break really would have been nice to take a break and we didn't, and we really couldn't because all of a sudden we were like, okay, we're going to keep some staff on we're going to, we had a sort of
Period, payout period where we had to keep working and advising during that handoff period of the company.
There was an opportunity at the end of that to announce okay, and now the community is part of this company called Established. And at the same time, Frank had been going on the Rise of the Rest road tours, and we had an opportunity to put our new company name on the side of the Rise of the Rest bus.
So here we are, we're like, oh. Okay, we're not going to take a break, we're going to run even faster, we're going to come up with our brand, we're going to launch it, we're going to do events, we're going to do all these things, and we're going to keep building, working with all of our our clients. Yeah, it's. It was something we rolled out the company very quickly. So keep in mind, this is 2018, 2019. We're planning events. We're doing, investing time and money into building up this new brand. We're trying to feel like. Let's build some roots. We moved across the country again.
So we built, we moved from Las Vegas to Maine. Since we had a little one, we wanted to be closer to my family. And we're finally, we're moving fast. We're getting in a groove thinking, okay we're going to take a little bit of time to to get to profitability. We're going to invest in this company first, which we started doing.
And then before you knew it, COVID hit
and. Our events,
we were literally just about to throw this huge event at South by Southwest. We had already invested. We, talk about okay. And we're not the only company out there, of course, but all of a sudden it just felt like this Oh gosh, we went through this very stressful time.
Towards the end of tech co, where we're like making these big decisions and having to make payroll out of our 401ks. We're making tough decisions during that last phase of what are we going to do? Are we going to raise more money? Are we going to sell? And, running fast towards that brick wall.
And so we're finally feeling really good about things and we're. Building up this new company and then COVID hits and all of a sudden where we're in the hole for all these events that are not going to happen and that we've spent money on and all these things. Yeah, so I think Alex, I can't even remember your question but all I can say is immediately building any company.
We were deep in a journey and having to make tough decisions from the get go.
absolutely. Did it feel a little easier a second time around or still still learning on the fly? And then I'd love to hear how you dug out of COVID, right? I think there's a lot of stories out there. It took a while, especially in the event space. So yeah, easier, harder, same.
a little bit of different.
Jen Consalvo: I don't know. It was just different, it was different. We definitely had some experience behind us and we knew some things that we would be willing to do and some things that we wouldn't be willing to do part of that is like how close to the edge do you want to go?
lIke literally, and it's cause I know there's startups out there listening who a lot of people may not realize, like these people are making decisions do I put a second mortgage on my house? Do I spend that retirement account? Do I ask friends and family for money? And I always want to tell those people like you're not alone.
You're not crazy. These are real decisions that a lot of us put ourselves in. And I know I'm not the only one, like we had a.
remember my doctor being like I thought I told you to take it easy. Have you been, running around a lot? I'm like, Oh yeah, I may have just run all around the country and, pitched 50 different people in high heels. He's telling me, no, you're supposed to be on bedrest. So I, I. I get it. So I think we knew this time around how far the edge we were willing to go and not willing to go, which was different than the 1st time around doesn't make it any easier. I think this time we we had started making some real traction.
We knew that if. at least we sensed that if we hung in there, there were some really big opportunities just around the corner. And it was just a matter of how long is this going to take? It took longer than we thought we did come a little closer to the edge than we had wanted a little bit, not as far, but we definitely got a little closer to the edge than we wanted.
But it was because we did not want to fire people. We did not want to let people go. We really felt. Again, this goes back to what we've always Frank and I are like, when people come into the company, it's personal. We realize these are people's lives and we don't take that lightly. And so the idea of during cobit, letting people go was like,
we just couldn't do that.
And we were going to use our own money if we needed to do that, which we did.
some headers to the user interface. For the
we've been lucky a few times, and our bet on ourselves worked out and and we landed the biggest contracts of our lives coming into 2021. It felt if you asked me how long that period was between when COVID started and when we.
When we secured these contracts, it feels like it was five years and then I look back and I'm like, Oh no, it was March of 2020 till I think summer of, it was about a year. No, a little more year and a half maybe. But it felt like it was just endless. It was a very difficult time.
Alex: No, I get it draining, right? Emotionally, physically. I think most people would be lucky to work for founders like you, right? Because there's plenty of people who are out there to make money, right? And make an impact, but not every single founder has that passion for people. And that's so cool that you've Pulled that through all the different companies and iterations that you've had, that it's really, truly a community.
We're in here together. I'm not going to say family, cause that's the weird part of it. But but truly something fun, inspiring. And I'm sure Elliot will agree having worked for you all that, you spend a lot of time with your coworkers,
Jen Consalvo: Yeah It's that and it's, not to just be completely altruistic. It's also you trust, you put trust in people, right? And it's hard every time there's someone new you have to build that trust again, right? You have to understand, especially when you're in a, so established is much more of a consultancy.
So previously we were media and events company, our consultancy. We still leverage a lot of that skillset. We're communications consultancy. We do a lot of events still. We still have our start of the year community. And the work we do with our clients is really in that same innovation space, working with startups, working with startup ecosystems, and then working on all those communication components.
And so really at the end of the day, our team is our product, the team that we put in place and are and grow has to, they're the ones who make all of this work. And so when you build up that skill set, and you put the time in, and you work with people to build up all that knowledge and the trust, it really is.
To me, it's like that critical component. So yeah, that's, it's just, it's important from every aspect of it. Plus, as you said, you spend all your time with these people. And so you really grow to love people. Can't take that lightly.
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. So Jen, thank you so much. Your story has been incredible. It's been so cool to hear about the origins of just you reinventing yourself, coming out, starting this. Firm starting another firm starting over. It just speaks to resiliency and, the bravery that you have, as an entrepreneur to put yourself out there and build these cool communities.
So if you could boil down maybe one final piece of advice to either someone who's up and coming, who's looking to maybe follow in your footsteps, or maybe someone who is facing down that brick wall, right? What's the next decision do I make for my company? What would you share with them?
Jen Consalvo: Room. Probably a few things, but build your network of people support people around you. You may have a lot of people around you, but look for the ones who. Either have some experience, and you feel like you can really talk to them and dig into things with them or look for the people who are just there to listen. They're always going to be the people who are either. The naysayers are steering you into safety. And that may not always be what you're looking for or need. So look for these different types of support networks, because it's really important in the long run. But also, I would encourage anyone to be comfortable with yourself and being in some silence.
So many people are afraid of that silence, right? They just want to go and blast some music or distract themselves. And I often find that solutions. Will come up after you've been able to just pose the problem to yourself, go off, do something and then just be quiet. So you can hear the answer and allow it to come up because so often it just, it feels people always talk about, oh, this idea just came to me.
It's very hard to feel or hear that idea when you're always distracted. So give yourself that time to just be in the quiet. With yourself, it may be uncomfortable, but the more you do it, it's like a muscle. Just the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll get with it. And you'll start to feel how important it is to your decision making.
tHose are a couple of pieces and yeah, and maybe just never feel like you're alone. Because you're not so don't isolate yourself. There's always people out there who are there to support you find your community.
Alex: Awesome. Incredible advice. Find a community, build your network. Live in the silence. I appreciate that. As a soon to be new mom in two months, probably not a lot of silence in my future, but hopefully I can find that again sometime
Jen Consalvo: You will trust me, you'll find it.
Alex: Awesome. So thank you so much, Jen. Really enjoyed the conversation.
Really appreciate digging into your story and we look forward to continuing to see what you do next because I'm sure it's going to be incredible.
Jen Consalvo: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.