(10 Min Read with a pint, 8 Min without)
There's no doubt our event experiences play a major factor in shaping who we are. But just as fascinating as the events themselves, are the people behind the events (the creatives, the contractors, the crew, the sponsors...). I've just always been fascinated with those behind the scenes and wanted a way to pick their brain, get their advice and understand what makes them tick.
So, our #MeetTheVendorSeries was born. It's a series of conversations with some of the most inspiring, creative, characters :) on the planet.
Enjoy. I sure am.
TO KICK IT OFF
I couldn't have asked for a better person to interview than Keith Williams. On paper, Keith is now Founder & Chief Creative of At38 Events. But, as you'll soon see, he's a hell of a lot more than that.
Photo Cred: @WeiWilliams
LET'S SET THE SCENE
Before we get going, try reading Keith's responses with a British accent. It makes it sound more like Keith (i.e. Keith is British) and it's more fun that way. If you want to get really crazy, try mine in the typical Southern California tone (i.e. I'm not British).
Ok Keith, you ready for this?
Where did you grow up?
In Nazeing, UK
A very popular place really. So popular and bustling, it has one bus a day and no-one has ever heard of it.
Sean Connory, Roger Moore or Mike Meyers?
Definitely Roger Moore
Photo Cred: The At38 Team
Bus or Tube?
Churchill or Thatcher?
Thatcher: Ironlady of course!
Against all odds, her passion and drive made her one of the country’s strongest, successful and controversial leaders. Whether you agree with her opinion or not, she said it how it was (no bullshit, or messing). She acted and took ownership. I love when women are so driven and committed. (I was brought up by a single mum, so I really respect those traits)
How many sugars?
Tea, none, Coffee, one
“Lock Stock” or “Snatch”?
If your friends were a little tipsy (like a couple of pints, not totally pissed) how would they describe you?
They’d probably call me a Wallie or a Dick Head. But If you got em really pissed, they probably be a bit lovey dovey and they might say they were proud of me and that I'm a good guy. Hopefully :)
Photo Cred: @keithwilliams & Fam & Stitch
So, I’ve heard the “lads holiday” is somewhat of a rite of passage for the British. Any good stories from your first trip?
OMG, I have so many, but mostly bad…. Oh well, you only live once, right?
Here goes: I innocently took a trip (ecstasy tablet), and had a night to remember: it went from running round a nightclub, to thinking a urinal was a water-fall (that I should walk through of course), to watching a 1980’s digital screen with animations (which I thought was the meaning of life), to finishing up with some weird girls….. Never did that again.
Photo Cred: @keithwilliams
Umm.. When I asked about your first “trip” I meant travels, but Keith, brother... You had me at urinal and waterfall :)
Not many people know about this - not even my mum….
It’s ok, we’re in the trust tree.
I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, but I've never been to Amsterdam. Can you tell me about your first experience there?
Hmm, Umm, Not really.
WOW! If you can tell me about urinals and waterfalls. Then you better take that one to the grave my friend.
I will! haha.
So before the Amsterdam trips, what was 9 year old Keith like?
Photo Cred: The Williams family photo album
This was about the time I lost my father.
Oh shit. What a mood killer. I'm sorry.
No worries. Obviously a long time ago, but was a game changer for me and my family. I was a young boy wanting to discover things and had an amazing imagination. After the loss of my father, we had a big house in the country, but no “real” money. My mum was just holding things together and I went out to work nearly every weekend and holiday when I was 10. Thankfully we had a positive, strong family around during these times (all hard working entrepreneurs).
We raided the family photo album for this one: Photo Cred: Keith's Mum - Keith in his Indian phase.
I also really looked up to my brother a great deal, he was so cool, he thought I was a wally. Especially when trying to get the attention of his girl friends. Some amazing memories.
Is that why you asked your mom about “The Birds and the Bees” back then? What was it you actually asked your mom about?
I asked my mum, at what age could I start having sex….. I always found girls fascinating.
You and me both brother.
Everyone I have heard from, have called you tenacious, where do you think that comes from?
This really feels a bit like therapy.
Just let it out. That’s what I’m here for.
Well, it could be from seeing my mum survive and fight because of her sheer love for her sons well-being after losing her husband (my dad). It was hard for her bringing up two eager boys and people trying to con her out of the "big house in the country"…. Also, boys always look up to their dads at 8+ (as I see my own son do with me), but i never had that, so maybe I had an urge to prove something, but no one really was around for me to emotionally connect with like a dad - so I guess I was always searching to prove something to someone... Today, I know who it always was that I wanted to prove something to :)...
According to one of these company insight evaluations, I am motivated by big challenges/mountains... Damn they're good. Apparently a mountain to climb motivates me…I always need a mountain. Challenge makes me feel alive!
Wow, maybe I should take one of those tests. My wife just says I need the struggle.
Keith sporting gear for his next mountain: The Relay Run.
What advice would you give yourself if you were just starting your career?
OMG - that could be a long answers. Four things come to mind:
First: Don’t compromise in being happy.
Second: Always surround yourself with AMAZING people. With these people, be open minded, learn, be brave, be bold, challenge yourself, take risks, work hard and smart and try not to stress too much - a clear mind succeeds (it's not the end of the world if you make mistakes or fail, as they say, I'd rather die having tried and not be a "If i'd...")
I'd also say to always do everything with the right integrity. Anything outside of that is short term and you won’t be happy in the long-run.
And lastly, your family and friends are the platform of your success.
What’s your favorite aspect of your job?
The people for sure. I love meeting interesting people and collaborating with them to create new, interesting things.
Keith with Klaas Rhode (Founder of Fjuze) just before the Rise Festival. Oct. 2014
If you weren’t running at 38, what would you be doing?
I don’t know. I am exactly where I need to be.
Keith's team AtThirtyEight. Photo Cred: Keith Selfie
What do you do when you’re stressed?
If I get to that point, I run or ride more. When I'm outdoors, I honestly feel free, like there's no restrictions or boundaries. I can be or go anywhere. Clears the head. If that doesn't work, I TRY playing the guitar.
Photo Cred: Keith's Facebook Page
At this point in your career do you still feel challenged?
Definitely. I have to. I feel more challenged now than ever. The day I’m not challenged, I’m dead. That’s part of living.
In your work-life, are you insecure about anything and do you still feel challenged?
The only thing is putting food on the table for the family... But not really. I believe in what I am doing and am the sort of person that puts everything into something and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.
AND now that you're a parent, do you have any parenting suggestions for those working in the event world?
Get your children to understand and share the experiences you have at work. Have them get the "backstage" to meet all the crew - whatever your "backstage" is. Do as much as you can together, so they can experience everything with you.
Photo Cred: Aston Williams
Is there one thing that can take an average event and make it incredible?
Delivering on what you sell. Look at the Color Run: The Happiest Run in the world.
If that's not happy, I'm not sure what is.
What are "three" key components to successfully expanding an event series globally?
First is that the event has to be a unique and powerful experience (you can feel and touch it) and people have to say " I HAVE to F'ing do that".
The concept needs to be amazingly innovative and unique. An event concept that captures the consumer imagination and has commercial power can be incredibly successful. Event branding is incredibly important.
A great example that has taken the industry by storm is: "Our World of AIR"
It's the next generation of tech driven entertainment shows. And was picked up by world press within hours. I'm so excited for this.
Second is the right strategy
A strategy based on data, experience and the right infrastructure and resources to meet the "success" point of the strategic model is critical in supporting the event's global growth potential. It's a fine line when thinking about global expansion and not jeopordizing the existing in-country growth. The timing and strategic execution to emerge into a new market is a pretty sensitive process, because you want to expose the idea to the right partners without alerting the wrong kind of competition.
A perfect example for this is the Electric Run:
Photo Cred: Keith Williams
Each market it went into broke boundaries in participation numbers, sponsorship and charity…. London alone raised £150,000 and had 15,000 participants (at capacity). Australia had 26,000 participants. All on a fun experiential 5k!!!
The ELECTRIC RUN was New, Inclusive, Fun and Immersive. Everyone wanted to be in "the shot".
And third is having the right partners
Having the knowledge and working with the right partners around the globe is critical. There are many great companies, but finding the cultural and concept "fit" is far more important than just ticking another country off.
Do you think participants are expecting more out of the events they are participating in now versus 5 years ago?
Oh Yeah. Time and experience is the new currency for living life.
The consumer has no patience (or forgiveness for that matter) with a sub-par experience. You cannot refund someone’s "time". And consumers know they have the power across social media and rating sites to share their disappointment. There is also so much choice today and many organizations can create a good marketing playbook to make an event look incredible. But dialing in and investing in consistency around the entire event lifecycle (from marketing to delivery) should be top priority. What people say before, during and after the experience should ramp up, no decrease.
Keith's kit the night before the @LondonMarathon
What's interesting is that it’s not just about what people are doing that they value. It’s also about how they can reflect that experience on social media.
What they are seen doing and what they are able to capture on there device is everything. Facilitating that is critical. This makes for very challenging times for the event world!!!
So what three things do you think they are looking for?
I think it comes down to these three:
First: New experiences: Participants want new and ever increasing quality experience. They get bored easily. That means the event brand has to rapidly innovate and evolve.
Second: Emotional experiences: I believe consumers emotionally are becoming more introverted in the real world but more extroverted in the technology world. Also people get overloaded with tech, experiences and consume a hyper load of content, which ultimately neutralizes what was amazing a year ago. Therefore, the event focus needs to be shocking for the participant (challenge/weird/mysterious/new), or be an easy "go do” fun platform of social and Immersive experiences that connect our natural human senses and emotional needs. It needs to make people feel good and look cool across their social profiles.
"We need to make people feel alive in both the REAL world and make sure they get the recognition in the Technology world."
Third: Personalized content: People are wanting to create their own content. It's their social currency. As if they are their own agent and have their own fans. So they need experiences that are photo and video worthy.
Who do you think is doing this really well.
The one that immediately comes to mind is: RISE
It's this discovery in the desert with an emotional mission. What's incredible is that even though it needs mass participation to make the experience, there is still a real individual, emotionally charged component that makes it incredible. And that individual moment was/is shared by the thousands on social.
So who should we interview next?
I have a few for you, if you're up for it.
If they have any stories like yours, I'm all ears brother.
First: my Australian Mate: Luke Hannan. Ask him what his nickname is?
Second: Ahh :) The craziest, best mate I know from Amsterdam, Klaas Rhode. Honestly, just ask him anything.
Third: Tim Hutchings. You'll just know why I put him on the list.
All hyperbolic BS aside, Keith is one of the most genuine, passionate guys I have met in a long time. It is exactly why we're having these conversations (clearly it's not about my grammar :)).
We're also both in pretty similar phases with our companies (Keith with At38 and me with Lennd) and it's been fun to talk about how we can work together and just follow along as he gets his company off the ground. If I had one request, I'd say to reach out to Keith and give him your support. Starting your own business is one of the toughest things you can do and it means soooo much when people ask how they can help.
Luke "The Hanman" Hannan - GM: Color Run Australia
Jeanne Fleming - Producer: Village Halloween Parade (Largest Halloween Parade in the World)
Latane "Big Bird" Meade - President: The Wipeout Run & VAVI
Klaas Rohde - Owner: Fjuze (Netherlands)
Leslie Hitchcock - Event Director: TechCrunch Disrupt
Lauren Letta - Chief of Staff: Charity Water & Event Director: Charity Ball
Tina Wilmott - Founder: Endurance SportsWire & Outdoor SportsWire
Cheryl Cecchetto - Event Director: Academy Awards
Christine Bowen - Programming Director: RunningUSA
Zack Sugarman - Head of Social: Wasserman Media Group
Tim Hutchings - Co-Founder: Brighton Marathon
Jim Woodman - President: Pedal The Cause
Jason White - VP Marketing: Beats By Dre
Cara Bubes - Event Operations: Summit Series
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