Episode 25

Events and Sponsorships for a Membership Based Organization (Podcast)

Overview

In this episode we talk to Amber Gunst, the CEO at the Austin Technology Council, a membership based organization geared toward leaders in the Austin Tech Community. Amber produces the ATCs events and talks about what goes in to coordinating events for  various tech audiences.

Amber produces the Austin Technology Council’s events, leading topic development and sourcing expert speakers from their membership base. She also oversees the creation of some of their key programs, such as their upcoming CEO Summit in October.

Key Topics

  • How the Austin Technology Council utilizes events as part of their community engagement and membership strategy
  • The challenges of organizing events across a wide ranging member base
  • Identifying the right marketing channels for B2B events
  • The best way to approach businesses for event sponsorships

As a female leader in the tech space, Amber shares her personal experience of being perceived as aggressive when displaying the same behaviors as her male colleagues. Amber gives advice on how to manage this double standard and reframe the conversation.

Event Information

Upcoming events by the Austin Technology Council

Interviewee Information

Amber Gunst

Amber Gunst is the CEO of the Austin Technology Council, the leading unifying voice of technology in Central Texas. Her background is in sales, business development and membership development, with expertise in event sponsorships.

Transcript

Lisa: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits. This is your host, Lisa. In this podcast, we talk to Amber Gunst , the CEO at the Austin Technology Council, which is a membership-based organization geared toward leaders in the Austin tech community. In this episode, Amber talks about the range of events hosted by the ATC, for various tech audiences. It includes things like Women in Tech breakfasts, Leadership Dinners, and a CEO Summit.

We discuss how the ATC utilizes events as part of their community engagement and membership strategy, and the challenges of organizing events across a wide-ranging member base. Amber gives great advice and techniques for approaching businesses for event sponsorships. She shares what not to do, and explains how to significantly increase your success rate. We also chat about identifying the right marketing channels for a B2B organization promoting events.

At the end of the episode, Amber opens up about what advice she wishes she had given at the start of her career. Two big things stood out. One was that she wished she had been made more aware of her leadership abilities, and moved into a leadership role much earlier in her career. The other was around learning to reframe negative feedback, particularly around being perceived as aggressive in the workplace.

She comments on how the same behaviors are commonly seen as a negative trait in women, and a positive trait in men displaying direct and assertive behavior. It was interesting to get the perspective of a female CEO on something I know many women have encountered. Amber shares her advice for managing this.

We had a great chat and covered a lot in this episode. I hope you enjoy it!

Lisa: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits. We’re joined today by Amber Gunst, who is the CEO and Head of Sales at the Austin Technology Council. The ATC is the leading unifying voice of technology in central Texas. They regularly host a wide range of programs and events, featuring thought leaders and best practices for innovation and growth.

Amber’s background is in sales, business development, and membership development. She produces the Austin Technology Council’s events, leading topic development and sourcing expert speakers from their membership base. She also oversees the creation of some of their key programs, such as their upcoming CEO Summit in October.

Welcome to the podcast, Amber.

Amber: Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa: Can you share a little about your role with the Austin Technology Council?

Amber: I joined the Austin Technology Council in 2017, as Head of Sales and Member Services, and transitioned within a year, to become CEO of Austin Technology Council. I oversee our programming, our membership, and our services that we provide to our members, as well as overseeing day to day operations that our organization has.

Lisa: The Austin Technology Council is a membership-based organization. Can you tell us a bit about their role within the Austin tech community?

Amber: Absolutely. We were founded in 1992. We are, as you said, the leading voice of technology in the Austin market. Everything that we do for our programming is based around the promotion and the support for growth of tech companies here in the Austin area.

Lisa: What do people gain access to, with the Austin Technology Council membership?

Amber: There’s many different things. For each company, it is different. For some companies, they want to come out and network, and they want to meet as many people as they possibly can. So, we definitely offer events to give that option. There are companies who look specifically at our blog post section, and want to share what they’re working on, and the things that they’re doing.

Also, we have companies that are looking to utilize our job board, which is free for our members to use. Then, we have companies who are looking to just figure out who are the people that can best help them grow. We have a lot of solution provider members that provide those services to them.

Lisa: That sounds great. How are events utilized by the ATC as part of their community engagement and membership strategy?

Amber: You know, events in Austin, I think there’s probably a happy hour going on right now somewhere, and has been since midnight last night.

Lisa: It’s Friday morning, guys!

Amber: It’s also on Monday morning! When you look at what brings people out to events, and what continues to do that, it’s “Is this something that helps me grow my business? Is this something that is going to provide me opportunities to be able to advance what we’re working on?”

We’ve steered away from the traditional just networking, and “How do you do? Here’s my business card. Here’s your business card,” situation, and moved into programming that is around how do you scale and grow your business, when you’re looking at hiring people, when you’re looking at how to develop your sales team or your marketing structure, when you’re looking at your finance and your operations, and when you’re looking at your executive team, and trying to provide support to them, as well.

Because I know now for a fact, that is a very lonely seat to sit in.

Lisa: Can you give us a quick overview of some of the events that are run by the ATC?

Amber: Yes We have a Leadership Dinner series that I think people who have been around ATC for a long time will remember as C-level Dinners or CEO Dinners. We’ve restructured them to be catered toward that Director to C-suite role, because the C-suite alone is not what grows and scales a company. So, our programming is now designed around that, for the Leadership Dinners.

We then launched roundtable series’ back in 2018. We started out with Women in Tech, Sales Leadership, and Engineering Leadership. This past year, we added HR Leadership. In 2020, we’re excited we’re going to be creating a Marketing Leadership roundtable, as well. These are breakfast style events.

We usually have a facilitator come out and lead the discussion. However, it’s really kind of an open dialogue. We’ve very excited about it. I’m really excited about a program that we have coming up for our Sales Leadership roundtable in October. We’re going to be having an attorney from Vinson and Elkins come out and lead and facilitate a discussion around the problems that evolve when your salespeople are being sexually harassed by clients.

Lisa: That’s a big one. The next one is the Women in Tech, coming up in September. Can you tell us a bit about these events?

Amber: The Women in Tech was really designed around the aspect that we wanted to provide women an opportunity to come together. We start the conversation off with “This is an issue that we’re all facing, and we’re all struggling with. Now let’s talk about solutions around that.” We do limit it to just women, because we want it to be a dialogue that women can have, and not feel that there’s repercussions, or not feel that someone is not going to be listening to them.

We are looking forward to creating programming in 2020 on diversity and inclusion, that includes men and women in the programming. But this particular program, we do keep specifically to women. Our September program is going to be fantastic. It’s about self-care. When you’re starting to deal with a lot of stress, and you have a heavy workload, then all of a sudden your mental health and your physical health starts to take a toll.

So, we’re having Baylor Scott and White come out, and they’re bringing a psychiatrist out to talk about key things to do to handle stress, to handle the physical and the emotional stress that comes with being within a working environment, or having a lot on your plate.

Lisa: That sounds great. You’re also the key organizer for the ATC’s upcoming CEO Summit. Can you tell us a bit about this event, what’s gone into planning it, and also the program creation process?

Amber: The CEO Summit is something that we have done for 12 years. For the first ten years, it was a day-long summit that started at about 8:00 in the morning, and ended about 5:30. That’s a really long time for CEOs to be sitting outside of their office. We usually had about 150 folks come out for it.

We changed it up last year. We did a dinner, and then the next morning, we did a half-day summit, and we received a lot of feedback from our members, saying “Hey, it was really great, but that was a late night and an early morning.” So, this just kind of goes with that event aspect of putting on events and saying “What is going to be the thing that is going to work?”

Because asking CEOs to take an entire day out of their schedule, and I’m sure you know that every CEO probably gets about 100 to 200 emails in a day, and that’s just his email inbox, and all of the other things that need to be done. So, being able to be flexible with them. This year, we’re moving it to the JW Marriott, which we’re very excited about.

We’re going to be starting it at 1:30 in the afternoon, and having it go until 9:00 PM. So, CEOs will be able to get into their offices in the morning, get the things done that they need to get done, and then come out and join us. The idea around the CEO Summit is that not only do we want to give C-level executives the ability to engage with their peers and have networking opportunities, and get to know their peers. We also want to make sure that they’re doing some type of educational learning.

We launched a BHAG, a big hairy audacious goal, back in 2017, to help grow ten Austin-based technology companies to $1 billion in valuation, in ten years’ time, and another 100 to $100 million in revenue, in that same time frame. So, all of this programming around our CEO Summit is how to go about doing that.

This year, we have RSM, who is leading one of our panels. They’re a tax and audit firm, so they’re going to be looking at how AI and finance go together, and help companies scale from there. We have Humana, that is coming out to do a panel. The discussion topic for theirs is how to scale your benefits, as you’re scaling your business.

And then, we are so excited. We have as our keynote speaker this year, Brian Sharples, who is founder and former CEO of HomeAway. And we are extremely blessed to be able to have Robert Alvarez, who is the COO and CFO of BigCommerce, join him for a fireside chat, for our keynote.

Lisa: Nice! That sounds great. What are the key priorities and considerations, when managing events for a membership-based organization that’s for businesses?

Amber: The one thing we always want to make sure of, and we actually had this conversation in the office this morning, is evaluating whether or not the programming we’re putting together is still relevant to people who are coming. So, looking at frequency of events, looking at the relevance of the topics that are coming up for events.

For ATC, we’re focused on the five areas of disciplines for growth in companies. We look at the executive suite, we look at finance and accounting, and operations. We look at sales and marketing. We take a lot of stock in HR and recruiting, because that is a particular area that needs a lot of help right now. And of course, being a tech association, we focus on engineering and product development.

But looking at all of those different areas, and making sure that the topics are relevant to what our members are dealing with, and making sure that it’s in a location and in a space that is easy for them to get to, and that we have a nice flow of the event, as well. You don’t want to put something on and have maybe the registration/happy hour portion last too long, or the networking portion last too long, and not give enough time for the content and conversation that’s going to be going on.

Lisa: The events that you run, are they open to members and non-members?

Amber: We do allow non-members to attend certain events. However, we limit the number of non-members who can attend. And we limit the number of times that they can attend, because the aspect of our membership community is that we are a community. We want the people who are coming out to our events and programs to be people that are engaged and involved in helping each other grow.

So, if there’s a company that wants to come out and check out an event, see if ATC is the right community for them, we’re happy to have them come out and join us for an event. If they want to only come to events, and not actually do anything that supports the other companies that are part of our community, then we do very politely let them know, “Hey, you’ve maxed out the number of registrations for the year.”

Lisa: And there’s different pricing structures for members and non-members?

Amber: There is. Our roundtables, that is a benefit of membership, so those are complimentary for members. For our Leadership Dinners, it’s definitely less expensive for our members to come out to those, as well as our CEO Summit and our other programming.

Lisa: You worked with Ticketbud, to manage the ticketing. What are some of the benefits of working with an organization like Ticketbud, to help with registrations and ticketing? How does it make it easier?

Amber: First and foremost, I think, the fact that you have a team here in Austin. Trying to reach out to a large company that is outside of the Austin area, sometimes you get on an 800 number, and you sit there for a really long time. I really like the fact that your team is able to help us with flexibility.

We do a big Gateway Party every March. It’s the night before South by Southwest Interactive kicks off. This coming year, it’s going to be March 12th. We have, as part of our presenting sponsorships, is that our presenting sponsors basically get to invite whoever they want to invite to the event. Those folks don’t have to pay to come in.

It has been a real struggle for us in the past, to be able to get their folks registered. Because a lot of times, they want to keep their client list secure and private. They don’t want their clients getting a bunch of emails that they’ve been registered for stuff. It causes a lot of headaches.

What I like about Ticketbud is the fact that we can now create a specific link that will go out to those sponsors, so that they can send an invitation out, where it’s coming from them. It has our logo on it. They know they’re coming to the Gateway Party that ATC is putting on. They can see that who is inviting them is a sponsor. It’s something that our team does not have to work on, other than sending that link out, which is great, because there are four of us.

Just the flexibility of being able to work with your team and say “This is a problem we’re dealing with, and we need a solution for it,” and then they come back and say “Here’s your solution.” It’s really nice to be able to do.

Lisa: We’re adapting the product all the time, and the services, based on the feedback from clients. What are some of the challenges of organizing events across a wide member base?

Amber: I think anybody who puts on an event in Austin will say the biggest problem is people typically don’t RSVP for the event, or purchase the tickets until about 72 hours prior to the event. So, every year, for our CEO Summit, probably about a week before the event, I literally stop sleeping and start making phone calls, and sending out emails. “If you’re going to go, just buy the ticket, or let me know you’re coming, so that I can get numbers into the caterer.”

I think that that’s probably the biggest struggle, and we’re not the only ones that deal with it. I used to work for the Chamber of Commerce years ago, and they dealt with it with their Business Awards every year, I think, while I was there, and I was there from 2009 to 2013. We had the biggest uptick of sales to Business Awards probably about four days before the event. That’s just a big struggle that goes on.

It’s hard, because the majority of the people who are doing these events or coming to these events are people who are in that executive suite. They’re at a Director to C-suite level, and they, a lot of times, don’t know what their schedule is, until about a week before. So, it’s just something you have to work around, and it’s something you have to know is going to happen.

I think, as well, and it’s gotten a lot better over the last several years, was the large event space that was available in Austin. That was always difficult to find, because when I first moved to Austin in 2009, we had the Hilton and the Four Seasons, and that was it. Then, in 2010, we had the W, and now we have the JW, we’ve got the Hotel Van Zandt, we’ve got a lot of space in the downtown area.

Up in The Domain, they’ve got some great space. However, one of the venues up in The Domain, they don’t really confirm for small events until about 60 days prior. So, that’s not an option anymore. But I think looking at more of those larger scale events, I’m really excited about the possibility of the Convention Center expanding, because that gives even more larger events. So, when we’re working with our members to help them find venues that have availability, that makes it a lot easier, as well, because we do get a lot of that outreach from our members, saying “Where can we go? What can we do?”

We’re very excited. We’re going to be re-launching our Battle of the Tech Bands with a twist, including an Austin Tech Awards in Q3 of 2020. We’re very, very excited to be working with the Moody Theater on that one. So, it’s having more space available.

As well, I think just the overall support through marketing, in the efforts of doing that. We’re very fortunate with ATC, that we have about 26,000 people following us on social media. Our Director of Marketing, Jessica Camarillo, does a fantastic job getting the outreach out there.

But if you’re a smaller organization, and you’re trying to build, and you’re trying to gain some momentum, you’re really kind of stuck with trying to use Facebook, and how do you get those first initial people excited about what you’re doing? So, I think that marketing thing is probably that third piece that tends to be a little bit of a struggle.

Lisa: When you’re choosing events, and who you’re going to target with the different events, do you stick to very clear defined categories of the different parts of tech? Or do you want to encourage people to come from all different areas of tech?

Amber: That is such a great question, because sometimes you want to cast a wide net, and sometimes you want it to be very specific. For our CEO Summit, we’re only sending marketing materials out to C-suite executives. We actually don’t allow anybody outside of the C-suite to attend. We will make exceptions with law firms or with companies like Google or Intel, where they’re highest ranking person here is a VP.

Or a law firm, where it’s not a CEO, but it’s a managing partner, we’ll make exceptions for those individuals. But for Directors and managers, and individual contributors, we actually do refund any ticket purchases that they make, because we do want to keep this strictly a C-level event.

When we look at our Leadership Dinners, we like having a mixture of people in the room. Obviously, if we’re having something that’s geared toward an engineering discussion, you’re going to see more of the engineering crowd that’s in the room. If you’ve got a sales and marketing discussion, it’s going to be more along that line.

We figure the more the merrier.

Lisa: You let people self-select, based on the topic.

Amber: We do, and we make sure that they understand what the topic is, and how that topic is going to be relevant to them.

Lisa: What advice to you have for B2B event marketing, and getting your event in front of the right audience? What channels do you focus on, and that sort of thing?

Amber: I think the first thing you need to do is you need to figure out where are you going to invest your time, on social media? Social media is this thing right now, that listen, I’m so glad I have Jessica, because if I had to figure it out, I’d occasionally throw something out there that would not be something I put a lot of focus into.

But it’s looking at who is your audience. For ATC, our audience is business executives. So, putting a lot of time and effort into Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook, we’re just not going to draw those folks in from there. So, the majority of the work that we do is on LinkedIn and Twitter.

We still do do event promotion on Facebook, and we do post-event marketing on Instagram and on Facebook. But really, the majority of what we use is LinkedIn and Twitter, because that’s who our folks are.

Lisa: Sponsorships are an important element for events. How do you go about finding and managing sponsorships?

Amber: That’s actually a really hard thing. I’ve done sponsorship sales for years. When I first started out, I was in my 20s. I was calling people and saying “Oh, we’ve got this great event! You should sponsor this.” “No, thank you.” “Oh, we’ve got this great event! You should sponsor this.” “No, thank you,” again.

It took me some time, and it took a very wonderful coworker of mine who sat me down and said “Amber, you are completely missing the boat here. You need to know what their interests are, before you can even talk to them about an event. Then, you need to know what their goals are. Then, you need to know what their budget is.”

That has really transformed how I’m able to talk to people about sponsorship opportunities. If I know what you’re interested in – are you interested in a big party? Are you interested in being a thought leader in front of an intimate-sized group? Are you interested in getting in front of 150 of the top tech CEOs in Austin? Then, I’ve got something for you.

I need to know what your goals are. Are you looking for business development? Are you looking to just position yourself and your company as an expert in your area? Or are you just interested in making sure that people see your brand, and your awareness?

And then, finding out your budget. When I first came into ATC, I had seen a quote that someone who had formerly worked there, that was for $25,000. I got excited, because I was like “Oh! I’m going to sell this $25,000 thing! I’ve just got to make a phone call.” I got on the phone with the gentleman. All he had was $2,500 in his budget.

I thought to myself “Why are we even talking to you about $25,000?” It was having that conversation, and finding out that what he really needed was he needed to get the biggest splash out of the last $2,500 that they had. There was nothing that ATC was doing at that time, that could have helped him with that.

I have a very good friend who works for KMFA. I said “You should talk to Teresa. Teresa can turn $2,500 into $25,000 really fast.” She did a great job for them. They were so excited and so happy about it. He turned around and joined ATC. They’re now looking at sponsorship opportunities with us, because we helped them.

Sometimes you also need to be completely honest and transparent with people about “I can’t help you, but here’s somebody who can.” That’s always going to turn around back for you.

Lisa: Absolutely. What are the key elements of a sponsorship package proposal?

Amber: The key elements are always going to be the “what’s in it for them” aspect. When you’re asking people for sponsor dollars, there’s typically something that they need, in response to that. Sponsorship is all about branding and marketing and positioning and business development. That’s truly the return on investment aspect.

For our leadership dinners, our host sponsors actually get to help us put together the content, and be on the panel. With big events, it’s really around, what is the key aspect to it? When we look at a presenting sponsorship for something like our Gateway Party, two of our presenting sponsors who have been with us for several years now as presenting sponsors, they want to put on a South by Southwest party, but putting on South by Southwest parties are very expensive.

So, they look at the Gateway Party, and the ability for them to invite their clients, which is why the fact that Ticketbud can create a specialized link for these folks is even more important to us, because now that’s another benefit that we can provide to them. So, it’s really looking at what’s important to the sponsors.

Usually after someone has sponsored an event, we’ll do a download with them. What did you like about this? What would you like to see us improve with this? And then, go from there, and then reevaluate those benefits.

Lisa: I want to get some quick tips from you, quick tips for event organizers. Maybe something like advice for managing multiple events, events in a busy events schedule.

Amber: One, hire a really great Director of Marketing, who has some events experience in their background. We’re very fortunate that we found Jessica. I don’t want to lose her for anything in the world, because she does so much for us. But I think making sure that everybody on your team, especially if you have a small team, don’t let them think that something is not their job. So, making sure that when you’re bringing people onto your team, that there is not a single person on your team that will ever look at you and say “That’s not my job.”

Lisa: That’s my most hated sentence! Yes, everyone has their role, but you’re all meant to work together.

Amber: I joke with my team all the time. I say “If I hear you say ‘that’s not my job,’ I’m going to say ‘I guess you don’t have one.’” I would not actually do that, but we would have a behind closed doors discussion about this is a team effort, and in order for all of us to be successful for our members, we need to work together as a team.

Lisa: Certainly when you work for a startup, everything is your job.

Amber: Yes, or a scrappy little non-profit.

Lisa: Everything is your job.

Amber: Yes.

Lisa: Any other tips or advice you want to share?

Amber: I think as well, listening to the people who are coming out to events. It’s hard sometimes, because sometimes people want to lean on the negative. “This was wrong. That was wrong. This was wrong. That was wrong.” That’s hard. That is so hard.

We had someone who was sending us negative emails. They were sending them to Jessica, and everything was “You should have done this. This didn’t work out well, because you didn’t do this.” I had a conversation with the woman, and she actually was completely lovely. She had some great feedback, but I think making sure that you separate your personal experience and the fact that you wanted it to be the most successful, and separating the fact that you worked so hard on it, to be able to really kind of take in what people are saying.

Because even if they’re leaning on the negative, and saying “This really didn’t work,” you have to listen to that, because that’s your audience. Those are the people that you want to know what it is they’re doing, what they’re thinking, how they feel about. If you don’t; one, you’re never going to improve. And two, you’re never going to have the opportunity to get them to come back.

There are times that we have to look at people, and there are gentlemen who say “I’d really like to attend Women in Tech. I think it would be valuable for me to hear what’s going on, and be able to have a communication with women,” which is why we’re going to create this other programming for diversity and inclusion. Because it’s a valid point.

However, we’re not going to change what Women in Tech roundtable is, because we’re going to keep it exclusive to women. Just as we’re not going to really invite engineers to the Sales Leadership roundtable, and we’re not going to really invite salespeople to the Engineering Leadership roundtable, because it changes the dialogue and it changes the conversation.

Pulling people in and getting their feedback is really important, and it’s valuable. It might not change the programming that they have attended and wanted to change, but it does give you the opportunity to develop better programming.

Lisa: Yeah, because you’re getting the other perspectives. So, whether you choose to take it onboard, whether it fits in with what you’re doing, is something to consider.

Amber: Sometimes you can’t. We’ve had suggestions that we change our Leadership Dinners, and do them in different parts of the town. It’s like “Well, this place has free valet, and they’re a bar in the room, and it’s a three-course meal, and I’m not killing my budget.” There are things that make it difficult to change.

Lisa: There are things that attendees are unaware of, as well, things that would change other aspects of the event, or might make it unaffordable. So, you do have to take it onboard, and you go “I can’t use this. This is why we’re not doing this.”

Amber: I think once you explain to them, they’re completely understanding and they’re very helpful. You have to listen to that feedback, especially when it comes to you. No matter how it comes to you, you have to look at it from a really unbiased perspective, and say “This person didn’t have the best experience.” We love it when it’s supportive and it’s growth related feedback. It’s harder to take, when it’s negative feedback, saying “You did this wrong. You did that wrong. I would have done it better if I had done it this way.”

One of my employees asked me once, “What do we do when they make that comment?” I said “Then ask them to be on the committee.” They asked them to be on the committee, and they said “Well, I don’t have time for that.” So, “Well, thank you for your feedback.”

It’s hard. Sometimes, the negative feedback is coming because they’re trying to do a business development aspect. “I want your business, so I’m going to tell you all the reasons why this went wrong.” It’s having the conversation with them and saying “There’s a better a way to go about it.” Or “Just send that to me. Don’t send it to my team.”

Lisa: The biggest thing is making sure that people are heard, acknowledging that feedback. “We’ve taken that onboard. We’re considering it.” That goes a long way.

Amber: And usually, if we’ve gotten negative feedback repeatedly from the same person, I’ll make a phone call, or I’ll say “Hey, let’s get together and meet in person. Let’s talk about – I’m seeing some trends here. I’m seeing you say the same thing over and over again. Help me understand why this continues to be negative for you, especially when feedback we’re getting from other people say that it’s really positive.”

Lisa: What advice do you wish you’d been given at the start of your career? I like asking that.

Amber: I keep going back to this same one. I went from an individual contributor to Head of Sales, in about a 60-day time period. Then, I went from Head of Sales to a CEO, within 12 months. So, I keep going back to the fact that I wish somebody had pushed me sooner, to enter into leadership. I was 43 years old, and I had a really great mentor of mine.

He said “You’re wasting your talents. You’re wasting your ability to have a positive effect on people, by hanging out in this individual contributor land. You’re over-qualified for what you’re doing. You need to go find another job.” It was that push, at 43, and the first time anybody ever said it to me was 43. Within 60 days of that, I was working at ATC.

I really wish somebody would have sat me down sooner in my career, and said “Here are things that we see about you. You should get mentorship and training around leadership, and you should move into leadership.” I wish I’d had a little bit more of a ramp-up time from being a VP level to being a C-suite.

Now, I don’t regret becoming CEO at all. I’m very glad that I was there. I just wish I had a little bit more time to position myself as a Head of Sales or a VP of Sales, prior to that. Because they are extremely different roles. I think there’s a lot of value to being able to make that transition as you need to.

The other thing that I wish somebody would have told me early on was – I am Dutch and German, and from the Midwest, so I’m pretty straightforward, and I don’t give people compliments if they don’t deserve a compliment sort of thing. It’s just how I was raised. It’s the way we are up there.

Throughout my entire career, I’ve had people say “You seem aggressive sometimes.” I just took it as “Well, all of my male coworkers are aggressive.” I shared this at a Women In Tech roundtable recently. One of the young women there said how does she not be perceived as aggressive. I’m like “Are your male coworkers aggressive?” She’s like “Yeah.” I said “Are they moving in their careers?” She said “Yeah.”

I said “Then, the next time somebody tells you that, tell them thank you.” Because it took me until I was probably in my late 30s to finally say to a manager who said “You know, you come across as aggressive sometimes,” and I said “Thank you. All of my male coworkers are aggressive, and they’re doing amazing things, and they have incredible careers. So, thank you for identifying in me what you see in them.”

It kind of stopped this person. I said “I act the same way they act. How is it different?” It was pushing back on him, and you know what? He was wonderful about it, and said “You’re right. That actually is a good quality. It’s no longer a negative.”

Lisa: It’s quite often you’re being assertive and you’re being direct. I’ve definitely been pulled up on that in the past. If I’m being assertive and being direct, it’s like “Maybe you could say that in a nicer way.” I’m like “But none of the men in the room are saying it in a nicer way. They’re being assertive and direct.”

Amber: I told one woman one time, she said “I get called the B word at work. How do I avoid that?” I said “Well, one, you need to talk to HR, because you’re not referring to people in negative terms.” I said “But two, you could bake cookies and bring them into the office, and set them down on peoples’ desks, with a big smile on your face. You’re still going to get called that.”

Especially with millennials, and all of my team is in the millennial range, the one thing that I continuously hear, and I’m somewhat guilty myself, is the negative comments toward millennials, both male and female. The need to get a trophy for everything, and I don’t think that they all need to get a trophy. But I think part of that goes on the onus of companies, to say “Hey. Here’s what it looks like to grow and scale your career within this company, and here are the steps and the process, and here are the things that you need to know.”

I think especially the GenX group, we need to be a better part of, and the fact that we are leaders in companies, in having those conversations with employees. But I think being assertive, being direct, not sugar-coating things. Again, I’m midwestern, and Midwesterners have no problem saying no to anything. But when I moved to Austin ten years ago, people were like “Call me next week. Call me in two weeks.”

It finally got to a point where I finally gave people permission to tell me no. So, I think learn to say no, learn to let people know you’re not interested.

Lisa: I’ll finish up by asking, because we’re an events company and we talk about events a lot, I want to hear about a great event that you’ve attended, and what you liked about it.

Amber: Actually, it popped up in my Facebook memories today. When I worked for the Austin Chamber of Commerce, I had to get creative about how I would go about finding people to sell to. I had been living in Austin. I moved here in 2009. But in 2010, I always picked up the Austin Monthly, because I was trying to figure out what are the fun things to do, and where are all the fun people hanging out.

The August issue in 2010 had the top ten bachelors. I was like “Oh! Who are these bachelors?” I start looking through, and of course, I work non-stop, and have no desire to get married. So, I wasn’t really looking for a bachelor to make not a bachelor any more. I started looking through, and my business development mind just jumped into gear, because I saw that it was telling me who these people were, where they worked, what their title was where they worked.

I was like “This is like gold!” I called every single one of those people that was not a Chamber member, and I got all of the ones who were relevant to becoming a Chamber member, to become a Chamber member, probably within two years’ time.

I kept getting the Austin Monthly. Every August, I was like “I’m getting this. I’m calling these people, and I’m selling them a membership.” I went to the, I believe it was the 2012 Bachelor Auction. It was the first time I went to one, and it was the Bob Bullock Museum. There were 900 women in this room, trying to win ten men through this auction, which the auction proceeds that year, I believe went to Austin Pets Alive. So, it was like “Oh, I’ll buy a ticket.”

“I’m not going to give $10,000 to go jet skiing with that guy, but I’ll be there.” I looked at it as these women all have money, and they are not all going to win. So, who needs to join the Austin Chamber, again? It was fun!

I remember messaging afterwards, like “Hey, all you single guys next year, this is the party you need to go to, because only ten men are going to actually win a date.” And the women, they were all dressed up and they looked amazing, and it was fun. It was just a fun event. What I loved about it was you had previous bachelors there, so I was like “Hey! Thanks for joining the Chamber!”

But for the women, it was just so much fun to see them and hear about what they do, and get to talk to them. Everybody was in great spirits. Austin Monthly just puts on great parties in general, but that was just probably the one party I went to and I thought “This is just straight-up fun! I’m having a great time!”

I often think back to that. I was the most lowkey dressed woman there. I did not wear heels. I think I had a jean jacket on, with some pants and a tank top. I did not get super fancy, but I had so much fun, and met a lot of really great people. In fact, one of the women that I met that night, we still occasionally meet up for lunch. She’s just a fun lady, and we have a good time, and we always laugh about “Oh, my gosh. All of those women!” There are so many really high-quality single women in Austin. I need to dress up a little bit more!

Lisa: I went to a Valentines’ Day Bumble party.

Amber: I’ll bet that was fun.

Lisa: My biggest takeaway from it was I met so many amazing women.

Amber: I know. I think any time you can put an event together where people are laughing and having a good time, and meeting each other, and enjoying each other, whether you’re auctioning off available bachelors or you are putting together a CEO Summit, or you’re having a Gateway Party, because everybody should be a little hungover going into Interactive, and we make sure they are.

Just make sure it’s fun. Make sure it’s valuable. Make sure people are walking away, and they’ve at least met somebody that they think “That’s somebody I’d like to at least go grab lunch with every few months or so.”

Lisa: Thank you so much for coming in and talking with us today, Amber. It was great to have you on the podcast.

Amber: Thank you, Lisa. I’m so happy to be part of it, and really excited about what Ticketbud is going to do for ATC.

Lisa: Wonderful! I’ll just mention that the Austin Technology Council’s September events are a roundtable Women in Tech breakfast, which is Thursday September 12th. It’s 7:30 until 9:00 AM, at Galvanize Downtown Austin. There’s a roundtable HR Leadership breakfast Tuesday September 17th, again 7:30 to 9:00 AM at Galvanize.

Then, there’s the September Leadership Dinner for Operations and Finance, and of course, the CEO Summit, which is Monday October 28th, at the JW Marriott. You can get tickets now, on Ticketbud. It’s Austin-Technology-Council.Ticketbud.com.

You can find out more about the Austin Technology Council at AustinTechnologyCouncil.org. I’ll include both of these links on our podcast page.

Thanks again for joining us. Until next time, this was Ticketbud Tidbits!

 

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