“I really believe anybody can be an entrepreneur. I don’t believe you’re born to be an entrepreneur. I don’t believe you have to grow up in a family of entrepreneurs.”
Sandy Hammer is the cofounder and CMO of AllSeated, a software company that creates 3D visualizations for event planning. Her company has reached amazing levels of success, and it all started with her desire to solve a problem for an event in her own family. Sandy believes that entrepreneurship is not an inherent trait that some people are born with and others aren’t. Instead, being an entrepreneur is about seeing a problem that needs to be solved, finding a solution, and not giving up until your solution becomes a reality.
I talked with Sandy about what she did before becoming an entrepreneur, what it was that caused her to leap into the entrepreneur world, and how her company made a bold move to survive the pandemic.
A passion for people and technology
Sandy wasn’t always in the event industry. After earning degrees in art and marketing, she became a representative for a lingerie company. Her job involved going into stores and negotiating to get shelf space for her company’s products. She was great at her job because she prioritized relationships over selling. “I would build relationships to get the people to like me, because I really wasn’t a sales person. I love people and I love building relationships.”
Not only did Sandy enjoy connecting with people, she loved technology as well. In the 90s, she became fascinated by graphics programs from Corel and Adobe. Her interest in graphics programs and her skill in connecting with people would become valuable for her later on when she started AllSeated. But at the time, she had no idea that she would end up working in events.
Jumping into the event industry
In the late 90s, Sandy and her husband moved to Israel due to her husband’s job. Sandy got swept up in Israel’s booming tech industry and was recruited for a marketing role at a tech company. Eventually, she and seven other people in the company were chosen to run a spinoff company. She was astonished by its fast growth. “I watched the whole company grow from 8 people to 120 people.”
Sandy’s role changed to an event planning role, which gave her the opportunity to travel to various places and run large events. From the outside, her job seemed exciting and glamorous. “This was in the good days,” she told me. “We had huge budgets. These were high-tech companies that had a lot of money to spend.” She enjoyed traveling the world, meeting new people, and using her creativity to plan unforgettable events.
However, the job was exhausting. During events, Sandy had to be on her feet for 12 to 16 hours a day, constantly multitasking and handling rapidly changing circumstances. “After every event, I literally locked myself up for 48 hours to decompress and come out of it, ‘cause it was just so draining.” To make matters worse, Sandy often felt restricted in her job because of a lack of up-to-date technology. Feeling burned out, she left the job after ten years and started doing business consulting.
While planning her son’s bar mitzvah, Sandy was stressed out, especially about seating arrangements. “As event professionals, we are the worst people planning our own parties!” She vented her frustrations to Daniel Anisman, a computer programmer at a company for which she was doing consulting work. He showed her a program he had created that allowed the user to visualize a floorplan for an event and make seating arrangements.
Sandy was amazed by the technology, and she instantly saw its incredible potential. She wanted to become business partners with Daniel to add more features to the software and see where it could go — but Daniel wasn’t interested. After ten months, he finally changed his mind, and that was the beginning of AllSeated.
AllSeated takes off
Over the next several months, Sandy and Daniel worked hard to improve AllSeated, and they met with experienced industry professionals to get advice. When they met Cal Nathan, a businessman with 20 years of event experience, they asked for feedback on the product. To their surprise, he suddenly wrote them a huge check! Sandy and Daniel were caught off guard, but they were happy. “I remember reading it in one of my business books: Never say no to money.”
Even though they had an investor, Sandy and Daniel still needed more funding to bring AllSeated to its full potential. The two partners worked day and night to develop AllSeated and plan a marketing strategy. However, they got rejected over and over again by potential investors. “If you read those books about how you get your first big check, they are 100% correct. You get no, no, no, no, no. Hundreds of them. And you’ve got to be strong, and you’ve got to keep going.”
As time went on, the repeated rejections were getting harder to take, and money was running dangerously low. Sandy didn’t see a way out, and she seriously considered giving up. But that’s when an unexpected call came in. Sandy went with Daniel to meet a new investor, and that investor wrote a stunningly large check just 20 minutes into their conversation.
After that point, AllSeated gained more and more momentum. It became a hit, and it is still widely used by event professionals today. The biggest takeaway Sandy learned from the rise of AllSeated is that success can only happen if you truly believe in your business. “You can’t give up. You just keep going. Every door that closes, you find another door to open.”
exVo and the future of events
Sandy and the AllSeated team had poured enormous time and effort into bringing the product to market and turning it into a thriving business. After many struggles, things were finally going well. But then the pandemic hit, creating a disaster for the event industry worldwide.
AllSeated needed a way to survive the pandemic. The team had already been working on moving beyond 2D graphics and going to 3D environments and virtual reality. And now that most in-person events were being canceled, virtual reality became a lifeline for AllSeated, and the company launched its virtual reality event software, exVo.
“We are a virtual parallel universe.” That’s how Sandy described exVo to me. This innovative software places users in the middle of beautifully decorated event locations and lets them move around the space and videochat with other attendees — and it’s all virtual. In the midst of a pandemic that forced everyone to stay home, exVo made it possible for people to have vivid, immersive experiences that were almost as good as going to an event physically.
Sandy is excited about the future of AllSeated. The company has come a long way from being just an idea that she and Daniel worked on that got rejected many times. None of this would have happened without Sandy’s dedication and persistence. She wasn’t born with a magic entrepreneurship gene. She chose to become an entrepreneur when she saw a problem and figured out how to solve it.
Listen to my full conversation with Sandy Hammer on the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast!
Transcript of Podcast
[00:00:00] Natasha: Today’s episode is brought to you by Entire Productions. Are you planning a meeting or an event? Don’t pull your hair out or lose sleep. Entire productions is the CBD for your virtual event, aches and pains.
[00:00:14] Sandy: He took one look at this and he opened up his checkbook and he wrote us our first check. And Daniel and I were like, but we didn’t come here for money, we came here for advice. Daniel and I said, hey Kelly, well, wait a minute. And then we realized, somewhere I had read, you never say no to money.
[00:00:34] Natasha: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.
If you’d like to know how to scale and grow your business and make more profit sign up on my website, natashamiller.co to get on the wait list for my Entrepreneurial Master’s Course.
[00:01:13] Sandy: You must come and watch Fascinating Entrepreneurs because Natasha Miller is one of the best entrepreneurs in the world and she’s writing this amazing blog and you should come and listen to the great people that she brings in.
And it’s not about me being great. It’s about you just hearing the stories and the more and more stories that you hear, the more and more encouragement you’ll get. Because that’s all that we do. We listen to stories.
Sandy Hammer is a bright star on the special event industry. Having co-founded a digital product called AllSeated, that took the industry by storm. But wait until you hear what they’re up to now. Now let’s get right into it.
It’s funny. If you would’ve asked me as a kid, what do I want to do when I grow up, I would have said, I want to be a nurse.
I want to be a teacher. I actually always liked to be around people. My brother and I, I would be the one that would invite people to the house and everybody would get everything that’s in the fridge and in the pantry everyday. My brother would invite everybody into the house and he stand behind the curtains to eat something so he didn’t have to share anything.
We were like night and day, we grew up in a home that was very giving and my parents always invited people. And there was always people at our table and everything. But the way that my brother and I are, even still today, we’re very, very different people. And I always loved being around people, but an entrepreneur was not something that I even knew the word.
If you would’ve asked me in my early teenage years, what does it mean? I probably wouldn’t have even been able to say it, nevermind, spell it or anything else. But, I was very, very creative. I always had a creative mind. I was artistic. My degree’s in arts. I went to art school in England in the early eighties when punk rock was at its height.
[00:03:08] Natasha: Were you a punk rocker?
[00:03:10] Sandy: Not quite, I don’t think I even had my ears pierced at that time. I grew up in a very strict Jewish home or that we lived in a small little ghetto. Coming to an art school in the eighties, out of my 18 years of growing up in a very, very little community was a real shocker for me. And all I really wanted to do was to paint. I just wanted to have a paint brush. I wanted to paint things.
And the eighties in England was all about internal expression. It was all about if you feel like a cat, come dressed as a cat, explore the cat. I think for the first year I was in such shock. I just watched everything that was going by me. I couldn’t believe it. And actually it was a shame because I kind of got put off what art was all about.
I didn’t really understand it. I wasn’t deep enough at that time to really understand it. It didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.
[00:04:03] Natasha: Did you think you were going to be a professional artist or an art teacher?
[00:04:08] Sandy: Yeah, I’ve thought I’d be an art teacher. I loved the idea of teaching. I really liked people those days.
I had a lot more patience than I do these days. But in my teenage years, 18, 19, I love the idea of teaching and I loved art. I was very, very passionate about art. And once I was so disturbed by it, it was really a disturbing time for me to understand that nobody was really interested in me painting bowl of flowers or painting the sea, or they were not impressed.
It didn’t matter what I did, but they kept saying, where’s your internal feelings? And I’m like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just want to paint something.
They wanted you to be more messy and experimental.
Yeah, I don’t why, honestly, even that I don’t think would have centered them. So I did a marketing degree, cause I really had no idea what to do.
And I thought marketing at the time was creative. A friend of mine said to me, you can do marketing and advertising and maybe you can incorporate some of your arts and you might enjoy it. And actually you’ll love this. Again, in the eighties, I happened to grow up in a great era in the John Cleese from Fawlty Towers, if you know.
He was just coming into himself and he ran a marketing course in my university. You’ve got to look for him 35 years ago. It was unbelievable because he’d walk in just like he was a raving lunatic. He’d walk in fast, furious to the front of the stage. And he’d say, “Everybody thinks marketing is long messages.
And you’ve got to think through this, this, this, and it’s not. Connect with the people. It’s all about the connection with the people.” Things that he said to me thirty-five years ago is things that we talk about now, right through social media or networking or things like that. That didn’t exist 35 years ago.
It was always grassroots marketing, understand your messaging, understand your markets, things like that. But he was revolutionary in the way that he thought. And not many people took it very serious. Obviously he didn’t make a career of it, but at that time he was pretty passionate about getting a message across.
Anyway, I had finished my degree and I got married very young and I went to live in America and, entrepreneur didn’t really come into the picture. It was just about, I just needed a job. But it’s interesting because my first job was actually, I was a rep for a lingerie company. And while it wasn’t being an entrepreneur, it kind of was a little bit, cause I had to fight for the space in the stores.
Like I go to the big malls and I’d go out there and we discuss shelf space. Like where will our product sit. And they’d say, well, you’ve got this, this and this, and I’d have to negotiate with them and say, oh, but it’s a shame because I really want that spot over there, like where all the customers are going by.
I really wasn’t a sales person. I wasn’t really about the selling, but I loved people and I love building relationships.
[00:07:03] Natasha: I think it’d be a great training for anyone to understand how to communicate with someone, to get what you want. That’s mutually beneficial.
[00:07:13] Sandy: Yeah, absolutely. And it was great skills that I learned.
I actually loved what I did, even though it was lingerie sales. So it was fun. I liked the idea of getting to know the people and becoming friends with them and understanding what their needs were and everything. And then basically we left Washington and I had an opportunity to take a little bit of time off because by then two small children.
And we’d gone back to England because my husband at the time was studying a PhD and we decided to go back to England and at that time, childcare in England was so expensive. It was almost not worth me going to work. I wasn’t a lawyer or an accountant or going into sales or anything like that.
So I decided I’d stay home. And that’s when I think entrepreneur rings in people’s heads. Either when you’re just a creative person or anybody really, I really believe anybody can be an entrepreneur. I don’t believe they’re born to be an entrepreneur. I don’t believe you have to grow up in a family of entrepreneurs.
And I think that the ringing bells for me was, I just wanted to keep myself busy. I just wanted, my mind was working. I love taking care of my children, but at the same time I was looking for something for myself. Now it was the nineties and computers had started to come out in the eighties. Computers came out in the nineties, people were buying them for their homes.
We couldn’t really afford one, but my brother had one because he worked for a bigger company and I was very fascinated. I was fascinated by the programs like Adobe. And I don’t know if you remember CorelDRAW that came out, I don’t know if it exists anymore.
[00:08:45] Natasha: Yes. Did you use QuarkXPress?
[00:08:48] Sandy: QuarkXPress and Illustrator. Like the first programs that came out. And I was fascinated because of my background and my art background that you could start designing on a computer, which I found really interesting. And I’d never picked up the paint brush. Since I’ve left our school all those years ago, I’d never, ever picked up a paint brush again.
I kind of just moved on. I decided, okay, that wasn’t for me. I enjoyed it. I moved on. And when I had the time, when the kids would go to bed at night, I’d walk down to my brother who lived with me and they were pretty much already in bed, but I get on his computer and I ended up going all night. I was just amazed by what you could do and design on it.
And I had a friend that was homeschooling her children. And she had a very interesting way of teaching them. If this kid wasn’t interested or had hard time in Maths, she teaches it through English. She had a very unusual way of teaching. And she asked me if I would illustrate like a workbook that she’d done, but she’d done it in just like scratches of pieces of paper.
And I said, yeah, I learned this new program. It’s called CorelDRAW and I know a little bit of Adobe. And she gave me this book, took me about, I don’t know, three months. Also, I didn’t know how to save. I would actually read a book in between the floppy disks saving because it took so long. I could read chapters so that I wouldn’t kill the computer.
My brother would come down in the middle of the night because I’ve been banging on the computer cause it was so slow. He’d ask me what I was doing. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we opened up a publishing house. We produced six books. And we decided to produce them ourselves because every publisher we went to said, oh, we love it, but it’s too different.
We don’t know. It’s not kind of the usual. And after about the 20 or 30th shop we’d been to, I said something to my friend, I go, why don’t we just do this ourselves? How complicated can it be? We’ll find out a printer, we’ll go to the printer. Let me go to the shops and see if the end user wants it. Let me go to the shops.
So we walked into WHSmith which was the big news agent. And we walked into a supermarket, which they sold at that time, kind of books by the counters. And we asked to see the buyers and I’d already worked with buyers because of my last job. I knew the kind of people that they were. So I kind of felt comfortable talking to them because I’d already experienced a little bit.
We asked them a little bit and all of them said, if you print them, here’s our order. And we actually went with those orders in hand to the bank to get a bank loan so that we could then go to the publisher to say, look, we’ve got a bank loan and we’ve got orders. Give us a deal.
[00:11:31] Natasha: I’m going to stop you right here, because this is such a great lesson for entrepreneurs today.
So many people want to be successful, want to make a million dollar business and they are not testing the market. And they’re not making sure that what they have is a viable product and that really could lead to great despair. So this is so wonderful. And I didn’t know that you began your entrepreneurial journey at this moment.
So, were you and this woman partners in this business and did you make it official or were you still just kind of running it through your own bank account?
[00:12:09] Sandy: We did open up a company. We were lucky. We got advice through friends. A friend was an accountant, a friend we knew was a lawyer. Somebody helped us.
We knew nothing. Remember, I had two small children and then I found out I was pregnant with my third kid and she was homeschooling three children. So there’s a lot to be said about timing. People always ask me, like, what does it really mean? And I always say you got to work really hard. You got to have a drop of luck, and timing is a very big thing to be successful.
So we got very lucky and got a mentor. He owned a bookstore, but he knew a lot about publishing, told us a publishing house to call, and he gave us his name that we could use. He gave us a few tips of what to do. And we printed with holding our breaths, like mad. Cause we had to print a minimum order of a hundred thousand books and we had four books by that.
So we had an order of like 25,000 books each, which we were like besides ourselves, like we’d got a little bit of orders, but nothing that would compare to a hundred thousand books being sold. And we were really not sleeping. We were both very, very nervous. We’d never done anything like this. And all I can tell you is that in eight weeks, we started our next run.
We were written up. The London Times came to, I wish I could find a picture. There was me with my newborn baby now sitting on the drawing machine. My other two kids were playing with her kids and I was on the computer with the drawing machine, going with the baby. So in these books, she was more of a business person.
She ran the accounts and the money and we couldn’t get enough print run. So The London Times quarters, I knew book publishers. We’d hit a niche. The market was ready for a change. We only kept it going for about three years. It was the wrong time in our lives. We couldn’t keep up with the demands. They were begging us to have offices and open up a company.
My business partner refused to give up homeschooling her children and she couldn’t cope with it. And after two years she wanted out and I was left running this business with three small children and we were about to move again. We’ve had to make a decision about where to live and where to go. And we sold the business to another publishing house.
We made a little bit of money, which was, we’d never had. We paid of all our loans.
[00:14:33] Natasha: Wow. Okay. So tell me how after that your kids must’ve gotten a bit older, how you ended up in the event space?
[00:14:41] Sandy: So my husband at the time had a fellowship. We were in England and he had just heard from the Hebrew University of Israel that he’d want a fellowship for two years.
And it was a great opportunity. It was under a very big judge and us being Jewish. We were interested to go and to try out and living there. So we arrived in Israel and I was very excited because I’d been given an opportunity to go back to the artwork, the Israel Museum had offered me a job being part of the marketing team.
And I was beyond excited for this opportunity. However, we arrived in Israel in the late nineties and there was a boom in Israel of high-tech. Anybody that had a marketing degree that arrived at the airports, the Jewish Agency, which was the workforce for the people that were coming in to welcome you, to make sure you had a job, to make sure you’re this, it was like a whole organization.
They had my resume and my name was up on a board. And they’d got my resume probably because we had to give in a whole load of documents when you go into a new country. And they sat with me for two hours at the airport, like they wined and dined my kids. They took care of them and they offered me a job in a high-tech company with five times the pay of what I was going to get in the Israel Museum.
And they told me it would be very short time. The country needs you. These companies need you. We don’t have English speakers and we’re going into new territory and we need marketing writers. We need marketeers. It was like this entire sales pitch, like brainwashing sales pitch that by the time I left the airport, I had signed up to a very big high-tech company.
[00:16:22] Natasha: How did that make you feel? Were you feeling like, oh my God, I’m the chosen one? Or were you scared?
[00:16:28] Sandy: Exactly like you said. I felt very obligated to do it, but I had a little bit of a sadness and I kept saying to myself, six months. I remember calling the museum and telling them, look, I really don’t know what to do.
I feel really bad. I’m letting you down. This is like a dream of what I want to do. But I feel like I’m coming to this country that I can really help them and they were very understanding. In fact, if somebody would have turned around to me and said, no way, you either come here tomorrow, or you’re never going to have a job here again.
They were like, no, we’ll hold the doors open for you, we understand. Which made it a little bit easier for me to get into this direction. Anyway, 10 years later, I didn’t get out of it. Like many of us didn’t get out of it. We just got soaked in to lots of things. I wouldn’t just say the money. The money was definitely interesting. It’s not like I came rich out of it, but I definitely was able to give my kids such activities that maybe I wouldn’t have had if I would’ve gone.
And museum is a government paid job. It wasn’t a private Institute.
[00:17:31] Natasha: What did you do, in the last year of that job, what was your overview or your purview of what you were working on?
[00:17:39] Sandy: Well, the truth is within the first year of this job, I got invited to a startup company. So this company was a very, very big company and I was running major marketing messages, international messages for them and their products.
They had so many partners. I was part of a very big team. And then they had a spin-off company that they wanted to spin off and they came to eight of us out of the whole company, one from marketing, one from sales. They brought a CEO, a finance person, eight people, and they came to us and they said, we’d like to offer you to start this company.
And that was my first introduction into the startup world, which is also part of the entrepreneur. It wasn’t me being the investor or having to make all those decisions. But I watched a whole company grow from eight people to 120 people.
[00:18:29] Natasha: It’s like you got a free startup-
[00:18:32] Sandy: Education.
[00:18:32] Natasha: -real MBA, and not having to have the risk of being.
[00:18:36] Sandy: Exactly.
[00:18:37] Natasha: You know, about the risks later.
[00:18:39] Sandy: It was an amazing learning curve for me.
And a year later, the CEO came to me and he said, we just bought a company. There’s going to be 60 people here tomorrow. Choose. You can do PR marketing or run events. I immediately said, run events. I was like, does that include travel? Or what does that include? He’s like, yeah, we’re going to be running the events all over the world.
[00:19:01] Natasha: Let’s talk about your talk about that fed into your desire to be around. So you’re quite extroverted and also your hospitality and giving and being a great hostess. So this really did kind of line up with who you are as an individual.
[00:19:19] Sandy: And the creativity. I knew that I would be able to be creative, see in marketing.
You can be creative, you can step out of your box that you’ve got a lot of guidelines to follow. I found it quite restricting.
[00:19:31] Natasha: You have brand guidelines that you have to adhere to, and you can be creative within the gray area.
[00:19:38] Sandy: Exactly. And it was before the internet. So we were very restricted because it all had to fit within certain parameters of what we knew, television radio. Really? Those were the marketing material that you produced in those days. Exactly. Which I actually had a lot of experience from my printing days. I knew a lot about it and I came from the creative side. So I was very good working with the artists. So when they offered me the events and when I understood that I’d have an opportunity to create something a little bit out of the box, I just jumped at it because that for me, Wow.
Maybe I can really let go of the little bit of restrictions that I’m in. And boy, did I let go? We ran events. I mean, if I could bring you some of the people here that I ran some of these crazy events with, they could tell you a lot of stories, how, again, this was in the good days, we had huge budgets. These were high-tech companies that had a lot of money to spend.
And even in the down days, when the markets crashed, we were a rich company. We always had money. They made their money.
[00:20:42] Natasha: And so what was the impetus of leaving that and moving on to your next venture?
[00:20:47] Sandy: I think that one of us that work events it’s really hard work. Everybody thought I was so glamorous. I traveled all over the world and I was on airports and planes.
And honestly, after every event, I literally locked myself up for 48 hours to just decompress and just like come out of it. Cause it was just so draining. And I think the only people that run events understand the level of what it really takes out of you to run a big event. We’d run events for three days. It was non-stop morning, day and night. Some of them were as big as a thousand people.
[00:21:22] Natasha: Yeah, it’s mentally and emotionally and physically draining. And you’re on your feet making quick decisions because there’s always something going wrong. There’s no way.
[00:21:32] Sandy: Always.
[00:21:32] Natasha: Right. And then you’re on your feet for 12 to 16 hours per day, that the event is actually happening, not counting the load in and the load out.
[00:21:42] Sandy: Exactly. And I think that my burnout rate just came at about 10 years, which people talk about that 10 years, decades of just constantly doing this. I was also frustrated. I was frustrated with the level of technology that we didn’t have. I was around technology for years and seeing everything develop from the phones to the internet.
So everything that was developing and as the hospitality area and the events, we had nothing. We were still measuring spaces with. I was making a lot of mistakes. I felt that my level of expertise was at its peak. Like I knew everything I needed to know, but I had no tools to make me more and more professional and more and more efficient.
[00:22:28] Natasha: The event industry as a whole today, the side, how you’ve contributed to it is pretty, it’s not very sophisticated and it’s not very mired in technology. Like it could be, so keep going.
[00:22:43] Sandy: And this is 10 years ago, okay. When nothing existed, we had absolutely nothing to help us, except for tape measures, colored markers, folders.
We had Excel files. We were very into Excel files, but Excel files didn’t really help us. It wasn’t from the creative, it was from the logistical side. The more and more you work in Excel in multiple events, multiple times, the more and more you get confused, it doesn’t really help you understand things were documents.
It’s just more and more paper to read and more and more things to follow. My bosses had a very hard time with me because I had a lot of things in my head. I couldn’t be bothered to put it down on paper just to keep changing it every two minutes. It was just like so much work for me. What was the point? Tomorrow, there was going to be a different plan. So a lot of the processes and logistical operations were always in my head. And luckily I happen to be very good at that. I actually was not very good at actually putting it in writing. I was just much more better at having it in my head.
[00:23:45] Natasha: You’re a visionary and not necessarily an integrator. You’re too fast. And those are entities within owning a business and be an entrepreneur that are pretty typical, even though you can understand systems and processes, you’re not going to be the person who thrives on putting them into place and keeping order.
[00:24:04] Sandy: They hired me one year. I mean, I had a team of people that worked for me, but they wanted me to have a specific assistant.
They could put everything down that was in my head so that they could get daily updates of what was going on. The poor girl, honestly, I remember her, she was like, literally at her wit’s end. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I’d say to her, I look okay here it is. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then the next day she’d come back to me and she’d go, okay, so what are the updates?
And I’d go, well, we’re doing it now. Blah, blah, blah, blah. But it was totally different than what we decided the day before. I go, she’s going to have a nervous breakdown after three months. And one day I sat down and I go, this is just how it is. Events are complicated. They change, we all do different things.
Our minds work, our creativities keep going and why should we stick to something? If we think we can do something better. Why should we just be limited to saying, okay, that is the way because I made a decision two months ago.
[00:24:58] Natasha: Well, now you’re not wondering to take the easy way out because there’s comfort and just going with the status quo. And you’re always innovating.
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So let’s get closer to when you founded AllSeated. So that was what year? That was five years ago?
[00:25:54] Sandy: No, no, that was in 2011. That’s already, about eight years ago, we founded AllSeated. We didn’t get to the market. So 2012, that was our official launch where I left my company in about 2008. And I decided to take a break. I went into a bit of consultancy. I needed a downtime.
I didn’t really know what I was gonna do. Again, entrepreneur, it didn’t really come into my head. I just thought, okay, I need a break. I need to get out of this. You reach your forties at that time. You think to yourself, okay. I want to change and still able to do it all. I definitely wasn’t finished. I knew I wanted to do something else.
I just wasn’t sure. What was it that I wanted to do? So I did some consulting. And on the way of my consultancy, I got involved with a lot of startups and I watched the way that a lot of these startups worked. And I used to think to myself, I don’t think I would do it that way. And then one day I switched to that thought to “what would I actually do?” Maybe there is an opportunity to do something, but then you start asking yourself these questions. Okay. Maybe I would know how to do it. Cause I’ve seen a lot around me, but let’s put that aside because so many entrepreneurs start and they’ve never had all that experience, you know, we’ve been around it.
They just get passionate about an idea, right. And I knew that I was passionate about events and I knew that. Frustrated that there were no tools out there. There was nothing out there for us. So suddenly we say this to ourselves now. Okay. So where’s the pain. You don’t always develop something or think of something.
If there isn’t a pain, you have to have that pain before you can actually find the solution. I was thinking about that things were suddenly like, where are my pains? And my pains were quite obvious because I was still in the marketing world. I was still, even in the consultancy world, I was running smart events and still having the same pains.
I’m just like, Jesus. There’s like no collaboration here. And through that pain, you suddenly realize we can do something. What can we do? And when you ask the question, what can you do? You have that aha moment of like, could I do this? Can I really do this? I think that’s just a little bit how it begins. Right, Natasha?
[00:28:09] Natasha: For me, it was a different path because it was a passion that was burning.
[00:28:13] Sandy: You had the music.
[00:28:14] Natasha: Right. But for you, you started AllSeated and was AllSeated when you started it, what I know it to be as a seating, like that was the thought, was the measurements and the seating? And we need to tell people what AllSeated is.
[00:28:29] Sandy: I’ll tell you how it really started. I was making my youngest bar mitzvahs. He was 13 at the time. And as professionals, we have the worst people planning our own parties. We love to spend other people’s money. We love to run parties for other people, but when it comes to running ourselves, suddenly you’re very worried about what people are thinking, the expectations, because they know the real policy planner and they know that you run events.
So I was having a really hard time. With this bar mitzvahs. I really didn’t know what to do. And I think it was like five weeks before the event. I hadn’t even gotten the invitation together or anything. And I walked into an office of a company that I was working for. I was doing some consulting work and Daniel was the programmer. of this cake that I was in and I sat down with him. I hardly knew the guy, but as some mothers do, I started grand printing on a moaning about the fact that I’ve got this vomits from five. He doesn’t have any kids. He’s single, really not interested in any of my conversation. I can’t even imagine why I started the conversation.
I think I was really at my wit’s end and I just happened to sit down with him. And the first thing he did is he said to me goes, so what’s the problem? So I go, I don’t even know how many people I want. It was just a basic question like that. I can’t even think what the guests would be, you know, like want to make a big event or a small event.
He said, well, I have this program that I developed for my secretary a couple of months ago that was making a wedding and she was driving the entire office mat. So I bill her this floor plan and I gave her this list to put in her names and she seated them on tables and she could tell how big she wanted her event. And I looked at him and I’m like, pretty shit really? You’ve got this thing and he’s like, yeah. And he pulls it out. The company had nothing to do with this. He’d literally overnight.
[00:30:17] Natasha: This is amazing. He did this just to give himself-
[00:30:21] Sandy: quiet.
[00:30:22] Natasha: Right?
Exactly. And he was doing the same with me. Give me peace of mind and to keep me quiet. He said, yeah, here’s a floor plan.
[00:30:31] Sandy: It’s just a square, but you can make it the measurements that you want. And then you can put these tables in and then you can see which 50 people be enough, will a hundred people be enough? You can get a little bit idea. And I looked at this and I was like, oh my God. Can you imagine if I had this with some furniture and with the tables and I could see the guests and I suddenly got beyond, I mean, I ruined his entire day because he thought he was getting rid of me, whereupon I attacked him and said, hey, can you build it like this? Hey, can you do this? Can you do that? Can you do this?
And he’s like, I’m not doing any of that. I’m programming a 3d program. They were gamers that had built this amazing software for Sony PlayStation. And he’s like, I’m not building that. But the obsession stayed inside me and poor Daniel got a call about once a month from me for about six months to say, if you ever wanted to leave your job and come and build this software, I’d really be interested.
I think we have something here. I started doing a lot of research.
[00:31:35] Natasha: Were you going to do it without him no matter what at that point?
[00:31:39] Sandy: I’m not sure. I started to do a lot of research and I knew that there was something here. There was nothing, there was no software, no nothing. So AllSeated started with just a floor plan, Daniel and his team sold their software, eight months after I first met him. And 10 months after I met him, he called me out of the blue, I get his messages for me. And I’m obviously very passionate about what I want to do. I suddenly had ideas of what I really saw and what I wanted to develop. And I went and sat with Daniel and they built me the first prototype, eight months later, where there was a scale floor pan, very similar actually to what he showed me a year ago.
But it was a little bit more advanced where you could actually design it in a few different shapes and you could make the full plan bigger and smaller. And we put in about 50 pieces of furniture and tables and different chairs.
[00:32:33] Natasha: Was he doing this at this time, just as a side project for free? As a friendly thing or?
[00:32:40] Sandy: So that was a great story.
So at the beginning he said to me, what do you want to do? How do you want to do this? And I said to him, I don’t think I’m the type of person that can do this on my own, but I don’t really know where it’s going to go. I don’t really have money to invest in it. I have time to invest in it. So he said, okay, I’ll tell you what we’ll do.
Let’s work together for six months. And once we started to work together, we really worked well together and six months came to an end and we then decided we’d be 50/50 partners. I knew that if he would ask me, I jumped at it, I wasn’t sure what he would do truthfully. And also we knew that if we were going to bring back his team, we’d have to pay them.
And he knew I didn’t have any money to pay them. So he was going to be funding that. But he said he would go in 50/50 and we jumped at it. We got a contract drawn up straight away. Cause I knew I’d had an already experienced in that and he’d walked in many startups, but he’d never owned a company.
So at that moment, so this is the beginning of the official AllSeated.
[00:33:44] Natasha: I’m going to assume you’re a bootstrapping. At what period did you start taking investments and what kind of investments? Was it angel at first? Was it self-funded for how long?
[00:33:56] Sandy: So a year went by while they were coding. And I stayed on at my consultancy and I decided the minute that the first product was available for me to show someone, then I would quit my job, even though we had no money. And that I’m trying to save so that I’d have a few months that I wouldn’t have to worry about paying my bills and whatever.
So the first year came. And we had one Coda that Daniel was investing in. You decided to put the investment in. He needed the help. He put in a little bit more Daniel put in a little bit more. And at the end of the second year we got through the second year where now we had a product we’d gone on one trip that we paid for ourselves to America.
This was actually a great story. We just come back from meeting somebody in America, and the guy said, you know what? There’s a cool guy. Maybe he can give you advice. He’s got his own business. He’s a New Yorker. And we went to meet him. We were looking for advice. I was constantly looking for anybody that would talk to me and hear about my product and give me advice.
Is it good? Is it not good? Would you use it? Would you not use it? It was all about just questions. I wasn’t looking to really sell it. It wasn’t ready to be sold.
[00:35:06] Natasha: So again, you’re testing the market.
[00:35:09] Sandy: Exactly. I needed advice. Was this even worthy? Was it, where are we even going to get a chance before we ask for money or look for money.
We needed a lot more of the market to give us credibility. There was a market fit. So we went to this guy called Nathan, who has been in the industry for 20 years. He has a production company, does a lot of weddings bar mitzvahs, corporate staff, who was really a guy that had done it all. And he took one, look at this.
And he opened up his checkbook and he wrote us our first check. Daniel and I were like, but we didn’t come here for money, which he came there for advice. And then we realized somewhere, I’d read, you never say no to money. Just never say no to money. It doesn’t matter where it’s coming from. So the initial reaction of saying we didn’t come here for money, we really honored that you think that there’s a market for hair, that we suddenly understood that he saw something, that he was willing to take out his checkbook and put money into this business without really knowing all this.
But he saw something in what we were building and that gave us such a neat of confidence because suddenly. It wasn’t just me thinking that there’s an opportunity here. There was a businessman that had been 20 years in this business, the source something as well. And that’s like everybody’s dream. I think at the beginning to have somebody from the industry that sees it and they introduced us to a guy called Arthur.
The collar became our chairman or our adviser who knew everybody knew. And that’s how it works. You build opportunities, you build networks. And from those networks, you build your clientele.
[00:36:50] Natasha: It is really about who you know.
[00:36:52] Sandy: It’s who, you know, and how you build it, really, how you build. And the money came a year later, we bootstrapped like crazy.
We didn’t get tons of money from this guy, but we got a little bit of money that we didn’t take any salary. I decided to take a loan to help me and Daniel could manage himself and the money that we got, we hired another developer because we needed developers to help us. And we build that year. And then we built good enough product that we knew we were ready to go to market.
And that’s when we went to San Francisco and Natasha, I think I’ve told you this before. If you read those books about how you get your first big check, they are 100% correct. You get no, no, no, no. Hundreds of them and you’ve gotta be strong and you gotta keep going, because if you believe, if you truly, truly believe what you’re doing is right, and that there is a fit and you know that there is, you don’t give up.
There’s no way that you can go this far. And just because people are saying, no, you just keep going. And it wasn’t easy to hear everybody saying no, you’re thinking to yourself. Okay. I’m a little crazy. I’m a little crazy. Maybe there isn’t anybody out there. We just kept going. And every night we changed that presentation and we agree, work on our ideas and we changed the fonts and we just thought of everything.
And it was the last day of the year. I’ll never forget it because it was our last trip to America. We had no money and it was nothing left. It was like, okay, we tried, we could not say we didn’t give it. And on that last week of December, before Christmas, we were sitting at a table and we got a phone call from actually Yaron, who’s our CEO today, to say that he thinks he’s found us somebody, an angel investor.
We were looking for angel investors at the time. He thinks he’s found as a match. And it’s all about a match, an angel investor is somebody that believes in you even more than the product, believes in you and the product, or believes just in you. But it’s not about the market, really the market fit, or what’s going to happen 10 years from now.
And he said, I think I found the guy and we ran to wherever this guy was. It was in the marina. This guy came in and within 20 minutes, he did exactly the same. He took out his checkbook. And he wrote a big check check we’d never seen before.
[00:39:14] Natasha: That’s amazing. And so from that time on, what was the timeframe from angel investment to venture capital and the thought process of we should go for?
[00:39:25] Sandy: Yeah. So it was two years. It was a year again that we bootstrap, because even if you get a big check, you still want to be very careful. You don’t know when you’re going to get the next check. We really believed in bootstrapping. We wanted to feel that every dollar we spent was as if it was our own money and that we were not just wasting it.
We really thought very hard about everything. We spent, everything we did. And by then, we’d already started to get some traction and some. But we didn’t think about venture capital until we decided that we needed to bring a CEO on board because we just knew, Danny and I, after the whole experience of going for the angel money, which was really difficult, nothing’s easy in this area.
Everybody can be an entrepreneur. Right. But then the ones that really succeed are the ones that. I don’t know what it really is. I think it’s, you can’t give up, you just keep going. Every door that closes, you find another door to open. Every door that closes again, you just push for that other door that opens and you just truly, truly believe you also have to know your limitations.
[00:40:28] Natasha: So you went from angel to venture capital. I would like to talk about AllSeated, but I want to jump over because what’s happening right now since March of 2020 is that you had to reformulate the business to survive. And so I’d really like to talk about exVo. What happened? How quickly did you come up with the idea?
It’s blowing my mind. And I think everyone needs to know about it because at this point we’re going to be doing virtual events for at least three quarters only for the most part. And then when we’re able to get back together in person, then we can all use AllSeated more for what it’s for, but talk to us about.
[00:41:14] Sandy: I’m going to talk about exVo, but I won’t be able to understand that we were an evolution. We went from a 2d floor plan to a 3d floor plan because of the gaming environment that we were in and Daniel and his team to what we called a vision product, which is where we actually could scan the venues and model them and make them come alive all within our floor planning system.
So when the pandemic broke out, we already had a roadmap for two to four years. We’d already started to exercise in virtual reality a year and a half ago. We’d started to play around with it. The minute that Facebook bought Oculus, we knew that there was going to be a mass market for it. And events are all about visualizing.
We’re all about imagination. We’re all about creativity. So all of this technology was just so normal for us. It’s amazing. We’re just bringing everything to life. We’re just bringing more and more things to life. So how could it not work that suddenly we’re in virtual reality? And obviously we were not building it because there was a pandemic.
We were building it because we saw it as the future of just people not wanting to travel so much. Of people wanting to slow down their lives, or people wanting immediate responses. I don’t want to fly to Germany to make a decision that I want to have an event in Germany. I want to see something in my living room.
I want to put on the virtual reality goggles and jump into Germany, or I want to come on the web browser and have an experience of a remote venue to look into. So we were already seeing a lot of that, but when the pandemic shut down the whole industry, we then realized, okay, we need to accelerate. We need to bring our world into the virtual worlds.
Cause we had the visualization tools. We had the floor planning tools. We had the communication tools. We had a lot of amazing technology that we understood could just help the world of virtual, which was becoming, in our opinion, 2d, which was really going backwards to where we were going forward of being immersive of being visual.
There’s no visual here. Okay. We’ve got two beautiful faces here and we’re happy to be sitting and talking to each other, but there’s nothing else going on. We’re not inside anything. We’re not experiencing anything. And for us, that was very sad at that particular moment, because we thought we’re going backwards.
We’re not going forwards in the way that we’re running events. Bring the world of technology forward a step, instead of it, just people being satisfied with really the tools that were just there. We fell into these tools because there was nothing there. It wasn’t that we fell into Zoom because Zoom built it for us as an industry to be out there, right?
And it was a communication tool that we desperately needed. Microsoft Teams was out there. Cisco was out there and then the small guys like Hopin and Visible and some other. They were the smart technology companies that woke up very fast and said, okay, I can take Zoom and I can package it and I can make it great within my products and opens it the same, which was fantastic.
And they made a lot of money, but they didn’t give us enough of an experience. And we had started to feel the shift of moving forward by making the whole space of technology for our events in a visual imaginative experience.
[00:44:34] Natasha: Right. And so Daniel and you, you’re very busy, very quick and built something that probably had, we not had an immediate need for, it would have taken much longer.
[00:44:45] Sandy: I don’t even know if it would have even because technology changes so much who knows in two years, if we would’ve missed the boat, maybe there would have been no boats there. So that’s why we talk about timing. Right? And Natasha what we said from the very beginning and entrepreneurship and coming up with ideas, you can have the best technology, but there’s no.
Apple came really late into the game. If apple would have come with their smartphone 10 years ago, I don’t think anybody would have jumped on board because they didn’t have the bandwidth. Nobody would have understood what to do with it, but by the time Apple came out with their phone, we were already comfortable.
We were texting, we were messaging, we were taking pictures. We were desperate for somebody. So timing with technology is so, so important. And the market fit is so important and understanding who your end-user is. You can’t make something complicated if they can’t use it.
[00:45:38] Natasha: Right. So tired of the Zoom gloom. Even though we’re having a good time talking to each other, visually and experientially.
There’s not a whole lot going on. So talk to everyone about what exVo is because by the time this airs, lots of events will have happened on your platform. And then there’ll be a line out the door for people using it.
[00:46:04] Sandy: If you don’t know anything about us, we are a virtual parallel universe and that might sound like nothing to you, but think about events.
Okay. Think about walking into the plaza and the plaza has got all these beautiful things that you’re surrounded by. It’s got its iconic, incredible statues, and it’s got its arches and it’s got its. mobile. And it’s just glorious, glorious, glorious, and you are standing there and suddenly there are tables and there’s lounge furniture and you’re walking and you’re meeting your friends and you’re having a conversation.
So what we did in exVo is we decided to build that parallel. Well, we decided why can’t you have all of that? Why should you be sitting here? Why shouldn’t you be in the plaza’s ballroom or any of the other hundreds of spaces that we have, or any of your imagination spaces that you might have out there, it’s endless.
Right. But why shouldn’t you feel that immersive experience? Why shouldn’t you have that, like Natasha said, that experiential experience of walking and talking and exploring and feeling. The only thing you can’t do in our world yet is eat. We can not eat, but when we can put you in a cafe and you could be sitting at home eating and you could be feeling the experience of the cafe around you or the restaurant around you to give you that immersive experience.
So when we talk about parallel universes, we already talk about the power of universe, just because we know what we really want. We’ve experienced enough events to understand that we want that feeling of an event. So we brought you into the space and we gave you that experience of being there and networking.
We built talking heads, which are robots, so that you can have video head chats so that you’re still communicating. You’re not an avatar. We didn’t love the whole avatar thing because you can’t feel each other. At least here, the one thing that we learned about zoom and all these 2d platforms is that we love seeing each other.
We might get bored of the experience, but one of the things that we learned we love is seeing the faces. So we brought that talking head, which is really this box. It’s exactly this box into the robots that walk and talk, and you have that experience together. And it’s an amazing product.
[00:48:25] Natasha: It’s amazing. It’s blowing my mind, I really haven’t seen anything yet that even comes close to beating that experience with exVo. So the event that we’re going to be doing next week, I have an entire ballroom, it’s been designed by a professional event designer and it has this look and feel, but if we didn’t like the way it looked and felt we could have changed everything.
[00:48:50] Sandy: Yeah, you saw it with an empty canvas. Just like you two in the real event world, you go into a ballroom, you go into an empty space and empty canvas and you create, and you’re using a flow planning system.
So you are in a 2d environment. You’ve got a libraries of thousands of pieces of objects. Now we’ve built the libraries out so screens and banners and boots and lots of different things like Natasha’s talking about. You can have anything that you want in this world.
[00:49:15] Natasha: Being able to give a public speech or an address or a panel interview, you can have live entertainment, you can have prerecorded entertainment.
And what I love about your story Sandy is that if you really build a journey map of your life, you’re building. On top of everything that you’ve experienced and it’s just informing you of the next move. I think this application is going to rock the event industry. It’s going to bolster your business with AllSeated, especially when people go back to in-person because there’ll be hybrid events.
[00:49:50] Sandy: And the hybrid’s very important, because then we mirror the universe.
[00:49:55] Natasha: Right. So if you’re in person at a hotel at an event, it’ll be designed with various colors and decor and signage and messaging. But if you happen to be an attendee virtually you’ll see the same elements.
[00:50:10] Sandy: Yeah, they’ll have the same experience, you’ll have the parallel experience of what’s happening in the virtual.
And the truth is technology is going to grow very, very far. We’ve got augmented reality coming, so we’ve got to have glasses. So if you’re in the real world in a year from now, and you put on your augmented reality glasses, your friends will pop up next to you. We’re going to be inducing the world between the two realities of where are we. And I think there’s very exciting times to cover the very early stages of where we’re going to go in this world.
[00:50:41] Natasha: So we don’t have much time. And I want to ask you a couple of questions further before we go. One is you live in Tel Aviv, Israel, and you have a fully distributed workforce. In a nutshell, how does that work?
[00:50:56] Sandy: Well, we actually were a little lucky because we were always remote. Israel is only where the development is done. Market’s in America. I came to live in America for two years when we first started, but I came to live where my market was, so I could understand more and more and work with them to understand more and more about the product.
So the remoteness of us being between, as we grew the company in America, we were working with Israel. Then we started to go into the European market. We wanted to build a studio for our designing. So we built it in Kyiv because there’s a lot of talent out there that we researched and found. And today we’ve got offices all over the place and where 70, 80 people working all over the place.
And it’s just great. It’s actually a pool of talent. I love the diversity of how we are as a company. You will not find more different people, more different cultures. So we didn’t have such an issue with the remote. We actually set a lot of protocols already, how to work remotely. It wasn’t difficult for us in that respect.
[00:51:59] Natasha: So, if you could think of the one strategy that you’re going to double down on to ensure growth and stability and scaling in your company, is there one that comes to mind? So in business, the strategy that you’ll have.
[00:52:15] Sandy: It’s really interesting. Cause it’s really what we’re going through right now. There’s a lot of talk about it. We’re in growth mode. For me personally, it’s all about the culture of the company. If you can keep the culture of what you really believe in, your core values of your brand or who you are then scaling and growing is not going to be a problem because you’re going to keep on bringing in the right people.
And those people will grow with your family. They’ll grow with you as a company. We built a company in such a way of culture that now the people that are moving up in the company that are taking on mid-level management positions are able to need the next generation that’s coming in and that generation, then we’ll be leading the next one.
Right. And that becomes the culture of your company. You have to give a lot of. A lot of faith in the people that are working for you and we work extremely hard. And I truly believe that you can grow companies and scaling in any numbers. If you have the infrastructure and the belief of core values and the culture of how you want to grow your company or the people that you want to work. And that’s what we do right now.
[00:53:26] Natasha: It’s a great message. And it’s a great message to all people that will be listening to this because there’ll be in various stages of their entrepreneurial journey from very beginning to not even believing they can do it to a billion dollar company.
Sandy just took us through her entrepreneurial journey, which led her to the SAS company, she co-founded AllSeated, then doing a natural pivot to creating one of the most dynamic and exciting virtual event platforms I have ever seen, exVo. For more information on Sandy, allSeated and exVo,check out the links in the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.
You have events to plan, but you have no idea where to start. Entire productions creates in-person and virtual events for Fortune 500 companies and melts away all of the stress. It’s better than getting a 90 minute massage. For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening.
I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. .