http://www.atxes.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/ATXES-Logo_Website-300x138.png 0 0 Dave Leong http://www.atxes.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/ATXES-Logo_Website-300x138.png Dave Leong2021-11-09 10:21:252021-11-09 10:21:25Exclusive Interview: Blended Festival CEO Sean Evans - Part 1
The following is a lightly edited transcript of a candid interview between Dave Leong, CCO of ATX Event Systems and Sean Evans, CEO of My Wine Society and of Blended Festival.
Thank you so much for joining me. I am Dave Leong, the Chief Creative Officer of ATX Event Systems, and I’m here talking with My Wine Society CEO, Sean Evans, about his incredibly successful foray into the festival circuit. We’re specifically talking about Blended Festival which is now in its second year after losing a season to Covid.
Alright so, as somebody who is in the wine game and is well regarded in that realm, what made you move into Festival production?
So, back in 2017 I was exploring potential partnerships with a technology company to launch a mobile application that could act as the Facebook and Amazon for the global wine industry and solve the problem of connecting wine enthusiasts around the world to wineries around the world. And not only give them access to purchase the wine but also to explore different wine regions from their phone, book a trip, track their tasting notes digitally and connect with new friends.
So in 2018, we set out on that journey to create that and that’s how My Wine Society was born. We spent most of 2018 developing different iterations of the platform, and building both the mobile and the web version on Android and iOS and web and then raising the funds to be able to pull that off.
In 2019, we shifted to testing iterations. We tested in 18 different mobile wine markets around the world including Australia, Spain, Italy, South Africa, and most of North America, and captured a lot of learnings. Going into 2020, our goal was going to be to push a bunch of money into our home market of San Diego and California in general, and own the adoption and the value add the app is going to bring to the wine industry. As such, we thought it’d be a good idea to throw one last big wine tasting event in San Diego in 2019 to capture some new users, get a lot of data around how they were using the app at their tastings, and in general kick off what we thought was going to be our Series A fundraise and our growth into 2020. So, I had just gotten back from Bottle Rock for my second year in a row and thought it was really cool so I decided to hire an event producer to host this large wine tasting event in San Diego. And as we continued our normal business operations, we were simultaneously planning this large wine tasting, mostly pointed at getting data and users on the app. But what ended up happening was that our Creative Director was really ambitious and she kept wanting to add different elements to this wine tasting: moving it outdoors, adding some activations, adding a music stage etc.
So, halfway through the process when it started spiraling into a full-on event, we decided to just brand it as such and double down on the work that had been done and create a festival division out of that. We intially modeled it after Bottle Rock with the intent to just do a really cool interactive wine tasting event that included music and food. Thus, Blended Festival was born in 2019 with almost 3000 people in attendance. That was the original path to creating Blended – it was a little by accident that it was created.
The best things happen by accident. That’s fantastic. It also shows your ability to roll with the punches in and adjust as you go, seeing an opportunity when it comes up and being able to grab it by both horns and steer using those horns.
It was interesting. We pulled off the event and it was a really nice catalyst that was intended to lead into a successful fundraising round to kick off 2022. And after doing a roadshow for a couple months following the event and planning two more events in 2020 and gearing up to do a bunch of hires and scaling in that space, we got back from New York on March 4 from a big wine conference and then on Monday I called our lead investor, and he said, “Have you heard of this COVID thing?” The conference venue that we had just left was suddenly the center of the COVID relief for New York.
That obviously derailed our funding round and also the plans for any Blended events that year. So, we pivoted into the subscription wine space, kept the app churning and put Blended on the back-burner. Emerging from 2020, we decided to double down on the Blended Festival brand, and come out of the gates firing in 2021. So, we booked The Chainsmokers and Nelly and some of these bigger acts back in November/December when the pandemic was still full force and just went head deep into it. And so far it’s worked out really well.
It’s worked out, alright! So, let’s talk about the creative end of things, how did you come up with the name Blended? Was it just a shower moment or was it much more of a process to get there?
We have a Creative Director that’s been with MWS since almost the beginning, and she came up with the original logo for My Wine Society and a lot of the branding elements. We saw the opportunity to spin off a festival division and have them actually be two separate entities, so in that light, we thought it might be good to rebrand the Live Event division altogether.
We kicked around a number of different ideas. The first was just My Wine Society: Wine & Music Festival. But that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. So we kicked around a couple more names and the word “blend” is used quite a bit in the wine world. So our Creative Director sent over a logo for “The Blend Fest” and it had a cool little corkscrew and the bee like our current logo does. And, so we played with some iterations of that and next landed on “Blended Wine Festival”. We found that it pigeonholed us a little bit too much as a festival company. So, we dropped the “wine” and the official name became Blended Festival. But actually, we are still iterating because the team has even shortened it further this year to just “Blended Fest”. So, you’ll see a lot of the branding that’s come out this year and we’re moving into next year as we scale to eight eight or 10 events referring to the events as “Blended Fest Austin” or “Blended Fest San Diego” etc.
So, talking about the Big Pivot, it seems like your company has really found two passions and (forgive the pun) blended those two passions together. What has it been like straddling those two worlds? Do you find that a lot of the skills that you had garnered in creating MWS translate over to creating live events?
I actually came from the Live Event space in a different industry. I worked for a traveling production company producing events in three different continents. So, coming into a city on the weekend, throwing an event and packing up and moving to the next city came pretty naturally to me. Even during the build of the My Wine Society app we were testing in small events around different cities all over the world, so we had a pretty strong live event team built into the app team. The live events have always been built into the ethos of the company.
Creating the Blended Fest division and the roadmap to executing at a high level and scaling to multiple cities came naturally.
I’m putting on my Strategic Director hat here. So, what are your major objectives for Blended Fest in 2021?
We wanted to form a solid team, and then prove to ourselves, our investor base, and to the community, that we could actually plan and execute a traveling festival. We had some specific goals around it – attendance and revenue and stuff like that – but, being the first year out of the gates, I think the overarching goals was creating a solid team that was going to be with us for a long time and understood the vision, and then just actually being able to pull off the events.
It’s very expensive and not easy to pull off music festivals and moreso, when we were a brand new brand in new markets. We feel that we’ve accomplished the team building portion, and we’ve executed our events successfully so far this year.
Did COVID affect those specific objectives?
Totally. The first thing that comes to mind was the city selection process. We originally had LA and San Francisco targeted just because of proximity and keeping everything on the West Coast. But with strict restrictions in both cities, we were not going to take the risk of trying to drop a Blended Fest in either of those cities.
We ended up choosing Nashville because of the “destination” nature of the city, and it being one of the fastest-growing cities in America. We also didn’t think there’d be any problems with Tennessee’s restrictions. Secondly, we chose Austin for all the same reasons
Then, the Covid-related shifts continued with the uncertainty of the announcement of dates and cities and even through to the actual execution. Watching the news every day and figuring out if we were going to have to reduce capacity restrictions, instate mask mandates… weathering the emotional roller coaster of watching all those and dealing with the city permitting when the city officials didn’t even know what the rules were because they were changing weekly. It affected us and added quite a bit of stress. It even affected a couple of artists that ended up backing out. Overall, I’d say Covid affected most aspects of hosting the event, but as I mentioned, our team found a way to get through all of them.
Stay tuned for the second half of our interview with Sean where he dives into details about Blended Festival’s newly-minted Covid protocols, the excitement of Live Events and why it made sense to forge ahead, rather than cancel his event.