Episode 22 – David Adler (CEO & Founder, BizBash)

This brief 20 minute talk touches on the magic that happens when people come together. David introduces the role of ‘collaboration artist’ and more…

About David’s company

BizBash is North America’s #1 source of ideas, news, and resources for event and meeting professionals. Each month nearly 225,000 unique users look to BizBash for venue discovery, event style, technology, and tools for their next event. Thousands of event professionals attend our in-person events in major cities in the United States and Canada and listen to our podcast GatherGeeks monthly.

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Qasim Virjee 0:24
Welcome back to this the 22nd episode of the start while podcast, this time around on back in the studio for a lovely little chat with my new friend David Adler.

David Adler 0:36
So my name is David Adler, I’m the CEO of a company called bizbash. We’re immediate company for the event industry in North America, we’re probably the largest media company with magazines, websites, trade shows, for people that organize events all over the place. And it’s where they get ideas and inspiration so that their events become better. Because events are the new town squares in the world, in my opinion, right? And that’s kind of what you’re doing here as well. This type of facility. Yeah, well, are creating this sort of working events.

Qasim Virjee 1:10
Well, that’s the thing. I mean, we call internally amongst our team, very agile team of four or five people. We look at every single quote unquote, meeting as an event, you know, people coming together is really if the festivity of meeting is what defines an event, or some sort of even output of the interaction, then that happens constantly here at Campus. Yeah,

David Adler 1:31
well, you’re gonna love this comment, because you’re so speaking my language, because I believe event organizers. And people that bring people together are collaboration artists, more than they are just event organizers or business people or entrepreneurs, you really are a collaboration artist in the in the best sense of the world. And it’s, it’s where these ideas come to life. Because I also believe that in events when you don’t judge an event anymore by how many people attend, but it’s about how many conversations are curated, right? And it’s all about the social physics of how ideas flow. Yeah. And you what you’ve done here is you’ve created sort of the social physics that allow people interact in an organic way, that creates an amazing amount of positive outcomes. The most powerful word in English language is the word let’s Yeah, because whenever people get together, they say, Let’s go to lunch. Let’s go to dinner. Let’s hook up let’s start a revolution. What about this idea between different groups that never knew they would ever meet each other? Yeah. And it’s this, it’s the social physics of how people how ideas spread?

Qasim Virjee 2:40
Absolutely. I totally concur. I think it’s something that, of course, in the media landscape of today. And you know, the pop media landscape of today, where people are feeling kind of like society’s more stratified than ever, despite them being more interconnected with technology. I think these places exist to help remind people that they can come together, and they don’t need to come together to fight anything, necessarily. They need to come together to be together to discover what that means a lot of the time. And it’s kind of funny for us, because we’re also one part of our business, of course, is being an event venue. And for the first year and a half of that business line. You know, I was like, Well, what does this mean? You know, I’ve worked I’ve been a DJ that’s performed all over the world and a video jockey that’s performed for like, you know, events at you. You live in New York. Yeah. So, you know, the Tibetan museum. So, you know, I used to fly down there and do interactive stuff with the what’s being displayed in the galleries and remix that do all this stuff. But so I’ve been on that side of the events as a performer at events.

David Adler 3:44
Well, you’re really a collaboration artists that are to discuss the whole idea is to create experiences that get other people to talk to each other. Yeah, because you’re waking something up, right? Making something someone feel something, right. So it’s really I mean, what people don’t realize how powerful what we do really is right. And like in the old days, people thought what happens in the hallways in conferences is a waste of time. And turns out the main, that’s the main thing. Yeah. You know, if you don’t judge an event by how many people are attending, but how many conversations you’re curating. It’s kind of like how the web works when you think about it.

Qasim Virjee 4:18
Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s very funny. And that that’s the thing that I my head was kind of troubled by initially being now an operator of space, facilitating these interactions and trying to monetize them in a way. Because my perspective is from the, you know, bringing people together for collaborative potential in startups and innovation, and us being this innovation hub in the city. So I didn’t for whatever reason didn’t initially maybe because I was, for the first time in a long time, have all sorts of businesses I’ve run, I looked to the industry that I thought I was an outsider within to say, how do things get done so we can emulate this and work it into our business model. And the more events, quote unquote, events that we hosted in our space as a venue and said, Hey, we’re actually going to partner with you to produce something spectacular for the people coming and started asking questions about what the agenda and the programming looks like, and who’s going to speak about what all of or not all of, but a lot of the people that we had booking our space and paying us money to use the venue, you know, they were thrown back, they were kind of like, taken aback, I guess. And they were sort of saying, Well, why do you need to know this stuff? You know, we’re gonna run our event, we’re like, well, we want you to be successful. So it took a while, have those conversations, helping us refine our business model? And it’s been very interesting, this learning curve of saying, Okay, well, yes, every event is an opportunity for people to come together and the output can be more than a planner can plan for.

David Adler 5:49
So you could you come in and act as the collaboration artists in many cases. Oh, 100% know how Hunter because this DJ thing, you know how to read a crowd? Yeah, I mean, that’s the one thing that that there’s a secret sauce, that you may think it’s just a talent, but it’s a talent that most people don’t have.

Qasim Virjee 6:06
Absolutely. And it’s something that the people that have it, we often take it for granted. It’s not our what we see,

David Adler 6:12
we think that our skills, we think we’re not good enough, because it’s so easy.

Qasim Virjee 6:15
Yeah, we kind of think, well, of course, people come together, and then you realize, well, no, people are actually living very isolated lives. Often,

David Adler 6:22
you have to give people permission to talk to each other. And what a DJ or a collaboration artist or a good moderator or a good facilitator does is bring speak, bring people out and let them participate. Let them be noticed. Absolutely. And once they’re noticed, it’s all of a sudden, that Maya Angelou piece comes out that they have a feeling. And that feeling becomes the overwhelming thing about why they loved what they were at that day. I don’t even remember what they did. Yeah, yeah. But if they felt really good,

Qasim Virjee 6:54
oh, and, of course, it permeates everyone’s life like people we hear this often hear it start well, that, you know, this is the first place that so many people, we have about 500 people a day coming through the campus. And it’s one thing that gets repeated over and over again, is that this is the first place that a lot of these people have the experience of leaving on a Friday looking forward to their Monday to come back. So what that means for us that we’ve seen is through their weekend, they’re spreading joy amongst their family, because they’re more joyful, they’re happy. They love their work. You

David Adler 7:26
know, it’s interesting, the word branding is not the word branding, the word branding is feeling. You’re creating a feeling. Yeah, and this place has it and it you walk in and you’re you’re it’s it’s oozes that, in a sense, and that’s what makes this different. That’s what makes you as this collaboration artists, who is the mayor, I view that I’m the mayor of my niche industry, and you got to you’re the mayor of this empire here. It really represents a lot of people’s like happiness. Yeah, well, that is happiness is an empire. That’s great.

Qasim Virjee 7:59
It’s definitely something that’s, you know, in our marketing, and it’s definitely something that we, as a team all try to encourage, as you know curators, of really curators of people in many ways and relationships. Right. And, and the feeling being the thing that’s really kind of emotive Lee binds people through their religions and people live. Yeah, when you get inside, I mean, your your

David Adler 8:24
opposite is depressed. Yeah. So inspiration, like what we found, and what I found in my world is that inspiration is part of that know, that subset of feeling, right? And that when people feel like, Oh, my God, I’m listening, and you’re listening to my ideas and my ideas, one plus one can equal seven, right? Especially in an entrepreneurial atmosphere, you want to figure out how to monetize and nobody knows what the hell they’re really doing. They’re listening to other people, they’re bouncing off other people.

Qasim Virjee 8:51
Well, I think without that, as well, business becomes robbed of its joy. And we see this, of course, in the startup world, right? Where you’re seeing on a macro level, I think it’s starting to get reported on in the mass media a little bit, but with the, you know, the failures of recent IPOs, like Uber, and we work and all these companies, the pump and dump schemes, have, you know, over capitalizing early stage ventures that need different types of nurturing and different types of inspiration for teams to come together and collaborate and make awesome stuff go out into the world. You see the corruption of their value set early on, because venture capitalists want to see exponential ROI and and the next level of investment next level investment is pushing it towards the public market. And what does that mean? That means by the time a company’s big enough to fail big, it fails big and the people holding the bag or unfortunately the shareholders that you know bought in through the public market thinking it was going to be something they could retire on or god knows what the motivation might be

Unknown Speaker 9:51
and you’re on a rocket ship so you can’t get off. Exactly and

Qasim Virjee 9:55
and then all that money, you know, yes, it pays out everyone who got in early. But again, all the goodwill with the customers and everything else is not necessarily sustainable. And it fizzles. And we have all these dead companies floating around public markets around the world.

David Adler 10:10
Oh, yeah. I think that someone told me yesterday that I did another podcast about how startups and businesses have to do good in order for them to do well. Yeah. And doing good means solving a problem. That really helps people. Yeah. And so if you’re just having a scheme,

Qasim Virjee 10:29
exactly, and that doesn’t work. It’s a great word. Yeah. If you’re just a cash multiplier, that is your hockey

David Adler 10:37
stick, you know, you’re just gonna like, oh, it’s got a hockey stick on the losses, you know, you got to show a lot of losses in order to get them the profits? I don’t know. Definitely. by that. I mean, I’m a 20 year startup, frankly,

Qasim Virjee 10:46
yeah. Ya know, it’s funny, I don’t buy it. Either. We preach, you know, everyday sustainability above all else. Because it gives people the confidence on a team to know that they’re working towards something, and they’re building something. If you start building something before, you know, before you can afford to, or you’ve been invested in so heavily that you can’t justify that investment. You feel like you’re in debt from day one. And that’s a scary feeling, right?

David Adler 11:15
But mean, something, there’s something great when you’re talking about the social, physical, social physics of how ideas work? Yeah, it’s kind of like what happens when you iterate? Yeah. Because you’re really hitting, you’re hitting the wall. So you got to come up with another way of doing that. Yeah. And but you’d lose sometimes your perspective?

Qasim Virjee 11:32
Oh, absolutely. And it’s something that again, going back to kind of what’s wonderful about people coming together, is the potentiality, of the togetherness of the working together being together. Right. So that kind of paints a little bit of a picture for me of the impetus to get involved for you in the event space. And, and bizbash. Well, events, I,

David Adler 11:55
you know, I’ve been doing a lot of work at the State Department and, you know, with sort of larger sort of problem solving, right. And it still all comes down to how do you let people be heard? Yeah. And how do you collect ideas? Because no idea. I mean, the geniuses don’t have ideas. They’re listening to other people. Yeah, that’s the dirty little secret of big ideas is that it’s like knitting together of these little things that you may not even know, from a serendipity effect, right? That all of a sudden, oh, that’s a great idea. And that will connect with this. And this guy that has a company that has nothing to do with what I’m doing, right. You learn every day, I learned every day from two or three things. One is getting involved in the nonprofit world. Yeah. And going to board meetings and things like that and hearing what the problems are. And if they’re solving problems on a different level, and also taking leadership roles. I also found that after 911 in New York, yeah, I started my business. And 911 happened right after I raised all the money. This is 2000 2009 11 2001. Yeah, I raised my money in 2000. Okay, okay. And I was just about to launch the prize, the boom bubble. I got in it. That was the end of the beginning of the end. Yeah. Yeah. Raise the money. Yeah. And I raised the money in the back of a bris. Really? Yes. Whose breasts? Oh, it’s a bris. Actually, I can tell you the name of the person’s Canadians. Okay. I was my friends were Matthew Bronfman. You know, the problem family and the bill.

Qasim Virjee 13:22
I went to McGill. So they are benefactor of the Yeah. of our campus. Quite Yeah.

David Adler 13:27
So I go to the Legos press. I was working corporate communications for a big company. And all of a sudden, the guy’s got about to do the bris. Yeah. And I go to the back of the room, and somebody asked me what I’m doing. And I raised $4 million in the room where the guys didn’t want to be anywhere near the brez

Qasim Virjee 13:44
all the guys or the whiskey in the corner saying you know muzzle let’s do a deal.

David Adler 13:48
The guy that’s actually gave me the impetus to do it was Michael Lynton, who was the president of snap and universal, okay, I was no Sony. And so I got involved in all these people. And I was able to raise that money. It’s like, my feeling. That’s one thing that’s great about events, you never know what’s gonna happen. Absolutely. And so you have this serendipity effect. So it sort of went on from there and, and then 911 happened and what happened with 911? My board said, Okay, we know this is disaster. Yeah. Take a leadership role. So I put together a list a group of 300 people in the event industry, and we tried to help bring this to the back. And we did things on a leadership level. Like, we took the Empire State Building and we put yellow lights all over it because there was a company called Snapple that was yellow. Right. Sounds right. And they brought an event in New York. We took over Gracie Mansion, which is where the mayor lives. And we decided to bring in all the pharmaceutical meeting planners to show New York is fantastic. And we had Broadway singer sing in New York, New York, and you got goosebumps from the patriotism of living in the city.

Qasim Virjee 14:50
I remember that time too, because I moved to New York in 2003. And I was working with Dino Fred Kinte or an organization called the project For public spaces, oh, I

David Adler 15:01
know that I know that. Yeah. So

Qasim Virjee 15:03
when I left them, they had moved from the village. The office was in the village for many years, and then moved to, right by in NYU on Broadway in the Audubon building. You know, the old building. That’s the Birch Society. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They, it’s interesting, because around that time, they were involved in some some of the city planning. I mean, they still are, they always have been as an organization and looking at these same aspects of how do you in a way, how do you plan for the serendipity of social interaction? It is an event Yeah. People should be celebrating their lives, whether in the city otherwise you’re toiling in the field, go, you know. And so things like you know, like the flick the the moveable chairs that became a thing in the 90s. And then onwards now in Gramercy Park, and everywhere else that was born out of that thing,

David Adler 15:53
they did the pianos did they do the piano, probably probably did the piano in the park,

Qasim Virjee 15:57
even though all the cycling stuff that was born out of their work, it’s brilliant.

David Adler 16:01
Yeah, because that’s what people people want to connect. And, and we can do it. That’s what these nonprofits, you can start something from nothing. So the idea of leadership is something that brings people together it also from a business point of view, you’re selling, you’re able to, like get in front of people without selling them something. Yeah. And they buy from people, right, and they want and if you can create a product, that’s good.

Qasim Virjee 16:23
It’s funny, because I’m not a salesperson, in the sense of, typically, you know, you’ve got, I hate painting this picture, but you know, the classical yo salesperson was like, getting some list of contacts from somewhere and then mining it for you. And then I instead what I will say is like, if I’m in front of someone who possibly could use something that I can offer them, I can close a sale, no problem. But then that interaction is the catalyst for you know, the deal arm Exactly, right. And so it’s funny, because what I have found my 40 in doing and it’s this interesting, just, you know, introspectively now coming out of my mouth, vocalizing this for the first time in the last a while is I’ve been creating contexts for interaction to develop my business. And that’s been actually the only primary you know, it’s in fact, the only way that start will has been successful so far. You know, you’re not

David Adler 17:19
in the business, you’re in a mission. Right? You’re on a mission, right? I mean, that’s what and you’re much more passionate. Yeah. And people love passionate Ness passionate people, people that love what they do, right? There’s something very, you just you just get attracted, you’re attracted to that. And that’s that feeling. So your brand is the feeling? Yeah. In many cases, and it’s in the collaboration artists or the person that’s putting together is a huge aspect of that. And sometimes people underestimate, yeah, the power of the entrepreneur, in pushing the rock up the hill, I think,

Qasim Virjee 17:52
fundamentally, you know, mass society, North American society. And so a bit about my history was that I’ve grown up between Africa and Canada, were. So I was actually born in Edmonton live in Calgary after that, and then we moved in 1992, to Nairobi. So I lived in Nairobi. And then I worked with a bunch of in high school work with a bunch of nonprofits, one of which was the first internet service provider in the region in 1995. So I was a high school student installing modems and teaching people about the internet. But it was, so it’s a really interesting kind of experience working with nonprofits in that space, which is a whole nother podcast, you know, but but I guess with this kind of global perspective, I always say here in North America, here in North America, bringing it back, because that’s where I think I think globally. But I found that there is this kind of almost apathy in society sometimes because of the effect of mass media and this like feeling that, unfortunately, this feeling of people looking to identities that express passion as something they almost watch on TV, as opposed to saying that could be me.

David Adler 18:55
Oh, yeah, yeah. But I think that what’s happening, though, is it okay, what’s happening though, is I think that when you get exposed to it, and you connect with another person, yeah, that lets thing happen. Yeah. And people actually take themselves out of themselves. Yeah. And it’s like a breath of fresh air.

Qasim Virjee 19:12
Well, when people express themselves in those interactions, yeah, in their best light, because they’re not putting on an air for that person. They’re actually inspired and they’re like, ah,

David Adler 19:21
you know, one of the things I do for my collaboration artists point of view, and it’s been really successful, is I do um, before I have a conference, I do something called Jeffersonian sell dinner parties, and a Jeffersonian sell dinner party is all it is, is, you know, 10 or 15 people around a table, but you curate the entire conversation. And it’s so amazingly powerful because when you go to a dinner party today, half the people on one side, don’t speak to the people on the other side, you’re talking to the person this way or next year. This way, you’re only the person that’s the artistic collaboration artist, will ask a question like, What was your first job and what did you learn from it and all of a sudden, all these big shots, become like ice cream scooper, Baskin Robbins. And you know this, you’ve talked about something below your 20. If connects more with you, yeah. And so but then you go from me to wheat us. So the conversation becomes richer and richer and richer through the night. People bond in great ways, but leaving it up to chance is okay. But it’s not the fastest way to get to the result. Yeah. So the idea of being a collaboration artist means actually doing a little something to get people to connect with each other. And events are about that to core and events is not about the decor. It’s about, oh, look at that pretty flower and the talking to the next person. Oh, you know, food and cuisine is a way of sharing things. And so it’s all about the connectivity being a DJ is about getting people on the dance floor to relate to each other. Absolutely. Obviously, you’re doing you’ve been doing that forever.