As registration and event management system provider RefTech celebrates its 20th anniversary, EN meets founder Simon Clayton to learn more about the origins of the company, creating a bespoke system for IMEX and a run-in with UPS.
How did you start RefTech?
Reference Technology started out as a company that provided computer networking and web development services. My background is in IT and IT training and I initially started RefTech to pursue this path. For a lot of my life, my father Ken had been a freelance script writer so the idea of running my own business was never alien to me.
How did you become involved in the events industry?
After about five months, Ken then joined me in the business. His background was as an event producer for Rover (back in the day when their events were week-long launches in amazing locations). He knew the events industry and was a well-known figure. A few years later, Ken read that Ray Bloom and Paul Flackett were about to launch a new industry event; he knew them and approached them to see if they needed a website and if so, could we build it for them. They did have a need, but when we met them it transpired that they needed a quite bit more than a standard website!
So IMEX was your first events industry client?
We got on brilliantly with the IMEX team and we listened to their needs, which were unique and very complex so we wrote a bespoke system to manage the hosted buyer management and exhibitor portal along with the appointment system. As we approached the first IMEX in Frankfurt, they needed a badging system and so I offered to write one for them, thinking “how hard can it be?” It was a bit harder than I thought, but I wrote our first badging system in a long weekend and IMEX Frankfurt became our first major badging client.
Has anything gone wrong over the years?
One of my favourite stories is when we sued UPS. We were supplying badges for a big event in Barcelona and we’d prepared two boxes of equipment for a Saturday delivery to arrive a few days before the event, but only one arrived at the venue. After pretty much a whole day on the phone, we discovered that UPS had ‘forgotten’ to put the box on the conveyer belt at the local depot and it was still in the UK. It was a local holiday in Spain and they couldn’t deliver the box to the venue the next day so I drove over to the depot and picked the box up but by then it was 5pm and we’d missed every direct flight to Barcelona. Ken took the box, got the first flight to Alicante (the nearest airport we could get to that evening) and then drove through the night to get the box to the venue for the event. Despite all the small print that says that UPS can never guarantee a delivery, we demonstrated that they had been guilty of gross incompetence and they settled out of court. And we had a very happy client too.
What’s it like to work at RefTech?
I hope it’s great! We are a family-focused company; with lots of married couples, parents and siblings all working for us (which is great until they want to go on holiday together!) We are a Living Wage employer too and regularly hold events for the team to get together and have fun. All of that said, most traditional job interviews are based on whether the interviewer likes the candidate and how similar they are to that person but this is probably the worse way of assessing a person so we also use psychometric testing as part of the interview process to help gauge how good that person would be at the job they’re applying for.
We have two distinct parts of the business; our teams can manage your registration and badging for you, or we can provide you with the tools to enable you to self-manage your events. As our EventReference off-the-shelf management tool gains traction, we will see a shift into a more product focused business, whilst still serving our existing clients of course. IMEX is shifting all of their systems onto EventReference and we see this as the ideal opportunity to tell the world that EventReference is powerful enough for IMEX, but simple enough for your breakfast meeting.
We recently created an event app; after years of watching the industry and seeing how awful event apps were, I had another of my “how hard can it be” moments and created the EventReference App in a weekend. IMEX America will be using our app this year because of its simplicity and functionality – it gives an attendee what they need in an uncomplicated structure and feedback has been great. That is the ultimate accolade for us.
Tell us something we don’t know about you
I’m a geek, I’m a techie and I love gadgets but I’m not a huge fan of event tech; the events industry is about face-to-face contact and there is a real limit on how much you can improve the face to face experience. I’m also learning to fly and play the drums! EN