Eric Lochner, the newly minted CEO of the merged MeetingPlay and Aventri, has ambitious plans for the company. "The event-technology space is going to be so dramatically different in 2026 than it is in 2022," he said. "What we're going to figure out is how to help drive that change."
Lochner is new to the meetings-tech world and to the events industry in general, so when he sat down to speak with NMG just eight days into his new role, he talked about his experience navigating mergers and bringing needed solutions to other markets. A common thread that emerged from his past roles in the HR and compliance verticals is his excitement over delivering improved automation and efficiency to outdated, manual processes.
As the business leader hand-picked by Sunstone Partners, the investment firm that backed the merger and which now owns the combined MeetingPlay and Aventri, Lochner is taking the reins of one of the largest players in the event-tech market, with offices on four continents. Following are highlights from our chat, edited for length and clarity.
What is your vision for the combined MeetingPlay and Aventri?
I believe that any industry can sustain three 800-pound gorillas. Every successful company needs to be super exceptional at product innovation, operational efficiency and customer intimacy, but the three 800-pound gorillas will excel in one. There are countless examples: Think about Dell, Apple and Lenovo, or Etsy, Overstock.com, and Amazon — all three play in the same space but have unique value propositions to the client. For at least the last 15-20 years, I've been passionate about excelling in customer intimacy, or customer success. As we continue to evolve and grow MeetingPlay and Aventri, that will be one of our key missions, our key value propositions. I really want to be able to be close to our customers and ensure MeetingPlay and Aventri have the credibility that it needs to help our clients succeed — and then give our clients that confidence that this is a company to partner with.
What about bringing these two companies together do you find most exciting? What is each one bringing to the table?
I'll speak for Sunstone, our private equity firm that funded the MeetingPlay and Aventri acquisitions: What excited them — and what then got me excited — is the simple fact that MeetingPlay customers across the board asked for one thing: preconference registration help and a software platform. Aventri customers asked predominantly for help with their high-end events, white-glove service. This merger was 100 percent driven by client input and feedback requests, and adding capabilities that each company would otherwise have had to buy or build.
The company has tremendous scale now. And if you think about the total addressable market, it's huge. The event-tech space might be crowded, but it's not crowded when you think about companies that can deliver the full spectrum of products and services — and do so with extremely loyal clients at a very high service level.
Given your focus on customer success, let's talk about the current clients of each company. What should they expect as you begin to integrate the companies and platforms?
First and foremost, it ain't broke, don't fix it. Excuse the phrase, but the service levels are already high and customer satisfaction is typically high for both MeetingPlay and Aventri today. In the next 60 days — maybe give me 90 — we will take a new product to market: one that is easy to understand, easy to use, easy to buy, one that takes some of the most requested functionality from Aventri and some of the most requested service components of MeetingPlay, bundled together.
What our customers can expect short-term is an easy-to-use, easily digestible platform and solution that makes our lives a bit easier. From there, [MeetingPlay cofounder and former CEO] Joe Schwinger is an exceptional visionary in this space, and he has a really clear vision of what he wants to get done in defining hybrid and hybrid technology for event planners. And we're going to put the gas pedal down as far as it can go, and make sure that vision happens.
So, let's say I'm an Aventri customer who's using the redesigned virtual event platform, and I really like some aspects of what MeetingPlay is doing; if I wait 60 to 90 days, I should have a seamless fusion of the two at my disposal?
I would say don't wait at all — we are one company. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I am on eight to 10 integration calls a week. Everyone in each company, even though we're only eight days in, is really energetic and really enthusiastic about partnering and bringing these things together. I should mention too that MeetingPlay and Aventri had already developed an API to integrate, pre-acquisition — customers had requested it a while ago. So the data from each already talks to each other; that's not going to be a huge hurdle for us. We'll handle it on the back end, but the data flow should be seamless to the customer.
What about the components that seemingly overlap between the two companies? Will some be considered redundant and not be supported in the near future?
That's a great question. And the beautiful thing about the Sunstone investment is nothing's going away. The market is big enough for us to sustain the existing business models and create new ones. Generally speaking, there's not a whole lot of overlap.
Nothing's going to change immediately; ask me that question again in six months and hopefully I'll tell you how we brought these two professional-services organizations together and created a better experience for our customers across the board. And then in 12 months, people won't know that company ABC actually came from two separate individual companies.
What do you see for that company in the future?
2021 was a great run, and we've got a great budget and plan put together for 2022. We will double our size in 2023, and the company should be triple its current size in 2024. So we're anticipating some pretty phenomenal growth — and that's both organically and inorganically. We will continue to do M&A for products and for geographic expansion along the way, if it makes sense. So the train has left the station — we're just going to keep steamrolling.