Today, we are thrilled and so proud to be celebrating Convene’s 8th birthday!
When we co-founded Convene in 2009, we set out with a very ambitious vision to change the way the world works. It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since we first opened our doors at 730 Third Avenue in New York City. We spent a lot of time recently reflecting on what an incredible journey it has been.
While eight may not be the most typical “milestone” to celebrate, we see a lot of significance in the number. It’s considered to be the luckiest number in Asian cultures because it represents prosperity. It also symbolizes infinity – an 8 has no ending, and loops back upon itself. In Buddhism, eight means “all possibility, which is fitting for a company with ambitions as large as ours.
Not only do we have eight years of incredible achievements to look back on, we have a new one to be proud of that was just announced today. We are officially one of the companies named to LinkedIn’s Top Disruptive Companies: Startups list! Thank you to LinkedIn for one of the best birthday presents we could have ever asked for.
As we dive into the new year, we wanted to pause and look back at some of our favorite memories from the past eight:
1. Where There is Change, There is Opportunity
After we graduated from Villanova University, Chris Kelly and I went our separate ways. We then had dinner in 2009, when I pitched the idea of Convene to Chris and asked for his advice on getting the business off the ground. We were in the midst of the financial crisis, and I had noticed that Fortune 500 companies were getting rid of their internal meeting, conference, and amenity spaces to save money. We believed that there was a way to capitalize on that trend.
Our opportunity came to life when we formed our first partnership with TIAA-CREF. The global asset management company was asked to do something no one else was willing to do – lease, manage and operate their internal conference facility and food service operation. Originally, Chris was only planning to help me out for just a few weeks, but he ended up leaving his house, business, car, and girlfriend (now wife) in Colorado to stay in New York City and help me launch the company. This was proof that every great company can start with one conversation, one idea, or in this case – one great margarita!
2. Ham and Egg It
When we founded the company in 2009, you could count the entire Convene team on one hand. There was a LOT to do before we opened our first location at 730 Third Avenue, but starting small gave us the opportunity to touch every aspect of the business. Not only did we manage sales, marketing, real estate, operations, and finance, but we also were the first “service technicians” too – we set up the tables, served food, and did the dishes. When Convene’s first client booked (before we were able to hire a chef), Chris and I ended up behind the counter scrambling eggs in the kitchen. The client feedback afterwards said it all: “Meeting was ok. Why were the founders bussing our tables?” Needless to say, it was not our best NPS score.
While those early days were challenging (and crazy), it laid the foundation for our values (GRIT) and allowed us to develop a genuine appreciation for the value that every single employee, regardless of title, brought to our company and to our clients.
3. Growing Up with Human Centered Design
A year into our Convene journey, we were convinced that we had an opportunity not to just change the way that people meet and work, but also the way that office buildings delivered hospitality services to tenants. Our only challenge was that we were a startup in the midst of a financial crisis and had minimal funds. Our grand plan was to convince one of the large furniture manufacturers to give us new furniture for free in exchange for marketing.
So in 2010, we headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan to meet with Steelcase, a leading office design firm, where we would not only see the future of Convene, but would find the woman that would make that vision a reality. We were introduced to Joyce Bromberg (who quickly became Convene’s third co-founder, and is now the Vice President of Innovation + Foresight). Joyce was a leading workplace strategist who was planning to retire, but we quickly brought her into the “Convene vortex.” She helped make human-centered design a core competency at our company, and it is now the primary methodology by which we design our new products and services.
4. The Road to Perfection is Paved with Progression
When we first started Convene, we had to outsource almost everything – sales, food production, AV/IT, design, and even communications. It wasn’t a mistake to do this, because at that time we needed to figure out the best way to scale our business. It wasn’t long after we started outsourcing that we realized we had to make a change. To deliver a best-in-class experience to our clients, we had to control 100% of every service touchpoint – hospitality, production, food & beverage, space design, and technology.
Learning quickly from our early challenges led us to be extremely passionate about the details in everything we do today. It also helped us develop one of our core philosophies: 1% better every day. It has served us well the past eight years, and will continue to be the driving force behind our future growth.
5. Building a Brand That Matters
Our original name was “Sentry Centers.” We knew that we wanted to re-brand to Convene, but faced an immediate hurdle – securing Convene’s domain name.
The fun fact is that www.convene.com was one of the first 200 domain names that was ever registered on the internet. To find the owner of the domain, Chris had to comb through the almost 20 years of internet archives to obtain a phone number for the then dormant Convene website. After a few dozen calls, he was finally able reach him. The owner was open to selling, but only if he believed in the mission of the company he was selling to. He wanted to know that his name would be in good hands, and with a “fair and honest person.” Chris ended up meeting the owner in Tysons Corner, Virginia where he heard Chris’s vision for our business firsthand before handing over the domain name. Luckily, Chris passed the test. Integrity matters!
6. More Places, More Ways
Our growth over the last eight years has been incredible, but what’s been more impressive is the evolution of our business model. We started out as meeting specialists, but are now regarded as the leading “workplace-as-a-service” partner for landlords and enterprise companies.
People thought we were crazy every time we wanted to expand – opening a second location in NYC, going into the D.C. Metro area in 2014, and acquiring 3 locations in Philadelphia in 2016. They thought we were even crazier when we wanted to start building out an office amenity platform and flexible workplace product powered by a mobile technology platform.
By staying true to our vision and our values, we’ve been able to convert non-believers into early adopters. By listening to our clients and being empathetic to their needs we’ve been able to now serve them in more places and more ways.
7. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
As founders, one of the most rewarding aspects of building a company from the ground up has been seeing our employees achieve success and growth in their individual careers and personal lives. We are fortunate to work alongside some of the most passionate, persistent, and curious people in the industry.
At Convene, we didn’t just want develop better professionals, we wanted develop better people. There are so many individual stories of our team members who have found incredible fulfillment in their new roles, their training programs and their new responsibilities.
The beauty of business is that it’s the best team sport in the world, and that nobody changes the world by themselves. It takes amazing people, a shared vision, clarity of purpose, a deep sense of “the why,” and a ton of GRIT.
8. You Can’t Lead from the Back
To be truly successful, you have to be willing to take risks. You have to see opportunities that others don’t see. While we have been preaching for a long time that landlords needed to think differently about the way they run their buildings, it wasn’t until recently that we were finally able to convince one of our partners to take a giant leap forward.
Early in 2017, we launched our presence in One World Trade Center with One World Commons, a tenant-only amenity space on the 64th floor. Before we opened, we were in a meeting with The Durst Organization and had a crazy “pinch me” moment. We realized that in less than eight years, Convene had earned the right to power the workplace experience in one of the most iconic buildings in the world.
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” – T.S. Eliot
It feels like we started Convene just yesterday – and a lifetime ago – all at the same time. There is so much to be proud of and even more to build, and we are blessed to have so many incredible team members, clients, investors, and partners along for this unforgettable ride. The beauty is that we’re just getting started.
Cheers to the next eight years! Don’t stop!
Ryan Simonetti, CEO and Co-Founder, Convene
Chris Kelly, President and Co-Founder, Convene