Q&A: CEO of MeetingPlay and Aventri Talks Post-Merger Plans

In this exclusive interview with Eric Lochner, BizBash gets the inside scoop on why the merger was the best move for both event tech businesses, what problems this will solve for the industry and more.

On Jan. 6, event technology giants MeetingPlay and Aventri announced that they have merged and received a growth equity investment from Sunstone Partners and Camden Partners.
On Jan. 6, event technology giants MeetingPlay and Aventri announced that they have merged and received a growth equity investment from Sunstone Partners and Camden Partners.
Background Image: Robert Katzki/Unsplash

When news broke last week that leading event technology companies MeetingPlay and Aventri were tying the knot, emotions of excitement and anticipation quickly spread throughout the meeting and event industry—along with the thought of, "What does this merger mean exactly?"

For a clear answer, BizBash connected with Eric Lochner, newly appointed CEO of the company, who was equally as eager to chat about the big news, what event pros can expect from the two companies now, the future of event technology and more. Eric Lochner, MeetingPlay, AventriAs part of the merger, Eric Lochner was appointed the new company's chief executive officer. Lochner's background includes more than 25 years of experience in building technology and technology-enabled services companies.Photo: Courtesy of MeetingPlay/Aventri

Why was this merger a natural next move for both companies?
Good old-fashioned love of clients. One of the key reasons I'm excited about this is I'm desperately passionate about being close to clients and having clients be intimately involved in roadmap conversations. Our MeetingPlay customers were asking for all the products and services that Aventri offers, and Aventri clients were asking for all the things MeetingPlay had to offer, so our clients really drove this decision. 

Sunstone [Partners] made their investment in MeetingPlay in June 2021, and they saw the opportunity and did more market research and found it was a natural fit instead of going out and having MeetingPlay build these products from scratch and lose time in a market that's evolving quickly—and clients really drove a lot of that conversation. Jim [Sharpe, CEO of Aventri], Joe [Schwinger, CEO and co-founder of MeetingPlay] and Lisa [Vann, COO and co-founder of MeetingPlay] were also energetic and enthusiastic about the idea of making this work—and it did. 

How do MeetingPlay and Aventri plan to differentiate themselves even more in the event tech space?
There are very few companies with the combined assets that can offer customers the value proposition, the key differentiator, in the marketplace that MeetingPlay and Aventri can offer. A couple of brands we all know and love out there in the space do it, but as we bring these companies together, we will be the best at it. 

We will focus on product, product innovation and bringing relevant products to market, but our key differentiator is going to be being very close with our customers, and in turn, that they have confidence in us to help them. 

Are there plans for a rebrand? 
We will be rebranding the entity, and the primary reason for that is both Aventri and MeetingPlay have really strong brands in their particular spaces. Among other things, Aventri owns pre-meeting tools and MeetingPlay owns white-glove, tier-one service. The idea is to create a new brand in the niche we're carving out, and that is the ability to service tier one, tier two and tier three with a full spectrum of solutions (pre-, during and post-conference). 

What will the next few months look like for you and your team?
We're going to approach it with a crawl, walk, run. We're going to get something out in the market during our crawl phase—something that introduces to customers what the power of these companies coming together can do for them. As we roll into the walk and run phase, it really is about transforming the way customers can leverage these various solutions for a one-stop-shop, seamless solution that eases their frustration and pain when executing events. 

What problems will this merger solve for event and meeting planners? 
Event planners have to work with many, many different vendors out there to execute a large event. And when you bring in different vendors, you add risk. And the less risk the better when you're talking about huge events. The immediate issue we're solving is the one-stop-shop for event planning. We're your partner, and we're here to help you through the whole process, soup to nuts. 

Additionally, we plan to streamline the Aventri UXI [user experience design] on the platform and make sure that the MeetingPlay and Aventri data sets are consistent across the board so we are able to offer a robust data package that allows clients to better manage the accuracy of the data they're getting to really assess the return [on investment]. 

How has the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which has caused another wave of event cancellations, affected your team's strategies? 
We've had events that we were supposed to do in person in Q1, and they have flipped to virtual. As the variant continues, we need to be able to be partners with our clients to say, 'You don't have to cancel your event. Let's build another solution that makes your attendees feel safe and makes you feel safe.' 

Team members at Aventri and MeetingPlay are all tackling a solution. We're able to pick out of the best of both worlds to address a client's needs—especially given the fact that those needs have changed even in the last two weeks. And that comes with flexibility. The company that can be flexible in its business model and 'go with the flow,' for lack of a better phrase, with their client's needs in mind is going to be the winner, which makes the timing perfect for the merger. 

Looking ahead, what role do you see event technology playing in the industry over the next, say, five years?
It's going to be an incredible journey. This question is the reason I took this opportunity. The world of events and event technology is going to be very, very different in 2026 and beyond than what it is today. What we have in front of us at MeetingPlay and Aventri is to define what that is and then deliver it. Will we ever go back to 100% in-person events? I doubt it. Will it ever be 100% virtual? I doubt it. It's going to be a complex problem to solve. 

How are you feeling about taking on such a big role post-merger?
This industry is on the cusp of transforming itself—mostly out of desire, but also certainly out of a need. When I was doing my own research and talking with executives at MeetingPlay and Sunstone, it hit me that this industry is onto something really big here. And to be a part of that journey, and to help chief marketing officers, event planners and their teams really think differently about how they design, deliver, execute and measure events and programs is something I really want to be a part of. 

This is a team that's going to create significant change in the industry all through the lens of helping customers deliver meaningful, valuable events that actually produce a return on investment. It's going to be a fun ride! 

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