Mike Lysko, AYE: taking eventing to the next level through tech

Mike Lysko was up to his elbows in the event space when the makings of a brilliant idea started to take root in his mind. He frequently saw people at events lined up (im)patiently waiting their turn to talk to the flushed assistant at the information desk. He noticed others lugging around reams of print materials handed out at seminars and presentations, or walking in circles around the venue, unsure where their next session was being held. Then there were those surprised to hear post-event that they'd missed a great special valid only on the day, or struggling to get in touch with an exhibitor whose wares had caught their attention but whose business card they'd misplaced. The idea nagged at him until he paid it enough attention for it to germinate properly into a concept, and then, with the help of a tech incubator, BizSpark, into a business: AppYourEvent (AYE). "I always knew I wanted to start a company in the tech space," says Lysko, who has always found the tech sector intriguing. He launched AYE in 2014, though its beginnings were humble, as he could only dedicate time outside of his 8-5 job to the business. His first client was HobbyX, an annual craft and hobby expo that attracts 30 000 attendees, and which he secured through a personal connection. "They were looking for a solution because they wanted to do away with all the print material," explains Lysko. "They could see the trend was there for such a solution." Lysko used HobbyX's database to conduct a survey, asking customers about the pain points they experienced or what features would be useful should HobbyX put together an app for their event. Based on the results of this market research he then developed an app prototype. After the event he dissected the data and tweaked the app accordingly. "It was a great learning experience," he says. "There was about a 30% change." A year later AYE had become busy enough that Lysko left his full-time employment to focus on the company. He bootstrapped it entirely, investing everything he had into the fledgling business. But it paid off, and in little over six months AYE's staff contingent had grown from Lysko alone to six staffers on the payroll. Better still, AYE has already been used at events in 15 countries, and has several high-profile clients on its books, including Sage Pastel, The Rockefeller Foundation, Smart Procurement, and Oracle. While the app was not an entrant in the awards, Lysko and his team were nominated to create the app for the MTN App of the Year awards. "That was a big milestone," he says. Lysko believes the tech has been quite disruptive to the event space. "In the sense that your traditional marketing methods have been changed with this app because you’re alerting users to personalised messages or notifications," he says. Rather that printing out stacks of bulk material for attendees, all the info they need it accessible literally at their fingertips. Better yet, the generated data is incredibly useful for planning of future events, debriefing of past events, or reporting back to sponsors, partners or other event role players. "With the app you are able to say to a client, 'your sponsorship banner received x number of views or taps'," Lysko explains. "So you can give real ROI to sponsors." For users, the uses are myriad, and can be enjoyed at the event as well as before and after. Attendees who download the app ahead of the event can connect with and communicate with other attendees ahead of time, scheduling networking sessions if they so choose or simply exchanging information. They can introduce themselves ahead of time to a speaker or person of importance they might like to meet on the day. And, because the programme for the event is live through the app, any updates, changes and reminders are in real-time, and users can access details of planned presentations, participate in live polls or surveys, or peruse available reading material ahead of a session they might be attending. As with many businesses, there have been some small hiccups along the way. "Getting people to buy into the idea initially was quite a challenge," Lysko says. "There were clients but they were hesitant." It also took some time getting acquainted with the rules and regulations of the Google and Apple app stores, in order to get each app onto the platform for download. "Learning about those submissions and processes was challenging at first, but now I've got a good relationship with them," Lysko says. Each app for each client gets put through this same process before it is made available on the app stores. Thus far, AYE has published close on 35 full apps and 40-plus prototypes, though Lysko anticipates this number will continue to grow, and quickly too.

He says:

"Initially in 2014 when we pitched to local clients there was an interest of between 30 to 40 percent. This increased to around 60 to 70% year-on-year. But it depends a lot on the type of event. If you have early adopters or if it's a tech event they more likely to download the app. In that industry there's about an 85% uptake. On the lifestyle side currently about a 70% adoption rate."

Lysko's plans for AYE are ambitious, and include opening a London office - Lysko calling the city a springboard into Europe - within the next few months. "The company has already entered the market over there, so the intention is to solidify the European presence and then tackle other markets," he says, adding that Europe "makes sense" for the company. His plans don't stop there, either, and Lysko sees wearable tech and virtual reality becoming a part of AYE's future offering. "Imagine you could attend a virtual event but be able to walk around that space," he says with delight. "I want to be constantly innovating."

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