The Daddy of Event-Mobile Apps And The Power Of Pizza

Event Tech Brief

The Daddy of Event-Mobile Apps And The Power Of Pizza



By Michelle Bruno

It’s hard to believe that the first native event-mobile app was born just seven years ago. It began, not in the founder’s garage—“It was too cold,” he says—but on the floor of the biggest trade show there is. Today, the app that Jay Tokosch, CEO of Core-Apps and his partners built still endures and serves as the centerpiece of an expanding list of mobile-centric products. The firm’s success has been guided by a simple philosophy. It may have something to do with pizza.

Necessity and Invention
Like many event apps, FollowMe was the brainchild of attendees. Jay Tokosch and his business partner Jesse Snipper, now president of Core-Apps, were attending the massive Consumer Electronics Show. Vexed by the inefficiency of using a paper map to find exhibitors, they asked whether the show had a mobile app. It did, but a web-based “app” in the WiFi-challenged Las Vegas Convention Center was a nonstarter.

So, Tokosch and Snipper got to work. “Through the course of that week we actually sat down and wrote out what we thought were the necessary features for a mobile app. We brought in John Johnson [the current CTO of Core-Apps] to help us with the development work and started the company a few months later in March of 2009 with a basic [native] mobile app,” Tokosch explains.

The centerpiece of FollowMe was its navigational capabilities. It allowed users to route themselves from location to location (accurate within about a 40’ x 40’ “zone”) by following a blue dot that appeared on the floor plan. In the debut version, users could also build their own schedules; receive push notifications; view sessions, speakers, speaker bios, and exhibitor lists; and touch an interactive map to see brief exhibitor descriptions.

The Tipping Point
In the beginning, an event-mobile app was a hard sell to exhibition organizers. With no good way to demonstrate the app, Tokosch made due using screenshots and a PowerPoint presentation. “Customers were saying things like, ‘I'm not really sure it's for my demographic. I don't know how many of my people carry a smartphone. I don't know where this technology will go,’” he says.

All of a sudden, the idea clicked. The first organizer to understand the mobile-app vision was the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, producers of the mega CONEXPO-CON/AGG trade show. One by one, other organizers followed. “The sixth show that we signed was CES. I put out a press release. After that, we suddenly had people calling us and wanting to have a mobile app. It was crazy,” Tokosch recalls.

Customers dictated the business model for Core-Apps’ first app. The company started out charging attendees $1.99 per download (Apple took 30%), but attendees complained. “People were constantly writing in to our organizers and saying, ‘I shouldn't have to pay for this. I get the book for free. I should be able to get this information for free." As a result, organizers offered to pay for the app.
Adding To The Family
As event-mobile app adoption grew, Tokosch and team began hearing about a new challenge from customers. “It is so daunting for them to try and put on an event and also take care of all of the technology. Managing events from the beginning with selling booth space, managing the floor plan, collecting all the session and speaker content, and dealing with multiple vendors is very difficult,” he says.

To help customers address the technology overload issue, in 2013 Core-Apps bought event management platform GoExpo. It made sense because much of the content—exhibitor lists, speaker profiles, session schedules, etc.—that goes into an event-mobile app originates from event management software. FollowMe was already tightly integrated with GoExpo so data transfer was seamless.  

The GoExpo purchase was pivotal for Core-Apps. It helped them break out of what had become a crowded app marketplace and transformed the firm from mobile-app developer to mobile-centric software provider. With that new positioning, Core-Apps began making other purchases and adding new capabilities, including wayfinder kiosks, beacon solutions, and a “lite” version of GoExpo called Event Express.

Recently, Core-Apps announced that it has purchased the Conference Notes iPad app from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Conference Notes is a second-screen app that allows users to follow a slide presentation in real time on an iPad, take notes, and draw on the slides. Attendees can also use the app to plan their itineraries before the conference and view and export the notes after the session.

True To The Core
Even with all of the new additions to its portfolio, FollowMe is still a central focus for Core-Apps. The current version, iterated for the corporate and venue markets as well, has improved upon the features from the original checklist. It pinpoints location down to a 10’ x 10’ space and manages much more content—product information, logos, and categories—than before. The app now also enables social media, in-app messaging, audience response, and speaker Q & A.

Tokosch and team are always vetting new event technologies. But rather than race to be the first, they often prefer to let new innovation play out. “We look at what our competitors do and change it just a little bit to make it function better in the industry," he says. This habit of making measured, strategic decisions may simply be a reflection of Tokosch himself. In every city he visits, he looks for the best pizza in town and washes it down with a cold beer. It’s simple, functional, and it just works.

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