Melissa Pinard is the young, energetic Cofounder and Head of Product Management & Marketing of InitLive. InitLive is a cloud-based service that offers a website and mobile application. It works to organize, recruit, and connect volunteers and staff for live events. Melissa is in charge of Product Management, User Interface/User Experience design (UI/UX), and Marketing.
Melissa was recognized at this year’s Fest Forums Conference in Santa Barbara as a TechTrender, an emerging female leader who works in technology that benefits the festival space. We had a chance to talk with her while she was at the conference about her entrepreneurial experiences, what challenges she has faced, and what kind of music she loves.
Festival Squad: As you were growing up, were you always interested in technology?
Melissa Pinard: Both my parents have technology backgrounds. My dad has his own high tech company and my mother, her background is in development. So I was pretty much raised around the technology space. Maybe you could say it was an unconscious interest.
FS: Once you decided tech was for you did you always envision starting your own company?
MP: Even when I was in school, like University, I always had a burning desire to start my own company. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do and where the pieces fit together. Once I graduated I started working at Wesley Clover doing contract work. That is when my mom and I teamed up. When we first started the company I was really into the marketing side of things, mostly the digital side. My background is in image arts so I had UI/UX experience like designing in Photoshop and stuff. It was actually once the company starting evolving that I really started to find my niche in the product side of things. I just fell in love with product management and the technology side of things. I found myself on weekends researching, trying to learn the industry. Even though I didn’t go to school for it I still wanted to learn all the lingo. I discovered it while starting the company and fell in love with it.
FS: What made you decide to make a tool in the live events market?
MP: When my mother and I first teamed up the entire company was based off of a patent that we had. It was for an evanescence communication system which means it is a communication system built for people who were together temporarily. So naturally we started looking at markets and we started to ask ourselves what markets have people together temporarily. If you look at the event space, people get together for a certain time and then they disappear and disperse after that. So we started looking into the event space. Originally we looking into applying this piece of technology with the patent to the attendee side of things. We thought maybe we could form some sort of chat room that attendees could talk to each other in. Once I started researching the attendee space we found that it was very saturated with tons of technology companies that are going after that side of things so we decided to do a little bit of a pivot. I ended up calling over 100 event planners and asking them what their biggest pain points and challenges were. It was to my surprise that 80-90% of them mentioned the staff and volunteer side of things. We didn’t even think of that side of things, about communicating and managing your team on site. So we decided to go down the staff and volunteer management route.
FS: What’s been one of the biggest challenges for you personally with the creation of your company?
MP: There’s been personal and business challenges along the way. Personally, we are a woman founded company. It’s my mother and I. That has presented challenges but we managed to secure an investor who really supports are vision and really believes in the women side things and women based technology.
FS: Did you have to pitch to a lot of investors or did you find a match right away?
MP: We found a match right away. My mom and I were contracting under the same company but doing different work. Our investor is someone who my mother had worked with for over 25 years doing communications based work. So he already knew her and believed in her work. We pitched it to him and his first question to us was ‘well you guys need to find a market..’ So that’s what launched us into researching and asking questions. Once we found a market he invested in us!
FS: What have been the personal challenges, like work/life balance?
MP: There have been some. It’s been five years since we started the company. I usually work between 10-12 hours a day about seven days a week so there has been a lot of personal sacrifice. I put my career before anything else right now but we are getting to that point where work/life balance is finally beginning to even out. The company is to the point where our revenues are pretty solid. Another challenge was initially getting people to see my vision, agree to your vision, and hopping on board with it.
FS: What advice would you have given yourself five years ago?
MP: When I look back now, it was almost like I was so blind to all the challenges that would come and got too focused on one. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. With some of the pivots in technology early sometimes we would go down rabbit holes we would find a specific customer and start building specific things for them without asking anyone else in the market if this is something they would use. We ended up going down rabbit holes rather than looking at the bigger picture.
FS: What kind of music are you into?
MP: I am really into the electric dance music scene. I really like those festivals. It’s my dream to go to Tomorrowland in Belgium. I really like Chocolate Puma, they’re a little underground. Obviously Avicii. I really like Galantis a lot too. I’m based out of Ottowa, Canada and they have come to us yet but they are next month and I am going to be at a trade show and I am so bummed about it.