Originally Published in the Washington Post | March 31, 2013 | By Abha Bhattarai
Three years ago, Paul Mandell set out to change executive conferences as he knew them: Inefficient, boring and weighed down by too many sponsors.
The former attorney got together with three friends and founded Consero Group, a Bethesda company that specializes in planning and hosting industry-specific conferences. Recent events include a government IT forum at a resort in San Diego and an event about global compliance and ethics held in a posh London hotel.
“We’re really on a mission to save executives from bad events,” said Mandell, the company’s chief executive. “Nobody wants to attend an event for two days — especially if they’re a senior executive — and hear the same thing they’ve heard 10 times before at other events.”
Consero, which became profitable last year, hopes to have 200 employees — more than quadruple its current roster — by the end of 2016. It has plans to expand throughout Europe, too, and to enter new industries such as higher education, finance and anti-counterfeiting efforts.
In 2012, Mandell and his team opened an office in Dublin and hosted 13 events around the world, totaling more than $4 million in revenue. This year, they have 22 conferences in the works.
“When we create [an event], there’s a high level of risk because we don’t know if anybody will show up,” said Mandell, 39. “There’s a lot of pressure to make sure there is a need for what we’re doing, so we try to do as much research as we can ahead of time.”
There are a few basic ground rules: Events are invitation-only and are relatively small — between 50 and 75 attendees. Invitations are limited to employees of similar stature at similar companies to make networking as useful as possible.
Sponsors are hand-picked, too. Mandell and his team limit the number of vendors with similar products and services, and often help set up one-on-one meetings between attendees and relevant sponsors.
“We remove the competitive element for our sponsors so they can focus on contributing to the content instead of worrying about edging out other vendors at the event,” he said.
In all, events generally take between nine months and a year to put together. The first two-to-five months are spent researching the particular industry and its needs.
“It’s a big bet for the company,” Mandell said. “Each new program is a big investment — not just in hotel costs, but in staff costs. If we put a team of five on an event for nine months, it’s a major investment.”
In the three years since it was founded, Consero’s annual revenue has grown more than 10-fold. In its first year, the company hosted one event — a meeting for general counsels that brought in $400,000. In 2013, Consero expects $6 million in revenue.
“We have an aggressive vision,” Mandell said. “We’re trying to change a traditional industry that has not been a model for change since it started.”