Message Blocks: Event Planning in the Digital Age
Len Gauger, founder of the Ann Arbor-based startup Message Blocks, is pumped; his event-planning software company is off to a good start, he says. Cheerful and friendly by nature, he could be the poster boy for the kind of young entrepreneur that state government officials dream of when they preach about the need for talent attraction and retention programs.
Gauger, however, decided to relocate back to Michigan without the help of a state talent attraction initiative. A Dearborn, MI, native, he was working for the Air National Guard in Washington, D.C. Event planning was a big part of his job—he put together roughly 20 events per year—and a lot of what he learned came through trial and error. Plus, the more people who were involved in the planning process, the more chaotic it became. “I experienced so many pains,” he recalls. “There was no easy way to manage it all.”
He saw a market for software that would allow organizers to coordinate all planning documents in one place online, with the capacity to collect registrations, edit conference agendas, and incorporate real-time reporting—all managed via smartphone app. But he was adamant that he wanted to launch his business from his home state of Michigan, so he and his wife packed up their belongings and moved back home.
He started attending local tech meetups. At one gathering focused on the Ruby programming language, he met a couple of of guys who agreed to help him develop the software he had in mind. Following the lean startup methodology of continually developing iterations based on testing data and customer feedback, Gauger officially launched Message Blocks in February. “We will sit down with people and ask them what they need to have a successful event,” Gauger says of his strategy.
Offering a 14-day free trial with special beta pricing thereafter, Message Blocks has been able to sign up some fairly high-profile clients, including the Accelerate Michigan business competition, Habitat for Humanity, and TEDx Detroit. Gauger is currently working to develop “version one” of the software out of an office at the Ann Arbor SPARK business accelerator. “I’m flabbergasted at how excited Michigan businesses have been about our product,” he adds.
Although Message Blocks is generating revenue already in its beta iteration, Gauger is contemplating pursuing a startup loan in the near future to scale faster. He plans to target university hospitality programs, schools, and local governments as his next set of potential clients, and he’s in the process of “putting feelers out” for account managers.
Gauger says the support Ann Arbor SPARK has provided to Message Blocks has been invaluable, but he hasn’t ruled out relocating the business to downtown Detroit someday. “I’m very encouraged by everything going on downtown,” he says. “It’s been kind of cool to see something happening in Michigan. Startups are the future—it’s the way we’re going to get out of this [economic] mess.”