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EMAIL INTERVIEW – with Jim Young and Scott Cochrane
Jim Young Founder/CEO, Realcomm Conference Group
Jim Young and the Realcomm team have inspired our industry for many years, showing us the latest and greatest in tech presentations from a wide variety of top thought leaders. Their platform has allowed countless industry relationships and helped drive the changes our industry needed to help us move forward with new innovative ways of thinking
Scott Cochrane, President & CEO,
Cochrane Supply & Engineering;
Jim Young and the Realcomm team have
inspired our industry for many years, showing us the latest and
greatest in tech presentations from a wide variety of top thought
leaders. Their platform has allowed countless industry
relationships and helped drive the changes our
industry needed to help us move forward with new innovative ways
of thinking. The pandemic has certainly changed our way of life
in some ways, but for those of us in the
event-planning business, let'
That’s where I put the Realcomm team, as a leader in an industry not just in the building business, but also in event planning and implementation. The team has had to re-invent their entire platform, with constant changes in direction, hopeless conversations with potential locations, and figuring out how to use new technology tools in innovative ways... and THEY SUCCEEDED! The Realcomm - IBcon team pulled off a top-notch industry event in the middle of this pandemic and from an outsider looking at all the factors involved, I deem it a huge accomplishment. The new tech and ideas introduced were extraordinary (as always), the platform was engaging and clear, and it worked well for the participants. They invented a new way for the industry to share ideas.
Cochrane: Jim, on the journey your team went through to host such a huge event during the pandemic, when did it become clear this was going to be something completely different?
Young: We put the brakes on Miami in the first couple weeks of March. The Realcomm | IBcon conference went from Miami in June to Miami in September. But then we still couldn’t get the Miami people to lean in to what we wanted to do and the convention center was still being used as a COVID hospital. So once that happened, we said we have to go someplace that’s leaning in and we started looking at Arizona, and got it narrowed down to two hotels and completed a site visit. Then the governor and mayor of Phoenix weren’t seeing eye to eye and there was a great deal of political contention. We couldn’t get agreement between the two political forces that we could hold an event, and at that time we were expecting about 250-300 people. We then had to pivot to Texas, which was very open for business.
We looked at San Antonio and Dallas and then Texas blew up with cases and the optics of announcing an event in Texas would have been terrible. So then we had to pivot toward a politically-neutral state that had low COVID impact, and we looked at Colorado. They had good numbers. But by then, it was very apparent we weren’t going to have 200-300 people, we’d just have a small group of professionals who were going to be the studio audience and the speakers. We knew we had to get people back in buildings to preserve the economy. This was substantiated by a bartender I met at the event. She shared with me that she used to work eight events every two days… our event was the eighth one she had worked since March. She was so thankful, she said she was barely hanging on. I reached in my pocket, and gave her a bigger tip.
Cochrane: So the two takeaways are that you were there because 1. We can’t just forget about the buildings. We can’t let our industry down when these buildings empty. 2. The economy has to move on. We cannot sit idle and let the economy die around us.
Young: Exactly. And there’s a third point also. In the nature of Realcomm and who we have been in the past 22 years, we don’t just sit and wait for things to hit us. We go hunting. We lean in. Not only are we going to put on a conference, let’s lean in and figure out what a conference amongst a pandemic and what a conference in the future looks like. That meant sending 12 people into air conditioning ducts at the Gaylord. With another 16 people on that virtual tour as that swat team tried figuring out how to make the facility even safer than just encouraging 6-foot distance, masks and hand washing. In the process, we found several new technologies to utilize that nobody had ever seen. They agreed to show up and let us use those technologies.
Cochrane: You preempted my next question. Your goal was to offer a safe conference. First and foremost, you made it 100% digital, kudos to you. Because that gave everybody the opportunity to be a part of the conference in a safe manner. But you also knew you were going to bring people together, and in doing so, you took significant extra steps to host the safest environment possible. So yeah, what cool technology did you uncover in that process?
Young: You broke it down perfectly—you are truly paying attention and thank you for that. A lot of people say “Great Conference!” but they don’t really know the whole strategy that was involved. The strategy was two-fold. The virtual part had to be better than any of the other events we had seen. We wanted a platform that was as close to engaging at an in-person event as possible. We looked at almost 100 virtual platforms and we found the best one we could find but it still wasn’t good enough. We added additional functionality to it to make it even better. It was difficult to find a platform company that was willing and able to add the level of customization that we needed. When we said we needed custom work, a lot of them would just hang up the phone. We finally found an organization that said we can do what you want, and that was the streaming window embedded on the homepage that we could broadcast to, and that was the connection to the physical part.
The second part was the on-site event pivoting back to the virtual platform—we had to build a studio and take the technology to the next level. We brought in guys who worked on Madonna videos, Super Bowl videos, a team of guys that the only reason we were able to get them was because they had no work and were willing to help. They brought technologies we had never seen, and we pushed every person on our team to a point where they had never been before. The guy who does our webcasting at Realcomm, he had never brought guests in remotely—he had always filmed them at Realcomm Live events and pushed them out. But we had to tell him he had to bring people in from around the world and we have to film it and we have to push it out. He probably brought in 35-40 remote guests on a platform called VMix, and then at the end of it he said Jim, I didn’t think we could do it. He essentially thanked us for pushing him, because now he knows he can do it.
We learned a lot.
Cochrane: You successfully produced a live hybrid event!
Young: A lot online, a little on site.
Cochrane: So what are you thinking for the future then in terms of what’s next?
Young: All new layers of technology. New ideas. New ways to bring people in virtually. Star Wars stuff, Star Trek stuff. It’s stuff that has been around for a while, but has not hit mainstream yet. You have to go digging, but you have to know what you’re looking for. We’re not just real estate people, or we wouldn’t know how to find this stuff—50% of our DNA is technology. So when I see something not working on the platform, 25 years of enterprise computing in my brain says we have to shift, we have to move. That was the experience side: the set, the 3D, the multiple software platforms, the webcast, the bringing in the speakers—that was all from the experience standpoint that integrated with the online… but now let’s go to the health and safety.
We identified four new products. One was the Symptom Sense Scanner that you walk through that takes your heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and blood oxygenation level—usually that requires a 30-minute doctor visit. The second thing we implemented was microbial surface testing through LuminUltra. Twenty-four hours before the event, we had two guys walk the entire venue with cotton swabs and swabbed high-touchpoint surfaces—desks, tables, door knobs, toilets, counters, and so on. They swabbed them all and then put them in machines to determine if COVID had been on any surface within the last 10 days. We came back with a perfect score.
Then as a result of our tour, we learned about reverse polar ionization and zapping lights to clean air particles. We had four units in the main room, so the air in that room, by their description, was the cleanest air other than the international space station. So for 24 hours a day those machines were running and we also had two smaller machines sitting there with a vendor, needlepoint reverse polarization units.
Last but not least, we thought: what if the microbial swab guy had found something. Somebody said we’ll call the hotel and they’ll bring in their hazmat cleaning crew and clean it. We joked no no, this is Realcomm! We’ll send in the UVC robots to go in and zap it out… of course that’s more theory than reality. But in theory, we did have a UVC robot there in the event that we found particles. So those were the four technologies overall that nobody had ever seen. And not just a Zoom call or a webinar. We had them in the room and working; people could touch them and talk about them. And I was very proud we pulled it off.
Cochrane: I saw them, they were very cool! You’re in touch with the real estate industry like no one I know, what’s the sentiment there? What’s the current thinking there?
Young: It’s really weird. The big picture is close them down, work from home. 10-15% occupancy in NY, less than 5% in San Francisco. And this is nine months later. These beautiful, big buildings are almost empty. Now it’s looking a little more positive, people going back to work… 10%/15%/20%. Now with this new uptick of cases and new activity, they’re basically retrenching and now saying summer 2021. Most of this is being driven not by the landlords, but by the tenants. The large corporates like Google, Facebook, and Salesforce, they had all stated early on that it would be mid-2021 and even that seems to be pushing. The Wells Fargos are essentially saying until a vaccine is rolled out and we see a downward trend, they’ll remain in their current state. They’re pushing it month by month but to me it feels like it’ll be end of first quarter or maybe as late as June before people really start thinking about getting back in.
Cochrane: So at the end of the day, the real estate industry is thinking it’ll be summer of next year before we see a transition?
Young: It’ll start to be a “we’ll see” first quarter. The doors are open; the buildings are open. But nobody is coming into them. The tenants are still paying their rent. The conversation that’s creeping in more and more in the last month has been okay. People have now learned to work from home; they like the office but they also like working from home. Post-COVID, how many people will want to get on the highway to drive two hours in downtown L.A. to get to the office? There are some that will never go back. One company recently surveyed their employees and 95% said they will never want to go back to the standard five days in the office. There’s this middle population that will want both—they’ll want the office as the place to go but they’ll also want more flexibility to work from home. So what will the office look like post-COVID? Time will tell…
Video || Watch Jim Young and Managing Partners Nancy Stone, Howard Berger and Lisa Woods share Realcomm conference highlights and top takeaways from both the virtual and in-person experiences.
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