Sean describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” having started and sold a number of businesses since finishing college in Nacogdoches, Texas. He’s a former chair of the Society of Independent Show Organizers and has been a client and my friend for years.
There aren’t that many entrepreneurs in our industry who are successful at making the transition from the corporate world to the world of start-ups, and I was happy to ask Sean a few questions about starting over, hear the plans for his new company, find out where the name Stone Fort Group came from, and get any tips he has for others looking to begin their own businesses.
Sean is enthusiastic and anyone who’s worked with him can feel it. He lives (in business) to start new projects, brands and communities. To “build things that haven’t existed before,” he says. With TradeFair Group doing well, he felt it was time to make the jump back into the entrepreneurship pond.
Stone Fort Group is named after the oldest building in the oldest city in Texas (Nacogdoches). According to Sean, it’s stood the test of time and is also a cool retro name. It’s also got a sense of stability, intending to stand the test of time.
Stone Fort Group plans to launch new events in the industrial sector via integrated communities, digital and live media and events in niche markets. In other words, the company will be a multiplatform, multichannel community driven business. There are a lot of ways to be successful and profitable in the “media/expo” business these days—everything from the traditional tradeshow to hosted buyer events to digital engagement.
Sean shared with me that he’s looking at the workforce and water niches, but didn’t divulge cities where Stone Fort’s first events will take place. Besides starting new events, he plans to acquire other properties that fit within the portfolio.
My last question to Sean: “What are the best two pieces of advice you could give others who want to make the leap from corporate to start-up?” He answered, first, before you launch your show or brand, make sure you are speaking with your prospects and the community you intend to serve. What are their pain points—and how can you deliver solutions?
Secondly, be super flexible. Things will go wrong. More than you think they will. Sean then quoted Mike Tyson: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
Stephanie S. Selesnick is president of International Trade Information and a longtime global exhibition industry specialist helping U.S show organizers increase international participation in their exhibitions and clone shows overseas. You can follow her on Twitter at @stephselesnick.