Matthew is the Managing Director & Founder of event technology company Your Stand Builder, and currently lives in London, UK. He is a graduate from the University of Manchester who already has valuable experience of living and working in both the USA and France, in addition to various parts of the UK, which has provided him with international exposure already. He is responsible for building and launching the Your Stand Builder platform in March 2019, following more than 5 years’ in an exhibition project manager role preparing 25+ worldwide events annually for his previous employer – an experience which directly led to the YSB idea being born. Matthew is passionate about making a difference in the global events industry, and is committed to continually exploring technological innovation. He has taken YSB from concept all the way through to execution and plans to build upon this in the future through gradually developing the service further.
ES. How did you land up in this industry?
Matthew Funge. Before setting up Your Stand Builder I worked for 5 years at an international healthcare company where I was responsible for their exhibition schedule as a project manager. I organised 25-30 events each year all around the world and grew to love the global events industry.The biggest attraction to me was the thrill of being involved in international events and seeing the incredible creativity of event professionals all around the world. Every day, every show, every year is different – and it’s such an exciting industry to be a part of!
ES. What have been your major milestones achieved in your professional journey so far?
Matthew Funge. There are a few notable moments which stand out for me, which I think are all important and noteworthy. As a company we’ve won an industry award already (Innovation of the Year 2019 – EN Supplier Awards) which was fantastic and provided such validation of the idea we had been working so hard on.
On a personal level I’m proud to have been selected for the UFI Next Generation Leadership Grant 2020 which is incredible in terms of personal growth and development, allowing me an opportunity to try and shape the future of this amazing industry. Another key moment for me came very shortly after launching our service when we secured a significant partnership agreement with a large, established industry leading company who are very well respected internationally. This achievement proved to me that our innovative service had a definite place in the industry, and stays with me as the moment we truly introduced ourselves as an event tech company.
ES. Please share with us your take on this situation and its effects on the exhibition industry in your country
Matthew Funge. Obviously it hasn’t been easy as our industry has been hit particularly hard by the crisis worldwide, and we’ve barely seen any events since March when the crisis became an international matter. During the past few months the UK was unfortunately one of the worst affected countries, and we were in a national lockdown for a long period before slowly starting to re-open in recent weeks. Our exhibition centres were converted to temporary hospitals and all events have been cancelled which has had a huge impact on our industry.
Our government has finally given us a restart date of 1st October – providing there is no further surge in virus cases – so as an industry we are all working towards bouncing back as strongly as possible when we are allowed. It will be interesting to see how visitor and exhibitor confidence has been affected by COVID-19, and how quickly it might recover, as this will be key factor in terms of getting back to normality when it comes to business events.
ES. What do you see the roadmap ahead for the exhibition industry?
Matthew Funge. I think there will undoubtedly be a transition period where many precautions are taken to ensure the safety of everyone who attends events – including compulsory wearing of face masks, widespread use of hand sanitiser stations, temperature checks at the entrance, etc. Whether these stay in place once COVID-19 is truly under control, either through the introduction of a vaccine or otherwise – remains to be seen. I suspect that before too long events will be very similar to how they were previously, as humans are creatures of habit and they like what feels “normal”.
Even if there are new permanent safety measures, nothing will be radically different in my opinion. Regardless of the above, one thing this pandemic has shown us is how much businesses need exhibitions to support themselves commercially. There is no doubt in my mind that the majority of companies who typically exhibit at events are desperate to get back to interacting face-to-face rather than screen-to-screen online. People around the world have adapted and embraced technologies such as Zoom because they have been forced to, but it will never truly replace meeting customers or prospects in person which is why I have the utmost confidence exhibitions will return very strongly as soon as they are able to do so.
ES. What do you see as the upcoming trends?
Matthew Funge. Hybrid events will undoubtedly be at the forefront of our industry in the immediate future, as organisers attempt to combine physical with virtual as a result of the current health crisis. While I do believe that virtual is here to stay in some form or another, I don’t see it as a replacement for physical events that we’re all used to attending.
In the short term I expect events to be locally focussed as opposed to international gatherings, due to travel restrictions and reduced marketing budgets at companies of all sizes. There will be a shift in approach to host smaller local or regional events and slowly building back up to large scale international events – which unfortunately could take a considerable amount of time.
ES. What is the silver lining of this pandemic?
Matthew Funge. I think it has shown just how much the global economy depends on exhibitions to provide marketplaces where companies can do business and showcase their latest innovations. Without these events – as we have seen over the past months – these companies lose a hugely effective marketing channel and miss out on the platform to meet thousands of prospective new customers in a single place. Perhaps exhibitions had become routine for many companies prior to COVID, and their importance was taken for granted. I’m hopeful that moving forward they will be valued as they should be and considered an essential sales/marketing tool.
ES. What is your take on virtual events?
Matthew Funge. They’ve been so important during the disruption to physical events this year, and they will definitely continue to play a part in our industry from now on. I think that there will be some sort of a combination of physical and virtual in the future, but I firmly believe that the majority of events will primarily continue to be offline, in-person, live events as that is what we are used to and human beings by nature prefer to interact in face-to-face.Live events can of course be enhanced using virtual services and platforms, but the core advantages of events cannot be achieved through the widespread use of virtual in place of “traditional”.