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Sanjib Kalita

Episode 32: How to Plan a Large-Scale Event with this Event Planning System, with Sanjib Kalita

Sanjib Kalita is Chief Marketing Officer of Money20/20, a business he helped grow from startup to the world’s largest event focused on payments and financial services innovation within 3 years.

A fintech leader for over 15 years, he has worked for large organizations like Google, Intel and Citi as well as several successful startups including TxVia, a payment platform building technology company acquired by Google in 2012, Irynsoft, a Kauffman Foundation supported mobile education technology company highlighted in Best of 2010 lists by Time and Fast Company magazines, as well as Money20/20 which was acquired by Ascential plc in 2014.

He is also on the board of advisors for two venture-backed startups that have collectively raised over $30 million, MPOWER Financing, an alternative lender targeting international students, and Impact Analytics, advanced analytics and data services for the retail industry.

During the past two years, Sanjib has been a coach for Student Startup Madness at SXSW, where he coached the runner-up in 2016 and the winning team in 2017. Sanjib has an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management, as well as a B.S. and M.Eng. from Cornell University where he majored in Electrical Engineering.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Different types of systems businesses rely on
  • How Sanjib transitioned from studying engineering in college to having a passion for the startup world
  • What prompted him to gravitate toward marketing and business
  • How Money20/20 was founded when there was a change in the payments and financial services industry
  • What separates Money20/20 from other events in the industry
  • The event planning system Sanjib uses to organize large-scale events that have many moving pieces
  • Why doing the “elementary” things right and executing them really well is the difference between success and a good idea that never makes it past the drawing board
  • The color system Sanjib used on his spreadsheet to organize speakers for Money20/20
  • How the spreadsheet system helps to capture a work in progress and structure discussions
  • Why it’s important to recognize when a system isn’t working and experiment with other systems
  • The pros and cons of different levels of access to spreadsheets
  • Why it’s important to start simple when implementing an event planning system
  • The future of Money20/20

Ways to contact Sanjib:

Podcast eBooks:

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Transcript:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company. Here, we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host Vera Fischer.

Vera: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, the brand marketing agency located in Austin, Texas. 97 Degrees West serves regional and national companies in the healthcare, finance, energy, and manufacturing industries.

97 Degrees West believes that an integrated approach to marketing that involves traditional and digital strategies that fit your customers’ buying journey, yields the greatest impact on your bottom line. Go to www.97dwest.com to learn more.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host.

All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems such as a factory. Some are technological like product management software. Others are psychological systems like check list and organizational charts. Many of these systems are going to overlap in your business.

I’m really excited today. Our guest is Sanjib Kalita and he’s the chief marketing officer of Money20/20. This conference, Money20/20 is something that he helped grow from a startup to the world’s largest even focus on payments and financial services and innovation within the last three years. Sanjib has been a fin tech leader for more than 15 years. He’s worked for large organizations such as Google, Intel, and CitiBank, as well as several successful startups including Text Via, a payment platform building technology company acquired by Google in 2012.

Sanjib is also on the board of advisors for two venture-backed startups that have collectively raised more than 30 million. Empower Financing, an alternative lender targeting international students. And Impact Analytics, advanced analytics and data services for the retail industry.

During the past two years, Sanjib has been a coach for student startup madness at South by Southwest in my backyard where he coached the runner up in 2016 in the winning team in 2017. Sanjib has an MBA from the Kellogg school of management as well as a BS in master’s of engineering from Cornell University where he majored in electrical engineering.

Welcome to System Execution Sanjib.

Sanjib: Thank you very much. I’m really honored and excited to be on your podcast and really appreciate the ability to have a conversation today.

More on Sanjib’s Background & Money20/20

Vera: Awesome. Sanjib, I’m really happy you’re here. Your resume is quite impressive and I know that I may have stumbled a little bit through it. The reference to my backyard is I’m in Austin. South by Southwest is near and dear to our hearts, literally.

I’m happy that you’re here. I touched a little bit on your background. If you wouldn’t mind taking a minute and sharing a little bit more about yourself and your experience with our listeners.

Sanjib: Sure. Absolutely. At a very high level, I’ve always been interested in creating new things and invention and making new toys and new chips, new credit cards and what have you. That’s how I wound up getting to where I am. I started off in engineering because I thought that, that was where I could be an inventor.

Once I was at Intel, I realized that when we launched our new business, marketing was very important. They looked at how do you create something new, what are customers saying about it, how do you price it. That got me towards more to the business side. Then after going to business school one of the things that I really enjoyed is working on products that everyday people use and could relate to.

I thought about the financial services industry and payments, that’s just so important to the entire economy and to population that I thought, let me see if I could go there and see what I could learn.

Once I got to CitiBank, I really enjoyed my time there. Then eventually wound up leaving to work in the startup world. It’s been a great experience to this date. Yeah, I’m really excited to talk about Money20/20.

Money20/20 was founded in 2012. At that time, having been in the payments industry for already quite a few years before, there were other events in the space. They typically catered to for example, credit card issuing or there were events about ATMs and debit cards. There were events about loyalty. There were events about bank to bank transfers. They tended to be fairly siloed. They tended to have more of a closed door mentality in the sense of, are you a banker? Then you can be part of this club.

What I saw and what the founders saw in 2012 was that the industry was changing. Consumer expectations of their payments and financial services was changing. You had companies like Square that launched a point of sale terminal for using your mobile phone as a point of sale terminal.

Then you had companies like Google launching Google Wallet to try to enable mobile payments. Then you had even telecommunications companies getting into payments with what was back then called ISIS and then changed their name to SoftCard. Then you had the merchant customer exchange, which was a construction of retailers that were trying to see if they could create a payment system that better catered to the retail ecosystem.

You had a lot of new entrance and that caused the questioning of the way things had run for decades. At that same time, the existing events didn’t necessarily cover that in the most effective manner. As innovators in the industry, we felt that creating something new, creating a new event where we could get companies and leaders regardless of company type, regardless of what ecosystem they’re from, regardless of function, and getting them under one roof and learning, meeting, hopefully fostering partnerships.

Fostering new products and helping be a platform for others to move the industry forward. We felt that the timing was right. That’s how we got into Money20/20.

How to Plan Large-Scale Events with an Event Planning System

Vera: I think that’s a really interesting place and industry to be in. I know that there is a lot happening. That siloed approach after a while doesn’t work. I think that your conference has grown quite a bit over the last three years. I see that you have about 11 thousand attendees and you have several of the conferences throughout the world. Very impressive Sanjib.

Today let’s get started and let’s focus on one process or system that you have found to be really instrumental in your business life. This first section is really going to talk about the system and what we’ll be discussing throughout our time together.

So, what system would you like to talk about today?

Sanjib: Sure. I hope it’s not too elementary but I found that our event is at quite large scale. For example, we’ve had 400, 500 plus speakers. We’ve got 500 plus sponsors. Each one has different needs and different requirements. They’re all very important individuals in their own right and individual companies in their own right.

One of the things that I found that’s tremendously helped us plan large-scale events is a simple spreadsheet within our event planning system that we color code and that everybody has access to and visibility upon.

Once again, it might sound very elementary but a lot of times I think just doing the elementary thing’s right. Executing against them really well is the difference between success and a good idea that never made it past the drawing board.

As an example, when I first joined, one of my tasks was to figure out who should speak and where they should speak and what topics could they talk about. I was talking to hundreds of people, thousands of companies about what might they talk about, who might be their speaker and what announcements they could make, how this is impactful upon the industry.

It was just really important to have a single place where I could capture the relevant information. If you put too much then it tends not to be read or tends to be a little bit run into itself and not be very impactful. Afterwards, going through and color coding it into red, yellow, green just to be simple and straightforward.

For example, red might be a speaker that either was not relevant to the Money20/20 agenda or was going to be talking about something that was maybe a little bit dated or not very interesting. Yellow might’ve been something that was … on one hand it sounded interesting to me but I don’t know enough about that space just yet to make that right decision. It could be yellow might also be … this is really the idea.

I’ve heard a couple other companies talk about their own kinds of event planning systems. We just need to figure out who might be the best company to talk about this. You potentially even have all three.

Yellow could also be the person I spoke to is at a company that’s very interesting but they’re probably not the right person to give the speaking spot to. Then the greens were the right speaker or right content. Interesting company. Those are the easy yes decisions.

I think at a high level, the reds … the green decisions are, you actually don’t spend a whole lot of time because once you make that decision it’s pretty straight forward. The red decisions, you spend a little bit more time on because you don’t want to make sure that you’re turning down something that could potentially be interesting to put on the agenda.

Then the yellow decisions were actually inevitably the ones that took the most time and required the most discussion amongst our team. Potentially even reaching out to other experts. It was a way to capture all the work and progress but also structure how we would have these discussions. If we didn’t have it in a systematic way, there’s no way we would’ve been able to have pulled off the scale of the event we did and in the manner that we did.

Vera: Sanjib, in your event planning system you decided to come up with just this very simple spreadsheet and nothing had been done before to keep track of all the speakers?

Sanjib: This was something that the sales team had done to manage their sponsor pipeline. Then seeing how they managed that, I didn’t start off with that. I started off with more of a simple straight list. It was not efficient. It was not communicating the status of where the various folks were with the rest of the team. We didn’t have a whole lot of time.

I’m sure you can appreciate when you’re a startup, you have to do so many different things. Just being focused and being able to make a quick decision is so important. I saw what they were doing and I was like, let me try to incorporate that. That’s how I wound up stumbling across it.

Vera: Who all has access to that spreadsheet in your organization?

Sanjib: It’s actually fairly broad. When I first joined, there were basically four or five of us in a room. At that time everybody had full access to it. As we’ve grown, what we’ve done is we’ve had a broad read capability into the spreadsheet but the right capability has been constrained.

That’s more just making sure that people don’t make erroneous entries into the spreadsheet.

Vera: That’s really cool. Have you been using that ever since or did you migrate that whole simple spreadsheet to a software platform?

Sanjib: We’ve used that spreadsheet up until this point. At a high level we are in the midst of migrating to … actually for example, on the sponsor side to SalesForce. We’re in the midst of that right now.

I haven’t really used that at this point. It’s still TBD. I’m sure it will turn out fine.

Potential Issues in Sanjib’s Event Planning System

Vera: Have you ever had any mess ups within your event planning system or that spreadsheet or anything that you would have our listeners be careful about when you’re trying to amass that much information?

Sanjib: I think that one of the things that I wound up doing post, there were actually a couple times when everybody has the right access. There’s some kind of … like I said, someone mistypes something or it just hits return by mistake and you lose data.

Say someone wants to sort the data in one way but they won’t do that for a specific purpose. That’s not how we run the process with our event planning system. What we wound up doing is we wound up making copies and tabs at various points in tab just to capture almost like a snapshot so that if we needed to look back at anything or even the next year that the colored spreadsheet is a working document.

By the end, you should theoretically wind up with something that looks like a finished product. The next year you want to see how did it look at the beginning or how do we look at January this year versus January last year. You can get a good year over your comparison. We kept the snapshots primarily for data to make sure that the data was clean. By doing so, we also got some other benefits as well.

What’s Next for Money20/20

Vera: That’s really awesome. I think that the message of starting off simple with the simple tools that you have and migrating those when you’re a little bit further down the company journey is a really valuable lesson. Most people I think want to just jump into the bigger stuff. They just need to start simply and with a very simple tool.

Before we wrap up Sanjib, what’s next for Money20/20?

Sanjib: Money20/20, we’ve grown and we’re continuing to grow. Actually we’re immediately in the next event is actually in Copenhagen at the end of June. We’re going to have the second year of Money20/20 Europe. We launched that last year and we got about four thousand attendees there.

This year we’re probably going to get five to six thousand attendees to Copenhagen. It should be just a great compliance of the European ecosystem. Then looking out to October we’ll have Money20/20 in Las Vegas. Last year we had about 11 thousand attendees as you mentioned.

Actually right now we’re a thousand people ahead of the same time in point last year. I’m expecting continued growth there. We’ve already got some amazing speakers lined up and plenty more to come.

Then in 2018 we’re going to launch Money20/20 Asia in Singapore. Obviously there’s just so much going on in Asia. Even though we’re in our fifth year, I think we’ve just hit the tip of the ice berg. There’s just so much more to see and a lot more to cover. I’m really excited about looking ahead.

How to Get in Touch with Sanjib

Vera: Awesome. Sanjib, before we sign off, why don’t you let our listeners know how to get in touch with you.

Sanjib: Absolutely. Our website is money2020.com. If you’re interested in the Europe show, it’s money2020europe.com. The Asia event is money2020asia.com. I’m on Twitter. My handle is @paymentalist. P-A-Y-M-E-N-T-A-L-I-S-T. My email address is Sanjib@money2020.com.

If you have any other further questions or any thoughts on our event planning system or on how to plan large-scale events, please just get in touch. Once again, thank you so much for letting me speak to you today. I really enjoyed this.

Vera: Awesome. System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you listen to this episode, the key is every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Sanjib, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and insight to our listeners today.

Sanjib: Thank you.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution on how to plan large-scale events with Sanjib’s event planning system to be enlightening. For free examples, case studies, eBooks, and more, be sure to visit systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at vera@systemexecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.

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