As his peers at Hunter College in New York watched their student loan debt balloon, Dan Berger was paying it down, thanks to a web-design agency he launched. “I was earning 25 bucks an hour before my friends were making minimum wage,” he said. “So that was a good feeling.”
Fast forward to 2018: Berger has built a search engine at search.socialtables.com (it’s also the engine behind IHG’s meetings and events business) to help pair the right venues with the right groups in what he calls “the jigsaw puzzle of event planning.” Social Tables has amassed more than $22 million in venture-capital funding, has more than 5,000 clients and three million–plus events under its belt, and employs more than 100 people.
Berger isn’t satisfied just building software, however. He’s also focused on building an ethical workplace culture — as evidenced by Social Tables’ published core values (Always Honest, Be Outrageous, Every Day Is a School Day) and annual diversity report.
Here’s what he told Convene about his career experience:
My First Industry Job
Everyone has experience in events. It’s like sales. Everyone does it. They just may not have it in their titles. My work at Social Tables may be the most events-specific role in my career, but I feel like I’ve always been part of this industry in some way.
My Previous Three Jobs
Part of that experience in events comes from my role leading the Democratic Leadership for a 21st Century. It’s an association for progressives in New York State, and my position played a role in getting me into public service and community organizing. Then, I worked for former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), and helped coordinate meetings and events for him for four years. Finally, I worked as a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton while I was laying the groundwork for Social Tables.
What I Do Now
I’m the CEO of Social Tables. We started around seven years ago. After launching with tools for servicing events, we now have three primary offerings: a distribution platform to help hotels attract group business, a sales platform to help hotels track and close group business, and an events services platform to help planners and properties work together.
My Favorite Thing About My Job
Helping hotels tackle the next frontier in group business is what really interests me. I really love that we have products that help our hotel customers not just increase group revenue but also uncover new opportunities. Hotels are trying to differentiate themselves, and all of them struggle to find the right groups at the right time for the right property. Our software solutions help each of the many stakeholders in an event be more successful.
Most Influenced in My Career By
My teammates. I feel like I owe every single team member so much. They left jobs and relocated their homes to work at the company I started. That is an incredibly humbling feeling, and it’s what motivates me to wake up each morning and be a leader.
What I Learned From My Biggest Professional Mistake
I don’t often think about what I most regret or what might make me better or worse. It’s just not my personality to think about which failures I most resent, but I do think I would tell my younger self to trust my instincts when it came to hiring management. I let a lot of people influence me in the early stages of the company.
My Next Big Career Goal
My team and I are working toward automating the process of booking a meeting or event as much as possible. We want to make sure that much of the back-and-forth communication is eliminated through transparency, trust, and machine learning. It’s all in the interest of making meetings and events more successful.
My Advice for Young Meeting Professionals
Success is so relative that it’s difficult to develop advice that applies to everyone. Don’t think about what you did. You already did that. Think about what’s next.