Social Tables Founder Shares How Great Ideas Are Made

The best ideas aren't always those that come fully formed during a eureka moment, according to Dan Berger, CEO and founder of Social Tables, a meetings-technology company based in Washington, D.C.

“What I’ve learned about big ideas and innovation is that it’s a process,” Berger said. “And good ideas can accelerate when there is collaboration.”

Berger is among the meeting professionals who have been accelerating ideas via the Twitter hashtag #BIG-IDEASCL, as part of the year-long BIG IDEAS initiative sponsored by PCMA and the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, and supported by the PCMA Education Foundation. The campaign, launched at PCMA Convening Leaders 2014, is designed to foster innovation and fresh thinking within the meetings industry.

Berger’s three-year-old company provides meeting-design software that allows venues and planners to, among other things, collaboratively diagram events of any size, from fitting stages into ballrooms to designing buffets to placing table napkins. In comparison, Berger’s original idea was modest. He was formerly a congressional aide, and part of his job involved giving his boss as much background as possible about the people he would encounter at social events. One evening, as he headed toward a dinner, Berger had a thought: Wouldn’t it be cool if I could see where people were sitting in advance and could get their bios? He created Social Tables as a table-seating app linked to the social web.

Berger found that people weren’t very quick to publish their seating charts. But users soon began to ask him for more features, such as the ability to move furniture around the diagram and to specify the placement of screens and AV equipment. That was a tipping point, Berger said, and more features have followed. When Social Tables took off, it was less the table-seating tool that Berger first imagined and more a comprehensive, cloud-based meeting-design platform that could easily be used by almost anybody involved in planning or executing an event, from banquet managers to AV technicians. Since the company’s founding, the software has been used to plan 100,000 events, and in the last 18 months, the company’s customer base has grown from 150 to 1,800.

Throughout Social Tables’ development, the ideation process has been a collaboration between the company and its customers. Berger said: “We’re constantly trying new things, getting feedback, and then course-correcting.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.