At first glance, Meeting Tomorrow’s website does not give you the impression of a small 50-person operation based in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, IL. Instead, you envision a large corporation with offices all over the country, ready to handle any nationwide audio/visual rental request you can throw at them. CEO, Mark Aistrope, has cleverly figured out a way to make the latter half of that statement a reality by leveraging strong contractor relationships, building a dependable team, and utilizing modern technology to his advantage.
When I sat down with Mark to ask him the story behind Meeting Tomorrow, he was quick to reference Thomas Friedman’s list of factors that are “flattening of the world.” Feeling inspired by the long-time columnist of the New York Times, Mark honed in on three key factors: “the miniaturization of technology, the availability of economical and dependable overnight shipping, and the rise of e-commerce.” A light bulb above his head went off and Mark saw an opportunity to apply those concepts to an industry he had the displeasure of navigating during his own travels as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) salesman: audio/visual equipment rentals.
And with that, 2003 became the year Mark joined the ranks of gutsy entrepreneurs who can honestly say they started a business from the basement of their own home. Contrary to the multiple rounds of funding startups are highly publicized for today, Mark started Meeting Tomorrow with his own savings, as well as some good old-fashioned debt. “Credit cards aren’t evil, they’re practical!” he proudly proclaims. Mark acknowledges that some companies in land-grab-type businesses need to secure multiple rounds of funding to succeed, but would caution entrepreneurs that it can lead to “a lack of discipline” and that, frankly, it could “spoil the fun of the hustle!”
Meeting Tomorrow has since expanded at a steady pace, adding much more to their repertoire than just shipping out projectors in overnight FedEx packages. By building an extensive network of trusted contractors, Mark’s been able to take his company nationwide without losing confidence in his ability to satisfy customers. The business has even developed into a full service offering rental equipment including iPads, iPod touches, and 3D projectors, as well as services that include in-person setup. This includes maintenance, and, just recently, application development (some clients want those iOS devices to come stocked with custom apps!).
As with any growing business, I was curious to how Meeting Tomorrow continues to maintain a tight-knit company culture as success (look at this fame and fortune!) forces them to expand. To that, Mark talked about the challenges of moving from the antics-filled, one-room-one-table type of work environment to that of separate offices and cubicles. “It’s a lot of hard work,” Mark admits “but the bigger [the company] gets the more fun it becomes. I can shed off some of the day-to-day responsibilities to more narrowly focus on the things I’ve surprisingly become really passionate about, like leading people.” It’s interesting to hear a self-proclaimed “business junkie,” such as Mark, say that as his company grows, being a leader is the most rewarding result – the word for that? Refreshing.
From the basement of Mark’s house to an office of 50, Meeting Tomorrow falls into that romantic ideal of starting a business and finding success based purely on hard work, strong vendor relationships, and over-the-top customer service. There’s no over-inflated company valuations or high-profile acquisitions; just a liberal amount of elbow-grease and the passion to evolve in a way that keeps both employees and customers happy.
My hat’s off to Mark and the crew at Meeting Tomorrow – I’ve already thought of many reasons my agency will become yet another satisfied customer!