FREDERICK, MD — Some 25 years ago, Joe Schwinger was pushing his uncle’s lawn mower up and down the major streets of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Today, however, he is providing technology solutions to major corporations.logo

Mobile event and hospitality technology solutions, to be exact. But what is that, and how did the young entrepreneur make the transition from mowing lawns to providing mobile app platforms?

Schwinger’s company, MeetingPlay, provides both mobile guest engagement platforms and indoor venue wayfinding apps. One of MeetingPlay’s most popular products is its mobile event app platform, designed to build and support event and conference attendee engagement- providing tools such as live audience polling, pre- and on-site event registration, and analytics to track and gauge the success of the event.

Schwinger’s entrepreneurial spirit began blossoming around the age of 12, when he took a summer job working for his Uncle’s recycling company. The early mornings and high temperatures got him thinking that there had to be a better way to make an income.

As the next summer approached, he heard his uncle mention that it had been awhile since he had mowed his lawn. Living in Florida, Schwinger realized most lawns need to be moved twice a week due to heavy rains. It was in that moment that Schwinger started his first business. He offered to mow his uncle’s lawn and then used his mower to find other clients. By the end of the summer, Schwinger had about 70 percent of the neighborhood as clients and was mowing 45 lawns a week.

“I came from an environment where I was never given anything and I had to work hard for what I wanted,” Schwinger said. “This led me to have an entrepreneurial spirit in everything I did.”

A passion for technology

Schwinger began to take an interest in technology in college. He said before and after class he would go to the bookstore and read every book they had on technology, teaching himself the world of design and programming. To pursue his passion, Schwinger left Florida to finish school at George Washington University, where he specialized in design and development.

Schwinger was introduced to Marriott International after graduation, as he was working for one of his professors in the world of technology development. Marriott provided him with an entry point into the hospitality and events industry.

There was no such thing as ecommerce at the time, so he took on a specialist role developing ecommerce solutions for Marriott in 2004. He eventually worked his way up to director of global ecommerce services, in which he his team of 75 individuals oversaw ecommerce in North America.

While working for Marriott, Schwinger saw an opportunity to provide solutions to hospitality providers and other customers in the technology realm. He decided to leave Marriott and start MeetingPlay in 2011.

Using his knowledge of events, hospitality and ecommerce, Schwinger created a mobile event app for the Marriott Corporate Partnership Conference, which showcases hospitality technology and other solutions.

“Marriott continued to invite me back and it was my starting point in getting an opportunity to work with the company,” he said. “I then officially created MeetingPlay as a product and a company, and over the next couple of years we doubled, tripled and continue to multiply.”

The mobile event app focuses on attendee engagement, driving social activity and networking between attendees. It includes features like questions, quizzes and surveys, live polling/ARS and gamification. The app also delivers post conference data that provides clear and concise feedback.

Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Frank Leonard said that while there are about 50 to 100 competitors in the mobile event app space, MeetingPlay is unique in that it transforms its app platform to match each client’s specific needs and personalized brand.

“Most providers don’t customize the app, but we’re solution driven so that our product is very tailored to our client’s needs,” he said. “Client’s like that we are customizable and scalable, we can handle the simplest to the most complex apps.”

Some of MeetingPlay’s customers include PepsiCo, Georgia-Pacific, Marriott International and The Ritz-Carlton. Its products range in price from $2,000 to $40,000.

On Jan. 13, MeetingPlay filed a form D with the Securities and Exchange Commission announcing that it had raised $1.65 million from investors. Leonard said the company is expecting another $350,000 to bring the investment to $2 million total.

“We’ve moved offices and hired seven employees since the raise,” Leonard said. “We now have 30 employees overall, with a goal to have between 45 and 50 by the end of the year.”

From events to navigation

Schwinger said as MeetingPlay is growing as the company is always on the cutting edge of technology, recently introducing tracking capabilities and iBeacon technology to its clients.

On March 7, Gaylord Hotels became the first hospitality brand to introduce MeetingPlay’s AppAtlas across its four resorts. The app utilizes iBeacon technology and indoor 3D mapping to provide guests with directions in navigating the expansive resorts, which range in size from 1,500 to 3,000 guest rooms.

Guests simply download the free Navigate Gaylord Hotels app to find step-by-step directions to their room, fitness center or the nearest restrooms. They can also use the app to find services like restaurants and shops, and to make dining reservations.

“Navigate Gaylord Hotels represents a combination of technology and ease that fits with our goal of providing flawless service to our guests,” said Mike Stengel, senior vice president of Gaylord Hotels. “The app is innovative, interactive and impactful, especially when it comes to enhancing guest satisfaction in getting from point A to point B with ease.”

The future of MeetingPlay

Based on Schwinger’s understanding of events, he knew that MeetingPlay had to take a different approach in getting people excited about attending meetings. Today, the company still faces the challenge of introducing new technology to its customers.

“If you don’t push the edge of technology in the events world you lose,” Schwinger said. “Every one of my competitors is moving at 110 miles per hour, so we need to move at 120.”

Schwinger said every other competitor has a cookie cutter approach, that one size fits all.  He believes what wins MeetingPlay the business, and what will perpetuate the company’s success, is when they ask the customer, “What problems do you have that we can solve?” Taking a step back and listening to customers has been an integrative tool to the company’s success, he said.

“MeetingPlay was started out of customer demand for products, nobody specifically said they wanted to use gamification to keep attendees involved in conferences,” Schwinger said. “I see the future where our customers need us the most. Our customers will determine our growth as we will scale to meet their needs.”

This story is from the Maryland Business News Wire, a service of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism.