Life Lessons: Jeff Duncan

President and COO of MeetingMax says you must know when you need to change course

A few years into running event-planning business MeetingMax Planning Inc., founder Jeff Duncan realized the company was at a crossroads.

At the time, the business included everything from securing meeting spaces for events to planning décor and staffing to handling hotel reservations.

Out of business necessity, the company had developed proprietary software to handle all its hotel reservations.

But when the software began to attract licensing requests, Duncan and his business partner, Dave Ebert, began to consider whether the company should maintain its current course – or pivot into a software-licensing business.

"We sat down and said, 'You know what, let's take a look: let's start analyzing the numbers. Does it make sense for us to continue on the trajectory that we're currently on or should we look at jumping midstream?'"

Duncan added that, upon scrutiny, the numbers were clear.

"The margins were better on one side," he said, referring to the software licensing option. "It takes less staff. It's less intensive. That's what made us decide that we were going to pour more resources into this new side."

Duncan said he and Ebert decided to shift the company and relaunch it as MeetingMax Inc. The shift has been difficult.

"We certainly had to look at getting rid of some people that had one function and bringing on people that had another function," Duncan said. "We also had to look at firing some clients – to say 'We've analyzed and for us to put our time and resources into this particular [business] model doesn't make as much sense as putting time and resources into the new model.'"

But Duncan added that, since the 2007 shift, the company has grown into Canada's largest provider of group-targeted hotel reservation software and is on track to process nearly $100 million in hotel transactions this year.

"It's been a phenomenal move for us, and it's turned out that it was definitely the right direction for us to take."

On evolving a business | "My realization was that some business models are simply better than others. Just because you keep doing it day in, day out doesn't necessarily mean it's the most effective way of getting to the end result. I've certainly learned that there are countless opportunities in my existing world, but if you don't look up from what you're doing, chances are that you won't see it. And finally, sometimes it's tough to make dramatic changes but the world is constantly in a state of change, and if we don't keep up, we're going to be left behind; those are kind of my key takeaways."

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