5 Secrets to Scaling Successful Events

Ryan Long's vision for City Summit & Gala was 16 years in the making.
5 Secrets to Scaling Successful Events
Image credit: Phillip Faraone | Getty Images

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Over the last four years, City Summit & Gala events have featured billionaire speakers like Sir Richard Branson, John Paul DeJoria, Brian Smith and Jeff Hoffman, to name a few. Some of the world's top celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, James Cameron and Charlize Theron have also been in attendance. The goal of these events is to inspire and educate entrepreneurs and innovators alike to take their businesses and ideas to the next level. This year, for its fourth annual Oscars after-party event in February, organizers are honoring Golden Globe-winning actor Colin Farrell with the City Summit & Gala's 2019 Inspiration Award.

Image Credit: www.CitySummit.co

“I’m grateful to organizations like the City Summit for highlighting professionals and providing awareness and support to entrepreneurs that want to help solve today’s challenges,” said Farrell.

While the event has only been around for a handful of years, founder Ryan Long's vision has been 16 years in the making.

Raised in poverty by a single mother, Long’s history found him encountering violence at a very young age. He had his grandfather to guide and inspire him as he grew up, but sadly, his grandfather took his own life due to mental illness. With the loss of this positive influence in his life, Long was seduced by the dazzling Hollywood lifestyle, leading him to become a Hollywood nightclub promoter. During this time, Long had a few run-ins with the law. He also had several superficial relationships and suffered financial difficulties.

Related: Why Live Events Are Rocket Fuel for Business Growth

Eventually, Long realized that the Hollywood "sex, drugs and rock and roll" lifestyle didn’t fit the values instilled by his family. He found himself disenchanted and unfulfilled. He was also broke and was soon forced to move in with his grandmother.

In our video interview, Ryan Long shared five secrets to scaling successful events which he learned from experience. Here are the takeaways of what Long had to say:

1. Focus on personal development.

It was in the very bedroom where his grandfather died that Long started reading a book called Lessons On Success: 17 Principles Of Personal Achievement by Napoleon Hill.

"I hit rock bottom in a way that was perfect for me," explained Long. "I ran out of money and I ran out of enthusiasm for superficial things. Then I found this book just by happenstance. What it really did was it re-wired me from the inside out."

It was then that Long realized that he wanted to empower entrepreneurs and developed a vision of helping and supporting those in need.

2. Develop and leverage trusted relationships.

Long didn't have the financial resources to launch a world-class event. What he had, though, was something greater.

As a nightclub promoter, Long had forged trusted relationships within the Hollywood community. He realized he could leverage these as the "intellectual capital" required to host an event of this magnitude.

Thus, the City Gala event was born. Long designed the Oscars after-party hosted as a non-profit event, raising funds on behalf of charitable organizations that support entrepreneurship. However, running a non-profit initiative while hosting a first-class event is no easy task, especially with limited financial resources. Long credits Secret Knock’s Greg Reid for helping him overcome these challenges and highlighting the importance of being able to sustain yourself while helping other people. To ensure this, all sponsorship proceeds go to the for-profit City Summit, which ultimately pays for the non-profit City Gala.

Related: 63 Businesses to Start for Under $10,000

3. Create strategic partnerships.

Long emphasizes the value of creating strategic partnerships with people who share your mission and passion. For Long, one of these is event producer and coordinator Michelle Madich, a primary partner of the organization, who not only coordinates with speakers and coaches but also wholeheartedly supports the crusade.

Another one of Long's strategic partners is Brigade LA founder Kuo Yang, who owns the creative studio which has become the City Summit & Gala’s primary supplier of "everything that you see that looks good."

Indeed, having a complementary partner who can strategically transform your weakness into a strength is a sound strategy.

4. Be socially conscious.

Long believes that all entrepreneurs should be socially conscious about how they can serve the community beyond selling products and services. Events are no different.

A key element to scaling the City Summit & Gala events hasn't been simply raising money for a good cause, but ensuring that those funds are making a difference. To ensure the success of these non-profits, Long provides them with free training classes weekly.

"I think there are two things we give these non-profits. The first and most incredible thing is the training on how to be a sustainable business and stay in business."

"The second thing is the network," added Long. "A wonderful case study is Project:NOW, which took advantage of the training that we give and the network of influence that comes with being part of our organization."

Project:NOW is an innovative educational programming and entrepreneurship training for youth in underserved communities, and was launched with support from both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The non-profit program emphasizes proper education and mentorship to increase literacy and college acceptance rates, with a focus on entrepreneurial pursuits.

"Project:Now is a phenomenal organization led by co-founder Dale Godboldo that was able to leverage all of the star power and receive funding of $1.2 million. It's one of our proudest success stories," says Long.

Long recommends that to scale an event to great heights, consider how you can authentically be socially conscious and prepared to show proof that your efforts are having a positive impact.

Related: 75 Ideas for Businesses You Can Launch for Cheap or Free

5. Focus on your goals yet remain flexible.

Lastly, Long stresses the importance of remaining steadfast in your goals and flexible in your approach -- to have the grit and fortitude to see things through and the flexibility to keep changing your approach until you find one that works.

Indeed, Long's strategy seems to be paying off. This year, City Summit is on track to attract over 2,000 entrepreneurs and executives -- double the attendance of last year’s event. Not surprising when the speaker list includes motivational speaker Les Brown, original Shark Tank investor Kevin Harrington, Extra TV’s Mario Lopez and Randy Jackson from American Idol.

After scaling such a successful event that attracts world-famous celebrities and speakers, I asked Long a challenging question: What's the biggest mistake you've made in your journey and what lesson can an entrepreneur learn from it?

"I think the biggest mistake would be ego," responded Long. "It would be not asking for help when someone could help, allowing my ego to make decisions. Getting in my own way has been my biggest mistake.”

“It's about the mission. The project is the master," he adds.

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