JUNO's Josh Hotsenpiller on Human Connection and PCMA

JUNO products and personnel.

JUNO’s Josh Hotsenpiller sits down with Tyler Davidson to discuss the events platform’s big partnership with PCMA, and how everything we do comes down to one important concept: human connection.

Tyler Davidson: Hello, this is Tyler Davidson. Welcome to this Meetings Today Podcast. We're here today with Josh Hotsenpiller, founder and CEO of JUNO, a platform for events--virtual, live hybrid, you name it. Thanks for joining us, Josh.

Josh Hotsenpiller: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Davidson: And wow, we have a lot to cover as I'll try to keep it succinct today, because you have quite the resume and quite an industry thinker, I think. But let's start off with the big news announced at IMEX America 2021 that you are teaming up with PCMA to serve as their live, virtual, hybrid events. Why don't you tell everyone more about that relationship?

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Josh Hotsenpiller, CEO, JUNO
Josh Hotsenpiller, CEO, JUNO

Hotsenpiller: Yeah, we're excited about it. We did CL [PCMA Convening Leaders] '21, just kind of going into the pandemic and had a great experience with them, and really spent the last year talking on bigger terms of where's the future going, you know--the old Wayne Gretzky "skate to where the puck is going."

And we talked a lot about, if we do CL '22, what do we really want to do? And ultimately, what we arrived at was, we didn't want to just do a virtual experience for them, we really wanted to build their 365 platform that we call a single destination platform; that single place you can go to for your events, your learning, your networking, your credentialing, all in one location.

And so we we pitched them on that desire and ambition we had and they agreed with it. And so we are using CL '22 is the launch of their single destination platform, and in a place that they'll use all year long for all their events, for all their learning, for all their on-demand content, etc. So we're really excited about it.

Davidson: And I know I'll be going to Convening Leaders--I actually just signed up today. So for people who are there in person, and virtually, what can you tell them about how the experience will unfold and how Juno will be involved in delivering that? 

[Related: ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Star and Co-Creator Dan Levy to Speak at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2022]

Hotsenpiller: Obviously, we've got the the web-based version. So laptop, desktop--you can be engaging in that wherever you are in the world. But we're also launching our companion app, which will be full of utilities for users. So, there'll be a stream where people can post content, videos, you name it. We'll have our trending engines for networking.

So, we'll be able to, in real time, be presenting new people to you that you should be knowing in the event that you're running late for a meeting, or you decide your hotel room is awesome and you want to watch one of the spots in there. There's going to be seamless experiences between web and app, whether you're on site, whether you're remote, we're going to help you network with people that are there on-site; we're going to help you network with people around the world.

And another thing we're launching is regions. Region--portals, if you will, or micro sites. So if you're a part of a region, say, Rocky Mountain region, or wherever it might be, you're gonna have your own environment where you can message and talk inside of that portal. And then if you want to swipe left, your chat will open up to the global portal.

So, you'll be able to have some focused conversations inside your region, you'll have micro, and then you'll have the macro ones where you can talk all over the place. So look for big networking opportunities, look for a lot of different utilities of the app where you can engage with with tools and opportunities using whether is your app, or your laptop, and look for that networking to really be strong this year, using the tools.

Davidson: Yeah, and I just got to say, having covered the industry for so long, it's a real feather in your cap to get to partner up with someone like PCMA because they are always on the cutting edge. And really, their prime objective is to showcase to their members and attendees--meeting professionals--the state-of-the-art of meetings, so that's quite an accomplishment.

Hotsenpiller: Well, thank you. You know, it's like anything; you want to push the boundaries and you want to do well and you want to say, you know, we kind of have the old saying, "What got you here won't get you there." And we just keep saying that over and over whether it's our business or anyone else's. It's, "We've come this far, but there's a long way to go and we're excited to keep pushing it."

So thank you for that. And we care deeply about them as an organization and as a people and we expect to have a really great experience.

Davidson: Well, let's kind of back out of JUNO just a bit. In preparing for this, of course, I got your bio, and it's very interesting. You know, you're described as a thought leader on human connection, and I guess that is kind of what all we do is about; a TEDx alumni; a U.S. Department of State speaker/ambassador. Can you fill in some of the other stuff you've done and maybe build on what I've mentioned here.

Hotsenpiller: Man, it's been a wonderful adventure and journey for me. Out of left field enough; I mean, my original background is son of a preacher kid, and actually went to theology school, and started a church when I was 23 years old in San Diego, and grew it to 1,000 regular people coming to church, and really from that learn the importance of just giving back and investing in communities and people.

So, I ended up starting a software company called Profits for Purpose where we helped primarily Fortune 5000 companies give back. And through it all, I found myself, whether it was in the faith-based world or the marketplace, everything I was doing was about human connection.

So, I was invited to speak at a TEDx on human connection, I had also started a company called wisdom capture, where we go in and film the wisdom of organizations and transfer it through the organization.

So, I did all these things with really connecting people, whether it was with a place of worship, whether it was at the film agency, whether it was software, and ultimately ended up just talking on the impact of the importance of human connection, how it's possible, how it's important, how we need to fight for it, because it matters.

And then from there, there was a guy from the State Department that runs their global speaker's bureau. And he just said, man, Josh, we we need entrepreneurs from America around the world representing us. And so I was invited into that adventure.

And, you know--listen, it's been a wild ride--we're running our software companies as COVID hit, we spun up JUNO. So my life is kind of one adventure of what's next and making sure that we build quality, sustainable companies and that make a real impact in people's lives.

Davidson: Well, speaking of human connection, there's been very little of that in the last year and a half. How do we get that human connection back? And then the journey that we've been on, for better or worse for the past year and a half--two years?--how will that play out in the future of the meetings industry? And then, also, in-person versus virtual versus hybrid meetings? Where are we going from where we're at? Where are we? What's our destination?

[Related: 6 Ways to Save on Hybrid Meeting Production Costs]

Hotsenpiller: Yeah, you know, I think the first thing is to pause and give ourselves a little bit of credit with, you know, physical human connection paused. But that's not what human connection is; human connection is vulnerability, it's a vulnerability exchange.

So, for example, let's go back to a time before I was around, and let's go back to maybe, , World War I/World War II. I'm reading a book right now on Winston Churchill. And, you know, I would be willing to bet that when a when a soldier got a letter from a mom, dad, partner, spouse, they felt very connected to that human, because there was a vulnerability exchange.

And I think what we need to do is be careful to remind ourselves of what human connection is and what it's not. Because, frankly, you could spend an entire day with another human being in the same room and not connect.

So, I think we have to remember that human connection is an exchange of vulnerabilities. It's an exchange of humanity. And that can be done by writing, it can be done by talking and it can be done by touching; it can be all sorts of different things. So, I think we need to make sure that we have a depth to the phrase, so we don't just go, "Oh, I was at this event with people and I connected with them." Did you connect with them? Or were you in the same room with them?

So, one thing I always think is it's important to talk to people about how connecting is powerful. And if you learn how to do it, you can do it over a podcast. Yeah. I mean, let's be honest. I mean, how many times have we got hooked into a podcast and the characters that are that are fictitious? They're not even real, and we're connected to them? Mm hmm.

So I think the beauty of human nature is learning the art of going first on vulnerability--sharing challenges, sharing opportunities and building relationships. And so what is the future? I think the future is getting back to the EQ of life--the emotional intelligence of life--not just the intellectual intelligence of life. So, as we go into this next future, whether it's software, whether it's speaking, whether it's writing, whether it's new ideas, I think we've got to ask ourselves the question, "How is this emotionally connected with my audience? How's it bringing transformation in their life, and therefore making them want to engage more with me and my brand?"

Davidson: You know, to connect, you need to, I guess in a broad sense, speak a language. But that's only the platform where you begin, right? There's much deeper things we use with that language to form that connection. Is that where we're at with this virtual environment? And, you know, we're talking about what you do, what everyone does, people think of it in terms of just a platform, but it sounds like you're really thinking much deeper than that, and really leveraging that platform to accomplish much more than just some sort of digital bits and bytes flowing through the universe.

Hotsenpiller: Absolutely. I mean, I'm not interested in building a platform, that's a virtual venue alone, and it's a race to the bottom of a transaction. I'm interested in a platform that people go, "Man, I use this thing all the time."

I talked to a guy yesterday from a big network organization, we talked about, man, we should be taking content and dropping it quarterly and the software goes in, it grabs a new cohort of 40 people that you have things in common with and says, "Hey, over the next 90 days, journey through this content with each other, get to know each other, these are all new people for you to know?" And part of the value proposition we're going to bring you is every quarter, we're going to drop you into a new network of people to look at content, because the value proposition of an association or an event is education and networking. Well, we should be doing that year-round. And we should be offering, the intelligence behind being able to connect people and bring them together.

So no, I believe that the more software can connect people together...You know, look at look what happened in the dating world. I mean, yeah, 85% of relationships [now] happen online.

Davidson: Right.

Hotsenpiller: But you know, it's like, well, was that a human connection? You know, is that real? Course it was, and then it turns into the physical connection?

Yeah, well, I think we have to remember, there's a difference between human connection and physical connection. They're both imperative. And how do they play together? And I think that's very similar to software; there's an ability to connect people that ultimately drives them to a physical connection and an event, and they're better for it. They've got more progress in the relationship because they've used technology. But ultimately, when they do meet together physically, it's even more rich.

Davidson: And how does JUNO, in your software, your platform, kind of strive to do that? How are you kind of set apart from others in your space?

Hotsenpiller: Yeah, so we use tag-based AI. And so think of tags, as we call them, declared undiscovered. So whenever you come on to JUNO's platform, you're going to declare the things that you're interested in, and by self-selection--you know, so I'm interested in leadership, I'm interested in mountain biking, I'm interested in red wine, whatever it might be that's congruent with the organization--our software tags you with those.

And now we immediately have a data set to tag you with other people that have those things in common. But then it goes a step further where there's discovery, right? Like all of a sudden, you said you're interested in wine, but you've read four beer articles and commented on on it. Well, wait a minute, now you're interested in that, those of your discovered tags.

So, we take your declared tags, your discovered tags, and then we have a weighting system behind it. And that begins to create kind of that machine learning AI that builds a profile on you that we can then say, "Hey, Josh, like there's this other person in the organization--in the association, in the event or the network--that has all these things in common with you to based on your declared/discovered, you guys should connect.

So, that's a big thing that we do. It's not just transactional, it's actually getting in there and connecting with the people that you have things in common with based on your declared and your discovered tags.

Davidson: Really interesting. That's pretty deep. There's so many different sorts of product offerings and platforms out there. And I think everyone--at least, you know, all the meeting professionals, all the planners--a lot we're just kind of thrown into this a year and a half ago.

I've learned so much, but there's still a lot of questions out there. There's a lot of questions about, what should I look for as far as a value for my organization? How much should I spend? What should any organization look for when they're shopping for a technology to support their people coming together online?

Hotsenpiller: You know, I think the first thing you've got to do is think about it like a relationship, whether it's a partner or a marriage. The first thing you have to find out is, do I want to go through hell and high water with this person? Because nothing's gonna go perfect. It just isn't, especially in a disruptive digital world. And so I think the first thing you want to ask yourself with is, do I buy into the values of this of these people?

It's funny. I was just at IMAX, and we had customers that used us for one event, and they use somebody else for another event. And then we add new customers that we met. And there was one thing everybody had in common; they were dissatisfied with the tech provider they used. Everyone was, and I kept telling them, "Listen, this is a very stressful, unknown, chaotic space, and to expect perfection--with everything that's going on--it's gonna be difficult.

I think you've always got to ask yourself the question, "Do I want to go through the learnings and the ups and downs with these people? That's step number one.

Step number two: Is this person going to enhance my value proposition? My value proposition is I'm going to connect and educate you. Is the software mature and progressing in a way that goes, Man, I think we can even do more connection and more education because of this software. If it's a transactional one, I think it's the wrong one.

And the third one is it is it cutting edge? I mean, there's software that's been out there for a long time. I got a chance to see a lot of behind the scenes of a lot of our competitors, and some of the industry leaders, and to their own point, they're like, man, we're just not progressing at the pace we need to. So I think it's people. And it's a value proposition, and it's progressive software--the big things I would be looking at.

And then you're gonna, of course, have to look at price. But at the end of the day, whether you spend a lot or a little, you've still got to deliver on these things that are so important. And so I think price is real. I think it matters. But I think in the whole focus of everything, it's mainly this: Are the right people enhancing my value proposition. Are they progressing in the space? And then does the price match all the previous three that I mentioned?

Davidson: And I suppose it's like any sort of software technology, you're going to learn more about what you really need as the journey progresses?

Hotsenpiller: Well, you know, software changes so fast, doesn't it? I mean, I had a chance, again, to look at some of the core tech that's been in the space for the last decade and just kind of go, "Whew, man, that just didn't progress fast enough."

I ran a custom software agency for nine years, and, gosh, the rapid software development needed was unreal. And so, you know, being in a place where you can pivot quickly, and emerge quickly, is just imperative.

Davidson: Right. So let's jump back into a little bit more of an esoteric, sort of forward-looking thing. The New Year is coming up, and talking with some of your folks before we set this up. they were saying, "Oh, you know, Josh has this great sort of mantra for meeting planners who want to really accelerate into the new year, and it involves, "go slow, say, no, let go."

Close this out. What does that mean? And what's your advice for people as we jump into 2022?

Hotsenpiller: Well, I think that we always have to create space. Often we find ourselves completely spoken for with our bandwidth. And so I think there's some frameworks we can go through. There's certain things we just need to say no to.

You know, we've been saying yes to it for too long, and it's been disruptive in our lives, and we need to say, "Hey, I'm saying no to that." Maybe it's a business relationship. Maybe it's a fool's errand where you're just like, "I gotta stop doing that!"

So, it's always good to stop in your life and go, "What are the things in my life that I'm doing that's taking up space that I need to say no to. What are the things that hinder I need to go slow on? There's some things that I may be rushing into. You and I need to actually kind of go slow on it, and actually do some more research and not rush into it.

And then I think the big one is to let go. You know, there's certain things that are just out of our control, and it's consuming us. And we've got to let go of it. And when you do these things, when you say no, when you go slow and you let go, you start to create space--mental space and emotional space, creative space--and you can use that space to progress and mature, whatever it is that mission is that you're working on.

So something I try to do regularly is go, "Man, Josh, what do you need to stop doing?" Because there's always something you need to stop doing. "Gosh, what do I need to pump the brakes on here a little bit? And just give a little bit more time? And Josh, what do you got to just let go of because it's completely out of your control, and it doesn't need to be consuming your brain space up." And those are things that I do practically to create more space to achieve more things.

Davidson: Wow. Yeah, it must be particularly hard with a with a guy who's a serial entrepreneur and, you know, really kind of a deep thinker on human connection.

Hotsenpiller: Well, it is, yeah. The upside is there's always something I need to let go of. But the challenge is, yeah, man, I love to push, I love to create, I love to run, and it's fun to do it. And part of the reason I came up with that mantra was because I just got myself in a situation where I'm like, "Man, Josh, you're just too focused on the illusions of things, and not really focused on the progression of things.

And so it's so important to just pump the brakes on that.

Davidson: Well, excellent. Well, thanks for your time today, Josh.

Hotsenpiller: Oh, my gosh, the pleasure was mine. It really was. Thank you for having me.

Davidson: And I'll have to say hi and see what you're up to at PCMA Convening Leaders.

Hotsenpiller: Oh, man, 100%. Listen, we'll have a booth down there. I'll be out and about all over the place. So please come up. And again, this is the whole point, right? We now have a relationship. And when I do meet you in physical it will only be enhanced based on this human connection that we just shared over the last 22 minutes.

Davidson: So true. So true. All right. Thanks, Josh.

That was a Josh Hotsenpiller, the founder and CEO of JUNO. Thanks for joining us, Josh, and thanks to all of you out there for joining us for this Meetings Today Podcast. If you're interested in more of our podcasts we've done, just head on over to MeetingsToday.com, and you'll notice our podcast section on our home page full of all sorts of interesting podcast interviews with thought leaders who are impacting the meetings industry. So thanks for joining us today. And whatever you're up to with the rest of it, go out and have a good one.

Hotsenpiller: Thank you.

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.