Shock and awe: meet John Martinez

Paul Colston meets Shocklogic MD John Martinez at his London office and hears of an events career story spanning continents, companies, associations and technologies

One of the biggest smiles on the international meetings industry circuit belongs to John Martinez, the charismatic MD of event tech specialists Shocklogic.

John’s career has been a long and exciting journey from one of the poorest areas of Caracas, Venezuela, where he was born, via a key role in Congrex, to setting up his own company, selling it and buying it back again.

He recounts his early biography: “My mum adopted 14 other kids and we lived in a slum.”

Although the career plan aged seven was to be an ice cream man (“because I thought I would be allowed to eat the ice cream”) at the age of 11 he was granted a scholarship to a boarding high school in New York. Scholarships to study at Columbia University and to complete a PhD in Quantum Physics from MIT in Boston then followed.

When he was finishing his PhD, he says, he was offered a job “by a company that did something weird… they organised conferences”.

That was with international PCO, Congrex, and marked Martinez’s love affair with events and his jilting of pure science.

One early mentor was Diana Tamayo, the owner of Congrex, and Martinez’s first boss. “She shaped me professionally and personally. Anything I know and I am, I owe to her,” he says.

Martinez credits PCO Sarah Storie–Pugh as not only his company Shocklogic’s first client but another mentor who taught him “endless amounts”.

“I am sure she has no idea she had such an impact in my professional life. I will never be able to say thanks enough for her patience, trust, faith and loyalty,” he adds.

Martinez also tips his hat to Quirine Laman- Trip, former Dutch PCO whom, he says, helped shape his outlook with her relentless pursuit for quality and excellence.

“Throughout my career I was lucky enough that most of my bosses and mentors were women and I think that this shaped me as a person and as a professional.”

It was Tamayo who gave Martinez the opportunity at Congrex to go from being ‘the computer guy’ and into management.

“I worked at offices and ran projects all over the world which allowed me to be exposed to experiences and cultures from an early age. I had to run teams internationally and remotely from very early in my career, which gave me a fantastic training base for running multi–disciplinary teams.”

The experience of running companies that supported societies and associations clearly gave him a great insight into their needs and processes, so that by the time Martinez made the jump from Congrex to start Shocklogic in 1997, he had 14 years as a PCO under his belt and had become responsible for creating the technology that ran an international company.

Martinez is always ‘on’ and says creating solutions for event organisers is something that he can’t stop his brain from doing. And, 30 years on, he is still doing it.

With two friends and former colleagues on board with Shocklogic in 2000, the company grew rapidly, to the point that in 2004, while in a meeting in Geneva with MCI (the global meeting planning agency) to sign a global contract as exclusive supplier of event management software, his team received a call from the then chairman of Congrex offering to acquire the company.

“We had to rethink the whole deal with MCI and actually sat the owners of MCI with the owners of Congrex to explore the idea of a joint acquisition.”

It ended with Congrex acquiring Shocklogic individually and Martinez becoming the CTO at Congrex Holding.

Five years down the line, in 2009, he left Congrex, buying Shocklogic back, and striking out again to service membership-based organisations.

With hindsight, a sound move, given the problems that were later to engulf Congrex.

Martinez says his team now supports 250 associations and societies worldwide and declares his goal is for Shocklogic to become the number one partner and solutions provider for associations and societies worldwide.

His efforts have included supporting associations in creating non–dues revenue streams, and maximising the benefits they can obtain from the content they generate, while improving education and learning for their stakeholders.

With a loyal customer base, Martinez says Shocklogic continues to evolve and but he still sees the company as a ‘David’ fighting a disproportionate competitive battle against the Goliaths of the event tech universe. He clearly relishes the challenge and using his experience of working with different cultures to adapt effective approaches to all markets.

Martinez is on the board of several industry associations and a regular at trade shows, which he says, not only give exposure “but allow us to learn about the commercial elements of our industry. They also place all stakeholders in one single place and allow to learn from, and about, our competitors and identify potential partnerships.

“We use them to gather our opportunities, meet with current clients and educate our users…We have never had a bad trade show.”

So, which other products/companies in the EventTech field does Martinez admire?

I have a lot of respect for quite a few of our competitors and partners. One cannot but be in awe of what has just happened between Lanyon and Cvent. The fact that an investment company is willing to invest that amount of money into this market says so many things [Vista recent acquired venue-finder Cvent for $1.65bn].

“I am particularly keen on companies that solve a real everyday problems in a simple way. An Austrian company called Waytation has developed an iBeacon like solution and has implemented it on some of the largest medical conferences in Europe. I am less keen at applying technology for technology’s sake. Such companies won’t survive in the long run.”

At Confex this year, we witnessed the largest gathering of eventtech companies in the UK. This sector has grown exponentially. Has it surprised Martinez?

“Not really. With the advent of mobile, faster internet access and location technologies like iBeacons there is currently an explosion of this type of solution.

Technology is very big word and sometimes only related to gizmos and gadgets.

Tech right now also involves social/professional networking. Mobile is seen as tech, as I guess books were seen as tech at a certain point in history. Change is the only thing we can be totally sure of.”

His best recent business decision, Martinez says was the opening of an office and creating a team in Latin America. “This is proving invaluable for us, from the cost effectiveness and productivity perspectives.”

In terms of challenges, Martinez says his main one is “not to become my own biggest obstacle. How to be committed to an intention and an objective and still stay fluid to embrace constant change and adapt to those changes”.

And his ambitions for Shocklogic over the next five years?

“To become the go-to partner for membership based organisations. To continue to keep a 95% retain/re-sign base of our current customer base. To double our customer base per year in the next two years and then to continue to grow our customer base by 50% a year for the next three. To keep our staff retention at 96% year on year. To continue to deploy at least two new products every year.”

All this wouldn’t seem to leave much time to relax outside of work, but somehow Martinez fits in meditation, some basketball, dancing and running. (His Argentinian tango was certainly up to scratch, as those at last year’s ICCA Congress would attest).

And which destination is at the top of this global traveller’s wish list to visit?

“I am still dreaming of a hotel in Panama that had these wonderful hammocks just where the water meets the sand, and it had Wi-Fi! I have never been to New Zealand and I’ve heard it is amazing.”

For any youngster keen to make a career in the industry today. Martinez shares three pieces of advice he gives to his own team:

Everything we do is a reflection of who we are.

Be kinder than necessary because everyone we come across is fighting his own battle. And as we communicate with anyone, focus on three words as a guidance: authenticity, responsibility and generosity.

And what can our meetings industry learn best from another sector?

“Be more daring and embrace change more quickly.” And where would John Martinez be today if he hadn’t ended up in the events industry?

“Working for charities in international aid, relief and in disaster stricken areas.”

He claims to have no career regrets. “I am the luckiest person I know. I am a firm believer that what people describe as mistakes can also be described as opportunities.”

Martin Fullard


Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard: journalist, presenter, producer. Martin is the Deputy Editor at Conference News and Conference & Meetings World magazines. He leads the digital channels on Mash Media’s Conference Division as well as heading up Mash TV. He is formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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