At Talia Mashiach's bat mitzvah, guests told her mother that the 12-year-old was a "can-do person." It was an apt description for a girl who outshone the boys at sports and was the one to organize teams at recess.
Mashiach (Meh-SHE-ah), 35, would go on to be eighth-grade class president, senior class president and captain of the basketball team. After high school, she graduated with honors from
while raising two toddlers.
Now her leadership ability, ambition and tireless work ethic are driving her forward as she seeks to shake up the corporate meetings and events industry.
Eved, Mashiach's most recently launched Chicago-based company, provides a technology platform that automates the buying and selling that takes place between participants along the entire supply chain: event companies, meeting and incentive companies, hotels and other venues, and vendors ranging from large businesses to mom-and-pop florists or linen rental services. Mashiach wants all of these players, many of whom still rely on phone calls and faxes, to transact on Eved's online marketplace.
Mashiach calls this business "event commerce" and sees massive potential: According to one industry study, the U.S. meetings sector generated $263 billion in direct spending in 2009. This figure includes corporate confabs, conventions, trade shows and incentive meetings -- nearly 1.8 million such gatherings took place in 2009.
"We're building a company to be the market leader," she said. "We're going into an industry where it's still manual, and we're taking this industry online. ... Our goal is to build it to a huge exit. We want to be a billion-dollar company, whether it's an (initial public offering) or a buy."
Serendipity played a major role in Mashiach's plunge into the corporate events industry, an area where she had virtually no firsthand experience. In 2003, she accompanied her husband, Sam, to a wedding at the Hilton Chicago, where his band was playing. The hotel's director of catering, Ed Chen, mentioned in a conversation with Sam after the gig that he wished there were a company to help him more easily arrange vendors for events. What Chen tossed off as an offhand gripe became the seed for Mashiach's big business idea.
This year, Eved is poised to process more than $25 million in event commerce, more than triple last year's figure of $7.5 million. The company has 50 employees and raised $9.5 million in venture capital investment from prominent local companies.
"I didn't know anything about events," said Mashiach, who at the time was running a business out of her house reselling overstocked Dell computers. "I was an entrepreneur. I liked technology. I just saw this really huge opportunity and originally I was like, 'If we build this company we can totally feed the band.' And it just wound up being this crazy ride."
The initial funds for the journey came from a $330,000 equity line on the Mashiachs' West
house, onto which they had recently built an addition using money from the computer resale business. Mashiach hired a salesperson with events experience and started building a technology-enabled services company that would be a one-stop shop for hotels to book vendors in everything from entertainment to transportation.
She still had much to learn about corporate events and hotels. Mashiach began calling Chen every weekday morning while he drove to work from his Mount Prospect home, picking his brain about the nuances of running an events-related company and the needs of hotels. The daily call became a fixture in both Chen and Mashiach's lives for more than a year. She even phoned him from the hospital while she was recovering from the delivery of her fourth child.
"After a while, I knew she'd be calling at 8:15 and literally be talking until I got out of my car," Chen said. "It was very clever of her ... This became my project because she was so eager to learn. I would give her advice on things not to do, (what) I got into trouble with that cost me time and money, what she could bypass by thinking differently."
Chen, whom Sam Mashiach describes as a "father figure" to him and Talia, provided more than just advice. He convinced Hilton Chicago executives to sign on as Mashiach's first customer and made introductions to his counterparts at other area hotels. Eved Services, later renamed Access Chicago, officially launched in 2004 and made $4 million in revenue during its first full year in operation. The company grew to nearly 40 employees, most of them based inside local hotels such as the Hilton Chicago and Palmer House Hilton.
Mashiach's startup continued to expand, giving her a higher profile and attracting interest from investors. But in 2007, she took a meeting that, similar to her 2003 encounter with Chen, set her in a fresh direction.
Mashiach, who had been working with the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, was introduced to the organization's co-chairman at the time, Michael Ferro. He reminded Mashiach of her original ambitions to build a big technology company and provided her with some investment money to start experimenting with a new venture that would be larger in scope than her current event services company.
"I had worked so hard, gotten a business going and was finally enjoying the benefits of it," she said. "But he basically made me realize I wasn't going to be happy just with where I had gotten to, and I had set my mind originally to create a technology platform to move an industry online -- to be that first innovator, to create a company that could go IPO or a huge exit. And unless I did that, I was never going to feel like I fulfilled my potential."
Mashiach's realization meant taking on a new set of entrepreneurial risks. She hired a general manager to run Access Chicago, which was sold in 2011, and seeded a new company, Eved Online, with $1 million of her own money. Mashiach later received a further funding boost from Joe Sitt, the chief executive of New York-based real estate investment firm Thor Equities, which owns the Palmer House Hilton. The company dropped "Online" from its name last year, becoming simply "Eved," derived from the Hebrew word for service.
That startup, launched in 2010, provides software that allows companies in the meetings and events industry to market themselves, make and receive payments, standardize the process of booking suppliers, and communicate with the many participants involved in putting on an event. Eved makes money by charging a subscription fee for premium features or taking a cut of transactions.
In February, Eved shifted its headquarters from Skokie to the West Loop, a move designed to attract young talent and make it easier for employees to take meetings in the city. The relocation took place shortly after Eved raised $9.5 million from investors led by local firms New
and MK Capital. Ferro's Merrick Ventures also participated in the funding round.
New World Ventures partner Matt McCall, who knew Mashiach for years before formally investing in Eved, said the company has a unique opportunity to become the de facto online platform for the events industry, similar to the way
conquered the consumer marketplace. Eved already counts several global meetings and incentives companies as clients and continues to work its way down the supply chain to small vendors, trying to convince businesses to adopt Eved's technology.
"People talk about how a good entrepreneur gets up in the morning not just determined to make money, but gets up in the morning to change the world," McCall said. "When you talk to Talia, she redefines that passion of making a difference in the world, of changing an industry. She's not talking about, 'Oh, I want to be a supply chain or marketplace infrastructure company.' She's talking about revolutionizing the event-planning space. And it's really exciting when you get around someone who has that kind of passion."
Mashiach's relentless energy also powers her active home life, which centers around raising five children between the ages of 2 and 16. Talia and Sam met when she was a high school junior; she was an adviser with a youth group that attended a convention where he performed. They married during her freshman year in college and their first child, a daughter, was born 15 months later. A son followed the next year, making Mashiach a mother of two young children while she was also a full-time student and helping Sam with his music business ventures.
Her mother and sister came in to help the couple with child care, allowing Mashiach to keep working on her bachelor's in business administration. She graduated magna cum laude in 2000 at the top of her class among marketing majors.
"I have never met anyone (and I do know many) whose business mind, entrepreneurial spirit, honesty, loyalty and love are in sync as much as hers," Sam Mashiach said of his wife in an email. "She is as good a mom and wife as she is in business. She is a master at balancing 100 things at once without compromising one. ... She is always busy, yet always available."
Today, Mashiach organizes her schedule so that on Mondays and Wednesdays, she starts work early to be home by the time her children return from school. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she sees them off to school and gets home later. Fridays are generally spent working from home or taking meetings outside of the office. Evenings are focused on her family; Mashiach said she hasn't watched a television program in years. Her younger children are generally settled by 9 p.m., after which she can turn her attention to returning emails or catching up with work. She hires household help to take care of cleaning and cooking, allowing her to maximize time with her family while she's home.
Weekends are hallowed time for the Mashiachs, who observe the Jewish Shabbat and host family and friends for large meals on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. During this time, Mashiach also unplugs from her email and phone. She describes the technology hiatus as the "secret sauce of my ability to totally re-energize for the week."
"It is incredibly challenging, and it does take a great skill set in time management, for a woman to have children and to build a business, and I don't think it's for everybody," Mashiach said. "But I think for the women who want it, it's absolutely possible."
As the Chicago startup community grows, Mashiach is also active in speaking at events and mentoring younger entrepreneurs. McCall described her as "fabulous about taking meetings with people and helping them."
"The key element (where) you know an ecosystem is coming into its own is when the high-profile entrepreneurs or the successful entrepreneurs are engaged in reaching back and helping build the community, versus heading off into the sunset," McCall said. "Entrepreneurship is all about mentorship and pattern recognition and the kindness of strangers. If you don't have people like Talia who have been in the trenches for 10 years and have a great network of people and are willing to help, the next generation of entrepreneurs has to find out the hard way, which means the pace of innovation comes to a halt."
Mashiach attributes much of her own professional drive and can-do spirit to her parents, who raised her and her two siblings to wholeheartedly pursue their interests. In her view, successful entrepreneurs are defined by "true confidence," which she believes stems from being raised in a supportive home environment.
"I think I set a really good example for my daughters," she said. "I say to them what my parents said to me: Anything you want to do is possible."
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Founder and chief executive of Eved
Childhood: Middle of three children; raised in the Milwaukee suburbs by her father, a managing partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, and her mother, a homemaker and former teacher. In high school, she moved to Chicago and boarded with a family to attend Ida Crown Jewish Academy.
Early ventures: In sixth grade, Mashiach copied music onto blank cassette tapes that she bought for $1 apiece and sold them to friends for $5. "I thought that was so smart until my parents realized what I was doing, and that was the first time I learned about copyright and I had to stop doing that." In high school, Mashiach crocheted yarmulkes and sold them to customers for weddings and bar mitzvahs. The little business became successful enough that she began paying friends to help with production and even made a catalog with photos of different styles, along with order sheets and receipts.
Family: Lives in West Rogers Park with Sam, her husband of 17 years, who continues to help with strategy at Eved. They have three daughters and two sons between the ages of 2 and 16.
Pro tips: Although she's been too busy to update it lately, Mashiach offers advice to both entrepreneurs and parents through her personal
account, @CEOmomof5. For startups: "Best advice I got on raising money -- build relationships w/VCs way before U need $. Tell them what u are going to do, prove it, then raise." For parents: "A big white board monthly calendar works great to put the kids schedules so they go to the board instead of asking u the schedule each day."
Organizations: Member of the Young Presidents' Organization and serves on the board of directors of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.