Surekha Ragavan
Jun 28, 2018

"You really need to involve the five senses": Huone Singapore

CEO of Singapore's most creative meeting space on the changing face of small events.

Joewin Tan, CEO, Huone Singapore.
Joewin Tan, CEO, Huone Singapore.

The concept for Huone was first conceived in Finland by entrepreneur Evon Söderlund, who envisioned a creative business events space with thematic rooms that adopt hotel-like hospitality practices.

Last year, Huone’s entry into Singapore – spearheaded by CEO Joewin Tan – caught the attention of big tech brands including Netflix, Google and Facebook.

To get the edge over bigger names in the game, Tan is determined to maximise return on meetings for her clients by adopting new frameworks and pushing brands to think outside the confines of the four-walled room. She spoke to CEI about building her unique brand.

Are more brands adopting a quality-over-quantity approach when it comes to small events?

Yes, definitely. That was a big reason we decided to specialise in small meetings and events. In Singapore, KPIs have always been based on numbers but now, brands are asking “who?” rather than “how many?”.

How can creative event spaces work for small events?

When it comes to product launches, the target group is always the media. And the media has seen everything. So for brands to really stand out and appeal to media, they have to adopt elements to excite guests, and allow them to experience the event rather than see the event.

You really need to involve the five senses. It’s quite common here for brands to do experiential zones in the different rooms.

Brands find value in coming here because the rooms are thematic, so some of the work is already done for them. We’ve done events for Netflix, Google, Facebook, Visa and Uber, which says a lot because they have nice meeting rooms themselves!

What does Huone do to maximise productivity at meetings and events?

When I talk about return-on-meetings, it’s not about eight [attendees] times SG$100 but more importantly, it’s eight people times eight hours of their time. So that’s 64 working hours that could have been spent on something else.

I want to make sure that each hour spent here is productive. Whether it’s a strategy session or a brand launch, if your objective to come here is to get a new idea, I want you to walk out of here with a new idea.

In Singapore, hierarchy is common in our working culture so a lot of customers who are in the same room with their bosses don’t tend to share ideas. Having a creative environment breaks barriers and encourages them to speak up.

Also, very often when you have business events, people are texting under the table or taking private calls, or they get distracted. So we have these self-ventilated, soundproof phone booths for them to take private calls. We want them to go into these booths and quickly finish up what they need to before they go back into the meeting, which is what they’re primarily there for.

Online booking is key to the meeting experience. How do you ensure customisation with your system?

It’s a proprietary system that we came up with in Finland. Firstly, it allows you to fill out your date, time and the number of people, then you can check the availability against that. You can then book and pay immediately to lock in your meeting.

The second part [of the system] is design. The moment clients make their booking, they’re able to log in to our portal and customise their e-invite. It’s a drag-and-drop format where they just drop in their photos, fill out the event agenda and recipient details, and the invite goes out to everyone on the guest list.

The third function is to manage. When clients put out the invite, they can see who has said yes or no, or isn’t sure, so it works similarly to Facebook Events. And say, for example, they have an event of 300 people and they’re asking each one about their dietary restrictions, there’s usually an Excel spreadsheet involved. Our portal removes the need for all that.

With this portal, everyone can log into their own accounts and we can all have access to customers’ information. We want to make sure we minimise clients’ workload.

When we approached the Singapore Tourism Board about grants, they were excited when we told them about our online reservation system because this is something that they’ve encouraged a lot of venues to do. That was one of the reasons they decided to support us.

Where do you see the Huone brand in five years?

We have a very ambitious target to open 10 units in two years. We’re looking for spaces and talking to partners, and we’re slated to open the next one [in Singapore] in probably Q1 or Q2 next year.

But we challenge ourselves that even if the business concept is the same, the room themes have to be entirely different. Because otherwise, it would saturate the creative concept. 


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