Storytelling about Virtual With Us with Alexandra Schrecengost
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 77. This week we have storytelling about Virtual With Us with Alexandra Schrecengost. During this episode, Alex and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Virtual With Us.
Alex is an expert in events marketing and community-building initiatives. Her passion for employee team building, camaraderie, and promoting company culture with curated virtual experiences really comes through during the podcast.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 25 minutes
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Ladies, gentlemen, this is William Tincup. And you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. We have Alex on from Virtual With Us, we’re gonna be talking about her business today and on our show. So, Alex, do us a favor, do the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and introduce Virtual With Us.
Absolutely. Hello, and thank you for having me on. I’m really excited to be here. I’m Alex Schrecengost, the co-founder, and CEO of Virtual With Us. I started the company at the height of the pandemic, really as a way to one, support the hospitality industry, as a lot of you know, I’ve been in the wine industry for 17 years on the communication side. And I saw a lot of the sommeliers that I really respect were furloughed. And on top of that my husband who’s in tech was struggling to maintain his business relationships virtually and wasn’t really sure of a solution and what to do. And so really, this is this company is inspired by a drive to reconnect with our professional culture and networks, as employees continue to work remotely. So Virtual With Us, you know, encourages togetherness that takes the coordination and guesswork out of a lot of what the marketing teams were struggling with and trying to figure out how to support various initiatives from, you know, client and prospect entertaining to also focusing on team building and morale and diversity and inclusion. So really, this is to build and reinforce our professional relationships and to keep the business conversation flowing, supporting along the way. And this platform has really been a fantastic way to continue that conversation and to be dynamic. A lot of our hosts because they come from the restaurant industry, are used to lighting up a room, which is fantastic, because they really bring a fun camaraderie to the team who’s on the zoom calls, and who’s really there trying to socialize and network and it makes it less awkward. So I’m really excited to share a little bit more about Virtual With Us with you, as we continue to have, you know, hybrid and remote offices around the country but around the world.
So give us a couple of examples of events or ways that people use Virtual With Us.
Absolutely. So we have a number of events that are you know, as simple and as fun as tastings, wine tastings, because that’s my background, spirits, beer, cooking classes, mixology, baking, coffee talks, where you can network throughout the day, and really get to know your prospects and your network. The great thing about what we’re doing with Virtual With Us is we have scalability and programs that are unique to organizations. So our clients will come to us and they’re I think, prior to the pandemic, some of the global organizations that we’re working with, it wasn’t as socially acceptable, to just have a cocktail with your colleague in India, for example, and you’re in New York. And now they were trying to figure out a way to do that and to really bring best practices from one office to the other as they’re learning how to really navigate this remote and hybrid model of work from anywhere. And so we create different concepts, networking rooms, where we’ll have a main room and everyone will get to get to chat, get to taste through some really delicious wines. And then they’ll break out into breakout rooms where they jump from getting to know their colleagues that they typically would only see once a year if that, or only via email. And in terms of prospects and clients, it’s been the same way it’s allowing really, organizations to share a little bit about themselves, to really get to know who their prospects are, in a way that’s not just hardcore selling, but rather getting to know those people so it’s authentic and genuine and they can make that business relationship stronger.
So when you sell you know some of this is gonna be sales into HR. And I want to talk a little bit about recruiting and recruiting events if you go down that path, but when you sell in HR, what is they think of you as? What do they kind of say, Okay, this would help us with, you know, a problem that they have maybe you know, it’s got to come out of their budget, so it’s got to be attached to something? So what do they typically position you as?
So a lot of the HR people have asked us because they’re building out diversity and inclusion programs throughout their organization. And they’re also struggling with, you know, onboarding new employees. There are many employees that haven’t met their colleagues in person at all. I just had a meeting with a client yesterday about it. And they said, You know, I haven’t seen any of my clients from beyond the waist up, or the neck up ever. And so we’re really – the HR departments look to us as a cultural extension arm to help them so as companies of all kinds have successfully transitioned to remote model. Forrester, for example, in their research said 60% of companies across the US are going to maintain a hybrid model where you’ll have some employees in an office of some kind, and the others working from anywhere the work from anywhere model or working remote, and 10% of companies are 100% remote and going to be so permanently. How do you continue to build that team camaraderie and have that water cooler talk that you would typically have? And it’s an inherent problem with this process, and you want meaningful team building and a way to introduce new hires into unique company culture in a proactive and organized way. So they look to us as that missing link to support them as employees or returning to a you know, quote, unquote, office, but they’re planning to stay remote. So we want to make everyone feel included, no matter where they’re working from. And with specially curated programming, we design specific to an organization to highlight the best parts of the team, the best parts of the company, and to really let personality shine through, through a social experience.
I love that. I can see, you know, the tentacles of engagement, employee engagement, you’ve already hit on onboarding, and team building. I also ironically, I could also see this coming out of the wellness budget, you know, as a kind of way to kind of deal with the isolation, and some of the mental health things that have come from COVID. And combat that right. So how do we how do we? How do we combat some of the stuff that we already know exist? And let’s use programmatically and let’s use Virtual With Us to then offset some of the some of those things. Have you? Has anyone used it in recruiting to – on the front end instead of in HR after their employees? Has anyone tried to use Virtual With Us on the front end as recruiting or recruiting events?
Yes, we’ve actually done meet and greets. So there’s meet and greets, that are curated by you know, our second pillar, which is culture – is really part of the Virtual With Us family and, and its focuses on fostering interpersonal relationships early on before the onboarding process, before they’re even hired. It’s an introductory experience so that they learn about the organization that they’re interviewing with. We’ve also worked with a variety of organizations that are essentially virtual job fairs, or they were in person at one point, but really, it’s getting ahead of the game and being able to provide that introductory experience so it’s not awkward. And so it’s a way to socialize with professionals throughout the country.
So when people listen to this, are you a tech company? And is it the technology that does all these things? Or is it services and programs? Or is it a combination of those things? Like what do you, positionally, what do your customers think of you? And how do you position yourself?
So we position ourselves as services and programs and culture. Which thing I think, you know, something that inspired me to really flesh this out a little bit further and develop this programming is, in my past lives, just working through, you have to really understand a variety of personalities, as you’re going into a professional setting, no matter where you go. Everybody works very differently. And not all organizations have diversity and inclusion programs, for example. And so this was a way to really help build and strengthen those programs within organizations and the organizations that had them in a really good spot. It’s a way for them to maintain the programs because they were doing them in person and weren’t sure how to pivot.
Love it. So you’re coming into this with a list of programs. Okay, like, you know, I would, I would assume that based on all kinds of different personal interests in different ways that you can kind of connect to people. Have your customers innovated on that and either asked you for different programs or come up with different programs that are kind of a little bit outside of the outside of maybe what you thought? You know what this was going to be used for?
Absolutely, we just had a client ask us about office tours and come up with an idea. So the team and I sat down And we thought this would be a good opportunity for new hires who have not had a chance to see the office. And perhaps these – you know, this company, in particular, they’re maintaining a smaller office space, they got rid of their larger retail ah real estate, apologies. And they wanted to really provide a healthy, safe environment for colleagues to take a virtual group tour of the workspace and to understand what the culture is, in terms of where everyone is sitting as they’re starting to brainstorm, and ideate, and get together as a group. So that’s something new to our programming that I’m really proud of that will support HR initiatives as they’re bringing on new hires in this hybrid model, or their remote model, where they can get a little bit of color commentary. And we can do conference room nicknames. And really give tips about you know, the quote, unquote, neighborhood of the work environment that they have, and understand what their colleagues who their colleagues are, and feel comfortable and connected to their team. So that’s something new, and I’m really excited to roll it out.
I love that. The questions you get in the buy cycle, so questions that HR, when you first talk to them, because it makes sense. And it is new-ish. Because of what we been through in the last year and a half or so. What are the questions that HR professionals even, you know, some of the recruiting professionals, what are the questions that they ask you in the buying cycle?
During the buying cycle, they usually ask how the business social environment takes place, virtually how we helped make those connections, and I discussed it, as you know, we’re the solution in that networking experience. And I talked through how the presentations are fun and engaging with breaks that we have food and beverage professionals that are used to really lighting up the room and having conversations with a number of personalities – to bring them out of their shell, how we curate breakout rooms, to introduce attendees to each other and give them the opportunity to meet and speak, you know, face to face if you will, or virtually. And we also provide different types of activities to really build on the first conversations in the connection in a more casual environment. So that’s the first question we get asked much more than anything else. Separately, I’ve gotten asked a lot in terms of our programming and the products that we offer, or that we send out, whether it’s the wine or beer, or spirits that we work with, you know, the kind of suppliers that we’re working with that we’re integrating different types of people from different backgrounds, which is very important on our end. And it’s something I’ve integrated into our culture here at Virtual With Us. And so it’s very important to me that our curated lists of offerings are also diverse, and also speak to a variety of programs, seasonality, and people of different backgrounds. So we have workers of color, we have female winemakers, we have folks from all over the world that are representing these spirits, these wines, these beers, and the cheese and charcuterie, and so on. And that seems to be very important for the HR professionals that I’m speaking with as well.
I love that. If you don’t mind me asking, what technology do you use for the events?
So we use a number of technologies really, depending on the preference of the organizations, we do use zoom just for the commonality of it all. For some of the more casual networking experiences that are audio versus a visual aspect, we have been playing with clubhouse a bit. But typically Microsoft Teams and Zoom are the platforms that we utilize Zoom the most, especially as we’re starting to evolve into virtual conferences, a lot of the trade events and large conferences that the HR professionals are hosting for networking experiences, we’ve found that the webinar is not as inclusive because you can’t really participate as much and it’s pre-taped or you can’t respond right away. And we want it to be a business social environment. So we introduce first speakers and do these presentations in those breakout rooms.
So first of all, I love all that and it’s flexible, which is, which is nice. I think that kind of fits a lot of customers and what they need, especially if it’s Microsoft Teams, you know shop, then being able to use their instance for this would be it would be great. If we – if we were to put on a scotch tasting event for our employees and, how would we get product or how do you get product in the hands of the people that the for the tasting? How does that – explain kind of to the audience how – you know I’m using scotch because I’m staring at a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue that I bought last night so I’m just waiting for five o’clock so I can crack it open. Scotch tasting. Take us through that event. And let’s get into like distribution and how you know how you’re going to have someone, then teach them about scotch.
Absolutely. My past life, my previous job before I launched this, I was working as their head of communications and events and digital at Wilson Daniels, which is a wine importer. Yeah. So I have a lot of relationships in the distribution import world as well as a lot of the producers I’ve worked with throughout the years, even prior to my last gig, and so I’ve really maintained a lot of those folks. And so I work with distributors and retail stores across the country to work on fulfillment. We’ve created some really solid partnerships globally as well. And so we fulfill globally. And that’s why we work with large organizations that do have colleagues in other countries, and we’re able to get them products through our fulfillment partners.
And then, so the event itself, and again, let’s say we’ll just use the backdrop of scotch, scotch tasting, would you bring in someone an expert to then take them through what to experience like is that part of the program that you’ll put together?
Absolutely, so our program, how it works from, you know, soup to nuts, is it once an HR group or any inclusion and diversity committee reaches out to me, and they want us to build out a program for them, they’re looking for a way to either do a team-building activity or to host their prospects. We build out packages, and we send what we think would be a fit for their group. From there, we work with our distribution partners, and they do the fulfillment where everything gets shipped directly to everyone’s home, through our partners. And we have a tracking and logistics team that handles the white glove service that we provide, which is essentially tracking all of those packages to ensure everybody receives their package in a timely manner. Typically, two days prior. The day of the event we have hosts that are specific for what was chosen whether you need a sommelier for wine, if you need a Cicerone for beer, if you need a whiskey expert we’ll have those folks on, and they’ll approach it in an engaging and fun way, very casual, interactive, and they’ll speak to the products and do the tasting and have icebreaker questions and things going on during the event. So that people can also socialize as they’re enjoying the drink. And they can ask this professional questions about the product that they’re enjoying and consuming.
I love this because there’s a there Well, I love the way that it’s set up. It’s, it’s, you know, soup to nuts, it’s kind of built for people, so they don’t have to think about like, figuring out how to get things/products into people’s hands. But there is the there’s an employer branding aspect to this, you know, that they can, you can you can see that they can put some swag in there, or other types of things as well as the product so that, you know, you can you can see that the person is getting, you know, mugs, or glasses or t shirts or something else so that you can kind of see how they could mix their brand into this experience as well. Um –
Apologies, we include custom notes, logos, if clients ask us for swag we’ve done beautiful decanters with logos we’ve done for we’re doing Mint Julep, the Coppertone mugs for the Kentucky Derby celebrations at the end of April. So really having fun with these organizations and getting creative on the type of swag that we include and making sure it’s something that people will hold near and dear and keep in their kitchens or use on an ongoing basis as a reminder of who hosted them.
I love, love, love that. So a couple of questions before we roll out. What is what’s a program that you’ve always wanted to do? But a customer hadn’t bought on it yet? Yeah. But you’ve wanted to do a bit because I’m one of these people. It’s like, okay, I want to I want to do this bit. But you know, how do I talk somebody into it? What’s a program that you’ve always wanted to do, and you just haven’t gotten someone to bite yet?
So something I’ve wanted to do that we started to build out for a customer and they’re still mulling it over. So it’s not lost. It’s an experiential virtual retreat. They wanted to really figure out a way to they wanted a hybrid program because some of the colleagues were going to be together, so half, half hybrid half in person where you’ll have folks that were remote. And we wanted to tailor the program to maximize inclusivity and to really make the memories truly memorable for lack of a better term. And so they loved the idea. They’re just they’re still mulling it over but I’m really excited about the aspect I want to test it out. It’s something that we are going to have to consider as a whole and I think as a society because there are a lot of folks that are going to opt-out and decide to live by a lake house instead of commuting in and out of the cities that they live near. Have a little bit more flexibility with their families and work from wherever they would like versus the other folks that do feel more comfortable going back into the office. And that’s okay. But we have to figure out a way to ensure that it’s inclusive. And so I’m really excited to roll out some of those programs, and they just haven’t come to fruition yet, because folks are still, you know, remote. But it’s something that I hope will come to fruition just, I’d love to test it out and see how it works and play with it and evolve it to the point where it’s in a good and solid place where it’s enjoyable for everyone.
Yeah, it’s interesting, because it’s, it’s at the heart, you’re trying to figure out. How do you create camaraderie? During COVID? How do you keep create camaraderie, and a sense of team, when people aren’t next to each other? And again, even post COVID people aren’t gonna be next to each other. Not all. Not everyone. There’s going to be everyone’s got a different version or different take on what a hybrid workplace or workforce is going to look like. So we were at no one really knows. That’s, that’s, that’s, but we all know, okay. Since choice, I mean, that’s actually going to be a good thing. Some people are going to want to go to an office, and some people are gonna want to live in, you know, Sun Valley, Idaho. And that’s just, that’s just gonna be the way that is. But I love that you’re focused on these bespoke experiences, and helping people kind of bond. I know people will ask, so we might need to ask you what, how do you price this? And again, I don’t want to get into the dollars and cents part. But how do you? How do you when you’re talking to HR? How do you give them a construct of how to think about this and their budget?
Absolutely. So our packaging generally starts at $200 per person. You know, keeping in mind, we do include the products, the shipping, and the white-glove service across the board. So there’s, there’s a variety of programming depending on if they want to scale up, if they want to scale down, in terms of the amount of the number of people the minimum they give us. We do the intimate events for sales organizations where we do 12 to 15 people. And then we have organizations where we’re doing team building for their global teams. And we have 500 people on those calls. So there’s, there’s, it varies based on that truly, it’s, you know, depending on the heavy lift and the team, you know, the team, I’m putting behind it, to support all of the initiatives throughout, anywhere from the registration landing page to the technician, that’s going to support on the Zoom to the tracking team, that’s ensuring everybody gets their curated package. There’s a lot of detail that goes into that. So we work closely with organizations to figure out what their budget is looking for in terms of experience, and then we’re pretty transparent with them from there, on these are, these are the great products that we can offer for your company for you to enjoy. These are curated boxes that we’re making for you. And then we also have our turnkey events as well that are you know, straightforward, three wines, three half bottles that they’ll receive, cheese and charcuterie or chocolate pairing on, that everyone will receive straight to their door. And this is what you’ve got. So it really depends on that conversation, and really work with our companies to ensure that they’re getting the right experience for their employees or their clients and prospects.
I love that. Add candidates to your vernacular. Because I think that’s just a wonderful play, especially in the future with putting candidates through this process. On the front end, especially in diversity inclusion, you want to pull together with female engineers, and then have an event. Just think there’s a wonderful way to do that with candidates. So add that to the list. The last thing as we go out is – what else should we know or what other things that you’d like for us to know about Virtual With Us?
Really, this is something that I’m just incredibly proud of, What we’ve been able to do is to execute these wonderful, scalable programs to help organizations. This was something I think we were all a landscape we were all trying to dive into and figure out how to navigate and how to properly network across the board. And it was really important that the evolution of office culture and business entertainment was done well. And so through these solutions, I’m very proud of what we’ve created. And we continue to grow and evolve a key factor in the success for many of the organizations we’ve worked with. And there so they’ve told us has been creating these offerings and building out these programs, especially for the organizations where mid and bottom of the funnel events are, are taking place in a very authentic and genuine way. So I’m very proud of the team that we’ve built so far and our supporters and our clients and we’re just continuing to evolve from here and build out additional programming to support culture and inclusivity across the board.
I love it. I love what you’re doing. Thank you, Alex, for giving us the time and breaking things down about Virtual With Us.
Absolutely. Thank you for having me on. I look forward to hopefully chatting with you again in the future.
One hundred percent. And thanks to everyone that listens to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.