Troy Roques of Symposium, Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing the cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Symposium, Troy Roques.
Troy is a former Marine Corps Veteran who has a background in Casino Marketing, where he managed the profiles of numerous high-profile clients. In 2014 he partnered with the National Hotels Association to develop his brand Room Deals Travel, which provided wholesale rates to over 750K hotel destinations worldwide. In 2018, he co-founded the startup Symposium that offers itself as a platform to help people market and sell their skills through videoconferencing chats.
Thank you so much for joining us Troy! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Hello and thank you for having me today. That’s a great question and one I’ve often asked myself. The beginning of the Symposium story started after a long hard day of nothing going right. I was in sales before starting the company, and in sales, you face many obstacles and gatekeepers, including dealing with people’s personal schedules, the fact that they don’t know you, or may already use the service you provide. All of this puts you at a huge disadvantage. That was the moment that Symposium was born. I knew I had to create a way to circumvent all of the obstacles so I could speak directly to a decision-maker who could help me get to the next level of success in my life. I knew I was ready to start my own company and it would be one that would empower business owners. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Transformers 2: Revenue Of The Fallen when Sam Witwicky was flooded with signs and symbols. I went home that night and started writing a business plan.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story that happened to me since I began this career relates to the undertone of racism when it comes to African American founders and CEOs in tech. One instance that stands out is an investment meeting where a gentleman flew to Las Vegas after hearing about how Symposium had essentially figured out how to sell the last free commodity on earth — TIME. After excusing myself from the meeting, the gentlemen asked, “Do they all look like him?” I didn’t hear about this until the next day, and that same gentleman invested a significant amount of money into another company.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
The philosophies I live by are pretty simple: One of them is “you have not, cause you ask not,” which I learned about from Steve Harvey. You can’t get discouraged by all the nos along the way; you have to stay true to your vision. Albert Einstein said, “imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” The moment you stop believing in yourself and let other people blur your vision is the moment the blueprint is altered. I can tell you from personal experience, as an entrepreneur, the worst thing to see is someone else becoming successful from an idea you had long ago that someone talked you out of doing. Lastly, “get out of your comfort zone.” The things you fear are exactly the things you should do more of.
Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
I am a cofounder of the tech startup Symposium. We are an all-in-one video marketplace where professionals, consultants, and creatives can take their talents and offer their knowledge, expertise, and services to users around the globe. What separates us from other platforms is that calendaring and monetization are built right in. You don’t have to book or pay manually and then have a video chat/conference — with all three on separate platforms. Nor do you have to rely on problematic forms of monetization like ad revenue, which at any time, a platform can strip the ad from your video through tricky algorithms. Symposium places all the power into the hands of the people. Creatives and professionals offer their services, set their own prices, and make their own schedules. They can offer a direct one-to-one video conference, or host thousands at a time. They can also create direct messages for their individual followers. Users don’t have to pay for anything more than the time that was given to them; e.g. if a booked session for an hour only goes 35 minutes, then they are only charged for 35 minutes.
The opportunities with our platform are endless. Musicians can offer their creative process to thousands who want to virtually be involved. Chefs can cook with their biggest fans. Therapists can offer their services to their clients while the country remains partially shut down. Accountants, tax consultants, life coaches, personal trainers, and tutors all have a place to make their mark on Symposium. I can see the utility for anyone who has a burning passion for a subject that they want to share with others.
It also doesn’t have to be all that serious. One of our users is the mother of a four-year-old boy, who is on there to be a virtual buddy to his peers, and offer a consoling voice for other kids who might be feeling lonely during these stay-at-home orders. Contrast that with Dr Janice Hooker-Fortman, a 78-year-old relationship therapist who found Symposium as a way to reinvent her business and continue offering her services to all her clients during the pandemic. There is plenty of opportunity for people of all ages to contribute.
How do you think this will change the world?
I think we’re slowly realizing how virtual our world has already become. COVID-19 took our world by storm and it was virtual replacements that allowed people to maintain a sense of stability. It kept the classroom alive, so students wouldn’t have to fall behind. Delivery services were taken to a new level — now you can press a few buttons and have food brought to your doorstep. And of course, the stock prices of video conferencing companies skyrocketed. Businesses realized how efficient they can still be without paying for all that office space. For many people and businesses, virtual platforms are key.
However, many professions were left out to dry. Some people have the wrong impression that if you teach yoga or piano, or do any style of coaching that you can transition to YouTube and it’s smooth sailing from there. It’s a totally different ballgame to upload to an audience versus having that direct interaction with someone in real time. That’s where Symposium is going to fill the gap. Our main focus is to nurture that human connection that often gets lost when things go digital. It’s one thing to follow your favorite chef on his or her YouTube channel, try their recipes, and leave a comment on the video. It’s another thing to cook alongside your favorite chefs, interacting with them in real time and asking them for suggestions. Maybe you have a certain way that you like to do things and you can share that with the expert. That’s what separates us from other online platforms: at its best, Symposium is Zoom meets Masterclass meets Calendly meets Venmo.
The same way Facebook changed the nature of friendships, to where you don’t have to actually have met somebody in person to consider them a friend, Symposium will change the relationship between creatives and consumers, chefs and foodies, and trainers and fitness enthusiasts. You can develop working relationships with clients whom you’ve never met all over the world, which has the potential to change our idea of a network. If enough people use the platform, it will alter the way people look for work. If not someone’s only source of income, Symposium allows everyone to have a taste of the entrepreneurial journey.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
In any new technology that aims to push the boundaries, there comes unforeseeable risks. One thing we don’t want is for Symposium to make it so that people never need to meet face to face again, even with the clients they have virtually. What it’s meant to be is an option that makes itself especially useful during times like these when social distancing is recommended or required. Even when society can return to previous behavior, people deserve to have options that allow flexibility in their work schedules. People will still get sick and have transportation hurdles and family issues that prevent them from going into work. This allows people to continue to provide their services even when life gets in the way. This also allows more chances to take little vacations throughout the year, because Symposium eliminates the need to completely check out every time you decide to travel. And most importantly, you can connect to people all over the world; an expert in New Zealand can teach piano to a student in Pakistan.
Going back to the potential drawbacks. If a power user becomes popular, I worry about the potential fort them to take advantage of their followers; that is that they’ll charge for a service such as a SymGram, which is an option available that allows creators to record a personalized message to a follower, and not deliver on those personalized messages. We have protocols in order to prevent that from happening, but it’s still a worry. We also want to make sure that people aren’t lying about their credentials and knowledge base to make a quick buck. We want our users who are passionate about learning to be given the best guidance possible.
On the more futuristic end, I worry about the potential rise of deepfake technology being used on our platform. The more realistic it becomes, I worry about scam artists posing as other celebrities and influencers and using our platform to offer false advice to users who think they’re speaking to the expert. To keep things contemporary, perhaps our most pressing concern is security. We don’t want to have the same problems that Zoom was having where video conferences can be breached by hackers and have people’s privacy compromised. We work hard every day to think of worst-case scenarios and then do our best to get ahead of them so we’re fully prepared for every possibility.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
I was in sales before starting the company. In sales, you face many obstacles and gatekeepers, including dealing with people’s personal schedules, the fact that they don’t know you, or may already use the service you provide. All of this puts you at a huge disadvantage. That was the moment that Symposium was born. I knew I had to create a way to circumvent all of the obstacles so I could speak directly to a decision maker who could help me get to the next level of success in my life. I knew I was ready to start my own company and it would be one that would empower business owners. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Transformers 2: Revenue Of The Fallen when Sam Witwicky was flooded with signs and symbols. I went home that night and started writing a business plan.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
What we need are backers and people who believe in the platform. The more widespread we become the more useful we can be to others. The Symposium platform is only as strong as the users who are on it. So if you have a passion, a level of expertise in a particular field, or a talent you want to share, we could use your voice on our platform. If you want to learn something, want to be entertained, or need some one-to-one guidance, create a free account and see what’s out there. Encourage your favorite content creators, streamers, podcast hosts, and creatives to join and see what they can offer. It never hurts to tap into a new market to grow your audience and open up a new stream of revenue.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Oh! I love this question.
1st. You may lose some friends.
It has been an eye-opening experience to see the people who I thought would be the most helpful not show up when I needed them, especially some of my celebrity friends. Symposium is a work-from-home solution; and with unemployment at an all-time high, our teachers out of work, and the whole country shut down for the remainder of 2020, who doesn’t want to support that?
2nd. Whatever amount of money you think you need, DOUBLE IT!
I am fortunate enough to have a First Ballot Hall-of-Fame investor and co-founding partner with a champion mentality, because getting Symposium out of beta to where we are today took longer than initially anticipated, and we were over budget. If I had to find another early-stage investor, it would have been disastrous, and asking for more money with no leverage is a tremendous disadvantage.
3rd. Say goodbye to sleep.
If you want to work from 9 to 5, then get a job, because this life is not for you. Being responsible for the success of your business and your investor’s money is a huge responsibility. My team and I work around the clock: learning, building, and strategizing to improve Symposium and our customer experience. 3 am text messages from the team and sleeping with my laptop are a common occurrence.
4th. You can’t do it all yourself.
I can’t express to you enough the importance of having a good team. Having a good idea is just the beginning, but it requires a team to implement your vision and bring it to fruition. I am blessed to have a team of knowledgeable hard workers who don’t see problems as problems, but as opportunities for solutions. On a personal level, I have grown a lot by being in the presence of such an amazing group of people.
5th. Get a dog.
OMG I love my dog. Her name is Kona and she is our greetings director. Kona always seems to know when my stress levels are high because she’ll jump in my lap and start demanding attention. You will often see her on conference calls with me or at the boardroom table where she has her own chair. If you’re ever in Las Vegas, make sure to stop by the Symposium offices and meet Kona, along with the rest of the team.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I like to start my days by waking up early. I stay away from my phone and don’t worry about what can go wrong, but instead I get excited about all that can go right. After breakfast, I’m off to the gym where I enjoy boxing and kickboxing conditioning classes before heading into the office. Along with my daily work, I’m known to swing for the fences. My mindset is this: you have not ’cause you ask not, and every no is a step closer to a yes.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Symposium has successfully figured out a way to monetize the last free commodity on earth — TIME. We are more than just a paid video conferencing app. We have created a culture where people are willing to share their real-life experiences to help others reach new levels in their lives. On Symposium, the more you share, the more you earn. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that when the world shuts down, all we have is each other. People need people to survive. People need real, meaningful interactions that are meant to educate, entertain, and inspire. We have all either paid tuition or paid attention to get where we are today, and Symposium is the marketplace where you can finally get paid for the time you spend in perfecting your craft. So I ask you, how much is 15 minutes of your time worth? Simply answering the question is proof of concept and qualifies you as a seller in our worldwide marketplace. Someone somewhere is seeking your advice and is willing to pay you for your time. As you continue with your day, take a moment to stop and ask a few people this very same question; but don’t ask the colleagues that you work with. Ask the Starbucks cashier who moonlights as a math tutor. Ask the valet attendant who gives trumpet lessons after work. Soon you will realize that we all can and should put a value on our time. How would you like the opportunity to get a piece of each transaction?