How George Hedon got Pause Fest back on its feet after losing his venue twice

Pause Fest

Pause Fest founder George Hedon. Source: supplied.

This week startup folk will descend on Melbourne for the tenth annual Pause Fest, where they’re promised inspiration from global tech leaders, insights into creative minds and networking for days.

For founder and self-proclaimed ‘enabler of awesome’ George Hedon this is the culmination of 12 months’ work. And, as a business owner like any other, he’s had some hurdles to overcome.

In the run-up to Pause Fest 2020, Hedon faced a very particular challenge that affected a pretty fundamental element of the event — the venue.

For the past few years, Pause has been held at Federation Square and the adjoining Australian Centre for Moving Image.

This year, Hedon tells SmartCompany, renovations meant he had to look elsewhere.

There are not many mid-sized venues in Melbourne, he notes. And for mid-sized events, the look, feel and “cool-factor” of the space has a big impact on attendees.

“I believe 50% to 80% of the experience people are going to get from any event is rooted in the venue,” he explains.

“If you go into a venue that’s not correct for your event, it’s going to damage you.”

After some negotiations, Hedon secured Shed 14 on Central Pier in the Docklands. Not long later, in August last year, the pier was deemed unsafe for occupation, and was closed while further investigations were carried out.

Hedon says he was initially told the closure would be for one month, but he was skeptical from the start.

“Usually these types of things take six months or a year,” he says.

“I went back to the drawing board.”

And, as it turned out, he was right to be wary. The pier is still closed, and on January 3 this year, Development Victoria announced it would remain so permanently.

“Once you announce the venue and the date, you don’t know what’s more damaging — changing the venue or the date, or both,” he explains.

He decided not to change the date, but by this time, he was left without a whole lot of options.

“It was a pretty huge thing for us to go through,” he admits.

In the end, Pause Fest found a new home at the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre (MCEC), in a new space purpose-built for smaller events, which also meets Hedon’s ‘cool-factor’ requirements.

“It’s got a bit more of a vibe than the old part of MCEC,” he says.

“We can grow more in there,” he says.

Bringing back the value

It may have been time for Pause Fest to move on to a new location, but this kind of growth and change comes at a cost. The location saga turned out to be a pricey one, Hedon says.

“For a small business or an independent business owner, growing and scaling sounds like an amazing thing to do, but with that all your costs grow,” he explains.

“It’s cool to say you’re growing and it’s all going well, but can you sustain that?”

While Hedon doesn’t reveal revenue growth, he does reveal that last year’s Pause Fest saw a 23% increase in attendance compared to the year before.

This year, while the location is bigger, the founder’s focus is not on growth, but on transformation.

He wants to maintain numbers, sure, but there’s also a focus on delivering the best event possible in the new space.

Whereas in previous years there has been a push to drive attendance, this year the idea is to surpass expectations of attendees.

“Obviously we want numbers, everyone wants numbers, but we focused more on the experience that hopefully will bring the numbers,” he says.

“We want to grow it in a good way where we bring back the value, we bring the experience, we bring people together … so they can grow themselves and their businesses.”

Understand yourself

Hedon’s business may be a little different to others, but many of the challenges and pressures are the same, he says.

“There’s a big expectation from everyone, for sure … And I have big expectations for myself,” he explains.

“You have to be open to super highs and super lows at the same time — sometimes in the same day.”

Part of the way to manage that is just to be sure of who you are as a founder, and what it is you’re trying to do.

“You really need to work your way through it, understand yourself,” Hedon says.

“You have to understand yourself and your nature and your ego and who you are.”

At the same time, there’s a balance to be struck between staying on top of things as a business and rolling with the punches.

“I have a beautiful plan every year, but it just doesn’t turn out like that,” he adds.

SmartCompany will be attending Pause Fest 2020 as a media partner.

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