Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Gregg Dukofsky and I’m the visionary and founder at Interactive Entertainment Group, an event production company. I started my business in 1988 with one idea, and since then have grown my business to include hundreds of unique products ranging from sports simulators to virtual reality to giant games. Some of our most popular offerings include a Giant Human Claw, Augmented Reality Gaming Wall, Virtual Graffiti Wall, VR Soar, and Urban Hoops.
Since launching my first product at an amusement park and being written up in a local newspaper, my company has come a long way. From this initial buzz, event planners began to inquire about having entertainment options white-labeled at their event. This led to the expansion of my inventory to accommodate bar and bat mitzvahs, fundraisers, college orientations, and high-end social gatherings.
In 2008 when the stock market crashed, disposable income became significantly limited. To recession-proof my business, my team pivoted to focus on corporate events rather than private ones. More specifically, the bulk of my business transitioned to activations involving team building, product launches, experiential marketing, trade show traffic building, brand initiatives, and holiday parties. To paint a picture of our growth, we have ranked in Inc. 5000s fastest-growing private companies three years in a row in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Prior to starting Interactive Entertainment Group, I owned a recording studio where I produced promotional music videos for bands. It wasn’t until my friends visited my studio and goofed off with the equipment that I had an idea for a new company, focusing exclusively on entertainment.
After a day filled with lip-synching and attempting to play the drums, my friends left the studio with a VHS tape, which contained footage of them starring in their very own music video.
This was when my first product, Super F/X Music Videos, came to mind. I took the idea straight to a local flea market, where I took deposits from anyone who wanted to star in their own music video. After garnering enough interest, I pitched my idea to AdventureLand, the biggest amusement park on Long Island.
The owners loved the idea but said it needed to be streamlined, meaning I had to invest 20k of my personal savings to bring the concept to life. Once the partnership became official, AdventureLand built me a custom studio in the center of the park. I knew Super F/X Music Videos was a success when lines of people waited hours for the chance to make their own music video.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Since I owned my own studio, I already had much of the equipment and knowledge needed to bring my first idea to fruition. From a Digital Video Instrument (DVI) for creating special effects to a Time-Base Corrector (TBC) with bluescreen technology, I had all I needed to create music videos just like the ones that recently became popular on MTV.
However, when I decided to take my product from a stationary booth to events in the tri-state area, I had to invest in new equipment that could be transported in a van or truck. With this new, mobile, business model, I finally had the confidence to expand into additional categories. To find new products, I attended IAAPA, which is the largest trade show for amusement parks.
While I was there, I discovered dozens of turn-key items that I could incorporate into my repertoire. Since I did not create these items myself, event planning showcases served as my form of prototyping. During these showcases, I was able to get my products in front of the eyes of hundreds of planners while simultaneously troubleshooting for any potential issues during the demos.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When I began offering my products for events, I was not communicating directly with the consumer. Rather, I rented my products to agencies at a wholesale rate, with word of mouth serving as my sole source of traffic. At a certain point, I decided to remove the middleman, and it became time to make the business legitimate with a fresh name, website, and advertising.
Initially, I focused on print advertisements to bring in business. My first advertisement was the inside cover of The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Guide, a popular event planning magazine at the time. Eventually, I began advertising on a search engine called Go-To.com, the company that invented pay per click. More specifically, I bid on relevant keywords, paying one penny per click that I received directing to my website.
While the search engine did not have an impact initially, everything changed when the company struck a deal with Yahoo.com. As a top bidder on all of my keywords on Go-To.com, I instantaneously shot to the top search results for those keywords on Yahoo.com. Overnight, phones began ringing off the hook and I had been busier than I ever imagined. However, as the cost per acquisition began to skyrocket, I knew that I couldn’t rely on the tool alone. With that said, I began to invest in optimizing the content on my website (SEO), which would organically drive people to my brand.
As demand continued to rise, I reinvested all of my profits into expanding my inventory. While this left me short on cash, I knew that the products would pay for themselves by the time I had rented them out just a few times, leaving me with enough to cover van rental, storage, and labor costs.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
To attract customers, I am constantly thinking about the future and investing in products that can’t be found anywhere else. By the time one of my products becomes mainstream, I am already onto something fresh and exciting. Other than the products themselves, there are a variety of tools that I use to stand out amongst my competitors.
Investing in the right people and making them feel valued is the biggest piece of advice I can offer. By fostering a work environment that values a collaborative culture, I strive to keep my staff happy and motivated daily.
Before the internet became what it is today, I created an exclusive print catalog, meaning that it was only mailed to those who had given us their contact information. The catalog was a success, serving as a reference point for many event planners who needed unique entertainment options. Since that time, our mailing list has transformed into our e-mailing list, where subscribers are kept up to date on event trends and our latest product launches.
One of my favorite tools currently is LinkedIn, which has been crucial for discovering new clients and generating leads. Over the years, I have reached more than 30k connections with those who relate in some way to my industry. In addition to this platform, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have been crucial in allowing me to craft a consistent brand message while generating maximum exposure for my products.
I touched on this earlier, but SEO has been extremely significant in getting my company to where it is today. My website is intentionally content-heavy, generating more organic traffic than any competitor in my industry.
While my business is constantly generating new leads, a large portion of our bookings stems from the longstanding relationships we have with our clients. Our products may be exceptional, but our perfected processes and outstanding customer service are what keep our clients coming back. Each time we book an event, an extremely detailed process is followed to ensure that the event runs as planned. While mishaps are inevitable, there is always a plan B and a C.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
From 2008 to the beginning of 2020, my team’s primary focus has been live events with an emphasis on customization. Specifically, we help brands activate their customers or employees in unique ways. Whether it’s through skinning or software, we have become skilled at incorporating brands into every one of our products.
In March 2020, everything changed. With a ban on social gatherings due to COVID-19, my business went from one hundred to zero overnight, presenting my team with a unique and unprecedented challenge. Unlike in 2008, we could not solve this problem by simply changing our target demographic. Instead, we reinvented our products to function in a virtual setting, catering to the thousands of businesses with employees working remotely. With remote work becoming a standard for many, I am confident that this new sector of my business will still be relevant in the years to come.
In addition to expanding our catalog of virtual offerings, my team is constantly looking into products for live events that incorporate minimal touch and utilizing eye movement, body movement, and gesture controls.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
While I started my business on my own, I would be absolutely nowhere without my team. With that said, investing in the right people and making them feel valued is the biggest piece of advice I can offer. By fostering a work environment that values a collaborative culture, I strive to keep my staff happy and motivated daily.
In terms of good decisions, they all involve letting go of the old and embracing the new. In fact, the groundbreaking products from when I started would be considered severely outdated today. Each “let go” and “addition” I made has evolved my business from a concept in a recording studio to an event production company catering to some of the largest companies in America.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
While I do not have any book or podcast recommendations, in particular, I can’t express the importance of research and development enough. Whether I’m flipping through a print publication or browsing online, research is what keeps me up to date on technology and serves as a source for product inspiration.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
If you get too comfortable when things are good, your business will inevitably become obsolete. While your idea may be revolutionary today, the world is constantly changing, and you must change with it if you want to be successful in the long term.
Looking back to when I started my company over 30 years ago, it’s hardly recognizable. However, what people don’t see is that my core principles have hardly changed.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on live events, we are not currently looking to add to our core team. However, we do anticipate expansion when live events return. Not only do we expect our virtual events, clients, to translate to new customers for live events, but we also expect an influx of new business resulting from a reduced number of suppliers due to COVID-19’s impact on the industry.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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