Melissa Park is the founder and CEO of Melissa Park Events, an award-winning global event company specializing in creating high-impact live and virtual experiences. She is also the creator of The Mel-Factor Method, a contributing writer to numerous publications, and a sought-after keynote speaker and panelist. Recently, Park was named on the BizBash 500 Most Influential Event Pros list two years running, a 40 Under 40 by Connect Corporate, Rising Star in Events by Smart Meetings, and one of Special Events’ 25 Young Event Pros to Watch.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I grew up in the south-western suburbs of Sydney, Australia in a very close-knit family consisting of my mum, dad and little brother. We didn’t have a lot materialistically, but we never wanted anything either. When I think back now, our lives revolved around my parents’ work, my brother, and my school and sport. We dedicated early mornings to squad swimming and most weeknights to football training for my brother or dance rehearsals for me. Weekends consisted of racing from one game or competition to the next, always followed by a night of endless fun with family and friends. I’d describe it as a simple upbringing yet one filled with fun and love.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
My parents have always been very hard workers, but not necessarily risk-takers. After watching them struggle on occasion, I knew early on that I didn’t want to lead a life where incoming bills became a source of stress. “Comfortable” isn’t comfortable to me, it stresses me out. I suspect because of this, independence has always been one of my core values along with a strong trust in my gut and taking calculated risks when needed. This story sets the scene: In Australia, you can legally work from the age of 14 and nine months old. Why the 9 months are tacked on there is unclear to me, but that’s the rule. So, at 14 and eight months, I reviewed my resume and created a prospect list of all of the local stores where I would be happy to work. On the day I turned 14 and nine months, I asked Pop (aka Grandfather) to drive me to each of the businesses on my list so I could submit my applications. The next afternoon I arrived home from school gobsmacked to discover not a single business had called to offer me a job. The second day, the exact same thing… “What is happening? It’s been 48 hours!” I remember shrieking to my mum, which inevitably just made her giggle. On the third day, the phone rang! The local fruit store asked me to come and collect a sheet of paper that contained all of the fruit and vegetable codes they would quiz me on during an interview the following week. The sheet had two columns highlighted that I needed to memorize. Always the overachiever with a work ethic to match, I memorized the entire sheet and blew their minds when they tried to throw me a curveball and ask for the code of an item outside of the two specified columns. Boom! I received my first official real job on the spot. Fast forward to studying event management in college and one night in class the teacher said, “You’ll never get a job in the industry if companies don’t know you exist.” That statement served as a lightbulb moment. I headed home that night and updated my resume, Googled event management companies in Sydney, and contacted all of them to introduce myself. I received many auto-replies, before being contacted by Reed Exhibitions, one of the companies I had contacted a mere six months later. They had an Event Coordinator role available and asked if I’d interview for it. I jumped at the opportunity and eventually secured the position. After honing my skills for several years I moved on to a more senior position at an African Drumming company. While the owner was on maternity leave, I ran all aspects of the business. During that time something clicked in my head and I realized that if working around the clock for a business is required, it needed to be MY business. In a way, the owner and I both had babies. She created a human and I created Melissa Park Events! I continued working as an event producer for six years before I decided to take a leap and make a splash in the United States in 2014, where I now specialize in the technology space for my seamlessly executed conferences, strategic sponsorships, and innovative brand activations.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
Engage the services of a good attorney from the get-go. I don’t want to bring down the vibe, but so often the very thought of attorney fees is enough to send a budding entrepreneur or small business owner into a sweat. If you’re a rule follower, the concept can be scary and foreign and fill you with the same anxiety you get when you see a police car in your rearview mirror. You might not think your ‘little’ business or side hustle is legit enough to warrant the services of an attorney, but believe me when I say, the cost of not having one is going to be much greater – even if you’re squeaky clean. The unfortunate truth is that the days of a handshake, someone’s word or good faith being as binding as a signed contract are long gone. As you rise, people will try to take advantage of you. Signing contracts with terms you don’t understand or creating client, vendor, employee or contractor contracts by morphing together a bunch of templates you found on google is not going to cut it in court. It’s critically important that you put measures in place to protect both yourself and your business from Day 1.