Making the leap from pre-med to party planning isn’t exactly the most conventional move. Then again, Bill Hennessey isn’t really one for rules.
“I had high grades in high school, and in small towns the smart kids typically end up being doctors or lawyers,” says the Charlottetown, P.E.I., native.
He initially entered the University of Western Ontario majoring in biology, but just as quickly changed his mind.
“Throwing parties for my friends at university inspired me to start Hennessey Events.”
—Bill Hennessey, founder, Hennessey Events
“I ended up realizing my personality wasn’t suited for the medical world,” he explains. “And the smell of formaldehyde when I was hung over in bio lab put the nail in the coffin.”
At just 26 years old, Bill has already juggled a slew of impressive entrepreneurial achievements most young adults can only dream of while cruising through their 9-to-5s.
But the idea on which he now earns his keep is also his most profitable and successful to date: Hennessey Events (@HennesseyEvents), one of Toronto’s premier events marketing companies that holds events such as Balapalooza, Burroughes Halloween, A Toronto Christmas and St. Party’s Day.
Unsurprisingly, it was Bill’s knack for a good time that steered the Honours in Business Administration grad in this particular direction. “Throwing parties for my friends at university inspired me to start Hennessey Events,” he says, noting that back then, he operated on a project-by-project basis. “Now, every decision I make takes the future of [the company] into consideration.”
And it seems he’s making the right ones. Apart from throwing at least three events in Toronto per week, Hennessey Events is masterminding some of the most influential occasions in the city’s party psyche. Its most recent project, St. Party’s Day, attracted over 3,000 guests to St. Lawrence Market in Downtown Toronto and launched a viral campaign to make St. Patrick’s Day a statutory holiday in Canada. These are just the beginnings of what Bill hopes to make an annual nation-wide celebration under his St. Party’s Day brand.
With the company already producing more than 150 events year-round, it may seem that Hennessey Events has already reached the pinnacle of start-up success. But Bill’s not resting on his laurels yet.
For Bill Hennessey, the party’s just getting started.
5 lessons every young entrepreneur should know:
Be sensitive to the needs of the market
Like many kids, Bill’s first taste of entrepreneurship began with a lemonade stand when he was seven. Unlike them, he actually had a strategy: bundle the lemonade with a muffin, triple the price, and watch his only competitor (a neighbour’s stand) close shop.
“My experiences with customers indicated that they wanted more than just a glass of lemonade,” he says. “I believe a little bit of competition never hurt anybody, so I decided to take the challenge and offer my customers more than the next guy!”
Tap into your creativity
“For as long as I can remember, I was coming up with new ideas and selling things,” Bill says of his childhood. While he credits his parents for instilling entrepreneurial values in him early on, it was applying the theories he learned years later at the Richard Ivey School of Business that really let him spread his wings creatively and commercially.
During the 2009 Toronto workers strike, Bill saw an opportunity to help his community by creating StrikeGarbage.com, a short-term waste removal business which employed 25 high school students. Another project, a lobster import and delivery business called Atlantic Ocean Harvest, was received well by consumers and would have continued if not for supply chain roadblocks, which made scaling the business upwards “extremely difficult.”
These days, Bill focuses on opportunities that have more growth potential and room for expansion while still keeping the element of creativity in mind. Case in point: A year ago, Bill and his team decided the New Year’s Eve market was saturated. So what’s an events start-up to do? Simple—declare Halloween the “new” New Year’s Eve, and throw a party in its honour (Burroughes Halloween).
Go where the competition won’t—literally
“When we came up with the Balapalooza concept, nobody else had thought of doing events in Muskoka (Ontario), even though our customers travelled there every long weekend in the summer,” Bill notes. Luckily, this was exactly the opening that Hennessey Events needed to establish Balapalooza’s presence in the area’s annual summer festivities.
As proof of its success, the celebration has now evolved into the Tanline Series, a summer-long event and concert tour throughout Muskoka and Wasaga Beach, Ont.
Recruit top talent, no matter where they’re from
While most companies prefer to hire candidates who’ve had experience in the industry they’re entering, Bill doesn’t believe in pigeonholing.
“The reason we’ve been able to scale Hennessey Events to the size it is today is because we have top-notch talent,” he stresses. “We don’t hire industry people. Instead, we hire people with formal business training and we teach them about the industry.”
Bill says that the firm’s two “top guys” actually worked for a large law firm and a real estate investment trust. It’s highly unconventional—no one else in the industry has a team quite like his, he admits—but it works.
“We believe that this is the foundation for a successful business,” he adds, “Having smart people on your team allows you to share the workload with people whom you trust and know are capable.”
Organization is key
What sets Hennessey Events apart from the competition? According to Bill, orderly management makes all the difference. “Funny enough, we’re often referred to as the ‘spreadsheet guys’ because we do so much forecasting, whereas our competitors typically don’t build spreadsheets for new projects,” he shares.
As Bill’s experience shows, succeeding in an “often unprofessional industry” not only means thinking out of the box—it also means keeping a sense of structure and adopting proven business methods that will help the company grow and thrive. “The resumes of our team members speak for themselves. We’ve learned how to manage our business and stay organized much better than our competitors.”