Making Some Noise: How Kompass Events Founder Keith Wilson Built An All-Male, All-Black Team

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

People took notice when online ticketing company Eventbrite went public with an initial valuation of $1.8 billion, but for all the convenience that event technology brings — such as access to virtual meetings — research shows we still crave in-person interactions.

Now there’s an app for that.

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Event attendees are placing more value on face-to-face interactions, according to the responses from event marketers and planners in a survey conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

Companies like event marketing software Splash may be on the pulse of a multibillion-dollar industry, but Kompass Events is looking to disrupt the industry. Atlanta-based Kompass says it’s connecting non-locals traveling to destinations with local people and giving them a social experience that other event platforms are missing.

Co-founded in January 2018 by Keith Wilson, Kompass Events is a mobile app for Android and Apple users looking to share or discover events in cities where they live or where they may be visiting. Kompass uses heat mapping technology, which lets users visualize information using colors in a two-dimensional representation. Users can see which areas of cities typically have activities going on and sections where no events are occurring.

We’re solving a problem and we’re not doing it in a sexy way with all of the buzzwords out here. We’re doing it in a pretty simple way.” — — Keith Wilson, CEO of Kompass Events

Born in Mississippi, Wilson, 34, is an Atlanta resident. He graduated from Clark Atlanta University’s MBA program and in less than a year has grown his tech company from one person to a team of five with thousands of events listed in its database.

Kompass events
Keith Wilson, Co-Founder and CEO; Martin Hill, Vice President, Community Affairs; Howard Vining, CTO; Calvin Addison, CFO; and Nathaniel Wilson, Co-Founder and CIO. Photo provided by Kompass Events.

Moguldom spoke with Kompass Events founder and CEO Keith Wilson about building an all-Black male team, getting accepted into the Ascend 2020 accelerator program, and standing out in the event industry.

When it comes to building a team, you have to have people (who are) passionate about solving the problem you’re trying to address, to the point to where they’ve fallen in love with the problem and fallen in love with the solution just as much as you have.” — Keith Wilson, CEO of Kompass Events

Moguldom:  Why did you start Kompass Events?

Keith Wilson:  I started Kompass Events in January 2018 because, throughout my professional career and non-professional career, I’ve had an opportunity to travel to a lot of different places, whether it’s domestically or internationally. I’ve always had the same issue. I always arrived wanting to know what’s going on regarding localized events aside from the typical tourist destinations. I wanted to get a better pulse for those particular areas I was going to. I wanted to learn more about the hyperlocal events going on that only people from those areas were familiar with. Without seeing a solution to this issue I as well as my friends were having, I figured hey, why not develop a solution to it? That’s how Kompass Events started — trying to find a way to connect people with events that are going on around them, whether it’s in places they’re familiar with or in places they travel.

Kompass events
Keith Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Kompass Events. Photo provided by Kompass Events

Moguldom: In your first year, what do you feel has been the biggest challenge of starting your business?

Keith Wilson:  I think for me the biggest challenge has been getting up to speed with a lot of the technical lingo and the whole technical side of developing the mobile application. I’m not a big software guy. I use it in my daily life, but to be able to get under the hood of it, that was not my thing. So, for me, being able to understand the space more from more of the technical side, has probably been the biggest challenge.

Moguldom: What are some of your notable wins?

Keith Wilson: I think some of the wins we’ve had has probably been a lot of the media attention we’ve been able to get in such a short period. I think another win has just been the feedback we’ve been able to get from users and people that have been having this issue or this problem we’ve been trying to solve. Everybody we’ve talked to has said that “Yeah, we have this problem too. I’m glad you’re attacking this space. I don’t realize I have this issue until I go and travel to a new place I haven’t been,” or “when I’m just at home bored.” I think for us the wins have definitely been the media attention and then the fact we’re solving a problem and we’re not doing it in a sexy way with all of the buzzwords out here. We’re doing it in a pretty simple way, but it solves a problem people encounter.

It was entirely intentional for (the Kompass Events team) to be all Black. For us to be able to do something like this and that type of picture will probably speak to many people. Like, hey, you can have top Black-led startups out here. It can make some noise, and we want to be one of those companies that does that.” — Keith Wilson, CEO of Kompass Events

Moguldom: You started the company yourself, but now you have a team. What are some of your thoughts on a building a good team?

Keith Wilson: That’s been one of the biggest things I’ve had to adjust to, developing and building a team. I think when it comes to building a team, you have to have people that know what they’re doing. They’re familiar with the technical aspects and just overall software application you’re trying to develop. They’re passionate about solving the problem you’re trying to address as well, to the point where they’ve fallen in love with the problem and fallen in love with the solution just as much as you have. For me, it’s always making sure the people you’re bringing onto your team are talented. Also, that it’s just really a good fit personality wise. That’s been one of the great things about our team. We all just fit from a personality standpoint. We might have some clashes here and there in regards to kind of the direction we might want to go as every team does, but for us, that’s a good thing. That means we’re all genuinely passionate about the problem, excited about the solution and I wouldn’t have it any other way with our team. I think that’s the big thing you have to look for when building a team.

Even though I’m the CEO, everybody, in my opinion, brings the same value as I do.” — Keith Wilson, CEO of Kompass Events

Moguldom: I saw a picture of your team members and I can’t help noticing that they’re all Black males. Is this intentional?

Keith Wilson: Yeah. It was totally intentional. You don’t see something like that quite often. I would say to our detriment, one thing we do have to do better on is recruiting female talent and that’s something that’s top of my list in 2019. To bring top female talent to the team as well, Black female talent. We wanted to start something special, do something special. In the circles I’ve been able to go into when it comes to trying to develop the company, a lot of the people referred to me were guys and were Black guys. My co-founder is my brother, my VP of community affairs is my roommate, a guy who I’ve been knowing since we were in grad school together at Clark Atlanta. My CTO is probably one of the top developers here in Atlanta, and then my CFO is a very talented Apple iOS developer. So yeah. I’m proud of the team we put together. Back to your question, it was entirely intentional for it to be all Black because for us to be able to do something like this and that type of picture will probably speak to many people. Like, “hey, you can have top Black-led startups out here.” It can make some noise, and we want to be one of those companies that does that.

Moguldom: What do you think your team would say about your leadership style?

Keith Wilson: I think they would probably say that my leadership style is not the typical leadership style. Me, I’m pretty hands off when it comes to just how I lead the team or try to direct the team. I’m very collaborative. We have more of a roundtable type of setup. Even though I’m the CEO, everybody, in my opinion, brings the same value as I do.

Moguldom: There are other event websites and event apps on the market. What differentiates your company offers from others?

Keith Wilson:  Right now, we’re the only event platform out there that allows you to capture those experiences at that particular event. So not only do we allow you to see what’s going on in the city you’re in, or the city you want to go to, we give you information about particular events. We give you access to check into that event and then also post photos and eventually videos of your experience while there. Nobody in the market right now is allowing you to do that on one platform. When you look at a lot of the event tech applications out here, they fall in one or two spaces. They’re an event management platform — say Splash, Eventbrite, things of that nature — or they’re an event discovery platform, meaning they might take the information from Eventbrite or take the info from Ticketmaster to Splash and post it in an application for people to discover events. Well when you do one of those two pieces, you’re leaving out a huge piece — in my opinion, the most important piece — and it’s capturing those particular event experiences people want to capture and take. Many people would typically use social media to capture those experiences because traditionally the event platforms have failed in offering that type of functionality for people to the capture those experiences at the events that they’re guiding them to or they’re managing. That’s where we come in.

Moguldom: Kompass was accepted into the Ascend 2020 accelerator program in Atlanta. Did you look at other programsor were your plans to stay in the Atlanta area?

Keith Wilson:  We wanted to try to start local regarding accelerators. I mean, of course, we’d love to be part of some of those notable accelerators — 500, Y Combinator or Backstage. We definitely would like to be a part of those and on the national radar, but we wanted to start local because we wanted to make sure we were solving this problem locally and trying to get the word out. Plus, we wanted to develop those local relationships with the tech community here in Atlanta. We heard about Ascend 2020. Knowing it is part of Morehouse, TechSquare Labs, we’d have access to many resources, and it was founded by Paul Judge, who is kind of the godfather of Black tech here in Atlanta. For us, it was a no-brainer.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Kompass?

Keith Wilson:  I think for us, the next five years with Kompass revolves around us optimizing our product. We have a lot of great features like our heat map technology. We want to try to go deeper into that and giving people a bird’s eye view of the parts of the city or the events that are hot or not. Also, keeping abreast with all of the things going on in the event space and leveraging the developing partnerships as well. Also, within the next five years, we would be looking to try to gain some funding. We’ll probably proceed to a seed round so we can get all of the bells and whistles we need to optimize the customer experience.