by Tom Isler | August 01, 2007

Many of today’s entrepreneurs have a healthy aversion to the status quo when it comes to business, and, it turns out, corporate meetings. “FeedBurner has about 35 employees, and we all sit in a big open room for the purpose of not having to take a lot of meetings,” says Traci Hailpern, director of marketing for the Chicago-based tech firm, which helps bloggers and podcasters publish and manage content on the web. Apparently, this dearth of formal gatherings hasn’t hurt the company: FeedBurner was acquired in June by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google for a purchase price rumored to be $100 million.

Despite their best efforts, young, hip startups like FeedBurner can’t eliminate all meetings from their operations, while others say they simply don’t have the time or resources to get too creative with their meetings programs. But some new, fast-growing companies have discovered that meetings can create a sense of corporate identity, advance the evolving corporate culture and support the company’s growth in surprising ways.

Following is a glimpse at six forward-thinking firms that don’t go the traditional route -- in business or in meetings.

Symbiotic: Helio’s
Ocean is hip, like the
company’s meetings.


he first thing new hires receive at Helio, a mobile phone company based in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, is a parking garage pass inscribed with the phrase, “Innovate or die.”

“That sets the tone for everything that goes on here,” says Courtney Carlisle, who works on a three-person team that handles all communications for Helio and plans its meetings.

Right now, the company is sizzling about as hot as the sun itself. Sky Dayton, director and CEO, whose resume includes founding EarthLink, Helio’s parent entity, in 1994 at age 23, launched the offshoot publicly in May 2006. Since then, Helio, which offers its own phone service and exclusive handsets, including the new Ocean, has grown from 70 employees to 500. The company’s mission is simple: to provide a young, tech-savvy demographic with snazzy devices and simply priced phone plans, with all text messages, photos and video included.

Helio is all about creating an image of cool. Its retail stores, for example, are half lounge, half art gallery; selling products in those spaces is almost an afterthought. Occasionally, the stores literally are transformed into nightclubs for special events.

That party spirit pervades the company’s meetings. “Whether it’s meetings or evening events, we try to keep it very similar,” Carlisle says.

When Helio attends trade shows, for instance, Carlisle’s team makes a point of not purchasing exhibit booth space. Instead, they set up an invitation-only lounge in a meeting room and hold closed-door appointments with key opinion leaders in additional breakouts. “By doing it this way, we built a lot of buzz,” Carlisle notes.

Helio generates positive internal hubbub by holding its quarterly meetings in an independent movie theater across the street from its corporate office. Employees grab popcorn and fountain drinks and settle in to watch short videos and public relations spots about the company and listen to presentations from various executives.

Twice now the company has ended its quarterly meetings with a cocktail party on the roof of the parking garage, the same one unlocked by the security pass that’s a directive to innovate.