Mapping Festivals Made Fun
DiaZam software streamlining festival layout planning, from Porta Pottys to conduit and concessions
- by Gil Kaufman
- Published: February 14, 2017
The DiaZam software package.
Over the course of his 20-plus year career producing and promoting live entertainment events, concerts and festivals, Bill Donabedian has gone from sketching plans out on paper and correcting with White-Out to endlessly redrawing and re-plotting in Cad. With dozens, sometimes hundreds of distinct factors to coordinate – from the placement of Porta Potties to evolving fire code considerations and constantly mutating staging needs– the amount of data can be daunting.
It can also be maddening to track and update in real time as your event date nears. "I've been doing events my whole professional life and you traditionally use Auto Cad. But what if you can't afford it — because it's expensive software — or you try to use Adobe Illustrator and find that it can't track things the way you want?" Donabedian asked himself two years ago. At the time, he was pulling his hair out over the endless deluge of small and large changes he was making to Bunbury Festival, the three-day music gathering he founded in 2012 – and sold a majority stake in to Columbus-based PromoWest Productions in 2014 — on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
With a bit more time on his hands following the sale of Bunbury, Donabedian reached out to frequent collaborator, designer Olivier Fischer in search of a solution, and the two ended up founding DiaZam LLC, a company focused on event-management software. Remembering the bad old days when he had to juggle 200+ events a year for Cincinnati's Fountain Square when he managed events for the city's open-air downtown gathering space in the early 2000s, Donabedian thought about the headaches of printing out a blueprint, pulling out a ruler and drawing changes in different colors and whiting them out to keep up with the staging and crowd-management necessities.
"We were doing that up through 2011!" Donabedian said of the old-school methods he used when programming Fountain Square from 2006-2011. "So when I started doing Bunbury, I took some time out to lay it out in Illustrator which was also too cumbersome. It's a powerful tool, but when you have to track everything in an Excel spreadsheet – every piece of fence, every Porta Potty, every tent, which for Bunbury is more than 400 items — and then create a map for external use on a website, and then another map for a mobile app and make changes in all three, it's maddening."
So, he asked a graphic designer to help him in 2014, but the job was so frustrating, the designer quit. "I thought, 'this is something that has to be solved with technology,'" Donabedian recalled. "I know that other event planners will want this." So, he and Fischer spent a year testing their cloud-based event-management tool (available at DiaZam.com) that can create, organize and manage layouts for large and small-scale events, using Bunbury as a guinea pig and constantly tweaking as they offered it up to some other event planners for a test run.
One of the people he shared it with was a frequent collaborator, Debbie Branscum, co-owner of Cincy Events Management, which has worked with Donabedian on Bunbury since its inception. Branscum and partner Casey Gilmore have been using DiaZam for the past year and she said it has alleviated many of the headaches typically associated with her job. "One year during Bunbury, Bill asked me to make a change and I said, 'No, everything is done and I'm not re-doing it all, I don't have six hours to kill,'" she said, noting that when Donabedian went in to try and make the change he'd asked for, he quickly realized how much bigger an ask it was than he'd imagined.
"I've been doing events my whole professional life and I've traditionally used AutoCad, which you can use to draw to scale, but it's not true to scale really. The thing that makes DiaZam awesome is that you can drop something in the layout, draw it to scale and then it makes changes across different layouts."
Before, she said, she had to do all her keys in different programs and then match the layout key to what she had already drawn. For Branscum — whose client list includes such beloved hometown events as the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, Taste of OTR and Bockfest – DiaZam is a one-stop solution that saves her time, especially for a major fest like Bunbury. "If you have 1,000 different map points for Bunbury and you need to add something the week before, you can add what you need and hit 'renumber' and it renumbers the layout and updates the layout key and then sends out the updated key to the tenting Porta Potty guys and everyone else," she said. "It's a huge difference because it makes it more flexible and removes hours of work."
Branscum said she hasn't seen a tool like DiaZam in the space before, and she's found ways to use it for both outdoor and indoor events. "Even if I don't have a scale drawing from the venue, I can take a Google Earth image, for a 5,000-person street fair and drop it in and identify the measurements, and then scale the entire thing so I can do whatever I need to," she said of the software that was tested out in the real world for the first time at last year's Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic and Bunbury, which drew around 9,000 and 45,000, respectively, in 2016.
Donabedian said the feedback so far has been positive and he thinks DiaZam could be used by events ranging from local street fairs to major music festivals because of the versatility he and Fischer have built into it. "If you want to lay a computer network out, you can drop in where you want the servers, routers and repeaters, and if you want to see just what that looks like, you can just turn everything else off and give it to your network provider," he said. "It's meant to be very powerful, but also a very flexible and simple tool, all drag-and-drop."
Fischer and Donabedian didn't raise any capital to launch their venture, emerging after a year of tinkering with a finished product that they own, and people can start using right away with no technical knowledge needed. With the doors just opened, he said they already have "a couple dozen users," some local and others who found them on Facebook and Twitter. The software is available via a subscription model for $10 a month or $40 for a year license. They're also offering it for free to organizers of events that range from local church festivals to, 5k and under for free for a single-time use.
Donabedian said the pair plan to keep adding features, the next version envisioned as a "cradle to grave" tool that will automatically push all changes to an event's mobile app as well.
- by Gil Kaufman
- Published: February 14, 2017