The year was 2013, the day was April 1, and the grey in my hair was just a narrow streak instead of the invasive species it is now. I was still the CEO of my tech company, but my children were little bitty and I was a single mom. The company was rolling out a new product to the hotel industry. We had secured a coveted invitation to showcase our product at a conference for hotel general managers that was held by a prominent hotel management company.  I grabbed my new young Director of Marketing, Lindsay, packed our bags for our tiny-tabletop-trade-show booth, and away we went.

The day was spent with Lindsay and me standing in front of our small folding table and showing off the new technology we had developed for hotels’ TV entertainment solution.

The attendees were all general managers of hotels, and they were milling around the exhibit space, These guys (yes they were all men) were bored, but my cohort in crime, Lindsay, is not only a great marketing executive, she comes from a true entertainment background.  She has years of experience on stage as a dancer and performer in musicals. Think “Jazz Hands. ” Together we are quite the dynamic duo. So for the entire day, we stood in front of our tiny booth pointing to the TV, while waving our hands and attempting to snag the interest of these bored managers while we talked Tech and Televisions in Hotel Rooms, or as we coined it: In-Room Entertainment

It was a long day… but even though our feet were tired from standing all day, we were not done yet! This particular group was well known for their evening gala which was also a costume party.  The theme this year was “Movie Characters.”

I went upstairs and called home to say good night, say prayers, and sing lullabies to my tiny children. Then once again, we got to work. 

Lindsay came over and helped me with makeup, since frizzy-hair-nerd-chic doesn’t really work when you are trying to look like a Movie Character. So, we put on the outfits, wigs, laughed out-loud and squared our shoulders to go downstairs to make some business contact magic happen. We could DO this! Our product was better!  We just needed to get the word out. We just needed a chance. 

Even though my business was 13-years old, I was transforming the company from providing technology to other companies to placing ourselves, and our brand, directly in front of the customer.   

We enter the ballroom and I see a Fred Flintstone to match our Betty and Wilma! He is even wearing big pretend feet! There is Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, Dumb and Dumber, Cat in the Hat, Cowboy, James Bond, and so many more great costumes! So, we make our way around the ballroom complimenting costumes and socializing with the host company and all their guests. Eventually the opportunity we have been waiting for comes up – the CEO and President of the company are making their way around the room mingling. Lindsay and I happen to be standing next to the purchasing executives making small talk and trying to convince them to give our tech a chance in their hotels. 

The senior executive walks up and says in a booming voice, “Who have we here?” I mistakenly assume he was speaking about the costumes we were wearing… There was really no mistaking our Wilma and Betty. So, I answer we are Wilma and Betty and I start to hold out my hand, but Lindsay pipes up strongly (just as she had all day) and says, “WE ARE THE IN-ROOM ENTERTAINMENT!!!” (with Jazz Hands)

I see the widening of the eyes and the smirk that hits the executives’ faces. I realize in the blink of an eye, that without the TV as a prop behind us, he has definitely mis-interpreted what it means that we are the In-Room Entertainment… The president of one of my largest targeted customers has just been introduced to me as a prostitute. This can’t be happening. 

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I shout “NO!” then, I sputter, “We work with him,” and I point to the purchasing manager. “We are professionals!”  

“Sweetheart, I bet you are” he replies. 

Both the men continue smiling, look at each other knowingly and the senior executive dressed as Dr. Evil smirks even more and says, “Well now, I have never been jealous of purchasing before, have you?”

I take a big breath. I can fix this. I lean forward, stick out my hand and introduce myself in a very business-like tone: “Good evening, my name is Vanessa Ogle, I am the CEO of Enseo.  We do in-room entertainment TECHNOLOGY on the hotel television system.” 

The date is April 1, and the senior exec. leans in and asks conspiratorially “Is this your April Fool’s joke?” He still thinks I am a prostitute who is pretending to be a CEO. {Palm slap to forehead here.}

“Well, I think today the April Fool’s joke is on me gentlemen, I really am the CEO, and also a sponsor of tonight’s event.” One executive smiles, says, huh that’s too bad, and immediately wanders off. Dr. Evil is sheepish and smiles, shakes my hand and we have been fast friends ever since. The “Dumb and Dumber” IT/purchasing manager who never corrected the executives, well… we aren’t such good friends even to this day. 

So, while we were apparently undercover as technology executives and it was easier to believe we were prostitutes than executives, the year following this event we installed 14 hotels with our out-of-this-world technology, and today we have more than 1,900 hotels and are “servicing” more than 80 Million guests per year.  

Lindsay is now the mother of two amazing boys and is back on board as our Chief Marketing Officer. 

Anybody wanna play dress up? I’m thinking next time we try rock stars…

Thank you for joining me as I poke fun at myself and laugh at my “apparently undercover” misadventures while battling my case of imposter syndrome. If you enjoyed it please click subscribe above and we will send you the upcoming episodes of Unplugged. Please know while I make fun of my self and my journey, I do not make light of the true danger of human trafficking. I am a strong supporter of AHLA’s No Room for Trafficking initiative and the ECPAT training protocol.

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