We had the good fortune of connecting with Charles Chan Massey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charles, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My paternal grandfather and his brothers inherited what was essentially a general store from their grandfather and built it into a business that spanned an entire block in the small town of Waxhaw, North Carolina. My father and uncle went to work in that same business and relocated it to a larger town, ultimately building it into a retail hardware store that eventually became a multi-state industrial supply business.
It wasn’t the type of business I had much interest in but it made me well aware that I had the entrepreneurial gene, so it was only natural that after years of working in various customer service and hospitality jobs I decided to start my own conference and event planning consultancy.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I began my career on the supplier side of the meetings and events industry before I even knew it was an industry, starting out as a hotel bellman in college. Eventually a position opened at the front desk and I applied for it and was hired. That job led to others, and I eventually worked my way up the ladder and moved into sales, ultimately becoming the director of sales at a small boutique hotel in West Hollywood.
All the while I was learning and growing by volunteering with MPI, my professional association, and when I felt the time was right I started my company, SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. Our staff initially consisted of me, myself, and I with one client. Eventually I took on a partner, allowing SYNAXIS to expand, and several years later my husband Joseph joined the firm and we hired our first employees.
Several years later we bought out our partner and began bringing in summer interns from Europe on an annual basis which helped us expand our presence on the world stage, ultimately leading us to several high profile clients and projects which further put us in the spotlight and allowed us to expand our reach.
Managing our growth wasn’t always easy. We consider ourselves fortunate to have built alliances with other like minded small business owners which helped us as we grew, with the whole literally being greater than the sum of its parts – our informal partnerships allowed us to take on larger projects than we could have managed alone.
Without exception all of these relationships have been with companies and individuals we initially met though professional associations and networking groups and many of the folks we have worked with over the years have become personal friends. From my perspective the meetings industry is an industry where people become friends, and many of those relationships evolve into friends who do business together.
In 2012, because clearly I wasn’t already busy enough (he says with a laugh), I took what began as a series of life-changing personal experiences and co-founded The Personal Stories Project (PSP), a 501c3 non-profit organization that serves as both an online story-sharing platform and archive for the LGBTQ and allies community and a fundraising mechanism for 20+ other LGBTQ-related non-profits.
We provide an online forum for members of the LGBTQ community and allies to share their own personal stories, actively working to help change hearts, minds, and lives. We publish these stories, both video and written, providing a compelling visual preview that leads to a concise and emotionally-connected experience for the reader, connecting people with others who may have found themselves in similar circumstances.
We also connect our virtual community with other non-profit organizations that are meaningful to those who have had the courage to share their own personal stories through our platform. At the end of each story, you’ll find a call to action that allows our readers and viewers to make a tax-deductible donation.
I credit both my volunteer experience and leadership positions from my MPI involvement and my years working in both sales and operations in the meetings and events industry with giving me the skills, experience, and connections needed to build The Personal Stories Project into the organization it is today.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The greatest thing about LA is how many choices there are. There’s so much to do it’s hard to narrow down my favorites but here goes!
A visit to Santa Monica to see the pier and the 3rd Street Promenade is a must for any first time visitor so we’d head there on Day 1. While we’re in the area, we’d definitely make a quick stop in Venice to check out all the craziness. At the end of the day we’d stop for a drink at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey, if for nothing else because it’s where we had our wedding reception and we love to show it off.
Moving on to Day 2, we’d grab an early breakfast at Home Restaurant in Los Feliz to fuel up before our hike to the Hollywood sign and back. We normally park near the Griffith Park Observatory and make the roundtrip hike from there. Afterwards we’d grab drinks and dinner at Casita del Campo in Silverlake and probably call it a night – after all, we’ll be pretty wiped from our hike!
On day 3 we’d show them Hollywood and the Walk of Fame and grab lunch at one of the many places at Hollywood & Highland. For dinner that evening we’d go to Perch in downtown LA – the views can’t be beat!
No first time visit to LA is complete without a drive through some of the neighborhoods in Beverly Hills and down Rodeo Drive so that’s where we’d head on day 4. I know it’s cheesy to some but based on my experience folks from out of town feel incomplete if they haven’t seen it.
Day 5 would be what I call my “Hidden LA” tour. We’d take them on a tour of the Silverlake Stairs, which many folks who live in LA don’t even know about. Because we like walking we’d also take them down to the LA River Greenway and make a stop along the way at La Colombe Coffee Roasters. We’d finish the evening with a meal at Gingergrass, an hip and modern Vietnamese restaurant in Silverlake.
While we wouldn’t be able to cover everything LA has to offer we’d certainly have made a dent and leave our friends looking forward to their next visit.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Early in my career I joined the Southern California chapter of an international professional association called Meeting Professionals International, or MPI. I really liked the way MPI’s membership model was structured at the time, with roughly half of the membership made up of individuals who planned conferences, conventions, and events either for one specific company (as employees), “mom and pop” operations, and in some cases larger meeting and event management firms with multiple clients and projects, collectively known as “Planner Members.” The balance of the membership consisted of companies and individuals who supplied the products and services that the Planner members needed to successfully do their jobs, such as hotels, conference facilities, florists, audiovisual providers, and more. These members were known collectively as “Supplier Members.”
What appealed to me the most was that MPI was an equal membership organization, with buyers and sellers meeting on “neutral ground” and working together much like partners rather than simply viewing one another as clients and vendors.
I was elected to the local board of directors, eventually becoming president of the chapter, and served on the international board of directors. I’ve long said that I built a business out of my MPI involvement. I couldn’t have built my business without my MPI involvement and I am grateful for both the business relationships and the long term friendships I made because of my involvement.
Instagram: @chazmassey; @projectpersonalstories