He’s a proven entrepreneur with a multidisciplinary skill set that includes event design and production, business operations, strategic growth planning, employee training and development, talent management, diversity and inclusion, marketing, public relations, and information systems technology.
Michael began his career in the legal field as a tax attorney for eight years before finding his true passion in designing and planning luxury weddings and events, which led to the creation of his event planning firm in 2008. With a desire and drive to always bring a unique experience to each event, he created the first FêteFone as a unique interactive element for a client’s wedding day to replace the traditional handwritten guest book.
After receiving rave reviews from guests, he turned the idea into the business that has been featured in The Knot, Martha Stewart Weddings, Style Me Pretty, Black Bride and more multiple times over since its’ debut in 2016.
EventPros.com: To me, vintage phones are some of the most fashionable tech ever created, not to mention the nostalgia. I truly miss the heavy feel of the dial on my finger, and the sound, as each number was selected! What inspired you to combine the idea of a traditional guestbook with a vintage phone to create such a unique audio keepsake and decor piece?
Michael: I feel the same way! There’s something really warm and special about the whole experience of using a telephone.
We actually first conceived the FêteFone concept for a client of my wedding and event planning firm (Michael Henry Events Creative). We had been working with a couple who wanted to incorporate modern twists on classic wedding traditions into their celebration, so we brainstormed various ways that we could create a unique guest book alternative through the use of technology.
We knew we wanted to come up with a creative guest book idea that could be more interactive than just signing a book and also make more of an impactful visual statement, while still capturing the sentiments of their guests and producing a cherished memory. When we stumbled onto the idea for FêteFone—which allowed us to create a whole styled vignette around the phone, gave guests a unique experience to enjoy during the reception and captured the sounds of our clients’ celebration like no polaroid guest book, photo booth or other guest book alternative ever could—we knew we had a winner.
Events go by in a flash, with so little left to remind you of the day after it’s over. Having a FeteFone at your wedding, milestone birthday, mitzvah, baby shower, or retirement party lets the guests of honor hear wonderful messages from their friends and family. We absolutely love that we’ve been able to create something that can transport you back and let you relive the feeling your guests had as they were attending the celebration you created.
EventPros.com: So, how does it work? What is the process from start to finish?
Michael: Whatever the occasion, social or corporate, we’ve tried to make the entire process for our voicemail guest book service as simple as possible.
We also regularly work with corporate and social event planners and marketing teams to come up with unique ways to use our phones at their events. We can modify the technology to make the phones do all sorts of things—from offering atmospheric audio to reinforce your theme, to delivering messages or way-finding information to guests, to providing scavenger hunt clues, to capturing product testimonials and attendee feedback, to gathering fundraising pledges, and so much more! There are SO many wonderful uses for the content gathered from both a marketing and future planning perspective.
For our typical audio guest book service, though, you or your client can visit our website at fetefone.com to select one of more than 25 different phone styles to best fit your event décor. The styles range from novelty hamburgers and kitschy lips to ornate historical reproductions and classic 1950s and 1960s princess and pay phones. Our website shows real-time availability and pricing for every one of our styles, so you can place your rental order directly online, and you can check out in mere minutes.
Once you’ve placed the order, we ship the phone anywhere in the continental United States (for free) and schedule your order to arrive at least two days before their event date. We always try to ship early if we can, though, and monitor every package to make sure your audio guest book arrives on time. If there’s ever an unforeseen shipping delay and it doesn’t look like it’s going to make it as scheduled, we’ll even overnight a complimentary replacement to you so there’s one less thing to worry about.
The package includes the phone and a discreet hub that handles the recording of the messages and makes FêteFone entirely self-contained (requiring no telephone line, cell phone connection, internet, wifi, or finicky smartphone apps) at your event. Just plug the phone into the hub, and plug the hub into a standard power outlet or extension cord. There’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary to coordinate with your venue, and no risk of batteries running out or services going down.
As soon as your order arrives, your clients can pick up the handset and follow the voice prompts to pre-record an outgoing greeting that their guests will hear before leaving their messages. Once the outgoing greeting has been recorded, simply move FêteFone to its final location and plug it in on the big day, and it will be ready to capture guests’ messages in just a couple of minutes.
During the event, guests lift the receiver; hear a brief dial tone, a couple of rings and your clients’ outgoing greeting; and share their messages after the tone. Our audio guest book sounds exactly like you’re making a call and leaving a voicemail message, so it feels like second-nature to any guest, but it’s even more simple—the call connects automatically, with no dialing required.
Within two business days after your event, just place everything back in the box it arrived in, affix the included pre-paid return shipping label, and give it to the specified shipping carrier.
Once the audio guest book is returned, our audio engineers process through all of the messages to help them sound their best and, in just a couple of weeks, we send you a link to all of the recordings. If your clients are looking for something even more nostalgic to hold on to, we also offer an optional add-on to have their recordings pressed into a keepsake vinyl record that they can listen to on any record player. It makes a wonderful anniversary present, or a beautiful and nostalgic keepsake to display in the home!
EventPros.com: There are so many styles of phones from over the years. Are there any styles that you are currently on the hunt for? What is the most unique phone you have in your inventory? Have you had any unusual requests that you’d like to share?!
Michael: Because every event is different, we really try to offer as much variety as we can so there’s something to suit just about every décor concept. In selecting which phones to offer, we’re always inspired by the unique aesthetics of past decades and the various cultural influences that informed the design of telephones over the years. Whether you’re looking for something that feels elegant, modern, retro, or ornate, chances are we already have a style for you.
In terms of uniqueness, I’m partial to some of our more elaborate styles, like The Steampunk, The Rive Gauche and The Maharaja, which harken back to the early days of the telephone when the mechanics were often on display and the telephone was a novelty placed on the desks of royalty. I also really love some of our most popular styles, though, like The Jazz Age and The Brittany, for their near universal appeal.
That being said, I’d love to see us add some retro 80s Swatch phones or classic Trimlines into the mix in the future.
Most of our most fun and interesting requests have come from the event planners we work with — whether they’re setting multiple phones throughout the pre-function space to deliver table numbers in lieu of a seating chart, using our phones to deliver messages of congratulations from the C-Suite to the sales team at an incentive event, or collecting silent auction bids at a fundraiser.
We really love seeing the incredible vignettes our planners create around the various styles of our phones — whether it’s as simple as adding a sign and a votive or a small floral, or when they’re incorporating the phone into a more elaborate lounge area, phone booth or dramatic wall display.
We’re constantly impressed by the creativity and love finding new ways to help them and their clients celebrate!
EventPros.com: It looks like FêteFone is celebrating 5 years this year – Congratulations! In person events are back, thank goodness. How did you work through the downturn when events weren’t happening? Did you find other opportunities?
Michael: Thank you! Like so many small businesses that have been hustling hard to grow in recent years, the pandemic threw us all for a bit of a loop. At the same time, it served as an amazing opportunity to regroup and innovate.
During the downturn—when so many folks were prevented from travelling and couldn’t have the size of celebration they would have loved—we actually launched our Virtual FêteFone Experience that offers a local telephone number anywhere in the United States or Canada (or over 20 other countries worldwide) for guests to call into from their own phones.
The service is available either as a standalone option (great for virtual events) or as an add-on to our physical phones. Adding it on to our physical phone rental allows guests who can’t otherwise attend your in-person celebration (or who would just prefer not to use the physical phone) to still leave you many wonderful messages. It’s been a very popular way to add additional flexibility to our core service and navigate the challenges COVID-19 has brought to our industry.
EventPros.com: In my research to learn more about you, I listened to an interview from 2016 that you did with Liz King at Techsytalk. You talked about going to law school and practicing law early in your professional career. How has your law degree helped you on your entrepreneurial journey, both as an event planner and as Founder/CEO of FêteFone?
Michael: Aww, I love Liz!
While I think I knew that the law wasn’t my true passion within the first few months of attending law school, looking back now, I honestly wouldn’t have done it any differently.
Early on in my event planning career, nearly all of my first clients were lawyers who had been referred to me through my professional network and who knew they wanted something amazing (but didn’t have time to create and execute on that vision). Without those early clients—who gave me such a tremendous level of their trust and faith—I’m not sure we would have ever had the freedom to create something as inventive as FêteFone.
The demands of the large international law firms where I practiced during my time as a lawyer also really taught me everything I now know about providing responsive customer service and exceeding the expectations of your clients. I’ve really carried that ethos through to FêteFone, and my team and I pride ourselves on our exceptionally quick replies and the way we do everything we can to make the process as streamlined as possible for each and every one of our customers.
As a lawyer, you’re also trained to spot problems everywhere. The corollary of that for many lawyers and former lawyers is that they also learn to appreciate how important it is to celebrate all of the amazing things that happen throughout life. Every day now, I get to wake up and help someone celebrate something wonderful and capture treasured memories to last them a lifetime. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Just a few of the styles you can choose from: