Are the days of exciting new event tech startups pitching for funding with revolutionary new products a thing of the past?
The event tech scene is recovering from the mass pivot to virtual undertaken by almost all event tech companies at the start of the Covid pandemic. Technological and UX advances on the virtual side of events have been astounding. In addition, there has been another positive side effect: Event tech is now developed much more in line with other technologies and is less siloed than ever before.
But where are the game-changing concepts?
Bizzabo, Blackthorn.io, and Glisser are three companies innovating in this sector and offering event tech solutions focused on advanced customization of the attendee experience and seamless data integration.
Israeli-American Bizzabo is one of event tech best-funded companies, raising $138 million in December 2020 and acquiring four companies since then. In October, Bizzabo had a major facelift when the company announced its Event Experience OS.
The Event Experience OS invites other event tech providers to work with Bizzabo to integrate their tools with the Bizzabo platform. Clients will then have access to a vast array of tried and tested customization options, all of which integrate seamlessly with Bizzabo. There is even an option to embed Bizzabo within client websites and bring along all integrations.
The significant advantage of this system is the almost unlimited ability to customize the attendee experience by simply adding a tool or an app. The need for personalization and customization is something that Bizzabo believes will not change. Bizzabo co-founder & CEO Eran Ben-Shushan describes it as: “It’s my brand, it’s my event. I want it to be the way I want it to be, not the way you want it to be, Mr. Software.”
The ability to offer truly unique digital venues is the goal for Bizzabo, much like how each real-life venue makes in-person event experiences unique, a tall order for any single event tech provider. “There’s no single platform that can ever accommodate that…But if you open yourself to partners and by that you allow that level of custom and uniqueness of events, that’s how we think you can really fulfill that vision and the customer desire”, explains Ben-Shushan
The concept of selecting and adding apps rather than replacing functionality is what makes Bizzabo an operating system rather than a platform. Ben-Shushan adds, “For our customers, it’s just gonna be kind of pick and choose and out of the box. I want this experience. Boom. It works, and it works great!”
Under the hood, the different technologies connect through APIs. Still, the overall experience aims to be similar to the iOS App Store, as Bizzabo is looking to offer a tightly controlled OS that is stable and secure.
The OS model has been years in the making for Bizzabo, featuring in investor pitch decks as far back as 2017. According to Ben-Shushan, the model provides extra value for investors, but that is not the main reason to build it.
Bizzabo is committed to making the OS open to everyone who wishes to develop on the platform and will even be allowing some tools that compete with Bizzabo’s own, but not in all areas. A dedicated team provides developers guidelines and access to standard tools such as a software developer kit (SDK).
Currently, there are only three apps on offer, but Bizzabo expects this to multiply in 2022 once it officially launches its App Market. The company expects to have hundreds of apps on its OS over the next five to seven years.
New York-based Blackthorn.io’s approach shares some similarities with Bizzabo’s; in this case, Blackthorn.io is developing for another platform, Salesforce. Blackthorn Events is an event management tool for online and in-person events built on Salesforce.
The company initially created a simplified payments app on the Salesforce platform. Blackthorn Events came later, in early 2017, as a custom product for a large non-profit, becoming a standalone product in early 2019.
Blackthorn Events is only available to Salesforce users, all 150,000 of them. As a result, clients can take advantage of data integration beyond the reach of most event tech platforms, with no integration work required. For example, when attendees register for sessions, this data is automatically aggregated in the CRM, allowing you to identify interest in a particular topic and instantly activate cross-marketing efforts.
Blackthorn.io has witnessed a big push in higher-ed for creating a 360-degree view of leads, in this case, students. Blackthorn.io CEO Chris Federspiel explained that this is because previously, colleges would run three to four different applications to host events. Now they want to centralize all these systems to run in the same place they are already running their programs for advancement or alumni.
As organizations increasingly look at events as touchpoints rather than end products, Blackthorn.io’s approach offers a powerful way to connect every touchpoint back to a robust platform that can efficiently act on these touchpoints via automation.
While Blackthorn Events may lack many of the bells and whistles of more robust virtual and hybrid event platforms, its data capabilities are impressive. It focuses on being simple to set up and run. “You can be live from installation within an hour,” says Federspiel.
Blackthorn Events primarily serves higher-ed and non-profit clients and has grown 100 percent year on year. Federspiel doesn’t attribute the growth to the Covid pandemic, although the company did work quickly to integrate Zoom, GoToWebinar, and WebEx to accommodate the appetite for virtual events. Long procurement and onboarding cycles of typical higher-ed clients mean that rapid pivots are not realistic, but at the same time, it gives Federspiel confidence in continued sustainable growth.
UK-based Glisser offers yet another approach, a virtual events Software Development Kit (SDK) named Glisser Elements. This modular low-code approach allows clients to create custom virtual and hybrid event experiences inside their own websites using individual components of Glisser’s technology.
“Glisser Elements is our flag in the ground for where we think virtual and hybrid events are heading: seamlessly integrated into companies’ own websites and other online platforms,” said Glisser founder Michael Piddock. And although the attendee experience feels wholly customized, under the hood, the technology is standardized and thoroughly tested.
Glisser Elements was developed to fit between the popular software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms and complete custom-built platforms. According to Piddock, it offers the best of both worlds by allowing advanced customization using stable tools on robust servers. As a result, it can power online event environments ranging from static websites to an immersive 3D world in the metaverse.
Piddock stated that the development took a year of stepping backward to now step forward.The reengineering process of disaggregating components required meant the team deconstructed the entire Glisser platform so that clients can now use the elements individually in Glisser Elements.
Around half of all client requests in 2020 and 2021 were about customization. Now some clients are building flagship event experiences using Glisser Elements while maintaining more clear-cut events on the standard Glisser platform.
Glisser Elements can be used on any site, but it does require some coding skills. Glisser says anyone with front-end development skills can easily manage this. Glisser works with a third party to efficiently outsource this development for clients who need it. Glisser is also working towards a fully no-code approach with WordPress and Drupal plugins under development.
Piddock is keen to point out that Glisser Elements’ modular approach means that clients only pay for the features they use. Glisser will continue to offer its standard tool for any client that shies away from this low-code approach. It will also be working with agencies that may find Glisser Elements a refreshing and profitable option beyond the comparatively basic branding options available with other platforms.
Is this the future?
The jury is still out, and these solutions are only adequate for specific event organizers. Still, the challenges of efficient data exchange and deep customization are common to many, and these are three distinct noteworthy innovations. Moreover, with mergers and acquisitions happening at a pretty fast pace, there is undoubtedly a desire for fresh approaches, especially ones that objectively try to solve common problems.