Meetings Planners are Mini-CEOs, Says Cvent CEO

Cvent CEO Reggie Aggarwal on stage at Cvent Connect Europe 2023 in conversation with Claudia Winkleman

Skift Take

Cvent CEO Reggie Aggarwal shared leadership lessons and highlighted the importance of listening to customers during the opening session of Cvent Connect Europe 2023.

In a candid interview led by presenter and journalist Claudia Winkleman at Cvent Connect Europe, Aggarwal reiterated his belief the events industry is entering a Golden Age, something he first shared at Cvent Connect’s online-only edition in 2020, still in the depths of the Covid pandemic. 

At the darkest of times, it was bold to talk about a golden age of events while leading a company with 96% of its business focused on in-person events.”People did think I was definitely crazy,” said Aggarwal. Bu Aggarwal pointed out that the world’s rapid digitization during the pandemic opened up new channels for engagement. The 2020 online-only event attracted 40,000 attendees online, whereas the in-person edition 12 months earlier hosted 4,500.

Aggarwal said record attendance at this year’s event was an example of this golden age, with two simultaneous in-person events welcoming almost 50% more attendees than last year. Around 1,800 were present in London, UK, 200 in a hybrid hub in Frankfurt, Germany, and 1,500 online.

Aggarwal’s Leadership Lessons

Reflecting on Cvent’s journey, Aggarwal shared the founding story. He was running a nonprofit and hosting events using rudimentary tools, all while practicing law. The lack of dedicated technology led to the development of Cvent as a technological “aspirin” to the pain point of event planning.

He shared valuable lessons learned through the ups and downs of building a successful company. The period from 2001 to 2005 was particularly tough for the company, with Aggarwal sharing that at the time, he had used $17 million of investor money to build a $1.5 million revenue company. On the brink of bankruptcy, the company cut 80% of its staff.

“You learn more on the way down than you do on the way up,” he emphasized. Persistency and consistency are key attributes of successful entrepreneurs. As Aggarwal advised, “Just keep getting up.” Aggarwal also stressed the importance of sticking to the fundamentals. He credited Cvent’s success to building the best products, hiring the best people, and genuinely listening to their customers. By aligning with their customers’ needs and staying true to their vision, Cvent remains agile and able to adapt to changing industry trends.

The Cvent CEO shared his belief that customers are the lifeblood of any business, especially in the events industry. He recognized event planners’ critical role in running businesses and shaping industries. Aggarwal explained, “Meeting planners are like mini CEOs,” and emphasized the need to deliver exceptional experiences for event attendees through innovative technology and continuous engagement.

During the interview, Winkleman asked the Cvent CEO about women’s role in his life. While there was no mention of any commitments to increasing female leadership at Cvent, Aggarwal revealed that his mother, a retired engineer, was instrumental in motivating him through the most challenging days. She also had a strong presence in the Cvent office in India and took on a coaching role for Aggarwal. He also highlighted the immense support he receives from his wife and two daughters.

Since June, Cvent has been under Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm. The company also owns AV-giant Encore and previously owned Hilton. Aggarwal referred to Blackstone as an uncle with “deep pockets” and highlighted their knowledge of the meetings industry and their long-term investment strategy as significant advantages for Cvent.

Technology Advancements

Looking ahead, Aggarwal highlighted the rapid advancements in AI and machine learning, something he said he predicted in 2018. He advised event professionals to embrace these technologies, as they can enhance efficiency and productivity. He shared that Cvent’s developers were able to boost productivity by 15%. His team is also looking to use AI to recommend sessions at larger events.

The Cvent CEO also discussed the evolving relationship between AI and humans in the events industry. While AI has made significant strides in automating processes and improving efficiency within organizations, human touch remains essential and cannot replace the creativity, empathy, and personal connections that humans bring to the table.

Looking to the future, Aggarwal shared his vision for the events industry. He emphasized the growing importance of marketing events as a critical component of branding and revenue generation for organizations. With the rise of video content and the ability to extend an event’s lifespan through continuous engagement, event planners have more tools to create impactful experiences.

Photo credit: Cvent / Cvent