I’ve been writing and researching event technology for the past 14 years.
I’ve never seen anything even close to what has happened in the past 3 months.
The amount of interest, funding, and revenue of virtual event tech is gigantic. We all know why. Nobody woke up one day and decided virtual events are cool. The pandemic is forcing us to keep things virtual, yet the speed and size of recent events call for a review of the current market environment.
There are some key themes that are transforming and growing the (virtual) event market. I’ve spent some time trying to make sense of the past few months and what they mean.
Event technology companies have never seen the amount of funding witnessed over the past 10 months. In a traditionally bootstrapped technology sector made of small to medium-sized businesses, this level of investor interest is news.
Hopin raising a total of $165M and Bizzabo raising $138M are just two of the most incredible rounds that will alter the environment forever. There is no precedent for such massive amounts of cash coming into the event tech industry (or at least the new virtual event sector) and as a result, it becomes very interesting to understand what these and other companies will do with the money.
GROWTH AND SPEED
Cash is not only coming from funding. Companies are dedicating what used to be stretched event budgets mostly to virtual event platforms. As a result, even smaller companies are growing and hiring. The question is for how long. More about that later.
The speed at which investments and power moves are coming is also scary. Hopin raised $125M, acquired Topi, and then acquired StreamYard in the space of three months. The StreamYard acquisition specifically happened for $250M. While this purchase price comes in a combination of cash and stock, it is unbelievably fast and sizable, and it values Hopin at $2.1B.
What happens if Bizzabo and the sleepy giant Zoom start adopting the same tactics?
RAISE, BE ACQUIRED OR, WELL, BE READY FOR A CHALLENGE
This is probably one of the most disrupting themes of the next few months. It is unlikely that smaller companies will be able to compete only with organic growth. As the market saturates and buyers experience different platforms, those companies that do not secure a strong market share quickly risk being kicked out from a very busy market.
Those who grew enough to compete with household brands such as Hopin, Zoom, and Cisco will have a chance, but what about others?
I’ve already seen this trend happening in event apps over the past four years. Large companies crushed smaller players by flexing selling muscles.
Not all is lost though. The focus of smaller companies should be to raise capital, hope to be acquired, or be very focused on a vertical poorly served by bigger companies. The game can also be played with a focus on customer service while hoping for a faster comeback to live events. As soon as live kicks back in, we may witness another seismic shift. More on that shortly.
What about Cvent and Eventbrite? These folks are certainly not watching. While Cvent has been more active on virtual and has launched its virtual tools, Eventbrite has been mostly quiet.
There is an existential challenge ahead for the leaders of the pre-pandemic event technology space.
They will surely be favored by a return to hybrid, but the question is how different the environment will be when we can meet again. Will Zoom and Hopin be uncontainable by then? Potentially, but it is important to keep in mind that they are virtual natives. And that can be a problem.
Virtual native platforms such as Zoom and Hopin are obviously thriving in this new world. How will they perform when we go back to live events? Maybe they’ll kill it, maybe they’ll struggle.
We don’t know, they don’t know.
Yet they both are making strategic moves with live events in mind.
Zoom hired Pankaj Prasad, co-founder of mobile app Doubledutch to lead the virtual event product development. Hopin bought Topi, an event app geared towards live events.
In-person events are a different beast. If the future is really hybrid, virtual natives have a lot to learn and very quickly.
The first stress test for all those enjoying the fame and success of virtual will be hybrid events.
Proper hybrid events with sizable audiences won’t happen before summer (or later). Virtual platforms have six to nine months to continue growing and to figure out what the business will look like once we go back to attend in person.
The test we had back in the summer of 2020 was very limited. We can anticipate a prolonged period with many still not able to attend in-person. This will be the key driver of hybrid experiences.
BACK TO NORMAL
The final stress test will happen when things go back to normal. When will that happen? Nobody knows. But when it does, it is fair to anticipate that hybrid probably won’t be as hot as everybody is trying to make it sound right now. All those currently chanting ‘the future is hybrid’ probably just want to go back to live events.
Having witnessed the resistance of event planners to use technology for over a decade, I can comfortably say that the future is not as hybrid as we might like to think.
It is likely that virtual events will evolve and become another asset, such as podcasts or blog posts, but the size of the market will be nowhere as large as it is right now. It will shrink. In this new world, companies with a strong in-person product will be able to capitalize on both worlds.
The current wave of investment and growth of virtual events will have long-lasting impacts on event technology. What used to be a neglected aspect of live events is the golden goose everybody wants to bet on.
Smaller companies need to focus on niches or customer service, raise funds, or just hope for a speedy recovery. The risk is of being wiped out very quickly.
There is a question of time. The timing of the pandemic is the element to watch. The resulting market could be completely re-shaped.
Companies experiencing a strong influx of revenue and capital may well take over and redefine not only event technology but events as we know them.