The perfect storm stirring in the event tech sector is pounding the virtual event tech world worst of all. Still, event tech leaders are confident of steady and sustainable long-term growth for virtual events.
Event tech leaders are naturally optimistic about the sector. They have to be. It’s their job. While they agree that the future is bountiful, each sees different ways to navigate the journey ahead.
Recent headlines of layoffs at Hopin, Bizzabo, and Hubilo exemplify an inevitable market correction. Although some challenges are common, they each focus on particular features to promote themselves because they see different market opportunities.
Hopin, a company that experienced hockey-stick growth during the Covid pandemic, scaled up readily to meet demand. However, with this level of demand now gone, the company was forced to resize significantly. “Like most businesses, we’ve not been immune to the current macroeconomic climate, and we’ve had to realign our business to ensure profitable and sustainable growth,” said Hopin founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat.
Still, it’s not all bad news. “Despite the shift around virtual events, thousands of our customers and millions of users continue to love hosting their events with Hopin,” said Boufarhat. A valid point that tends to be overlooked. The virtual event market continues to be viable, and several platforms report growth compared to 2019. It just no longer warrants the speculation and investments we saw during the Covid pandemic.”
In-person-focused event tech companies saw their virtual-event-focused counterparts grow exponentially in 2020 and 2021. Those that maintained a solid client base throughout this period are now in a much better place financially, and require much less readjusting.
Bad News for Some, Good for Others
Brella CEO Markus Kauppinen sees the recent market shift very favorably. The Finnish event networking platform is proud to have always focused on sustainable growth rather than rapid expansion. “Our product was built years before the pandemic hit, and it is designed to cater to every component of the onsite experience,” he said.
With contracts signed during the Covid pandemic ending, Kauppinen expects many virtual event-focused companies to lack recurring revenue. Moreover, in his view, acquisitions, are not ideal because integrating different technologies is challenging. “Many event suppliers opted just to acquire other in-person tech companies believing that would help them master all event types. Now, these companies are struggling to integrate the products while some onsite-first platforms are taking their market share back,” said Kauppinen.
SpotMe CEO Pierre Metrailler is confident of the Swiss company’s retention of corporate clients. He highlights SpotMe’s flexibility as a competitive advantage. “More events are going to the platform that can deliver across all tiers from a webinar to a fully-fledged, in-person event while driving costs down with an effective delivery and a complete toolset,” he said.
Evolving Product Expectations
The 2022 movement back to in-person events has not just put financial pressure on event tech companies. The rapid evolution of event tech during the Covid pandemic also means attendees and, therefore, planners have much higher expectations. The tech that allowed in-person events to pivot to virtual formats at short notice is not good enough anymore. “Expectations are high and budgets tight. Slideware plus agency work covering product gaps won’t do it anymore. Event apps are expected to be native, customizable, branded for the stores, and reasonably priced,” said Metrailler.
Hopin is another company keen to push the planner’s perspective of what virtual events can be. “The era of one-size-fits-all video conferencing solutions is over. In 2023, event tech must go beyond offering virtual events and continue to innovate to ensure experiences are engaging and interactive for attendees,” said Boufarhat.
Joe Schwinger, chief innovation officer at MeetingPlay + Aventri + eventcore, believes that event tech providers must, “meet the needs of high-tech customers who have been living in the virtual world for the last two-and-a-half years.” They must also be holistic and serve multiple market segments, which is why Schwinger is committed to developing 360 offerings.
Metrailler sees all events, including in-person, are turning digital first. “In 2019, the first thing on the list was to book your venue. In 2022, you start by defining your audience, mapping all the digital touch points, crafting the perfect user experience, and setting success metrics. Marketers have started to do it in 2020-21, and they are now expecting to consistently think digital first moving forward,” he said.
The Search for Sustainable Growth
An economic downturn may favor Germany-based virtual event company Meetyoo, according to the company’s chief revenue officer Dr. Michael Geisser. “The current economic situation increases the cost pressure on a lot of companies, and they react like they did during past economic crises — by reducing travel costs. But any crisis requires a lot of communication — this is why we will see a lot of virtual employee events after this year’s summer,” said Geisser.
Meetyoo CEO Tony Kula candidly discussed resetting of market expectations in a recent episode of the Event Manager Podcast. The company is actively promoting its offering of carbon-neutral events, virtual events with additional carbon offsetting, as a valid alternative to costly, carbon-emitting, in-person events. Brella also recently launched a sustainability initiative via a partnership with One Tree Planted.
Product Strategy Shifts
With changing priorities on the demand side, critical strategic decisions are made by event tech leaders daily. “We’re definitely headed towards a turning point where suppliers will have to innovate and differentiate their solutions in order to stay in the game,” said Kauppinen. However, Brella’s CEO believes that the demand for event tech will revert to steady growth.
Bizzabo co-founder and chief marketing officer Alon Alroy has no reservations about backing the future of virtual events. “Virtual events are definitely here to stay and will remain a meaningful channel in the marketing mix because of their tangible advantages: lower production cost, meaningful engagement potential, and lower production time, resulting in greater reach, accessibility, and sustainability,” said Alroy.
EventMobi CEO Bob Vaez is confident in a bright future for virtual events as the “center block of any year-round engagement strategy for event communities, customer communities, employee events, associations, etc.” Vaez sees virtual events essentially replacing webinars and small events. On the flip side, he doesn’t believe major in-person events that thrive on high-value networking, sponsorship, and education will decline.
Another common shift to more than one platform is an added focus on video production capabilities. For example, InEvent markets itself as a fully featured yet affordable platform to both planners are A/V professionals. “There is a gap currently between affordable platforms not delivering 100 percent what event planners are looking for and very expensive solutions that fill all the requirements with services but lack an out-of-the-box product solution. Filling that void with the right amount of services, partners, and software will be key for 2022 and 2023,” said InEvent CEO Pedro Góes.
Another company focusing on video production is Hopin. Its product roadmap leans towards engagement and connection as it shifts to what it calls a community experience platform. In addition, Hopin continues to invest in hybrid and onsite capabilities and non-event streaming and video sharing.
Service Level as a Differentiator
Incremental developments offer a steady evolution of event tech. However, standing out requires a clear and differentiated vision of the market. The level of customization and hand-holding is one area where platforms take different approaches.
For example, Hopin leans heavily towards a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model with planners managing platforms themselves. CEO Boufarhat’s vision for the future of virtual events revolves around self-serve, easy-to-implement experiences. “2023 will be the year of simple, lightweight experiences — without compromising on keystone features like branding and customization,” he said.
MeetingPlay + Aventri + eventcore is better known for its fully bespoke solutions complete with high-level service for top-tier customers. “The most successful event technology companies are going to diversify and bring incremental solutions to the table for their customers that optimize the experience, optimize cost and logistics and, more importantly, focus on the attendee journey like never before,” said Schwinger.
Event tech platforms share a common vision of offering attendees the freedom to select how they engage with events. “Bizzabo sees a future where attendees move fluidly between virtual and physical experiences without interference from the technology itself,” said Alroy.
Empowering attendees to move seamlessly between in-person or virtual participation demands that event platforms offer a complete omnichannel approach to event communities. This adds complexity that may sound daunting to less event tech-savvy planners, but the benefits are impressive. Event marketing platform RainFocus heavily invested in this vision and coined the term unified events. The future of events will be integrated, personalized, and data-driven, allowing marketers to deliver well-timed content through all formats — in-person, virtual, and hybrid — tailored to each attendee and their preference,” said JR Sherman, CEO, RainFocus.