The “inevitable” event tech consolidation trend that started in 2019 is on steroids in the late pandemic era as bulked-up platforms infused with venture capital are racing to offer one-size-fits-all, end-to-end options for meeting professionals looking to streamline their virtual and hybrid meetings while startups emerge to solve specific meeting professional needs.
The announcement yesterday that London-based virtual streaming giant Hopin was purchasing New York-based physical event services company Boomset was another step in the direction of an end-to-end hybrid meeting solution. The company had already purchased video service StreamYard and mobile app company Tobi. “Our goal is to empower event managers to succeed with any event format,” the company said in a post. The acquisition came on the heels of LinkedIn’s investment in the company, which was most recently valued at $5.65 billion after raising $400 million in March.
But Microsoft’s LinkedIn is not alone in big tech companies moving into the space. Recall that Cisco, which offered WebEx before streaming was cool, purchased Socio and just closed the deal on Slido last month in an attempt to make engagement on the platform seamless.
Last year, wireless service provider Verizon purchased video conferencing company BlueJeans in an attempt to provide a “unified communications portfolio.” The platform recently announced that it can host up to 50,000 attendees. Vice President and General Manager Eric Spadafora said he is seeing requests for conferences for 100,000 or more people. “These are not just big video conferences, but actual events,” he said. But he sees size as only one important element. Audio quality and easy integration of engagement features such as polling and moderated chat for Q&A are just as vital. “Long-term, we are attempting to fuse virtual and physical together so it is organic.”
Meanwhile, the 800-pound gorilla in the streaming meeting space, Zoom, announced this month that it is launching Zoom events, an all-in-one platform that will include a “build your own event hub,” ticketing and registration and a management dashboard for multi-day and multi-track conferences.
Event tech consultant Corbin Ball explained that the explosion of innovation in 2020 occurred in the streaming/virtual meeting/hybrid meeting space thanks to an influx of funding. “This will be a major driver for change in the future of meetings,” he said.
“The big players want to expand their offerings and have the funding to do so. There is space for quality smaller players as well. The problem is that there are more than 100 virtual/hybrid event platforms out there—many having started up during the pandemic. Not all will survive,” he warned.
Is Bigger Better?
As the biggest companies get bigger, will they realize planner dreams of an easy, off-the-shelf solution they can plug and play? Or will a lack of choice force event designers to compromise to fit into the box? Some compare the dynamic happening in event tech to the proliferation of social media apps settled into the big four: Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Google/YouTube. And we are still waiting for an edit feature on Twitter. But even with those dominant companies leveraging their size advantage to squash or buy out competitors, more continue to up to fill a need from time to time as seen with the popular audio-only platform Clubhouse and video platform Twitch.
One of the needs begging for a solution is virtual networking. Many figured out early on how to deliver education seamlessly, but translating the synchronicity of a cocktail party or hotel lobby into something accessible through a computer screen has been challenging. Lawrence Coburn, CEO and co-founder of twine, compares the intricacies of designing an engaging event to construction in the real world. Professionals call on a toolkit of best-in-breed solutions. “It’s very similar to whether you have a swiss army knife of specialized tools, or one butcher knife that doesn’t do everything, but it’s good enough,” explained the entrepreneur who in a previous career built the mobile event app company DoubleDutch into a leading position and sold it to Cvent in 2019.
Twine, which announced a $3.3 million funding round and cyber café produce today, is described as Twillio for Networking. It plugs into any technology stack to spin up virtual networking rooms for one-on-one conversations. The new product, which is in private beta until July, will allow groups of up to five people to engage in a pop-up break out room conversation around a given topic.
“Meeting and networking with new people has always been one of the most important aspects of industry or company events, and twine built a simple way to do that from any virtual or hybrid platform,” said Clint Chao, General Partner at Moment Ventures, who led the recent financing round. “As we come out of the pandemic, event organizers and companies have a tremendous opportunity to integrate this capability into their workflow.”
Similarly, Twigged, the event app company launched by Matt Coyne, grew out of a pain point the major event tech companies weren’t fixing. The veteran of GES and co-founder of AMMP digital content production company was looking for a way to simplify the registration process, particularly for people who are serial meeting attenders. The simple interface asks three questions and allows the information to be accessed in the future, turning what can be a chore into a one-minute check box. It integrates with any system, creating a global events wallet controlled by the attendee.
Another start-up digital experience platform, Juno, is focused on connecting people from events to create 365-day communities. “Expectations have changed. The future of events is changed. Everyone must rethink how to bring their communities together and recognize the role technology should play,” said Dana Freker Doody, JUNO’s VP of Marketing & Communications.
This was also the month that hybrid event technology company MeetingPlay announced that it received a $75 million investment from Sunstone Partners. The platform focuses on attendee engagement, event attendance, customized virtual environments and broadcast-quality programming and is used by companies such as Marriott International, Databricks and Autodesk.
In the end, investors may decide who is the biggest event tech company, but individual meeting professionals will determine which pieces work for their specific needs and if one—or more—platforms have the flexibility, integration and features to rule them all.