Events and conferences have taken a major turn since the outbreak of covid-19. Travel has completely shut down, conferences big and small have been cancelled, and companies cut all spending related to face to face meetings, including attending trade shows and large events. An industry that was estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion annually before the pandemic hit, was put on pause. For event software company Bizzabo, this new reality could have literally meant the end of the road.
The fast growing startup that empowers event marketers to manage, measure and grow professional in-person events across the globe through their platform, faced a tough reality. “Within 2 weeks, almost all customers with planned events from March to June 2020 had canceled, totaling over 1000 event cancellations”, stated Alon Alroy, co-founder of Bizzabo. “We looked at each other in disbelief thinking all of the hard work we had done since launching the company could have gone to waste. We needed to reinvent ourselves overnight”.
Almost miraculously, they did. Within two weeks, Bizzabo launched a completely new product that provides customers a platform to plan and run both virtual and in-person conferences, from conception and handling sponsorships, through to managing attendees, and provisioning the conference itself. It is a data-driven product that enables event organizers to measure return on event in a virtual setting.
The new product took off so quickly that the company grew more than 100% in 2020, attracting the attention of prime VCs looking for emerging post-covid market leaders. In December, the company announced a mega round of $138 million led by top-tier VC firm Insight Partners, which positions the company well to become the market leader in the industry for years to come. Yet, in order to truly understand the magnitude of Bizzabo’s roller coaster ride we need to go back in time to the evolution of the company and the resilience of the team.
The Early Days – A Networking App For Event Participants
Bizzabo was founded in 2011 by Eran Ben-Shushan (CEO), Alon Alroy (CMO & CCO), and Boaz Katz (Chief Product Data). The three met while attending the Zell Entrepreneurship Program in Israel, where students team up during their last academic year to develop a concept and launch a startup. After much brainstorming and examining different ideas, the three noticed that there wasn’t an effective way to bring attendees closer together through a next-generation technology platform.
After months of working out of a family garage, they realized that connecting event attendees was just the beginning. What they really needed to do was connect all of the parts that go into organizing meaningful professional events. They raised a seed round from a handful of Israeli investors and quickly expanded from Tel-Aviv to New York to be close to the market. Yet, the beginning wasn’t so easy. The event management software is crowded with competitors and initially the company had trouble finding product-market fit.
For Bizzabo’s CEO Eran Ben-Shushan, this was a natural part in the process of building a great company: “Our biggest partners in innovation have been our customers. By listening to them, we’ve been able to iterate, pivot, and close the gap around experience-market fit over the years. That was just as much the case in our early days as it is today.”
After iterating the product based on customer demand, Bizzabo found product-market fit and a scalable repeatable business model, and in late 2017 announced a $15 million growth round to help scale the solution faster. This round was followed quickly by a $27 million injection by Israel’s Viola Growth, enabling the company to focus on empowering enterprise and mid-market organizations to build data-driven, personalized and engaging professional event experiences.
The stage was set for Bizzabo to scale the business and make a big step forward in becoming a market leader.
And Then There Was COVID
It was early March 2020 when the pandemic hit the western world in full force, and the biggest hit was not surprisingly, the events industry. Prior to March over 100 conferences were operated by Bizzabo per week. By the end of March that number went down to zero. The more information that came in it was clear that in-person events and conferences won’t be held for a long time as the world got accustomed to working from home and using Zoom as a method for business communication. The founders needed to make some very tough decisions very quickly.
The first major decision and the most painful one was to lay off about 25% of the team. In that sense this was not different than most other tech companies at that point in time, but even that didn’t guarantee a better future for the company. The next decision and the one that was a complete game changer was to create a virtual event management platform that puts an even higher emphasis on automation and personalization.
The team realized that it was do or die, and went full force with a mindset that a virtual event should strive to be as engaging, measurable and successful as an in-person one is. It took the company less than two weeks to come up with the new product and push it to the market. In a short period of time, the company won key customers including companies like Salesforce, Amazon, Bloomberg, Teach for America, and many more, with revenue growing 100% and number of events organized through Bizzabo up 65%. In addition and not surprisingly, the number of attendees signing up for events with Bizzabo went up 500%, something that was beyond the best case scenario when the pandemic broke.
While the virtual offering had great success, the company sees hybrid events as the standard for future events. “The coronavirus is the biggest disruption for the event industry in history”, mentions Ben-Shushan.
The Bizzabo Culture – It All Starts There
Raising capital and keeping customers happy is a huge part of building a successful company. But what separates the good companies from the great ones is a unique culture where everyone works together towards a common goal, which is of a higher value. This is at the core of Bizzabo.
All three founders of Bizzabo spent between six to ten years in the Israeli air force, and it has shaped the way they view team building and company culture. From the early days of the company until now, the concept of BizzaValues have been a driving force in the growth of the company. With 250 employees located in the U.S., Israel, and Ukraine, the need for everyone on the team to feel like they are part of something bigger is crucial for its success. As such, the company set a gold standard for recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding processes to fully fit the new virtual reality we live in.
Ben-Shushan believes that outside of developing a unique technology and differentiated product that customers love, the real special sauce of the company is it’s human capital: “we always knew that we had something special at Bizzabo but the past year has proven that more than ever. It all starts with hiring great people who care for one another and our customers, take ownership, and bring our BizzaValues to life. The pandemic required our team to lean on these BizzaValues and on one another to quickly pivot our product and our expertise during a very challenging time. Now in 2021, we have emerged stronger than ever. We are rapidly growing our team and evolving our product to support event organizers as we enter the hybrid era of events, where balancing in-person and virtual experiences will be key.”
Rafi Carmeli, Partner at Viola Growth who led Bizzabo’s Series D and is on the company’s board of directors agrees with this notion: “I believe that what made a difference for Bizzabo in the past year comes down to their core values as a company and as individuals. They came into the rollercoaster year with deep intangible assets such as corporate and employer brand, client goodwill and culture of innovation, excellence and can do mentality, driven by their exceptional leadership, that ultimately enabled them to emerge as winners”.
Will this rollercoaster end up with Bizzabo as the next Israeli unicorn? Though time will tell, the stars are definitely aligning for this exciting company.