Ankush Gupta 00:14
Hi, everyone. I’m Ankush. I’m the founder at Eventible.com, the world’s first platform for event reviews, and you’re listening to the Building Awesome Events podcast.
Our guest today is the irrepressible and unputdownable, Jonathan Kazarian, the Founder and CEO at Accelevents. Welcome, Jonathan, such a pleasure. You know, we’ve been speaking mostly with event marketers, the last few episodes that we’ve been recording. And I thought this might be a really great opportunity to really hear from someone who’s leading, the tech stack side of things from popular event platforms, such as Accelevents, I thought we might get some insights from you, and see how that really contributes to the other side of the coin as well. Thanks, again, Jonathan.
Let’s just dive in and start from the very beginning, as I was seeing from your LinkedIn bio, that you started out with Windham Capital Management, and through to Windham Labs for a total of about seven years. How did you then decide to get started with Accelevents? And what seems now like way back in 2015 right, most of the funds in this space I know all seem to be pandemic incubated babies.
Jonathan Kazarian 01:20
Yeah, so our story was a little bit different. I was working at , basically a hedge fund for a number of years and out of school. But along the way, I had a cousin, who at the age of 17, got diagnosed with cancer, and I wanted to do something for her. I had been kind of like throwing some parties in the past and realized that could draw a decent crowd. So I ended up renting out the aquarium in Boston, where I was living at the time. And I hosted a fundraiser was just over 1,000 people to raise money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
And going into that I was looking around for technology to help run the event. And everything out there was just either really hard to use or crazy expensive. And I just figured, like, look, technology needs to be there to make life easier, not harder for event organizers. And I went down this path of like, let’s figure this problem out. So I ended up building a solution to help with that first event, got really good feedback from the attendees and from the organization that we put the event on for, and they started wanting to use it for other events. And I realized that I had something there, I can build a company around that.
So I started doing that nights and weekends, for a number of years. And as we continued to do that, we then started to focus more heavily on conferences and trade shows. So definitely moving more into that event marketing realm.
And, you know, things were picking up. And then all of a sudden, the world shut down. And we watched our revenue basically go to zero overnight, which was, you know, as you can imagine, pretty demoralizing time. But over that period, we had been moving towards this this hybrid model. So not all the way over to full virtual events but recognizing that technology was going to play a bigger role in events. And that, you know, we needed to help facilitate that.
So it made the transition to virtual events much easier for us during the pandemic. And that really solidified our positioning focused on those conferences and trade shows, particularly in the B2B space.
Ankush Gupta 03:28
That’s really good to hear Jonathan, good to hear that you managed to come out of that you’re sort of doing well, I think you’ve got the timing right, of basically switching to a hybrid model. And you really had to push the levers, to really grow the platform, the software to a fully virtual sort of model, through 2020 and 2021?
Jonathan Kazarian 03:49
Yeah, yeah, it was an exciting pivot, but we had the architecture to support it. So okay, we were able to move pretty quickly.
Ankush Gupta 03:57
Great, Jonathan, let’s just dive into the deep end. And I’m really curious, you know, we are now at a place where we see, 250-300 event platforms listed on G2.com. What do you make of this crowded market? You know, I haven’t seen any consolidation yet. But we have been seeing some layoffs, right. Is this sustainable? And in an environment where the big guns like Zoom are really filling the guns on this market? What do you think is going to play out what is going to happen?
Jonathan Kazarian 04:22
So for context, we’re recording this in the beginning of February of 2023. We’ve seen a couple of companies close their doors in the past few weeks. And, you know, as you mentioned, we’ve seen numerous layoffs. But there’s a lot of companies that popped up because they saw things like the Hopin fundraising announcements and they thought there was infinite money in this space.
And, obviously the market environment has changed. They thought the opportunity was there and that’s not sustainable. And we are seeing some consolidation today and worse. Starting to see the core players emerge, we’re starting to see different companies really understanding their target market better than they had before. Instead of trying to be everything to everybody, which is good, it’s good for the event organizers, it’s good for the attendees.
So frankly, I’m happy about that, you know, obviously not happy about the layoffs, or companies going out of business, but it does lead to a more competitive environment and ultimately, a better outcome for the people that we’re building for.
Ankush Gupta 05:28
So do you think ultimately, you know, we see solutions, which say, hey, you know, we’re really the best for associations. You know, we’re the guys that you come to, for trade shows, we’re the guys for SaaS companies wanting to put on user conferences, is that kind of specialization will take place at some point?
Jonathan Kazarian 05:47
That’s exactly what we’re saying today. And, you know, I’ll say that specialization is not just in terms of like associations versus higher ed versus B2B, but it’s also the size and scale of the events, and then the ability to facilitate the breadth of the programming that an organization does.
So, you know, 1000 person B2B companies doing everything from webinars to virtual events to flagship or tentpole in person events, that might be a couple of 1000 people. But along the way, they’re also doing field marketing events where they’re traveling around the country around the world. They’re hosting what I call ecosystem events.
So you know, dinners and smaller events, cocktail events in the back of an event like a HubSpot Inbound or Dreamforce. So yeah, being able to facilitate all of that under one platform, is really what empowers b2b marketers, because not only do you save a ton of time by integrating that tech stack, but you also have access to this breadth of data, and all these other touch points on your audience. And in a world where third party cookies are going away, that first party data is immensely valuable, right?
Ankush Gupta 06:53
And you know, the next thing I really wanted to touch upon is, one of the things I’m seeing is, you know, someone like Zoom, making a whole bunch of third party apps available to the users, you know, could be for taking notes, transcribing the Zoom call, etc. And I’ve felt for some time now that virtual event platforms have been lagging in this area, you know, remaining like a walled garden not integrating into other apps, or allowing developers to come in and build I mean, do you have some thoughts? Do you have a playbook for this at Accelevents?
Jonathan Kazarian 07:24
Yeah, so there aren’t many event companies that really have a true app ecosystem built on top of them the way that that Zoom does. But at the same time, what we hear from our customers is, you know, they’re coming with us, because they don’t want that disjointed experience.
They don’t want to have to get seven different tools through procurement. They don’t want to have to figure out all those different integrations and the way things play together. Event organizers and event marketers have enough on their plate as is the technology just needs to work and it needs to be there, and it needs to get the job done. And it needs to save them time. And trying to pull those things together doesn’t do that.
Ankush Gupta 08:03
Yeah, that’s a very interesting point of view. And that’s in fact, that’s a that’s quite a contrarian point of view. I would say, you have guys like HubSpot on one end, they are currently integrating into like 1000 other apps.
Jonathan Kazarian 08:17
But people love HubSpot, because it has everything under one roof. Right? And it has one centralized object model that makes it so easy and simple to use. That is the higher appeal. You don’t need to tap. You know, if you’re on Salesforce, you have to get to have 130,000 per year, Salesforce engineer for every 10 sales reps in HubSpot, the end user can do things themselves because the platform is so much easier to use, right?
Right now, you might not have that edge case tool available to you. Or if you do you can tap the app marketplace for it. But the reality is you can get 90% of what you need to do done. And sometimes that other thing doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, there’s an opportunity cost with everything.
Ankush Gupta 09:01
Jonathan, let’s continue chatting about the Accelevents platform a little bit. What are the features that you’re currently proudest of? That you think nobody else does better? And why in a nutshell, should really an event organiser pick Accelevents or something else?
Jonathan Kazarian 09:15
So I mean, it’s just right along the lines of our past conversation. I look at us very similar to HubSpot in that realm, that are our customers, they have all of those levers to pull and they can do all of that themselves. They have all the power they need, but without the complexity, and that’s what we do better than anybody else.
We empower them to get their jobs done, so that they can focus on the bigger picture instead of the button clicking or the connecting tools together. And then making sure that the core integrations the data flowing to and from HubSpot, Marketo, Salesforce Pardot and so on, that that’s all available to them.
So that they don’t have to spend time figuring that out and you know, again, that’s what we do incredibly well. I’ll add that that is even more true in events where there’s a lot of concurrent tracks of content going on.
We had an event recently that had 1,600 sessions over the course of three days. So in those in those events, we do incredibly well. And that’s, not just the management from the admin side, but it’s also the attendee experience with things like the mobile app and the virtual event platform.
Ankush Gupta 10:30
Right. That makes sense. You know, let’s touch upon controversial feature, which for many people have thought, it’s been working some I’ve been saying it’s not working. And what I’m speaking about is networking, you know, virtual networking, right? Yeah. And what do you feel about the whole, virtual networking is broken, or doesn’t work so well. Will we ever see something that comes close to the kind of serendipity or chance connections we make at in-person events, or just getting that pint at a local sort of bar with a familiar face?
Jonathan Kazarian 11:03
What we’re seeing is that the events that have the most success with virtual networking, are heavily structured. So things like a career fair, and not just a matching job seekers with employers, but doing so in certain verticals.
So being more specific, you know, maybe it’s software, maybe it’s finance, maybe it’s accounting, and making sure that those connections, those experiences are very targeted, it isn’t the serendipitous connections that you might make at a bar, that’s really hard to replace in a virtual environment.
Ankush Gupta 11:42
From my own experience, with virtual events, Jonathan, I’ve seen that every time I’ve tried to use the virtual networking feature, I reach out to someone say Hi, you know, let’s chat and it goes really well. I find that after the event is done, I still have to look that person up on say, LinkedIn, you know, which is my primary Rolodex, and then you know, send out a connection request there, so there is also the duplication of effort, which is going on.
Jonathan Kazarian 12:05
Yeah. And there’s things that technology can do to make that easier. But just like, if you meet somebody in person, I’m thinking about, a couple of weeks ago, I was traveling, I’m chatting with somebody in the airport, and I connect with them on LinkedIn after, because at the end of the day, that’s how you stay in touch with somebody, right?
Like the event platform, there was an idea for a while, that event platform was going to be a community platform as well, and that people were going to use that for continuous contact.
That can work but when that works, it’s because the event organizers are hosting a high frequency of events, not because the platform is just there set up and left, and people are naturally coming back to it.
We see the data on that people just, they’re not coming back in that circumstance, unless you’re giving them a reason to, unless you’re re facilitating that networking environment, you’re bringing people back together to have a very targeted and specific conversation, but something that’s passionate to them.
Ankush Gupta 13:00
Yeah, makes sense. And,I think since LinkedIn is making an events play themselves, now, they’re probably not going to be opening up, you know, their API to platforms such as yours anytime soon to make that kind of connection more seamless and easier.
Jonathan Kazarian 13:15
Yeah, that said, one of the things that we are hearing more and more today is people have a hesitation for what I call a rented audience. So when you’re when you’re building your audience on LinkedIn, or Twitter or anywhere else, at the end of the day, you don’t own that audience.
But when you’re building it, and you own that first party data, it’s your audience. Right? And, and that’s where, what we’re selling is not the audience itself, on LinkedIn, their product are the profiles, on our platform the product is the experience.
Ankush Gupta 13:56
Absolutely. And I think that’s a very powerful and very important statement that you just made. And I’m not really sure how many people are actually aware of the importance of that. And the fact that, you know, the audience on LinkedIn that they see on their event pages is not something owned by them and on that note, let me ask you, what is really the number one thing you would tell your clients to improve or the number one mistake you see them making while setting up the events.
Jonathan Kazarian 14:24
I’d say the number one mistake I see is not taking the time upfront to explicitly outline- This is the goal of the event. This is who we’re targeting, and this is how we’re measuring success, and then getting buy in from upper management on that definition of success.
Too often, there are scenarios where management will come back and say, this wasn’t worth it. And that’s just a feeling. One of the things that event organizers and event marketers have really figured out over the past couple of years is how to take events from an art to a science and events not being this black box anymore.
And when you look at B2B spend in events, 25 to 27% of B2B marketing budgets, I mean, it’s a massive chunk, right? It’s a quarter of that marketing expense. And some reports say higher than that. It has to be more scientific.
It has to be something that can be explained, especially in an environment where marketing budgets are on the chopping block.
Ankush Gupta 15:27
Yeah, absolutely. And with that, Jonathan leads us to one of our of our tail ending questions, you know, which is really tell me about a couple of recent events that have stuck on in your mind. And you know, what do you think has been really great about these?
Jonathan Kazarian 15:42
Yeah, so Zapier is one. They’re a customer of ours, they do a couple of events, but one big product launch every year. And we’ve worked with them for a few years now. But one of the things that impresses me the most about that event is the way that their community comes to life around that event.
And you know, for the week of that event, you’ll go on LinkedIn or Twitter and just see endless screenshots of our platform where the attendees are sharing these, frankly, life changing developments that Zapier is putting forward for their customers.
And the way that they create that social presence around that event experience is just you know, it’s so powerful. And the same thing Apple’s done for a number of years.
Another example would be Carnival Cruises, they did a four city hybrid roadshow. And that event was for their travel agency partners.
But what’s really cool about it is they had teams around 1500 2000 people attending in person, but then they had two to three times that participating virtually, and the way again, that they were able to communicate all this information and create essentially a hurrah around that experience.
It just becomes so powerful. And you really get to understand who in your audience is engaged. Who are your advocates, who are the people that you can tap and rely on to be a spokesperson for your brand?
Ankush Gupta 17:07
Yeah, that’s amazing. And I think shout out to these incredible event marketers, and producers at Zapier, Apple Carnival Cruises. You know, those are some incredible success stories out there. Congrats.Finally, Jonathan, you know that, you know, we are the world’s first review platform for B2B events. And our goal is to help marketers further their brands to the power of social proof, and community marketing. What really is a social proof mean to you? Right? How important is that in your own arsenal? Do you make a conscious effort to see customer reviews for your own platform? And secondly, do you think something like this would benefit events as a whole?
Jonathan Kazarian 17:45
I think social proof and community driven word of mouth and growth are the most important aspects of marketing. I also think that events are the best way to get the word out there. So I’m probably a little bit biased.
But I think that’s incredibly necessary. We use testimonials throughout our process, we, push people to give us not push, but ask them to give us reviews on G2, and Capterra, and other sources.
And you know, as far as it goes for events as well, that’s more necessary than ever today, when you’re fighting for budget, fighting for an allocation to sponsor an event to attend an event. You need to know that it’s going to be worth your time. Your reputation as somebody within an organization who’s asking for budget to go get that experience. You want to make sure that you’re placing your bet in the right place.
So I think it’s incredibly necessary, I think the industry is going to be better off for it. And at the same time, there’s events that are a waste of time. And those hurt the industry. So we can also fix that process that problem along the way.
Ankush Gupta 19:06
Absolutely. I completely agree with you, Jonathan. And that’s exactly why we started Eventible.com is to try and solve all of these problems. We live in a review economy today and you know, I think what used to be word of mouth earlier is an online review today. And that’s just a fact of life for everyone. Well, Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time sharing all of the insights with us today. It was great having you on here. And we hope folks listening have managed to take away some key insights about your journey. Thanks a lot, and we hope to talk to you sometime soon.
Jonathan Kazarian 19:44
Thanks for having me on. Thank you.
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