One of the most well-known maxims in investing and business is that in every crisis lies opportunity. When a stock’s price topples, that’s the time to buy; when an entire industry is kneecapped by a black swan event, a yawning gap for innovative solutions appears.
Still, not many companies can leap into action like Hubilo has. Despite an events landscape that has been ravaged by the pandemic, the virtual and hybrid events platform has spent the last 18 months going from zero revenue to raising US$153 million across three funding rounds. In fact, Covid-19 served as the catalyst for a whirlwind 26 days that put the company, which is co-headquartered in India and the United States, on its current path.
Vaibhav Jain, Hubilo founder and CEO / Photo credit: Hubilo
“We knew that if we didn’t launch something, people would think that [conducting events via] Zoom would be the limit of what’s possible,” says Vaibhav Jain, founder and CEO of Hubilo. “And that’s why we hurried ourselves into building and releasing our platform in less than 26 days, so that we could define what a virtual event platform should look like.”
From dabbling in fintech to going all in on virtual events
Prior to that hustle, however, was a meandering five-year journey. Established in 2015, Hubilo started out as an offline attendee recommendation platform before eventually shifting to providing end-to-end event tech for in-person events. As Jain tells it, the space was crowded and highly competitive, and the startup wasn’t growing as fast as its leadership team was hoping it would.
“After a while, the founding team thought we might try to build a fintech solution instead – since fintech in India was on a high – and keep the events business as a second priority,” Jain recalls. “But then Covid-19 decimated our existing offline events business, so we had to decide whether to close the company immediately [to stop the bleeding] or give it one last shot.”
After deciding to keep trying and with just five months of runway to spare, the team moved quickly. It conducted a survey among the company’s newsletter subscribers, asking if they’d be interested in a virtual events platform. The positive responses, coupled with clients’ previous inquiries about online alternatives when Hubilo was still focused on offline offerings, convinced the team to set off on this new route.
But at the time, all Hubilo had was a web-based community platform built in 2016 as an add-on to its core offerings – one that clients hardly considered using.
Still, it was a start.
“We used that existing code, integrated with Zoom, and launched it,” Jain explains, adding that the team kept building on top of that, guided by customer feedback. Eventually, the product reached a level where it “tapped out” in terms of architecture, and the team began developing the second version of the platform, which is what Hubilo offers currently.
Early uncertainties and challenges
The global event scene today is “a trillion-dollar market,” according to Guru Chahal, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, the venture capital firm that has participated in all three of Hubilo’s funding rounds. “Of that, business-to-business events is about US$100 billion. And out of that, about US$5 billion to US$10 billion is moving very quickly into digital technologies,” he adds.
Guru Chahal, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners / Photo credit: Hubilo
Numbers like that might make the move to virtual look like an obvious one, but hindsight is 20/20. Jain says that in the beginning, the Hubilo team had no idea at the time that the industry would evolve the way it has. There were no successful contemporaries to look at and emulate nor were there startups in the space that had raised significant amounts of funding that Hubilo could have used as a reference point.
Additionally, there were the inherent risks of holding virtual-only events. Initially, a small team of six or seven people would attend every event that Hubilo hosted – even if they took place at odd hours – just to make sure that everything would go smoothly.
“When you are on a virtual event platform, everything is happening on it,” Jain observes. “So if anything goes wrong with the platform, it’s like your entire event venue collapsing.”
This approach was also a part of its product iteration strategy. Whenever the Hubilo team came across any glitches or received any feedback from attendees or clients, it would implement solutions within a week, so that the next event would not suffer from the same issues.
“It was almost like a growth hack, where we combined our marketing, sales, product, and design, bringing everyone together to work on a weekly cycle,” Jain explains. “We didn’t even solidify our marketing in any way – we didn’t want to put out videos of our platform because we knew it would change and look different from week to week. So we kept iterating and kept our pricing and everything else flexible as we built new features.”
One humorous yet fortuitous instance of customer feedback was when a user found a way to change the entire cascading style sheet of the platform, which made it look completely different. After getting over the initial surprise and amusement, the team spoke with the user and found out how he managed to do it. Hubilo was then able to use that knowledge to create its entire custom branding solution, which has “brought in a lot of clients and increased our average cost value per customer by 2.5x,” Jain says.
A future built on feedback
Looking ahead, Hubilo intends to keep relying on its users to chart its way forward. Clients have used the platform in ways that hadn’t occurred to the company before. They’ve held organized virtual career fairs, conducted employee onboarding, held sales kick-offs, run town hall meetings, and even hosted a hackathon.
Photo credit: Hubilo
“When we look at those use cases and the potential total addressable market of related industries… If we’re able to go ahead and build our platform so that it satisfies certain use cases, I think the company can grow massively,” Jain contends. He also thinks that it’s important to maintain a healthy feedback loop: Given that the virtual events industry is essentially only 18 months old, there’s a lot more to learn and do.
As countries and economies open up again amid vaccine rollouts and easing lockdown restrictions, Hubilo believes that event strategies are going to evolve into a mixed bag of physical, hybrid, and virtual events.
“The rise of virtual conferences has made it clear to marketing leaders that every customer interaction needs to have a digital counterpart as well,” Lightspeed’s Chahal points out. Using virtual events can help businesses and organizations bring in “a different audience, improve customer engagement, attract a different kind of speaker set and different kinds of exhibitors.”
Jain says that Hubilo’s experience and expertise for both the physical and digital aspects of events puts it in good stead as the events scene enters this new paradigm.
“We think that with the funds that we have in place and the kind of team that we have, we’ll be able to really accelerate the innovation and define what the space should look like in the next five years,” he concludes.
By integrating attendee experience and engagement, customer support, analytics, and insights, Hubilo revolutionizes the way events are done by making a more experiential, personalized, responsive, scalable, inclusive and multiple return on investment-driven platform.
Get in touch to schedule a demo on its website.
This content was produced by Tech in Asia Studios, which connects brands with Asia’s tech community. Learn more about partnering with Tech in Asia Studios.