Virtual became the norm for physical gatherings at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and now, as many jet back into in-person meetings, some believe that the online version, at least in some form, is here to stay — sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Today, a startup called Hubilo that’s building what it believes is a more engaging take on the medium, is announcing a big funding round to double down on its ambitions. The startup has raised $125 million that it will use to continue expanding its platform and the company.
Alkeon Capital led the round, with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Balderton Capital. This Series B is a huge financial leap for Hubilo. Prior to this, the company — headquartered in San Francisco, but grown out of India — had raised just $28 million in six years (with $23.5 million of that raised in a Series A only seven months ago, also during the pandemic). It is not disclosing valuation.
Virtual events — be they large conferences, company meetings, one-on-one or small group conversations, or dinner parties and quiz nights — have been a huge business in this period of Covid-19, where they became a key way for people to connect when in-person meetings were impossible. In working world, they became a significant cornerstone for communication, with businesses sinking some one trillion dollars of direct spending on events, according to Guru Chahal, the partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners who invests in Hubilo. “These changes are permanent,” he added.
Videoconferencing brands like Zoom; those focused on virtual events like Hopin, TouchCast and Bizzabo; and those building tech to improve how videoconferencing can be used like Engageli and mmhmm all saw their stars rise. Even those you might not associate with virtual events but are aiming to do more in the space like LinkedIn are now getting in on the act.
Hubilo has been among them. The company now has more than 800 customers, big names like Walmart, Blackboard, the United Nations, Roche Pharma, AB inBev, Verizon, Facebook and TikTok. Yes, that’s right. A communications giant, ‘the’ social network and a massively popular video app sensation are all customers of this particular video product that has built and squared away another kind of engaging video experience.
The startup’s particular sweet spot has been helping these organizations plan and run internal and external meetings and events, whether they are private meetings for a few colleagues or external conferences for thousands, giving them the tools to create a customized design and architecture to the event (important when you have multiple tracks) and to tailor a wide set of interactive features to connect with those “visiting” the events, and for those visitors to connect with each other. And to do this easily and regularly.
It’s a little like a Wix or WordPress for virtual events. Which is interesting because WordPress is also one of its customers.
It’s an epic pivot for a startup that was, in early 2020, staring into a deadpool. Founded originally to build engagement apps for in-person events, Hubilo really went to town on that concept as a boostrapped startup, with a dashboard that gave exhibition organizers more than 50 different engagement features such as leaderboards, quizzes, collaboration tools, messaging, “matchmaking” for networking and more. It was being used by events that had up to 10,000 attendees, where organizers leaned on these to keep people from being bored.
That business, however, completely dried up when people stopped going to such gatherings.
So in February 2020, Vaibhav Jain, the CEO and founder, went for the Hail Mary option. He gave his team just a small amount of time — 26 days — to try to come up with a new direction for the company, ideally one that didn’t require massive capital investment, since that was exactly what it didn’t have.
The solution was the first version of the Hubilo that you see today. Ironically, having so little cash on hand and a very short time frame to work in made the team very resourceful: the engagement tools that it had already built for physical experiences became the centerpiece of how Hubilo would build its own take on videoconferencing.
Jain told me in an interview that these are some of the features that he believes helps set Hubilo’s own contribution to the world of video meetings apart from the rest of the pack.
“We have strong engagement features built in the cloud, with a gamification model and analytics to give users insights about how sessions are being watched, we can give visitors certifications to watch a particular session [but not another],” he said. “We have gone deep into it. Exhibitors also get, basically, a mini CRM to build leads, their own set of leads, out of an event.” Organizers can also integrate with lots of other non-mini CRMs like Marketo, Salesforce and Hubspot to supercharge how they, and their interact with people and how people interact with each other, within their virtual events.
All of Hubilo’s initial focus on in-person events was not for naught, however. Now with many people shifting back into the office, back into lunch meetings, back into conferences in faraway cities and the rest, the company is building out a bigger “hybrid” set of features, which bring a lot of its earlier learnings back into the mix.
These now sit alongside the virtual tools to create both more dynamic in-person experiences, as well as a complementary virtual component for those who are not physically there. These include not just video streams of stages, but separate communication tools for those in both “places” to converge; virtual and on-stage conference tracks alongside each other, and more.
The opportunities for serving the market in a firmly hybrid environment with a platform that gives organizers a new kind of dynamic control over the experience is reminiscent of the technology that helped push the web into the busy and much-used platform that it is today: there are tools being put into the hands of publishers (in this case event organizers) helps to spur the next stages of what gets created and used. That, along with the strong list of customers, helped propel this round of funding, which Jain told me was oversubscribed.
“We believe strongly that the global distributed workforce is a megatrend that will impact all of us in the future. It is clear that the way we collaborate and connect will need to be rearchitected in order for any global player to succeed,” said Abhi Arun, Managing Partner at Alkeon Capital, in a statement. “In Hubilo, we saw a powerful technology capable of connecting the offline and online worlds, a strong CEO, and an amazing market opportunity that gave us the confidence to invest.”