This was our final effort to survive; eventually, we did a successful pivot: Vaibhav Jain, Founder, Hubilo

With the funds pouring in off the back of the pivot, Hubilo plans to maintain this growing momentum and they have expansion plans ready for the team globally, with new offices in San Francisco and London.

   
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In 2018, the global events industry was valued at more than $1.1 billion. The growing prominence of events for the business market led experts to forecast a growth rate of a CAGR of 10.3 per cent to an eventual value of $2.3 billion for this sector. However, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent blow it struck to the physical events industry, these estimates might not be reachable or feasible.

Businesses built around live events, meetings, conferences or concerts collapsed, having to shut down their operations. One such Ahmedabad based event tech company Hubilo could have had the same fate. However, just on the verge of shutting down, the company rebooted itself within a 30-day window and came up with a minimum viable product that suits the current pandemic period events scenario.

Today, after successfully coming through a dark phase of salary deferments, Hubilo has emerged as one of the leading platforms serving the high end of the corporate virtual events and trade show market. They have grown their revenue by 50 per cent month-over-month since enrolling the first customer for their virtual events platform in April 2020. 

Recently, the company has raised another mega round of $23.5 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Balderton Capital alongside several industry experts and luminaries, including John Thompson, Chairman of the Board at Microsoft, and Chris Schagen, Former CMO at Contentful. This funding comes just months after Hubilo’s $4.5 million seed round in November 2020.

With the funds pouring in off the back of the pivot, Hubilo plans to maintain this growing momentum and they have expansion plans ready for the team globally, with new offices in San Francisco and London. In a one-on- one with SME Futures, Vaibhav Jain, Hubilo’s founder and CEO, opens up on his entrepreneurial journey and recalls how this pandemic has positioned them on the top.

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Vaibhav Jain & Mayank Agarwal of Hubilo

Edited Excerpts:

Tell us about yourself and a bit about your background.

I was born and brought up in a small town called Bhavnagar in Gujarat, India. We moved to Ahmedabad later, where Hubilo was incorporated. While we were in Bhavnagar during my pre-teen years, my interests were limited only to art and watching movies, and this led to me failing my academics in the sixth standard and a complete turnaround of events for me. I then shifted my focus to my studies and topped the seventh, eighth and ninth standards in my school and the tenth standard in the entire state of Gujarat.

It was less about proving myself to someone else and more about understanding my own capabilities. This sequence of events made me realize that I can achieve anything when I am willing to work towards it, and it has helped shape me into the person I am today.

Did you always want to become an entrepreneur? How did you start Hubilo, tell us the story.

I belong to a family of entrepreneurs, so there was always an aspiration to become one, but I always wanted to start my own venture.

During my years in college, while studying information and communication technology at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DA- IICT), I had organised a series of events over the years that gave me the drive I needed to start this venture. And then, I participated in an event called Icreate led by Vivek Singh, which gave me the clarity to understand that you do not require an MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree to become an entrepreneur, a common myth to date. Hence, I let go of all the offers I had received from India and globally, including one from the London College of Economics, to study further and started working on Hubilo.

How were the business and Hubilo faring before the pandemic struck? What were your plans at that time?

The first two years after incorporating the company were quite a challenge. Having to explain the importance and necessity of a technology software for a physical event did require effort and convincing and was time-consuming as well. Post that our growth was organic for the next two years and we were slowly and gradually working towards building up our business.

So, when the pandemic struck and the lockdowns started with everything shutting down, what was the first thought that came to your mind?

We were on zero revenue in February 2020. I was considering shutting down the entire operation and had begun to work on a FinTech idea for my next business. However, there was a hesitance on my part about letting go of the 30 employees we had; hence we decided to give it one last try.

I gave my technology team a goal to build a simple platform in 30 days. We had already signed and committed to a Tesseract Global in advance to give ourselves a deadline to complete the structure. As a result, Hubilo today has emerged as one of the leading platforms serving the high end of the corporate virtual events and trade show market, growing its revenue by 50 per cent month over month since enrolling the first customer for our virtual events platform in less than a year.

How did you pivot your platform to be the right solution for consumers during these new normal times?

We do say that we are one of the leading platforms for both kinds of events, virtual and hybrid. So, in these new normal times when there is a physical event being hosted, the same event will also be hosted on a virtual platform simultaneously at the same time. This way, along with ultimately capitalizing on the event’s business objectives, we will also generate multiple returns on the investment behind the event.

What were the major challenges during this process, how did you cope up?

Considering that we were working on a completely innovative product during a lockdown, we were apprehensive about whether we were doing the right thing. There was a high amount of risk involved as this was our final effort to survive. Eventually, we did a successful pivot.

What has changed for you and your organisation during these tumultuous and eventful times?

We have grown from a team of 30 members in April 2020 to 170 members in February 2020, and our hiring is still in process so we will be 300 employees by June 2020. Our HQ is now in San Francisco in the US, we have a base office in Bengaluru in India and we are looking at acquiring an office space in London, UK. We have witnessed a growth rate of 10,000% in less than a year, which includes serving 500 plus clients across 100 plus countries and hosting 5000 plus events and counting.

How do you see India as a virtual events market? Do you see it remaining relevant for a longer time and what can be the challenges to that?

According to a report by Grandview Research, from a $78B market capitalization in 2020, the virtual events sector is now expected to grow nearly tenfold to $774B over the next decade; and India is expected to observe a significant growth in the number of SMBs, which is further anticipated to contribute to industry growth. Also, considering that CMOs widely acknowledge that COVID 19 has permanently disrupted the events landscape and much of the physical events landscape’s value is expected to shift to new virtual and hybrid delivery models permanently, we do believe that the virtual and hybrid events markets are quite established now and will only keep growing at a rapid pace.

What are the top unique selling points (USPs) of the Hubilo events platform that you would like us to highlight?

Hubilo’s USPs are spread across three areas—data analytics, engagement and customer care. Hubilo’s analytics deliver value across all stakeholder areas. Organisers have access to strategic event engagement data; speakers get insightful data around their session quality and engagement rate and sponsors know exactly which visitor is prone to purchase from them via their engagement with their booth.

The spread of analytics is inclusive of factors such as number of logins, daily user chart, new user’s v/s active users; sessions views, replays, likes and notes and sessions with the most registrations and conversations. It keeps track of networking, where you can see information such as industry and interest breakups, service request breakup, daily meetings numbers and much more. And the virtual booth option gives more networking analytics such as business cards. It also keeps tabs on the speaker’s ratings, views etc. ​

Talking about engagement, Hubilo has already hosted more than a million attendees on its platform – without the all too common “Zoom fatigue.” There is an increased attendee engagement through built-in networking features that include meeting tables, private rooms, meeting schedules and gamification features.

Hubilo’s engagement’s feature is inclusive of interactive live sessions, lounges, virtual booths and breakout & demo rooms. You can easily do engagement and networking via facilitating live chats, event feed, contests and live polls. It incorporates gamification into the events to engage the audience throughout the event and give memorable and fun experiences to the event attendees. And last but not least, our customer care average response time is between 30 – 45 seconds.

Can you share a couple of case studies for virtual events and hybrid events, each?

One success story is about an Indian company which collaborated with us in 2019 for an annual physical event and partnered with us again in 2020. But this time they wanted the annual event to be virtual. The number of attendees for the physical event was only 4,000. While through the virtual event platform by Hubilo the number of attendees that registered on the virtual platform for this event was 80,000.

We also organised the 40th edition of GITEX (Gulf Information Technology Exhibition) in Dubai as a hybrid event. It is one of the major live, in person technology events which attracts more than a lakh visitors. We customised our solutions according to the pandemic restrictions as the organisers wanted it to be seamless without compromising on quality. We revamped our platform and gave them solutions such as dark mode, smart matchmaking with exhibitors, generation of leads by QR code and much more. Besides that, our team was available 24*7 and the event turned out to be an enormous success.

Your company recently raised series A, congrats! Now, what are your plans? What will be your priorities this year?

We shall further invest in strengthening our product and design teams in India and building our US and Europe-based go-to-market teams. We will be focusing on expanding our clientele further in the US, Europe, Middle East and Africa markets.

And, in the next few months, we plan to roll out Hubilo 2.0, which shall be integrated with additional features that will enable stronger attendee engagement and new monetization opportunities for organizers.

Tell us about your experience of pitching before investors. How did you prepare? Share some do’s and don’ts.

It was stressful; meeting a series of investors, giving them an understanding of the events’ landscape and finally convincing them on the investment returns did require a lot of hard work. It took more time and effort in the seed round though, compared to the Series ‘A’ round.

I will suggest-do your homework. Comprehend your product and the market well, along with the growth potential for both to know how to pitch accordingly to garner a substantial investment. Choose your investors wisely; nobody is doing you a favour by investing in your company. On the contrary, you are letting someone become an integral part of your company. So, make this choice after proper due diligence. And share equity carefully; equity in a start-up carries enormous significance, so be judicious about who you share it with.

What exciting things can we expect from Hubilo in the future?

With our new investors like Guru Chahal at Lightspeed Venture Partners US and Suranga Chandratillake at Balderton Capital on board and our first institutional backer Hemant Mohapatra at Lightspeed Venture Partners India with us as well, we are looking at achieving all our goals at a more expedited pace than originally planned. We shall keep you posted!