A historical context of the #eventtech explosion can help us guess

It goes without saying that the last year has been… long. And yet it also seems only yesterday that pots were being banged at 7 p.m. and Italian tenors were singing “Nessun Dorma” to their apartment blocks in lockdown. Time has been particularly elastic in the last year, and (meaning no disrespect to those that have lost or suffered) that’s been particularly the case in the #eventtech space, where more innovation in digital and hybrid events has come in the last year than in quite some time. I often get asked if I think that pace will continue. Let’s look at history to find clues to our future.

Fortunately, we don’t have to look far to glimpse the landscape, because trends have been remarkably similar to those many of us know. Think back to the humble event app to gain insight into the future of online event platforms.

Stages of App Evolution

A decade or so ago, despite brave event-planning souls paving the way, very few event apps were on the market—a handful, really. There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing, however. “How could you replace a printed conference booklet? What if your phone battery dies? What if my venue doesn’t have Wi-Fi?” Seriously. That’s what we were talking about.

Still, by the end of 2019, almost every event had a mobile app, and some were pushing the envelope with features like interactivity, chatbots and AI networking. Let’s look at the timeline.

First came the expansion phase. During the first five years of event apps, adoption grew steadily. We went from a handful of providers in Stage 1 to several hundred options worldwide. Sure, there were probably 10 main contenders, but every Tom, Dick and Михайло thought they’d take a swing at it, and frankly most of them were pretty good.

Every time I swore I’d never try another demo, I’d be treated to something new that built upon the event apps that had come before. In Stage 2, if a niche was available, someone was there to fill it. Medical meetings? There’s an app for that. Scientific? We got your posters right here, digitally. Financial? Here’s your “military-grade encryption.”

Eventually, some companies began to make enough money or had the necessary connections in Silicon Valley to attract investment. I remember well how people’s minds were blown when the likes of DoubleDutch got more than $50 million from players outside the usual meetings and events suspects. As revenue and investments increased, the capital let companies look beyond simply improving an existing product to absorbing competitors. Enter Stage 3: acquisitions and mergers. It’s at this point that juggernauts like Cvent are created as they add pieces to their portfolios.

Things eventually settled down. Every couple of months, the number of event apps out in the world began to, ever so slightly, contract. New competitors still entered the ring, believing they’d “cracked the code” of mobile event apps. The slow march of innovation carried on. Call this Stage 4, which interestingly enough included the purchase of the aforementioned DoubleDutch by the aforementioned Cvent.

Virtual Platform Mirroring

Now, take a look at the last year of online platforms. The story sound a bit familiar?

In early 2020, there were a handful of such platforms, including On24, Intrado, Social 27 and MeetingPlay, as well as online video chat and webinar platforms such as Zoom, BlueJeans, Teams and GotoWebinar. That was Stage 1. Then the pandemic hit and every event app, registration platform, innumerable AV and production companies and venues did the “P-word,” adding video presentation and chat capability. We went from a handful to literally hundreds of online event platforms. Hello, Stage 2!

Almost as if on cue came investments and acquisitions. Community Brands got Pathable, Cisco bought Slido and Socio. Swapcard acquired Avolio. Bizzabo raised $150 million in December, and less than six months later announced purchase of Swedish startup Whalebone and AI-powered meeting scheduler x.ai. Hopin received $50 million from LinkedIn (among others), acquiring Streamyard, Streamable and Jamm. Welcome to Stage 3.

See also: Tech Mergers Could Simplify Virtual Meeting Management

What happens in Stage 4? If history repeats, the feeding frenzy will die down, and we’ll settle into a more normal news cycle of major investments or acquisitions. Some online platforms will succeed, others won’t, some will be gobbled up or merge, and a slow but steady flow of newcomers will enter the space hoping to “fix” what they perceive to be wrong with online and hybrid events.

In the end, there’s no doubt the world of #eventtech innovated and moved the ball further down the field in a year than we likely would otherwise have over the next decade.