In Episode 20, we speak to Renaud Visage, co-founder and former CTO of Eventbrite. Renaud has been at the helm and foundation of Eventbrite’s technical architecture from its inception and has built it into the leading events platform of the world. Renaud is also an avid photographer, startup mentor and angel investor.
In this episode, he shares how Eventbrite successfully and quickly pivoted to online events during the Covid-19 pandemic, his predictions for the future of hybrid events, and doles out valuable advice for entrepreneurs.
We actually picked up on the demand for online events in 2019. We look at our data pretty closely and I was involved with a small team of engineers looking at the webinars space, in particular. We saw a growing trend of more and more creators posting webinars for a variety of topics, and having to send emails left and right with links to Google Docs and forms and things like that to share the content that they wanted to share before the event, be engaged during the event and share additional content after the event. So we were working on integrations with streaming providers who could power these webinars and also create a space for attendees to go to and have all the relevant information. We created what we call the “online event page” where you can put a bunch of links to different content. You can have videos, images, documents, really with the mindset around “how do we make the webinar creator’s life easier?”.
When COVID hit, we had been working on this for about six months already and we had the first version of the product. Creators had no choice but to shift to online and our business evaporated from one month to the next. We thought about how we can help our creators survive this. Yes, as an entity, we are at risk. Especially at a time where everybody is asking for refunds or postponement of events, we took care of that first. Then we invested in helping creators transition from one business model to another.
All of a sudden, their local audience was no longer sufficient. They had to move online and find completely new technology. They have no knowledge of how to create a good experience. So there was a steep learning curve for us and them as well. And our strategy was to build integrations with what we saw were the leading platforms of streaming content - Zoom in particular. We built a deeper integration that sent the ticket buyer history directly into the Zoom room.
For several months, nobody knew how they were going to make money or whether they were going to survive. The industry got together and there were a few initiatives to either get more national subsidies for keeping the entertainment industry alive, but also a lot of resourcefulness and creativity in creating new formats for events that had a very strong physical component. For example, Murray’s Cheese had cheese tasting physical events in their stores at the beginning, and then they pivoted into an online model where they will ship the cheese and wine to everyone before the event. You can have a physical experience in the confines of your own home, which has been very popular actually. I am always humbled by the creativity and the resilience of all the creators who trust us with their business and we’re always thinking about how we can be a true partner for all these online event creators.
There's more availability of great content out there now because everybody's had to move online. So I think the ones who have been successfully making that transition will definitely continue. You can build a worldwide audience if you have good marketing so why give up that part of the business? But I think it will be in complement to the physical events, because that's at the core of what the creator wants, that physical proximity. They're not businessmen first, they are passionate people who want to do something with that passion and inspire others. You can do that so much more easily in a physical setting where you are fully dedicated and you’re not juggling between five different apps as you're watching, which is kind of how we do online events.
I used to be a civil engineer so maybe I'll take a construction analogy. But something we never see in buildings is their foundations. Buildings will crumble if they don't have the proper foundations. And I think it's applicable to startups as well, even if you're going at 300 kilometers an hour building your business. On a regular basis, you need to think about your foundation- what do you stand for as a company? What values are you going to look for in your future teammates? How do you build a culture that ensures everyone, including your customers, understands what you stand for and what your values are. What do you want your company to look like in 10 years or even 30 years? I think taking time to build these foundations is really important.
At Eventbrite, we picked people (maybe without explicitly thinking about it) that adhere to that view of the world that we had, so that we could build a company that was enduring for the long term. For example, strong values around work-life balance or diversity. Our board and executive teams are diverse. It's easy to forget all that and postpone until later when you have commercial success. It might already be too late because the foundation is built over time. It's not like buildings where you have the blueprint of what it's going to look like exactly. You need to take time on a regular basis to think about it, pause and put in place the small process changes that you need to create something that you're proud of and that really resonates with your core values.