Hopin’s rise to unicorn status and its recent $7.75B valuation make it an undeniable force to be reckoned with in the virtual event world. But as the company founded in 2019 continues its spree of hires and acquisitions, the event industry’s desire to shift from virtual back to in-person events may be its biggest challenge yet.
We recently spoke with two key members of Hopin’s leadership team, familiar faces to many in the event industry, Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Kennada and Head of Trade Shows Matthew Donegan-Ryan. Although they play different roles and come from different backgrounds, they share a deep passion for events and gathering people.
Kennada and Donegan-Ryan are part of a spree of acquisitions and high-profile hires. The hires include Chief Operating Officer Wei Gao, formerly VP, Grocery Tech, Product and Supply Chain at Amazon, and Ronnie Higgins, who was, until the start of the Covid pandemic, the Senior Manager, Head of Global Content Strategy at Eventbrite.
Donegan-Ryan, whose core role is to attract large events and trade shows onto the platform, was impressed by Hopin CEO Johnny Bourfarhat’s product focus and boundless ambition. “Johnny’s ambition is an order of [magnitude] greater than anyone else in our industry,” said Donegan-Ryan.
It is this ambitious vision for Hopin that also attracted Kennada to Hopin. “How often can we experience an industry that is being reinvented?” said Kennada. “We’re actually making a lot of big decisions on what the future looks like.”
As we enter a new phase of hybrid and in-person events across the United States and Europe, the carefully considered acquisitions of Boomset and Attendify add capabilities previously lacking in Hopin’s offering. According to Donegan-Ryan, Boomset brought a “best-in-class onsite experience,” and Attendify brought an engaging mobile app and an advanced audience analytics product with it. Donegan-Ryan also highlights that the founders of both acquired companies are onboard with Hopin’s brand and vision.
One area that Hopin looks keen to improve is event discoverability. With more virtual events than ever before, Kannada shared that this is part of the team’s thinking. While the current event marketplace is helpful, there is an opportunity for Hopin to make discoverability a vital part of its brand promise in the future.
Two things that stand out from Hopin’s one-of-a-kind unicorn journey are its boundless ambition and its uncluttered and inclusive communication style. From its early days, Hopin has never focused on technical details or excluded any potential client base. For example, the company recently placed a series of ads in New York’s Times Square. A brand awareness play in such an iconic location is already significant. While there was an effort to reposition the brand in the ads, the language used throughout was simple, concise, and inclusive; it appealed to anyone looking to organize any type of event.
— Hopin (@Hopin) July 13, 2021
Hopin is, of course, also targeting the event industry and promises to be present in a big way at IMEX America and all major industry events. Even though Hopin can see events as an essential part of a wide variety of job roles, they all lead to the head of marketing at any organization. The company is clear that they want to help make events, in any format, a top priority for senior leadership.
The mindset of Hopin’s marketing activities is experimental, as was shared in the recent EventMB webinar in collaboration with Hopin that focused in part on Hopin’s Illuminate hybrid experience. Kennada sees parallels in the SpaceX approach. He considers every Hopin experience a new launch or iteration that pushes the boundaries of what is possible.
“Whether we’re at a tabletop at somebody else’s show or hosting our own show, we need to make sure we’re taking an experiential marketing mindset...because it’s a reflection of who we are and the brand that we want to build”, said Kennada.
This design thinking approach would appear to be a good strategy with all the uncertainty that the event industry faces, including the inherent low barrier to entry of virtual events. “People have realized there are some events that just never need to be in person [and that] anyone with an audience and some great ideas to share can run a virtual event,” said Donegan-Ryan.
Donegan-Ryan sees a clear need for traditional events that have become stale to reinvent themselves, especially when competition can be much more frequent online. He sees the only solution to create great content.
Hopin is a unicorn, and unicorns are different. As event industry experts continue to question the $7.75B valuation, we cannot deny that Hopin has so far managed to scale better than most, especially considering its record-breaking growth. The company has been able to fill leadership roles with a diverse group of respected industry figures. It has also made astute acquisitions that make a good case for its consolidated offering. It’s hard to say if Hopin is ready for a world where in-person events are an option globally, but it appears they are well equipped to do so.