The entrepreneur behind a virtual events start-up which has just raised £32m has revealed the fascinating story behind the business.
Johnny Boufarhat’s Hopin has been backed in a Series A round led by IVP, with participation from Salesforce Ventures and existing investors Accel, Northzone, Seedcamp and Slack Fund.
Since launching in 2019, London-based Hopin has scaled to nearly a million users attending events hosted by over 16,000 organisations. However its roots go back much further.
“Five years ago I had a rare and severe reaction to a medication I’d been taking, and ended up allergic to the world,” the CEO said.
“That isn’t an exaggeration either. My immune system went into a seemingly permanent hyperdrive. It was so bad that for years, I could barely go outside. Which, among other things, means that I was stuck inside against my will before it was cool.
“The truth is, I was lucky. This happened to me in an era where there were all sorts of ways I could interact with others from home. I could use Facebook or Facetime or Twitter or Slack. There were countless ways I could be active and connected in the world, even as I couldn’t wander freely through it.
“But there was something I couldn’t do, something I missed from my previous life that I couldn’t reproduce in my digital world: I wanted to go to events. I wanted to meet people. I wanted to hear great keynotes.
“I wanted to go to breakout sessions where I could learn from people and interact with them. And I wanted the chance to experience those organic networking moments that can help make your career.
“I tried to find something that could approximate what I was looking for, but no such thing existed. The closest thing I could find were webinars, but as anyone can attest, those don’t exactly match the dynamism of an interactive, in-person experience.”
The platform allows attendees to learn, interact and connect with other people in a virtual setting.
It is currently producing events for major organisations such as the United Nations, The Wall Street Journal, NBC Universal, Adobe, GitLab, Culinary Institute of America, TNW and hundreds more.
“We had the virtual content and the virtual crowds, but didn’t have a virtual venue. And you can’t have a convention if you don’t have a convention centre,” Boufarhat continued.
“So I decided to see if I might be able to build one myself. I wanted to create a virtual venue that was so useful that it would transform online events into indispensable experiences.
“That was easier said than done. It took a lot to figure out how to take the best elements of in-person events and bring them online without losing the experiential and interactive aspects that make events so memorable.
“But after plenty of fits and starts – and a year and a half of coding – I finally figured it out.”
Hopin allows event organisers to create a main stage for content and rooms for group interactions like breakout sessions. You can also set up ‘chat roulette’-style networking meetings and event booths for engaging with sponsors and setting up tracked calls-to-action.
It claims to have more than 50,000 customers on its waiting list, with hundreds more added each day.
“We’ve also been excited to see that while many of our customers are first coming to Hopin because of the pandemic, they are so energised by the experience that they plan future events right away,” added Boufarhat.
“Our customers love that geography no longer has to be a limiting factor for their attendees. And they love that Hopin is the only venue that doesn’t have a maximum capacity.
“It means their good ideas get heard by more people – typically three times more than an in-person event. It means they can amplify insights and learnings across borders and boundaries. And it means they can help people network who would otherwise never be in the same room.
“It tells us that there is a great appetite for what we’ve built. And it tells us it’s time to scale.”