A few words about EventVue

It’s now been 8 months since we decided to shut down EventVue. One thing that has surprised me is the number of emails I get from people interested in launching similar companies. I usually get one email or phone call a week asking about what I learned and what I would do differently if I were to do it again. I really don’t understand why there is so much interest in this particular space, but I can tell you there are an awful lot of people thinking about building social networks around events. And as far as I can tell from my perspective, the interest is only accelerating. I try to be helpful and am always willing to share what I’ve learned, but since I’m getting asked the same questions over and over again, I figured it’s time I post my answers somewhere I can easily link to.

If you’re thinking about launching an EventVue clone and are wondering if it would be a good idea or not, this post is for you.

Here are some of the top questions I’ve been asked lately regarding EventVue:

What reeeeally happened?

If you haven’t read our EventVue post-mortem, that’s the best place to start. We tried our best to be as transparent as possible in our writing and so it’s disappointing when people call and ask “what really happened”. Sorry to disappoint you, but there really is no back story to be told. No crazy founder drama between Rob and myself. No crazy pressure from our investors. We simply ran out of money before we managed to find a product valuable enough to conference organizers that they would pay us enough to keep us in business.

What was the “nice to have” problem that EventVue waited too long to address?

EventVue was always a vitamin instead of a pain killer.  Conference organizers typically liked our product but none of them said they needed it.  It didn’t make their lives easier, make them more money or cut any of their expenses — it was just “nice to have”

How do you go from being a vitamin to a pain killer?

If you want to solve a conference organizers pain, help them make more money.

There are basically two ways conference organizers make money: ticket sales and sponsorships.  Which revenue stream they care most about depends on where they fall on the spectrum between a conference and a trade show.  Conferences typically have a low number of attendees, a high ticket price and the value of the event is mainly around the attendees.  Conferences care most about ticket sales because that’s where they make their money.  On the other end of the spectrum are tradeshows.  Tradeshows have a large number of attendees, a low ticket price and the focus is on the sponsors / exhibitors.

EventVue experimented with 3 different products. If you did it again, which one would you focus on?

Discover and social promotion tools in general.  Things that are interesting about this angle:

  • Conference organizers are HAPPY to pay hefty affiliate fees (often up to 30%) for any ticket sales that you drive for them.
  • No one has done a good job yet of turning attendees into marketers for an event.
  • Personally, I’m more likely to go to an event if I hear that someone I know is attending.  With Twitter, Facebook, etc, it should be easy to share that info and track affiliate links to show conference organizers which of their marketing efforts (or attendees) are the most effective.
  • Conference organizers are usually willing to discount tickets or give free hotel rooms to attendees who bring a crowd along with them.  Currently there is no good way to track or manage this data.
  • You will have way less friction signing up customers for a promotional tool than for a social network product.

Your post-mortem mentioned that Discover actually ended up losing money for customers. Can you explain why?

One statistic that is true for almost every event: 80% of ticket sales come in during the last 2 weeks.  This meant that showing the list of people attending the event actually had the opposite effect than intended. Instead of seeing their friends that were attending, they saw that no one had registered yet and assumed the event was a dud.

Who are the other players in this space?

Here are a few of the companies you should check out. Please don’t launch something new until you’ve looked at what they offer and have an idea for something new and innovative to bring to the table. The event industry doesn’t need more clones, it needs innovators. And by the way, I’ll let you in on a little secret they won’t tell you — none of these guys are making much money. Some are doing better than others, but none of them are getting rich off this yet.

Who are the event registration companies we should know about?

There are more but these are the ones we ran across the most.

Do you have any other advice for us?

Don’t assume that just because conference attendees want a way to network at events that conference organizers will jump to provide it. Conference attendees who used EventVue loved it! We wrongly assumed that since we were obviously improving the conference experience, organizers would want to pay for it. One of our customers memorably said “If I wanted to improve the conference experience I would buy everyone steak dinners. I don’t care about the conference experience. I care about selling tickets. What can you do to help me do that?”

I started EventVue because I thought it was crazy that people would spend thousand of dollars to fly across the country to attend an event to meet people without having any way of knowing in advance who those people were. Conferences are really just communities of people who are interested in similar things. I believe more today than ever that those communities deserve a place to communicate online. I want every conference I attend to use an EventVue-like product. And while there are some pretty big business challenges to be overcome, I appreciate your courage in wanting to try. For me personally, I want to stay as far away from the event industry as I can. But if after reading this you’re still crazy enough to try yourself, know that I’ll be here cheering you on.

  • http://crowdvine.com Tony Stubblebine

    Thanks for the post Josh. I think it's really interesting that one of the founders of LinkedIn entered this space. I consider that a positive sign. Also missing from this analysis is that event communities are being integrated directly into existing event software suites (ActiveEvents, A2Z, etc.). To me, that's the much bigger trend that's going to make conferences safe for networking again.

    What's CrowdVine up to? Step one has always been, don't go out of business. I think the conference space is tricky because everyone works off of word of mouth (there's no TechCrunch for events) and that word of mouth happens slowly because so many events are annual affairs. I tell people all of the time that how you structure your company in this space matters more than anything. And I can tell that there are companies on your list that haven't structured their companies correctly and they will either go out of business or change directions.

    I think we've already tipped our hand on step two, which is to make it even easier for events to add an event community. And there's two ways to do that. We've long been the only company with self-service options. Those options were 10% of our business last year, but just passed 50% of our business in the last half of this year. The other thing we've started to do is offer CrowdVine for hosting entire event websites (making us a strong, cost-effective variation on an absolute must have).

    The best events that we see do care about the conference experience. They're obsessed with it. And in the down economy these were the events that were able to sell out and charge the highest registration fees. What are the bottom 90% of events going to do? They're followers, but they move at the pace of the industry (which is slow).

    • http://www.onlineaspect.com Josh Fraser

      Thanks for commenting. I was hoping you would.

      I haven't been paying close attention to the new trends lately so that's interesting to hear about the integration of social networking into the event software suites.

      I hope we can catch up soon in person in San Fran or NY.

      • http://crowdvine.com Tony Stubblebine

        Maybe we can get you as an advisor and then I can open up my books to you. I'm really curious to see what you're up to as well and if there's anything I can do to help.

        • http://www.onlineaspect.com Josh Fraser

          I'm working on a new startup. It's totally unrelated to the events space. Expect to hear more on that soon.

  • Roto

    Hey Josh, just stumbled onto this post and (sadly) I missed the rise and fall of EventVue. We are working on an app that has similar intentions in mind for our hotel clients, but it's good to read about your successes and failures in this area. It definitley helps us plan. Thanks for the great read, and I'll try to look around about your new startup. It has been 7 weeks since the latest comment here, so hopefully there is some updated news. From what I've ready, you seem like the type that is destined for startup success. 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/buzinskas Andrei Buzinskas

    Hi Josh,
    Thank you for this very interesting insight on your experience.
    It is truly interesting to read about your experience with event organizers and the way they feel about improving the public's experience.
    I'm wondering something. As you discovered the organizers had little interest in your value proposition, but the service is really valuable
    for the participants, have you tried to sell your solution to the participants. I mean if I'm going to a conference and have the ability to take the most out of the networking experience it is extremely valuable to me and I would be ready to pay for that.
    Another thought: what about launching it for free for the participants and once you get some data (X% of the attendees use the service) you have the event organizers pay for it.
    What do you think about it?

    • http://www.onlineaspect.com Josh Fraser

      Definitely something we considered. The problem is you need the full attendee list (or at least the majority of it) for a product like EventVue to be valuable. The only person who has control of that list if the conference organizer. Even if you give the product away for free, it still takes to much time/effort to get in touch with organizers to convince them of the value of the community. They view the attendee list as their biggest asset and aren't typically willing to give it up without a lot of persuasion. Other companies have since tried going straight to the attendee like plancast, but their challenge is getting a high enough participation level from attendees for it to be interesting.

      • etduck

        Thanks Josh! What if we enable participants to create attendee list and allow everyone to edit the list freely (in a wikipedia way)? So that organizer no longer the only one who has control to the list.

        • http://www.onlineaspect.com Josh Fraser

          sure, but it's super hard to get participation above 5% with that approach

  • http://www.busyevent.com David Schenberg

    Josh,

    We've been appreciating your transparency over here at BusyEvent. Isn't it funny how the term "Old Guard" can hold such stature and wisdom? The problem with the old guard of the event industry is they typically live up to their name guarding the way things have always been done. In the 5 years we've been growing client relationships, we've discovered the difference between vitamin and pain killer (love that) can be more in how you market the product than the actual product. Decisions are made so quickly that a simple check in the box is all some people need. This frantic pace for the miracle pill has stirred a new energy in our group to develop simple tools to solve the simple problems we keep encountering. We need to be less consultant and more easy to use. We need to stop jamming in one more feature because we can and ask ourselves, does this tool need instructions?

    Many thanks on sharing your wisdom. You are right about nobody getting rich in this part of the industry. Hopefully we'll be smart enough to keep it simple and continue to grow the balance of our trust bank account with more and more folks who get a good value for their time and money. Thanks again and all the best!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.mcferrin Joe McFerrin

    Hey Josh,

    Just got your tweet. Just would like you pick your brain on lesson learned in the event space. What worked and didn't. I did read your post-mortem. Do you have any more tips on what did work? Any details that did help you gain traction on events.

    We are providing a similar service but it is free and tackling all events. Just would like to pick your brain some more considering you have 3 plus years experience in this space.

    Also do you have any plans with your current domain name?

    Thanks!

    Joe

    • http://www.onlineaspect.com Josh Fraser

      Things that worked well — attendees loved our product. We did a good job at keeping the product simple and we used lots of tricks to auto-import their picture and bio from facebook, twitter, linkedin, gravitar, etc. That part worked well. Including faces in emails worked well for driving engagement. We tracked who got clicked on the most frequently and used their faces (ie. hot girls & VCs') in our emails. Every event organizer has an ongoing nightmare that no one will show up their event. If you promise them a way to sell more tickets (especially early) you'll grab their attention.

      The domains are for sale — we have eventvue.com & vue.me. Contact me offline if you're interested.