Almost exactly a year ago, when one big event after another was cancelled, the startup formerly known as EventInsight was forced to make a drastic change in order to survive the first lockdown. A change that struck gold and transformed the company. Co-founder Ruben Haring talks about the highlights and challenges of the past year, as well as the big news of working with the Eurovision Song Festival.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, EventInsight developed networking, feedback and data tools for business events and conventions. The Groningen based startup decided to develop a digital platform for events almost overnight, where attendees can join workshops, network, attend key-notes, all with the same look and feel of the physical event. After 21 days of working around the clock, Let’s Get Digital was born. A year down the line, things are looking very bright and the company is growing exponentially.
At the time, it must have been one of the toughest decisions ever. What was it like?
“We just got an investment the year before that, we’d grown into a team of almost 20 people and we were just gaining international momentum before the pandemic hit. So to see everything you’ve worked for go up in smoke almost overnight, that’s a real nightmare. And not just for us, for everyone in the event industry, coupled with enormous uncertainty in the first weeks. Can events go on in the summer? What about after that? Nobody knew and nobody knew what to do.”
“The idea behind Let’s Get Digital was basically because of changing our mindset and saying: okay, so what can we do? Can we give event organizers a viable alternative, something more than a live-stream, where visitors can interact and experience it almost the same way as a physical event? We saw it as an opportunity and built the platform in three weeks. Things just took off so fast after that. I just can’t believe it’s been a year already.”
Anything you’re particularly proud of?
“I think the proudest moment would be the tipping point in late May or early June, when we realized Let’s Get Digital was more than a way of keeping our heads above water in a time of crisis, it was a new direction and a future. And also, rather than just being able to keep almost twenty people working because of that, a year later we now have a team double that siz.. For me personally, the news we got this January about being able to work with the Eurovision Song Festival is also a definite highlight. It’s a really cool thing to be able to say and it also gave us a lot of extra publicity.”
Biggest challenge and lesson learned this year?
“The biggest lesson definitely was learning how to grow as a company. Figuring out how to streamline things, but also, as cliché as it sounds, learning what to focus on. When things suddenly get incredibly busy, you quickly figure out what’s important and what you’re good at, because you have to. You just don’t have the time and capacity to make endless exceptions outside your expertise and workflows to try and help everyone. It was a really interesting realization and somewhat of a crash course.”
“The biggest challenge was dealing with the growing pains and finding the right people. When sales are suddenly up, you know there’s going to be an enormous peak in events about three months later. That really means hiring new people as soon as you can, so they’re ready to help when those events start. And as you can probably imagine, if you post a job opening, it’s not going to be filled that same day. So that was something we had to iron out.”
Is working remotely challenging for you guys?
“Funny story, we’ve been using Zoom for sales since 2018! So now that more people are used to video conferencing, it’s actually made things easier for us. Also the realization that driving for 2 or 3 hours to show and sell your product while having a cup of coffee, is kind of ludacris. It’s about the added value of your product and you don’t have to physically be somewhere to explain or show it.”
“But internally, we also noticed people having a tough time working from home. If the only physical social interaction you have is with the cashier at the supermarket, it can take a toll on you mentally. So we wanted to safely facilitate working at the office, to give people the option of being around to their coworkers. We’ve got plenty of space to be able to maintain distance and you can also get tested once a week at our office. Of course you’re more limited in some ways, because you can’t have two or three people staring at the same screen for example. But for the most part, it’s all fine.”
As for the big news of working with the Eurovision Song Festival, how do you land a huge organization like that?
“They called us actually. Most people watch the live performances and the finals, but that’s only part of the event. Behind the scenes, there are press conferences, meet & greets, one-on-one interviews, things like that. They didn’t want a simple livestream, they wanted more interaction and essentially part of the normal, physical experience. So they found us, which is incredibly awesome. Basically, we’re going to facilitate everything but the televised live shows. And it’s also really cool to be in that position as a company, where big organizations like that find you.”
You’ve also joined the FC Groningen meets Startups program. How’s that going so far?
“Great actually! It’s cool to meet and network with other local business and we also started working together with FC Groningen. They wanted to organize a network carrousel for their business club, so we’re going to facilitate three of them actually. And of course we get to be at the soccer games, so that’s great too!”
Any other cool things on the horizon?
“We’re currently also working on expanding worldwide, so that’s really exciting. We focused mostly on the UK and Germany, because they’re relatively close to home and really big in terms of market size for European events. And we’re currently doing a project with a consulting agency to see how we can approach it worldwide. We’re looking to work more with partners for our sales and delivery, because we can’t grow our business without growing our headcount with the same ratio. For these international ambitions, we’re working on a next investment round to meet our goal of 25% of world wide virtual events, using the Let's Get Digital software.”