Sat. Nov 27th, 2021

Johnny Boufarhat made a promise to himself in November 2019: if his six-month-old company, Hopin, were not the fastest growing company in the world next year, he would have fired himself as CEO.

“I really, unpleasantly said it,” Boufarhat recalled, hopping, in an interview at the VivaTech launch conference in June. “Unfortunately, a global pandemic made me look smart.”

Hopin’s platform for “virtual” events did not even go public when the first Covid-19 restrictions forced conference organizers to tear up their plans.

The company, which was incorporated in London in June 2019, had only a handful of employees by the end of that year. Today, it approaches 1,000 staff members worldwide and supports millions of attendees at virtual conferences hosted by more than 100,000 clients, including the consumer goods group Unilever, advertising agency WPP, and IDG, the technology-focused media and event company.

“We are optimized for speed,” said Boufarhat, who according to Sunday Times Rich List estimates the UK’s youngest homemade billionaire. He says that when he raised capital, he told prospective investors: “If you can not do this within two weeks, we will probably [investment from] someone else who can. ”

Join: Customers say Hopin's software provides a more vibrant, more theatrical experience than a traditional webinar

Customers say Hopin’s software provides a more vibrant, more theatrical experience than a traditional webinar © PonyWang / Getty Images

Even in today’s hyper-accelerated start-up world – with nearly $ 250 billion “unicorns” minted in the first half of 2021, according to CB Insights – the speed of Hopin’s climb set records. In November 2020, it reached a valuation of $ 2 billion faster than Slack and Bird in California, the previous record holders. By this August, its price tag had hit $ 7.8 billion, dropping it in front of more established London technology companies, including Deliveroo and Monzo. It has now raised more than $ 1 billion. “It far exceeded our expectations,” said Jules Maltz, a Hopin board member and partner at Silicon Valley-based venture capital group IVP, which invest first in June 2020.

The next challenge for Hopin is whether he can adapt to a “hybrid” world of events that take place offline as well as online, and whether his 27-year-old founder can keep control of the rocket ship he launched.

Boufarhat first had the idea for Hopin three years ago, when he found himself in the same position as most of his clients of the past year and a half – unable to go out and mingle with real events not. After graduating from the University of Manchester with a degree in mechanical engineering with management, he returned from a holiday with what he describes as “really bad food poisoning that lasted a little too long”. Even eating simple foods or being exposed to sunlight will cause a physical reaction.

Boufarhat, who was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, stayed at home mainly for two years and worked as a technical consultant. But he struggled to network his way to work without attending events and meeting people.

Boufarhat told the FT in March 2020: “In real events there is coherence” and a shared topic to discuss. “Online, everything is asynchronous. Even on Slack or Facebook, it’s not a real community – there’s no video, no real connection to it. I wanted to solve that problem. “

Traditional video conferencing software such as Zoom, works for smaller events but struggles to scale to dozens or even hundreds of attendees, Boufarhat argued. He set out an extensive “mission” for Hopin to help people “feel closer,” no matter where they are.

To do this, Hopin’s software borrows ideas from a variety of consumer Internet products, including Chatroulette‘s random pairing of individuals for video chat, Twitch’s live text chat next to a major broadcast, and quick audience polling as you can find on Twitter or Reddit. It also draws analogies from actual conferences, such as expo booths, keynotes, and getaway rooms. It combines it into a one-stop shop for corporate events that customers believe offers a more vibrant and even more theatrical experience than a traditional webinar.

Gretchen Newman, marketing and event manager for Canada at BDO, the accounting and consulting firm, became an early contractor when the pandemic forced her to reconsider her event plans. She says she realized early on that she needed something more capable than Zoom to do virtual conferencing. After reviewing the options last summer [2020], she found Hopin “knocked everyone out of the park. . . the timing was impeccable ”.

Newman likes the way Hopin’s software encourages the audience to post comments or respond with animated gifs, making the main sessions feel interactive. Hopin, more than just a pandemic stopgap, is inventing a new way to hold a conference, she says.

Newman hosted 60 BDO events at Hopin this year, from internal departmental meetings to industry sales conferences with as many as 1,500 participants. “Many of the conferences we have done personally before. . . there is no way we will go back, ”she says, with some offline opportunities costing tens of thousands of dollars to produce. “The cost savings [from Hopin] is incredible. ”

Virtual opportunities do present challenges, Newman says: participants can forget their passwords, moderators play an important role in maintaining momentum, and manufacturers need to be creative in ensuring that headlines are not boring. This means that some conference organizers may take a while to master the platform.

“Hopin came closest to providing our attendees with a fascinating and intimate experience,” said Annematt Ruseler, communications director at WeTransfer, a Dutch collaborative software company, which launched its annual 2020 idea report with Hopin. “However, it takes a bit of inventing. If you want to deliver a Hopin event well, you will have to put in the time and resources.”

Although Hopin is cheaper than a physical event, that does not necessarily mean it is cheap. Hopin offers a free level for two-hour events of up to 100 people, though it takes a 15 percent commission on tickets sold, while longer events start at $ 99 a month and prices go up depending on the number of registrations or event organizers.

Yet the power of Hopin’s business model has excited investors. “They have one of the most efficient business models, from a growth point of view, we’ve ever seen,” says Maltz, who previously supported Slack, Dropbox and Wise. “A lot of the capital they raised is still in the bank.”

Part of that efficiency comes from the company working as a fully remote team, with no physical headquarters. However, where Hopin has invested heavily is executive talent. Those two go hand in hand. In the same way that virtual event organizers brought in top speakers who otherwise would not want to fly to, say, Las Vegas to give a speech, flexible work helped Hopin poach drivers who would not otherwise be willing to relocate. “It’s a big advantage because we give flexibility – that’s how we attracted a lot of people,” said Sarah Manning, Hopin’s vice president of people.

Hopin’s leadership team includes Silicon Valley heavyweights such as chief operating officer Wei Gao, formerly of Amazon, and chief customer officer Rosie Roca, formerly a customer experience manager at Salesforce.

Hopin was more of a shopper than a typical beginner of his age and has made six purchases in the past year. This includes the payment of $ 250 million in cash and stock for StreamYard, which develops video streaming software.

Hopin’s transactions also helped him expand his tools for delivering personalized opportunities, such as Boomset, for on-site event management, and Topi, a networking application. The acquisition drive is designed to help Hopin continue to grow, even as physical events return. “Hopin can bridge the gap to make virtual participants feel part of the [physical] experience, ”says Maltz. “One of the benefits of the Hopin platform is that you really feel like you’re a contestant, no matter where you call from.”

With Hopin operating at such a high speed, the inevitable question of when it can become public arises. An initial public offering is an ambition for Boufarhat, which has already exchanged more than £ 100 million of its own shares privately.

But despite Hopin’s London roots, it looks more likely that any stock market debut will take place in New York. “I would like to IPO in the UK, but at the same time there is a strong negativity around it,” he told the FT in August. “I feel like a lot of them are flop because investors are a lot more conservative.”

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