Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the Virtual Summit that was organized by Steli and his team at, which you can check at

Virtual summits are a trend that’s becoming very popular in the startup world. They are typically video interviews of 20 or more experts on a given topic, which viewers opt-in to watch. Most of the time, they are free for a limited time, however, organizers can add the option for subscribers to pay for unlimited viewing later.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about what virtual summits are, lessons they learned from organizing the inside sales summit, pros and cons of organizing one and what you should consider before organizing your own virtual summit.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:37 – About Close’s virtual summit and Hiten’s interview.
  • 01:49 – Steli talks about the Inside Sales Summit
  • 03:51 – Lessons Steli learned from the summit.
  • 05:59 – Why a lot of people were disappointed by Steli and his team.
  • 07:45 – Steli’s shares how he was able to partner with influencers for the summit.
  • 09:17 – The beautiful thing about organizing a virtual summit.
  • 10:48 – About next virtual summit.
  • 12:10 – Cons of a virtual summit.
  • 13:46 – Hiten gives suggestions for Close’s next summit.
  • 15:49 – Steli shares some tips for people thinking about organizing a virtual summit.


  • Partner with people who share the same goals as your company.
  • Make sure your summit has a platform for networking and social interactions.
  • Don’t stop even if your first try failed.


Steli: Everybody this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah And this is Heaton Shaw. I’m really motivate to talk about this today because of many reasons. Some I will share in future episodes but, basically, Steli and his team at Closed Out IO did a virtual summit. There’s about to be a car that drives by, a bus, but anyways, they did a virtual summit and it happened recently. You had to put in your email and then, you got access to these videos about sales. I was one of the people that was interviewed. I had a blast on my interview and I think some people liked it but, there was a whole bunch of other people that were interviewed as well. The reason I’m really interested in this is, I see a trend. I think this can be a very rapid fire episode like we like to do to give you a lot of value in very little time. The trend I see is instead of companies doing conferences, and events, they are starting to do virtual summits because they are, I’m assuming and you could probably debate me on this really fast, but they’re less logistically complicated. They can be seen by many more people and they’re probably one of the best ways to do lead generation today. They’re very emerging. I haven’t seen enough companies do virtual summits. I don’t think they’re going to go out of style. I think they’re only going to get more popular and that’s my two minute preamble for me to interview you about your virtual summit because I have never done one. Participated in a few and don’t understand what you do about it.



Steli: Awesome. Yeah, let’s do it. So, we … You’re right. We just did the inside sales summit and for people who are curious about it, we published your interview on the start up chat just recently but, if you want to get access to the entire thing you can go to the, no the. Put in your email and check out all the interviews that we’ve done with over 50 people. For us, this was a big experiment. We’re going to publish a blog post very soon. We cover all our learnings and the templates we used to invite these speakers into and all these things. So, happy to talk about it. Share some of the learnings and some of the things we want to do next time because we’ve already decided we’re going to do another, hopefully bigger and better. So, yes, this trend is emerging. I’ve been invited to a number of these virtual summits as well. The idea is, instead of doing a physical conference where you invite all these speakers and you have all the people psychically having to go to a certain place to go and watch these talks and participate in these sessions, you do it virtually. You record, prerecord, these sessions. Then, you release them over time. What we did is we did Monday through Friday and every day we would release 10 interviews, 10 videos. So, this is brand new content, brand new interviews just for the summit. Ryan Robinson did this on our team and he did a brilliant job interviewing all the people. So, people all around the world can just put in their email and participate and get the content. Right? For us, the reason why we did this, A is we wanted to expand over to a format but B, we’re a remote company. We love doing things that have global appeal and impact and access. So, we wanted to experiment with this format and figure it out. So, I’ll start with … How should I start here? I’ll start with some should be obvious but, was still surprising learning. The biggest most surprising learning here was that are two fold. One, people are fairly … It’s fairly easy to get people to agree to participate in a virtual summit as a speaker, right? It’s kind of a great way to build your network as a brand to reach out to people that are thought leaders, they’re very admired, they work for companies you think are awesome and associate yourself with their brand. Also, they gain some knowledge from them and expose them to your audience. Hopefully get some exposure to their audience for yourself as well. So, it’s not that hard to get people to agree to speak. We did this with 50 people. That’s a lot of people. The list of people we didn’t invite is even much larger. There were people that wanted to speak or people that we thought, “Oh, they have good audiences and they’re kind of well known but,” if we felt like this is not somebody we want to expose to our audience because we don’t truly believe in their philosophy, so their ethics or, we don’t really love their teachings, we shied away. Not to say that we didn’t invite some speakers that we love some of the things they do but not everything, right? So, it was interesting to select the speakers but it’s fairly easy to get these people to agree to speak. So, that’s one thing. But, the other thing is that what we did is we wanted to make sure the speakers, and even more importantly, some of the speakers that were more partners, that they would promote the summit with us to make this a much bigger event than just an event that our audience attends to. The unsurprising factor is that it’s easy for partners of people to agree and say yes, we’re going to promote this, yes we’re going to send out an email, yes we’re going to let the world know. Even to agree to say, hey we’re going to do a list show. We’re going to promote really aggressively. You’re going to promote really aggressively and then, all the attendants that participate, we’re going to share that audience in the different marketing departments. It’s easy to get people to agree to this but then, to get them to actually do the work they agree to is surprisingly hard. So, a lot of people disappointed us. There were two levels of disappointment. One, was that man, the grass is always greener. You think some of these people, or companies have … You just assume that this massive audience and then, when they tell you how big their audience truly is, it’s kind of surprising because often times it’s much smaller than I thought it would be. That’s one. Then, two, it was much harder to get them to do what they promised us to do. So, some of them would promise us, “Hey, we’re going to do a dedicated email, for instance. We’ll send an email to all our email list to promote the Inside Sale Summit.” Then, they would just not do that-



Hiten Shah And if that-



Steli: Oh, go ahead.



Hiten Shah And instead, what do they do?



Steli: Instead they just edit it at their last item on a generic newsletter or something like that.



Hiten Shah Did you write the copy for them?



Steli: We gave them a template, an off copy.



Hiten Shah Yeah.



Steli: So, we followed that advice that we both have given to followers many, many times but, I found that many did not use the copy. There were some that did but many, because they didn’t do a dedicated email, they just did a little blur thingy.



Hiten Shah Did you make them sign an agreement?



Steli: Yes. We did but, the first few that we make sign an agreement, we made a mistake. I corrected that mistake in the middle of organizing the summit and I’m very glad we did but, it still turned out to be a bad idea that we did the mistake, at least one department at least. So, the original agreement was, you’re going to do these types of promotions, we’re going to do these types of promotions and then, we’re sharing the list with you, right? That was the original agreement. We did this with, I think, five or six partners. Then, at the seventh partner, I made a correction to this. I said, “You’re going to do this type of promotion. We’re going to do that type of promotion. Then, we’re going to do a list share with you matching the amount of emails you drive to the summit. So, if you bring us 1,000 subscribers, we’re going to give you 1,000 on top of it back that attended Inside Sales Summit. If you get us 10,000, we’ll give you 10,000. If you give us 100 sign ups, we’ll give you 100 emails on top of that back. So, we’ll match what you bring to the table.” That was a very, very good idea. I wish we’d done that for the first and not just starting from the seventh partner or whatever it was, because many of these partners, A, they didn’t do what they fully agreed on the agreement but some of them did. They still, the engagement on their email list were not as great as we thought. So, they would drive surprisingly little … There was one, or there were two partners that drove surprisingly little sign ups but they’ve got a big email … Big list of email back from us because that was the original agreement. Fortunately, we didn’t do this with everybody but, that was the big learning. Don’t just tell them promote it to your email, and whatever we’re going to do with all our other partners, we’re just going to share the entire list with you because most of them will not warrant to get that return because what they bring to the table is just not that great. Now, having said that, there were some great partners. Some partners that … I think this is another … This is a learning that I didn’t anticipate. One of the beautiful things about doing the summit is, you do one event, you partner with lots of companies, lots of speakers and you see which ones really are kicking ass, which ones are keeping their word, bringing value, doing an awesome interview, driving lots of traffic and sign ups and are a pleasure to work with. So, you make a mental note, which is what we did, and go, “Oh shit, these are five people, or six people. We should do a lot more fucking marketing with because they’re awesome. They bring a ton of value.” And, here are a bunch of people that although they seem famous and successful. They have a well known brand, we don’t want to do marketing with them in the future. We don’t want to do things with in the future. So, it allows you to really see, look behind the scenes in a big way with a large group of people and decide who do you want to invest more time with and partner more with because there were some awesome people and some awesome companies that really kicked ass. So, it was not all bad. But, it was interesting just to see, look behind the scenes, on how all of these companies do promotion, how big their email list are, how engaged their email list are. It’s always a healthy thing, and I know you and I try to teach this often times when people talk to us and they look up to us. They think we’re amazing and everything is amazing that we do. It’s like, chill out. Things are great but they’re never as amazing as you think. You know, reality sometimes is not as great as it looks like from the outside. So, that was an interesting learning. Moving forward, for the next summit, I’ll tell you this right up front. We’re going to spend a lot more time on the kind of picking up promotional partners and then, really investing much more time managing the promotional process. We spent most of our time actually just doing or inviting all these people, organizing the calls and the interviews. Recording the content, putting together the website. All that organizational stuff took a lot of our time and the promotional stuff took a back seat. The next time around, now that we have experienced, we already have the website, we already have kind of the structures and the processes in place, next time around we’ll spend a lot more time on the promotional piece and hopefully, do even much, much better. But, that was kind of one of the big learning lessons, is that you really have to babysit people through the promotional process. When you do promo agreements, my learning is, don’t just do an agreement that says you’re going to promote and then, you’re going to get everything. You’re going to get the entire list shared of the success that we generated. It should proportional to the success they’ve delivered.



Hiten Shah Yeah, I love that model. I think, honestly, you basically did a postmortem right now on the event. Do you have any other key take aways that really stand out for you that you’d be willing to share, that you’re going to do next time?



Steli: Yeah. So, I think, I mean, one thing we’re not sure about … I’m thinking about, I don’t have an answer yet is, the one thing that’s missing in a virtual event that you get in a physical one is the ability to network, an ability to check with other attendees, share some knowledge, get feedback. Getting a sense that something is truly life. It’s hard to do this virtually really well. I see this sometimes when I’m participating like YouTube live streams, or Facebook live streams. It’s kind of cool because it’s live, it’s happening right now. You kind of see the comments and the number of people that are watching it with you but often times, these discussions are really low quality and it’s kind of more noise and scanning than really productive. So, I’m not sure how to do this well but a thing that I’ve been thinking about is, how can we make this a little bit more social of an experience? The other thing that was interesting is that unsurprisingly, but still heartbreaking to us to a degree, is like okay, you can tell that people sign up for the virtual summit and then, we would send those people every day an email kind of pitching them. “Hey, today here’s the 10 speakers. Here’s the sessions. Here’s what you’re going to learn. Click here to watch the videos.” Unsurprisingly, many people watch the first day but then, although they were subscribed, I’m sure they had the best intent in mind that they wanted to watch all of it. They did really watch all the videos. You had the small group of people that watched tons of videos and most people just watched one. Even, I think, a really big portion of the list just didn’t watch a single video. So, how do you get engagement to be much higher is another … I don’t really have an answer yet but, that’s definitely something I’m pondering for the next virtual summit.



Hiten Shah Got it. I got a couple things there real quick. One, spend more time on the content in the story for each email, and turn it into actual text, not just the video or whatever. In a way where it’s like … I know I had some killer nuggets in mind but they didn’t show up in your email, you know? Then, obviously, it’s like tease them that if they watch it, they’re going to get more and they’ll get a transcript if they click. So, that’s one thing. Story, and doing that. Then, the next thing that I thought of was consider, and I know this takes a little more tech, and we have a bunch to talk about on this, but I think we should end it after my thing and whatever you’re going to say next, but consider another channel besides email, such as slack or notifications, or something like that. Like, browser notifications. Chrome and Safari all have that where they can get notified right when the next one goes live. The last thing I’ll say is an ability to either save or bookmark it. Or, share it with someone else, even if that person didn’t sign up for it. So, all those ideas combined, I think, would be to better engagement within the videos and stuff.



Steli: Yeah, I totally agree. We try to do … The emails that we were sending out on a daily basis were just like bullet points with the names and maybe the title of the subject. You’re right, we could spend a lot more time really highlighting some of the nuggets in the real powerful stories that were shared in some of these talks and interviews. I think it would make a drastic difference. I like the notification one and the slack one. There’s a lot more that can be done there that we just didn’t get to in the first one.



Hiten Shah If you subject mine and said Heaton Shaw, Hates Sales, but we got him to talk about it. That would just crush it in terms of open rates and all that. I’m not saying that because it’s me I’m saying that because a lot of people know who I am and I don’t talk about sales a lot but you guys always get me to do that, right? I’m okay with you doing that. So, I don’t know. Just a thought for you because that problem, I feel like anyone that does a virtual summit, is going to have.



Steli: I totally agree. Okay, so here’s my last tip on this for people who are considering doing this. One is probably we’re going to release this episode in conjunction with a blog post. Ryan is the person on our team that did organize the entire summit. All the interviews, so he knows even a lot more about this than me. So, he’s going to … We’re going to link to the blog post and you’re going to get a lot of more details on the summit with numbers and all that. But the other thing is, this to me is a general generic truth but, one thing that I realized with this just like with anything else, when you do something … If you as a company decided we want to do virtual summits as a marketing and branding tool, just don’t even get started if you’re not ready to do at least four or five of them. Don’t even get started because the first one you’ll do will never be perfect. It will never be all it can be and you do one thing and it has all the success in the world. You’re always going to learn so much in the first run. You’re always going to build … Going to have to invest to build the infrastructure and lay the foundation. If you stop after the first time you do it because it didn’t do the 10 million sign ups that you were dreaming out, you’re never going to get the out of the investment of time to do something new. So, for us, I think we’re going to do a number of these in 2018 and really get this perfected. Then, really get in our eye on all the investments that we made to get started with this. I see a lot of companies that do virtual summits that invite me as a speaker as well. They never do a second one, right, because it’s a lot of work and because they might had much higher hopes than what it did for them in the first time around. So, I really think this is a generic truth. If you start a new marketing challenge. If you’re not committed to spend significant time, and iterate, and improve, and learn and build on these learnings, then don’t even do it. Just keep doing and keep improving on the challenges that you are already using. Alright, I think that’s it from us for this episode.



Hiten Shah Peace out.