In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about online meetings & virtual events during COVID-19.

One thing that has been on the rise during the COVID 19 crisis has been online conferences, and there are a number of factors that are causing this. One of those is that people ar3e working from home and have more time to attend these conferences.

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how the number of invitations to online events conferences has revved up rapidly, Hiten’s experience with online events, how people have more time for online events right now and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:40 Why this topic was chosen.

01:28 How the number of invitations to online events and conferences has revved up rapidly.

02:02 Hiten’s experience with online events.

03:39 How things might gradually shift.

04:23 Why this explosion of online events fascinates Hiten.

04:54 How people have more time for online events right now.

06:00 How people are starving for new connections.

06:40 How online events are much easier to attend.

07:22 One thing that’s always going to be true about online events.

3 Key Points:

  • The amount of invitations to online events and conferences has revved up rapidly.
  • There’s been a lot of exuberance for online events, more than I’ve ever seen in my life.
  • This explosion is fascinating to me.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody this is [Steli Efti].


Hiten Shah: This is [Hiten Shah].


Steli Efti: Today on The Startup Chat we want to talk about online meetings, webinars, conferences during COVID-19, is it a good idea, is it a bad idea, is it going to, yeah what is happening in the world around the trying to bring physical events online, what are we experiencing, observing? We both felt like it’s an interesting thing that’s going on around the world, Zoom fatigue and other things pop to mind. We just wanted to chit chat and see what we’re observing, what we think will happen next, how to think about these things. Let me ask you first, I have just, the amount of invitations to online events and conferences for me has just ramped up drastically. Obviously because this is conference summer time I guess and a lot of conference organizers decided to try to do their events completely online but also just the amount of webinars that companies give, the amount of meetings that you, I mean we always because we were remote, always had a lot of Zoom meetings. It’s gotten even more because now I do Zoom meetings with friends, I do Zoom meetings, calls with family members. I just do a lot more of these virtual video conferencing calls. Yeah, I’m curious, are you also, I’ve done a few conferences, I’ve done a bunch of webinars and everything in between so far. I’m starting to try to figure out how I feel about all of this and if I want to do more or less and what’s going to happen in the market. What about you? What’s kind of been your experience of the last couple of weeks?


Hiten Shah: I think there’s been a lot of exuberance for online events like more than I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll start that way because I still don’t know what to think because of what I just said, there’s been more than ever. For the moment, it feels like people are into it. Into it meaning there’s enough people that are still into it where if you throw some online something or other and have some way to promote it people will show up because it’s not that they don’t have anything better to do, it’s that they’re seeking connection. They’re seeking this. I led a few over the last two or three weeks. I wouldn’t say an insane amount but definitely more than I would’ve normally and I probably have a few more to lead in terms of like topics like product management or remote work or whatever in partnership with different folks. I’ve done that too. I think you’ve done probably more than me. Then even today, the today that we’re recording I have one that I’m going to that I’m actually attending not leading which is usually rare for me. I don’t go to a lot of these things. I don’t know, it’s in the air, what can I say? I’ve never seen anything like it. In terms of what happens next like you’ll probably just see a shift into, a shift or transformations of these events if we continue on the pace we are because I think people are going to get tired of it at some point it’s like hey, enough is enough, we don’t need more online events to go to on some regular cadence or whatever. Maybe the topics will dry up. That being said like I’m not sure because we’ve had online events for the longest time. These online summits and conference [inaudible], they were happening already. This sort of situation has definitely accelerated the amount of companies that are willing to do online events which is now basically 100% of them while in the past you’re talking like five or 10% were willing to do it. This explosion is fascinating to me. It still goes back to fundamentals though like you will get attendance to your online event if you have an audience or you’re able to promote your event to the point where like you get, you know you get people signing up for it and showing up to it. A lot of that has to do with the content and the topic and the people who are going to present if that’s how it works and all that kind of stuff. That stuff hasn’t changed. In fact, now that there’s more competition for people’s time with an online event, I think there’s a combination of things. There’s more competition clearly for people’s time and attention and they also have at least a little bit more time and attention. Even if you do have kids or you have like, obviously this is all like mostly around folks in tech and stuff like that, you still have a little more time. That is work time. You might go to some online event with that time. It’s interesting and some people have a lot more time especially if they don’t have kids or they’re living alone right now because they’re stuck at home. They can’t go out. What do they do on the weekend? What I’m surprised about is I’m wondering why there aren’t more online events on the weekend.


Steli Efti: I think it’s because a remarkable amount of people still will use the weekend to I don’t know, go on long walks or go to the park or …


Hiten Shah: That’s fair.


Steli Efti: Try to do something that’s kind of like not …


Hiten Shah: Normal.


Steli Efti: Sitting at home.


Hiten Shah: So to speak, yeah.


Steli Efti: Normal, kind of people still think in like work week and weekend.


Hiten Shah: True.


Steli Efti: The division is still there I think. It hasn’t been broken through. I agree also that there, it’s interesting on the one hand there’s a lot more noise because everybody is doing an online conference and webinar series and meet ups and online drinking get togethers and online coffee sharing thingy things and all that.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: But at the same time as you said people have more time. People also I think maybe starving a bit more for not just connection but also new connections, right. One beautiful thing that happened during this time for many people is that they were forced in one way or another to spend more time with a smaller circle of people, spend maybe more time with their family than they used to which brings a lot of value. It doesn’t remove the need or the beauty of connecting with new people, right. Maybe that’s something people are starved for right now, is like meeting new people, hearing, interacting with new people. The other thing is that since it’s online, the decision of do I really want to travel you know to this city, whatever that day is very different from this conference is something I always wanted to go to but I never took the time for. Let me look at the speaker list, I’ll jump in for like 30 minute a session here and 30 minute a session there from my couch. It’s a very different kind of an ask. I’m also, I’m very much the wait and see game where I have not yet observed fatigue for this. I don’t see people complaining loudly enough in big enough numbers that this is something they don’t want anymore. I do still see it ramping up but I’m always also skeptical to some degree when everybody is doing the exact same thing I’m like, the one thing that’s always going to be true is if your content is better, if your audience or point of view or the type of people you bring together is more focused, you’re always going to find an audience. You’re always going to find people that will appreciate that, right. Conference does not equal conference. Zoom call does not equal Zoom call. The people that are in there, the things they’re talking about, the way they talk about it and the people that came to listen, all this makes for a unique experience. You can go to two different conferences and have a day and night experience in terms of how valuable and how enjoyable it was. Content is still king and you can still stand out by doing certain things better by selecting certain things a little differently. I am wondering if this is a novelty thing and if in two, three months we’re going to see some kind of backlash. I wonder if somebody out there was planning to do a virtual conference, a summit or something along those lines if you want to do that my best guess, might be wrong but my best guess right now is that you want to do it now. You might now want to wait or plan for it to happen in September and August or something like that. You might not want to plan for a super long time from now to do a big online conference but yeah, same thing with webinars. Webinars are kind of a smaller thing to put together but they’re, companies that always used to do webinars, there’s some of these companies that used to do like maybe a webinar a month or so. Now there’s one that stands in my mind where I’m like they’re doing multiple a day. What is going on? They’re just doing a lot. I had to unsubscribe from one or two email lists that I always like to be on because I’m like I can’t handle four emails a day about webinars. It’s just too much. It’s interesting. It’s also interesting kind of different formats I see [Hopin] pop up a lot more. I don’t know if you know that platform.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: There’s going to be multiple ones. I’ve been to like two conferences where they had this like whole thing where you join online but there’s like a backstage area as a speaker you can hear the current speaker and then you’re invited onstage and all of a sudden there’s another person popping up that’s basically introducing you and it’s trying to mirror more the real conference vibe and experience with the kind of poles and the way that they design the UI/UX which was surprisingly better than I thought the first time I joined it. It was also good content. It was just very focused audience, very good moderation and just the speaker before me and after me were people that I thought were compelling and I wanted to listen to so that makes a big difference as well. It’s going to be interesting. Are you thinking about this stuff? I don’t think you’ve ever done an in person conference. You’ve been invited to webinars quite a bit and conferences, physical conference …


Hiten Shah: We actually own the conference brand, Neil and I.


Steli Efti: Shut up, really?


Hiten Shah: A long time ago, yeah and did a bunch of them. I wasn’t day to day involved but definitely know way too much to be dangerous such as sponsors are what make you money, tickets are gravy, things like that. Yeah, I’m pretty dangerous when it comes to that stuff and you know, yeah I think like typically I’ve always been fascinated by the online version of these things. The main reason I’ve been fascinated by the online version is I think the amount of efficiency you can have and with all the, especially with Zoom and the tooling you can use, you can Hopin and there’s Livestorm. There’s a few different brands out there and products out there that actually make the process easier. I know that Zoom is probably going to try to get into that at some point and make that all easier. I don’t know, I find it like, I find it appealing but for me personally just from a, because you’re kind of going into the sort of marketing angle of it or sales and marketing angle of it, I feel like it’s like one of those things that’s like a shot in the arm and it’s like a one off, we got the shot in the arm and we’re going to do it. It causes some form of a spike for your business which is not by any means, it’s not bad. It’s just those kinds of things that I think are in my opinion and for my own tolerance level are sort of phase two, phase three for a brand unless that whole experience of an online event or something is like somehow core to the business. For our business content is core to our business, same with yours I would say at FYI content is core to our business. [inaudible] at Close I know you folks of have done tons and tons of content. You’ve done some of the video yourself, that’s different, that’s core, right. For other businesses and other [SaaS] companies or whatever, content might not even matter to them, right. A good example is Dropbox. They didn’t do any content. They didn’t grow because of content, right. They grew because of the really strong value proposition matched with a really great double referral program, right that they really popularized. I think like I’m always fascinated by events. I love leading them with partners and letting them manage all the logistics and stuff like that. I’ve done webinars here and there. We used to actually do at KISSmetrics one webinar a week really back in the day. I am entertaining getting back into that mode and doing things like that. It just seems to me like a later stage tactic or like later stage, not even stage tactic for most businesses.


Steli Efti: Fascinating. I think there’s a lot that is happening when it comes to online events, get togethers, conferences, contact exchange with bigger audiences, networking and all that, there’s a lot going on.


Hiten Shah: Absolutely.


Steli Efti: Yeah, I think that we all need to keep an eye on that. If you’re listening to us and you’re like I can’t believe these two don’t understand x, y, z which is happening right now, the big trend that’s going to happen next, please let us know. Just send us an email, please. Keep Hiten,,, let us in in the secret of what is happening next in the space. We’re definitely curious and eager to learn and I think that this space is one to watch because there’s going to be a lot of things happening there. I assume that there’s going to be opportunity there in terms of using those channels to grow your business and to build an audience. All right, I think this is it for us for today. We’ll hear you very soon.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.