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The Event Ghetto

Way back in 2010, when we were first trying to raise some seed money for the initial concept that would later become DoubleDutch’s flagship event app, it wasn’t particularly easy going.

Investors had bought into the high level premise that mobile / social / cloud was going to disrupt the way work got done within the enterprise. But when we mentioned events as the vertical that was most exciting and vulnerable to disruption, there was a visible cooling of their interest.

It was only after several poor meetings that an investor finally gave it to us straight.

“That all sounds good Lawrence, but you need get out of the events ghetto.  Events are no place for technology startups.”

How could this be?  Weren’t events the single biggest spend within the CMO budget?  Wasn’t it a $500B+ industry?

When I pressed him on this, the best I could figure out was that Silicon Valley just didn’t give a crap about events because they happened in the real world.  And things happening in the real world were out of the reach of software, and their 80 percent gross margins.  Real world meant humans, and service, and high touch, and unscalable businesses.

Of course there were some exceptions.  Ticketing and registration were fundable businesses (See Eventbrite and Cvent), but the heart and soul of the industry - the events themselves - were the domain of the big service shops like Freeman, AMEX, and GPJ.

Want some proof?  Try looking for a recent market research study of any substance about the events category (Hint: there’s been two since 2009).  Try looking up the Gartner Magic Quadrant for event technology.  It doesn’t exist.

Looking back, as smart as these investors and analysts were, I think they missed something fundamental about mobile’s impact on the world.  Mobile was never going to be about bringing existing software to a new form factor.  Instead, mobile is about creating a digital extension to the real world.  Bringing online fundamentals to offline.  Digitizing the meatspace.

Through this lens, events, conferences, and tradeshows suddenly get very, very interesting to technologists.  It’s the ultimate petri dish for mobile / social / cloud converging on an enormous industry.  Hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people coming together, untethered from their desktops, for periods of intense networking, learning, lead generation, and commerce.

Riding on the backs of the mega trends of mobile, social, and cloud, technology is moving out of the registration and ticketing fringes, and into the core events themselves.  No longer do event day decisions need to be made via hunch and intuition.  The ability to optimize events the same way we might optimize a website, is now within reach.  This is rapidly becoming a story that technology investors and analysts can understand.

As I look around the enterprise and consumer landscapes in 2014 at categories like CRM, and collaboration, and retail, and mobile payments, there is nowhere that the digital and real worlds are colliding more forcefully than events.


Put another way, there is nowhere that I would rather be than right smack in the middle of the Event Ghetto.


(Notes from Frost & Sullivan report 'A Survey of Meeting and Event Planning Professionals and Hotel Operators")


  • Globally, there are 5 million meetings and events held annually

  • And, there are 512 million attendees to these M&Es

  • One in 10 large enterprises holds more than 750 meetings and events annually

  • $565 billion is spent on meetings and events annually

While 46% of corporate event planners and 59% of mid-market planners have not yet used mobile apps, mobile app usage is said to...

  • Increase attendee engagement at events by 33%

  • Increase sponsorship sales by 13%

  • Lower printing costs by 7%

By Lawrence Coburn | 29 April, 2014

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About the Author: Lawrence Coburn

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Founder & CEO