Flashback to mid-2019 when the world was normal, and the direction of technology growth was more predictable. New ideas were conceived based on conventional truths and startups created businesses by exploiting perceived niches and opportunities. The Virtual Conference Network Pty Ltd (VCN) was one of those startups whose idea was to create a business by teaming with existing Audio-Visual companies and streaming live content to a new audience for both real time and on demand viewing. At that time everyone was attending live conferences in locations in every country and little attention was given to creating an audience that stayed at home.

VCN created a business plan and in the first week of March 2020 successfully raised funds to launch the startup.

The World is Turned Upside Down

No sooner than the funds had hit the bank then disaster struck in the form of Covid-19 which had the immediate effect of governments doing what was previously unheard of, ordering lockdowns and creating social distancing rules. The event industry was among the first to feel the impact of the pandemic with every conference across the world cancelled or postponed whilst organisers considered how to manage events they had planned, ticket sales receipts they had banked, venues they paid deposits for and a host of other costs they had incurred.

The immediate response was that ‘this will all be over in a few months’ which was a bit like the allies’ response to World War 2 when the feeling was ‘it will all be over by Christmas’, however neither of these assumptions have proved to be correct.

So What Did VCN Do?

VCN’s business plan was based on forming associations with Audio Visual companies and receiving a live feed from a live event. This feed would be streamed to online viewers and stored for on-demand viewing with both formats creating additional revenue for conference organisers and the Audio-Visual companies, a win-win situation.

Unfortunately with no live conferences for the foreseeable future and Audio-Visual companies shutting down their operations the business model disintegrated overnight. VCN had funds but no plan!

The Classic Pivot

With every storm cloud a silver lining can appear and in this case it did in the form of an overnight realisation that virtual events could fill the gap created by the cancellation of live events. Professionals still needed to remain up to date in their fields, sponsors wanted to remain in contact with their client base and presenters still had valuable content that was of importance to their peers.

The virtual conference space had largely been ignored by event companies with software management platforms focussed on venue hire, speaker management, travel requirements, accommodation needs, entertainment and catering etc., from all of which respectable profits were being made. Now, with sizeable numbers of employees, physical office space, overheads etc., and a decimated revenue stream they scrambled to put into place a virtual event response.

VCN’s response was simple, what it planned to build last it moved to the front of the queue and started work on an end-to-end platform that enabled conference organisers to plan, create programs, record presenters, sell tickets, live stream and record for on-demand viewing without anyone leaving the comfort of their own home. That platform has reduced the cost of a live event by replacing it with a fully manageable virtual event and, as a purpose-built platform, it has reduced the costs when compared with other virtual event platforms by up to 70%.

When the World Returns to Normal

Covid-19 has had such a dramatic impact that we have seen patterns of work, travel and consumer behaviour change significantly and in the conference industry it has been predicted that:

·         97% of event marketers believe we will see more hybrid events in 2021
·         93% of event marketers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward

(Source: https://blog.bizzabo.com/event-marketing-statistics)

The virtual event is here to stay.

Conclusion

No startup can raise funds without a business plan; however, no-one can predict the future. Founders should always keep an eye out for alternative opportunities that may be possible if all else fails and be in a position to change directions if needed.

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