Bizzabo, a platform that helps businesses run hybrid online-offline events, has raised $138 million in a series E round of funding led by New York-based Insight Partners.

The raise comes as the COVID-19 crisis leaves what is likely to be an indelible mark on the trillion-dollar events and conference industry, with many businesses preparing to retain digital elements they were forced to embrace in 2020. Web Summit, one of Europe’s largest technology conferences, recently confirmed that it has already booked the venue for its brick-and-mortar return next year, with the goal of hosting 70,000 in-person attendees — plus up to 80,000 online using a platform it developed itself. News outlet Reuters also confirmed that it would be adopting a hybrid events model next year, combining local networking meetups with online incarnations after it saw some success with this approach during the pandemic.

Offline-online

Founded out of Israel in 2011, New York-headquartered Bizzabo was launched as a technology platform provider for physical events, targeting organizers with a range of tools, such as registration and ticketing, marketing, website building, agenda management, networking, post-event surveys, and more. This year, Bizzabo was forced to transition as social distancing requirements decimated demand for in-person interactions, and in March it swiftly launched a virtual events platform in partnership with Kaltura.

“We started to notice an effect on in-person events in mid-February through March, when some of our larger clients began canceling in-person events,” Bizzabo CEO and cofounder Eran Ben-Shushan told VentureBeat. “From there, many others were forced to do the same, and we knew we had to act quickly and provide our clients with virtual solutions.”

In less than three weeks, Bizzabo brought its first virtual incarnation to market, and by the end of June the company claimed its strongest quarter ever.

Through the new virtual component, companies can webcast their keynotes or meetings, network, launch Q&As and polls, and conduct real-time whiteboarding. Engagement metrics also give organizers real-time attendee data around engagement and attendance, including registrations, sessions watched, questions submitted, messages sent, and more. Moreover, Bizzabo can be integrated with CRM tools such as Salesforce, making it easier to align engagement metrics with sales.

Above: Bizzabo goes virtual

Virtual surge

A slew of fledgling virtual event startups gained significant traction in 2020. London-based Hopin recently raised $125 million at a staggering $2.1 billion valuation, just over a year after it was founded and after growing from eight employees and 5,000 users to 200 employees and 3.5 million users during the eight-month pandemic period. Mountain View, California-based Run The World raised two rounds of funding this year, including a $10.8 million series A round in the midst of the global lockdown, and India’s Airmeet closed its seed round in March, followed shortly by a $12 million series A round.

While these companies were fortuitously positioned, having gone to market as online-only events platforms, others faced do-or-die pivots. Similar to Bizzabo, Hubilo was an established events startup that pivoted its entire business model from brick-and-mortar to virtual events in a 20-day period and went on to nab some notable investors. Another young startup called Welcome had to pivot quickly to virtual events after having just gone through a Y Combinator program as a restaurant software startup. Welcome then managed to raise $12 million from Kleiner Perkins and other big-name investors.

Bizzabo could be in a strong position to capitalize on the warm embrace of hybrid events as things slowly return to normal over the next year and beyond. The company has a strong track record in the events space — spanning a roster of high-profile companies, including Inbound, Gainsight, and Drift in the enterprise realm — and it claims the likes of Uber and Rakuten as clients. And any company wishing to operate a truly hybrid event may be more inclined to use a single platform that offers the tools for both online and offline events, with cross-event analytics surfacing trends between the two formats.

“We’ve seen that attendees are participating in more events virtually than they would typically attend in-person,” Ben-Shushan added. “Yet we also know that virtual can never fully replace the spontaneity and connection provided by in-person experiences. For certain event programs, a hybrid experience provides the best of both worlds.”

Bizzabo had previously raised nearly $57 million, and with a fresh $138 million in the bank it plans to build out features that combine the best of virtual and in-person events. It also plans to triple its engineering, product, and “experience” teams and open two new offices in Europe in early 2021. Other investors in the series E round include Viola Growth, Next47, and OurCrowd.

What these new hybrid events may look like and when they will become embedded across businesses largely depends on how quickly and effectively the world is able to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. Even then, it could take a while before companies are willing to risk full-scale physical meetups.

“We anticipate that organizers will first lean on smaller, regional in-person events in 2021 — that are amplified virtually for a hybrid experience — before hybrid experiences become enmeshed with larger flagship events,” Ben-Shushan said.

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