People

Is Hopin this year’s breakout tech startup? Investors seem to think so.

The online platform for events is now worth over $2 billion after growing to over 3.5 million users.

Johnny Boufarhat

"This could be the fastest company ever to grow if we execute correctly," says Hopin CEO Johnny Boufarhat.

Photo: Hopin

To Hopin founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat, using Zoom is the equivalent of having an event in a WeWork conference room. His platform, Hopin, wants to be the entire event venue downstairs.

"I would say any event you have over 20 people, that's when you should use Hopin," Boufarhat said. "Because after 20 people on meeting software, it becomes a little bit harder to manage. I think our biggest competitor is webinars, because that's what the previous conception of events were."

Investors and event organizers are starting to realize the difference, too. Since February, Hopin says it's grown from 5,000 registered users to over 3.5 million. The number of event organizers has also jumped from 1,800 to 50,000. Boufarhat told Protocol that the company is on pace for $20 million in ARR and is profitable.

The spike in growth led to investor Semil Shah calling Hopin the "breakout tech company of 2020," a moniker that Boufarhat agreed with before joking that he hopes it doesn't set it up to become the flop of 2021. Extra cash will probably help prevent that. On Tuesday, the company plans to announce a new $125 million series B funding round led by existing investor IVP and new investor Tiger Global. Other firms, including Coatue, DFJ Growth and Accel, are also pitching in.

The fundraise pushes Hopin's valuation to $2.125 billion — a massive leap for a company that had only raised its seed round last year, but not entirely unexpected for the category.

Videoconferencing startups have proliferated in the pandemic as everything from church services to work conferences have moved online. And while Zoom has had its own crazy growth and has become synonymous with video calls, startups are still finding opportunities to build their own specialized platforms. There are other startups, like Airmeet, which are also specializing in online events. Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller is building a new platform designed for college-level online education. Meanwhile, there's a Zoom for developers, Zoom for parties, or Zoom but less boring.

Boufarhat deflects the Zoom analogies because he sees it as an entirely different use case. He had actually started working on Hopin — before the pandemic — as a way to build better online events. After graduating from university, Boufarhat traveled in Asia but came home sick and remained relatively isolated for a few years while he recovered. He started trying online events, but nothing felt like it could replace being there in person.

"I wanted to attend an event just like I had in real life," he said. "So I started creating a video platform that allows you to do that."

Instead of feeling like a webinar, Hopin lets users network with each other and pair people up for one-on-one conversations. There are sessions where people can gather at virtual roundtables, and then also stages (and importantly, backstages for speakers) for keynotes. There's even a virtual expo while in-person expo halls are closed.

Hopin offers stages, and even backstages, for event speakers. Image: Hopin

Boufarhat released an early version of Hopin and quickly realized there was a lot of built-in virality. In the earliest days, an average of 7% of users wound up becoming event organizers. Today, it stands closer to 3%, but the virality has been what's quietly driving its growth so far, he said.

While he originally intended to bootstrap, Boufarhat decided to go out and raise a small seed round last fall. "We just needed to have an incredible pace," he said. "This could be the fastest company ever to grow if we execute correctly, and that's a massive 'if' because I've never done something like this before."

He was able to raise a series A from early traction alone in February, but had originally planned to launch Hopin as a platform in September. And then coronavirus happened, so Hopin moved up the launch. Now, the team has grown from eight employees to over 200 in the last eight months, he said, and Boufarhat plans to put Hopin's new funding to work to hire more.

The startup is also going to take a run at platforms like Eventbrite by having an "Explore" feature where people can find online events that might interest them. In the next week on Hopin, there will be a summit for preschools, a Canadian craft fair and a telethon. Already, some of Boufarhat's favorite events on Hopin this year were conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt and a comedy show called "Smart Funny & Black."

The question for Hopin — and all the startups building for our virtual-first world — is what happens when the pandemic is over. Already, "stay at home stocks" like Peloton, Roku and Zoom fell Monday after the announcement of COVID-19 vaccine progress, signaling slight reticence (at least in the public markets) that those companies can maintain their staying power when this is done.

Boufarhat isn't troubled by it at all, though. He thinks some events, like concerts, will return to in-person, but he's betting on a hybrid future where most events happen online with an occasional real-world component, too.

"Organizers get more value from them online," Boufarhat said. "Not everybody likes traveling across the world for business. It's not great for the environment, it's not as accessible. I think that if they do move offline, they'll be hybrid."

Climate

A pro-China disinformation campaign is targeting rare earth miners

It’s uncommon for cyber criminals to target private industry. But a new operation has cast doubt on miners looking to gain a foothold in the West in an apparent attempt to protect China’s upper hand in a market that has become increasingly vital.

It is very uncommon for coordinated disinformation operations to target private industry, rather than governments or civil society, a cybersecurity expert says.

Photo: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just when we thought the renewable energy supply chains couldn’t get more fraught, a sophisticated disinformation campaign has taken to social media to further complicate things.

Known as Dragonbridge, the campaign has existed for at least three years, but in the last few months it has shifted its focus to target several mining companies “with negative messaging in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities.” It was initially uncovered by cybersecurity firm Mandiant and peddles narratives in the Chinese interest via its network of thousands of fake social media accounts.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Ripple’s CEO threatens to leave the US if it loses SEC case

CEO Brad Garlinghouse said a few countries have reached out to Ripple about relocating.

"There's no doubt that if the SEC doesn't win their case against us that that is good for crypto in the United States,” Brad Garlinghouse told Protocol.

Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said the crypto company will move to another country if it loses in its legal battle with the SEC.

Garlinghouse said he’s confident that Ripple will prevail against the federal regulator, which accused the company of failing to register roughly $1.4 billion in XRP tokens as securities.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Policy

The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

At the heart of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision in West Virginia v. EPA was a codification of the “major questions doctrine,” which, he wrote, requires “clear congressional authorization” when agencies want to regulate on areas of great “economic and political significance.”

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Enterprise

Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said last month it would no longer provide general use of an AI-based cloud software feature used to infer people’s emotions. However, despite its own admission that emotion recognition technology creates “risks,” it turns out the company will retain its emotion recognition capability in an app used by people with vision loss.

In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins