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."

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