The year 2020 was one we won’t soon forget. For many of us, it changed the way we see the world, bringing about a fundamental shift in the way we live, work, and do business. With in-person gatherings banned due to social distancing restrictions, the events industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now that we’re seeing the tail-end of the pandemic, in-person events are seeing a major resurgence with concerts, sporting events, weddings, and more all fair game once more.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be bouncing right back to the same reality we experienced pre-2020. Some changes because of the pandemic are likely to stay, and many of us have learned some invaluable lessons along how will stay with us much longer than the pandemic.
Transform It Forward with Daphne Hoppenot: What’s on the horizon for the events industry
In the most recent episode of Transform It Forward, I sat down with Daphne Hoppenot, events industry expert and the founder of The Vendry. Launched in 2019, The Vendry is a digital marketplace and professional community for the events industry with over 18,000 members and counting.
In response to the pandemic, Daphne quickly pivoted to position The Vendry as a community platform for event professionals. This enabled them to connect with others and showcase their work.
Now that live events are trickling back into the fold, The Vendry has launched a new tool, which connects buyers with event venues and vendors in the community.
During our discussion, Daphne shared her perspective on how the events industry is bouncing back post-pandemic, and how it will continue to evolve in the future. She also walked us through the journey of launching The Vendry, and her overall vision for the company as the industry shifts.
A gap in the events industry
In her twenties, Daphne launched her career working for a global B2B company called Yext. There, she was in charge of partnerships, which meant organizing and producing regular events ranging from private dinners to large trade shows.
During her time at the company, Daphne noticed there was no central database where event organizers could easily search for venues. There were platforms specific to sourcing wedding and hotel venues, but there was a gap in online marketplaces for events.
This realization led Daphne to launch The Vendry — a platform that would connect event industry professionals with available venues. Creating the platform led to its own unique set of challenges as Daphne and the team were essentially tasked with building a directory for venues from scratch.
“In a way, the problem our team is trying to tackle is like building Zillow, but without the MLS, which is the core database feeding Zillow. So, there’s a lot of data that isn’t online that we’re trying to bring online.”
These ideas had been percolating in Daphne’s mind since 2018, but it wasn’t until April 2019 that she launched The Vendry’s official website.
Hacking the system
According to Daphne, to break the “chicken and the egg” cycle of the marketplace, companies need some sort of hack to get a leg up on the industry.
For The Vendry, this meant creating a beautifully branded portfolio website where vendors could show off their work — sort of like Instagram but for events industry professionals.
Similar to other social networking sites, The Vendry enables users to tag other vendors and venues in the industry to ramp up their brand visibility and provide credit where it’s due. Once Daphne had built enough momentum to get the platform off the ground, the network effect drove organic growth exponentially.
“Unintentionally, we realized early on that those network effects were going to trigger market hopping dynamics that would let us scale all over the place.”
The Vendry eventually built up thousands of profiles on the portfolio site, and from there, they were able to pivot and start building out more marketplace technology where planners could access quotes from these venues and vendors.
And then, just as Daphne and the team were picking up steam, something happened that would change the course of history: the pandemic hit.
Events in the time of COVID-19
The timing of the pandemic was minimally catastrophic for The Vendry, which was composed of a nimble four-person team because they had just closed a fundraiser which would give them 18 months of run rate. Daphne says that if the pandemic had hit just two months earlier, they would have been up the creek without a paddle.
Luckily, the team had the time and bandwidth to pause and reflect on their offering when the pandemic hit, and it was immediately clear that focusing on a marketplace for venues wouldn’t be the wisest business decision given the climate.
“I think we got very lucky there, but we had the luxury of going to the whiteboard and saying, alright, we have money and good people in the team, what do we do? And building a marketplace focused on venues at that moment in time didn’t seem to make sense, so we ended up building this big community for the industry.”
Instead of focusing on venues as their core offering, The Vendry switched gears to build a supportive community for events professionals.
The team noticed that more than ever, a sense of community and network support would be essential, especially for the events industry. They began focusing on building out this platform, researching other community platforms like LinkedIn to gain an understanding of what made them successful.
“It was a really challenging time for the industry. As we went to the whiteboard, what was abundantly clear was two things: people were losing their jobs and those that still had their jobs were trying to figure out how to pivot to virtual. We felt that we had the opportunity to give the people in this industry sort of an online community and a true tech platform behind that community where they could be a resource to one another or personally build out their profile to stay relevant.”
Now, the platform has over 18,000 members from all corners of the industry, which has been a huge help in boosting The Vendry’s relevancy. In the end, focusing on building the community platform paid off for Daphne and the team because it ended up fueling the marketplace that they’ve re-centered on today.
The future of events
The Vendry is currently focused on building out this marketplace, but in the future, Daphne says they hope to expand beyond venues to other areas like staffing, gifting, and experiential events.
So, what’s on the horizon for the events industry as a whole?
Daphne believes that while in-person events are back on the table, many of our pre-pandemic behaviors like regular cross-country business trips are gone for good.
There will always be a place for in-person, experiential meetings and events (especially in the age of social media exposition), but as a society, we’ve all become much more comfortable meeting virtually wherever possible.
- To break into the marketplace and break the “chicken or the egg” cycle, Daphne mentioned you need a way to hack the system. For The Vendry, their strategy included creating a branded platform to encourage vendors to sign up and create a profile. Once they had built enough momentum, the network growth was exponential.
- Daphne’s experience running events for a B2B company gave her the ability to recognize the value of the industry. By leveraging her knowledge and experience, she recognized a gap in the market and took advantage of the connections she had at her disposal to bring her idea to life. As with any other startup, Daphne noted there were multiple touchpoints along the way that made it possible to get The Vendry off the ground.
- As the industry grappled with the pandemic, The Vendry saw the need for an online community-based platform for event professionals. The team explored other community platforms like LinkedIn to build out the model, incorporating elements like discussion boards, profiles, and more. Today The Vendry has 18,000 members, and the company can leverage this community to gain relevance in the events industry.
- By targeting the events industry as a whole, The Vendry is tapping into every element of events including gifting, corporate meetings, and more. The broad nature of the industry will provide plenty of opportunities for growth and expansion in the future. While there will certainly be long-lasting shifts in the industry because of the pandemic, in-person events are already bouncing back and will continue.
- Looking at the driving factors behind the evolution of event design, younger people like Gen-Z and millennials are the generations of experiential events. Given the power of social media, experiential events are bigger than ever. Events like Dreamforce by Salesforce will continue gaining traction in the event space moving forward.
Listen to the full podcast episode here.
If you missed previous episodes, click here.