How Cvent is using its first-mover SaaS edge to disrupt the global events management market
For Reggie Aggarwal, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of events management software company Cvent, it all started with a bunch of sticky notes and a spreadsheet.
Back in the early nineties, when Aggarwal was a corporate lawyer in Washington DC, he would often bring together Indian-origin CEOs of large and small technology firms to exchange notes on some of the common problems that the diaspora faced in the US. Those informal huddles, usually organised by Aggarwal, soon blew up into more than 100-people formal networking events.
“I used to run the networking events as a non-profit initiative. As the president of the non-profit, I was responsible for planning and managing our events which back then was a manual, time-consuming process. I used sticky notes and Excel spreadsheets to manage events for some of the biggest CEOs in the area, and it just wasn’t working. The pain point was obvious to me, so I set out to create the Aspirin!” Aggarwal told TechCircle.
He decided to follow his instincts and in late 1999, on the eve of the infamous dotcom bubble bust that would wipe out more than half of the world’s internet companies, he launched Cvent, an online event registration platform, in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC. Over the next year, he raised funding worth $17 million from some of the top technology CEOs in the DC area, including CEOs of AOL, Nextel, Bell Atlantic and Nortel.
In 2001, when the dotcom bust hit the US, Cvent found itself on the brink of bankruptcy. Aggarwal decided to put the entire platform of Cvent solutions on the cloud and the pivot to a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model paid off. With a revised business model based solely on serving the customers and delivering the SaaS solutions they needed most, the company was able to turn a profit within five years.
It went on to raise $136 million from marquee venture capital investors New Enterprise Associates and Insight Venture Partners and listed itself on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Then, it reverted to a private company about four years ago when it was acquired by private equity firm Vista Equity Partners.
Managing events on the cloud
Today, because of its early-mover advantage with SaaS, Cvent finds itself uniquely positioned in the events management market. The global market for events management technology is as big as $1 trillion, with at least 25% of most chief marketing officers’ budgets dedicated to events, said Aggarwal.
Cvent solutions are used by more than 80% of the Fortune 100 firms and more than 50% of the Fortune 500 companies. With customers such as MetLife, Wells Fargo, The Coca-Cola Company and Procter & Gamble, the company has around 25,ooo enterprises as its clients.
The firm’s solutions are aimed at two broad sets of customers -- event planners and venue owners. “This led us to offer two kinds of cloud services in the form of SaaS – the Event Cloud and the Hospitality Cloud,” Aggarwal said. The services are now hosted with public cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The Event Cloud offers software solutions to event planners and marketers for online event registration, venue selection, event management and marketing, onsite solutions, and attendee engagement.
According to Aggarwal, the solutions help planners view multiple venues after a proposal for the event requirement is submitted following budget approval. “It acts just like a search with filters that meets your requirements as a customer. Our suite of products automate and simplify the planning process to maximise the impact of events,” he said.
These solutions also include event management functions such as understanding how many people in total attended the event, how many people attended specific sessions of the event and how many people moved from one zone of the event to the other.
“This helps the company arranging the event to gain insights into the event. They can learn about what kind of people attended and what exactly they were interested in the event and then later can make marketing or sales pushes accordingly,” he said. This, he said, can be either achieved through facial recognition techniques at venues or by simply scanning badges at different zones at the venue.
Aggarwal cites the example of Cvent’s association with AWS during its annual re:Invent conference which was attended by over 50,000 people. “We were behind several things such as helping people attend, where the different sessions were, how they could get there and how to plan attending the event way ahead,” he said.
The Hospitality Cloud partners with hotels and venues to help them drive their group and corporate travel business.
“Hotels use the Hospitality Cloud's digital marketing tools and software solutions to win business through Cvent's sourcing platforms and to serve their customers directly, efficiently and profitably – helping them grow and own their business,” Aggarwal said. For hospitality professionals, Cvent has launched a lead scoring tool, which applies machine learning and artificial intelligence to help venues and hotels prioritise, evaluate, and route requests for proposals (RFPs) that planners
send. The company expects to see at least 25 million RFPs to be processed through its tool this year.
Chasing MICE in India
The company started its operations in India in 2002 and currently has more than 1,400 employees, of which 650 were hired in 2018. Aggarwal said that the recent hiring drive was because of the growing MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) market in India, which is still miniscule compared to the size of the US MICE market.
According to a report by advisory company EY, the events and activation market in India is expected to reach Rs 10,000 crore by 2021. The report estimates that the events market in India stood at Rs 5,631 crore in 2016-17.
Going by data compiled by VCCEdge, News Corp VCCircle’s research platform, Cvent India Pvt. Ltd’s total income for the year ended March 2018 stood at Rs 223.5 crore compared to Rs 216.3 crore for the previous year, an increase of 3.2% approximately. The company’s profit after tax dipped to Rs 26.6 crore for FY18 from Rs 28.15 crore for the previous year.
The company earns its revenue in two ways. First, it earns advertising revenue from its hospitality cloud product that lists hotels for events and, secondly, from companies using the event cloud on a usage model.
Aggarwal said that Cvent was expanding its technology team globally and India currently is home to 400 of the total 1,600 engineers.
“In India, we’re looking for talent to join us across the organisation – not just technology – and the team here will continue to support and drive our global growth across Europe and APAC (Asia-Pacific). The event technology market is still so new in many parts of the world, including India, so there is ample opportunity for growth,” he said.
Aggarwal, who claims to have no plans of exiting the company, also said that international expansion will continue to be a big focus for the company.
“We look forward to growing our presence in Europe and APAC with new office locations and expanded headcount. In addition, we will continue to develop and launch innovative solutions and enhance our portfolio through acquisitions and internal development,” he said.
While Aggarwal claims that Cvent has no rivals, there are a few recent entrants such as Fonteva, Hubb, Eventable and Pictatic that offer similar solutions. While US-based Fonteva, founded in 2002, offers logistics management, guest management and event analytics services with the help of Salesforce, Vancouver-based Hubb, founded in 2015, offers a platform dedicated to managing meetings and conferences. On the other hand, US-based Eventable, founded in 2013, offers event management tools and analytics that help customers connect back data to their customer relationship management (CRM) systems. San Francisco-based Pictatic, founded in 2008, offers a web platform for ticket management, other email tools for event coordination and creates custom widgets for customers to sell tickets.