For K.C. Hopson, SXSW was the bellwether.
The CEO of EventRebels had a good start to the year as the company worked to provide software for conferences and trade shows and moved to a new office in Towson. But a couple of weeks after that move, change came along with the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the cancellations starting, he looked to SXSW, the annual music, media and tech festival that drew 400,000 people to Austin in 2019 and has become a focus point on the national calendar in March. On March 6, word came through: SXSW 2020 was off.
“I said, ‘If this show is canceled, everything is going to fall apart,'” Hopson said.
With the prospect of large gatherings turning into super spreader events for the coronavirus, many other events soon followed that are in EventRebels’ range of small and medium-sized conferences from a few hundred to 10,000 attendees. It left the events industry reeling, and Hopson preparing the team for the worst. In the harrowing moments, they also decided to get to work on new products.
“That week, we said, the writing’s on the wall. We’re going to have to do something virtual,” he said.
With big events moving online, they soon found another path — and like so much of our lives in these months, it came through Zoom. The videoconferencing software took off in the pandemic, and it was quickly adopted not just for daily standups and happy hours, but for big industry events. Hopson could see why it had appeal: It was both accessible and technically advanced. When he had trouble reaching anyone at a company that was suddenly flooded with demand, Hopson found that the platform had APIs open for developers to access.
Since EventRebels already had scheduling software, the APIs presented a way that it could integrate with Zoom. The result is software for organizers that coordinates a conference schedule with rooms for the different sizes of sessions that folks would typically find, and can offer multiple sessions at the same time.
It also has tools to brand a virtual event portal to match a website, a Vimeo integration that can help with pre-recorded content and tools for follow-up.
Twenty years in to running the company, it has a familiar feel for Hopson: He’s demo-ing products and working on SEO. Even the market power of Zoom in this moment has a similar feel to the Microsoft of the ’90s when Windows reigned.
“We’re a startup again,” he said.
It’s had early success for customers, but the new software didn’t wipe away all of the losses. The company got help through the difficult spring months via a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Hopson credits to help from M&T Bank’s Roland Park branch, and offers that for any company, an established banking relationship key to getting help quickly in a crisis. He hasn’t had to lay off any of the company’s 10 employees.
Going forward, Hopson sees virtual events as here to stay. Like so many areas where technology is helping to keep people connected when they can’t be together, it is only speeding up adoption, so the team is at work on the kind of software that can serve these events. Next up, the team is at work on trade show software that’s also set to be released this summer.
“Were putting all our energy into this because I think this is the future,” Hopson said. “What happens when you have times of crisis like this is it takes all the existing things and exacerbates them.”-30-
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