Will the world ever go back to big personal events? Of course. Ultimately. CES has already moved in that direction this year, for better or worse.
But everyone has already tasted virtual events, and their many ups and downs. UPS? Huge potential audience! No flight! No mile long lines to enter the horror show bathroom! Below? The technical side of things can get remarkably complicated, and it’s hard to make a virtual show more compelling/interactive/engaging than a YouTube video.
Virtual events (or, in many cases, hybrid virtual/physical events) are here to stay. zoodley, a virtual events platform, has raised $13.35 million Series A so they’re easier to host, easier to customize and, hopefully, more attractive.
Co-founder Bharat Varma tells me that Zoodle’s focus isn’t just on the big, public-facing trade shows we all hear about every year. Instead, they’ve found momentum in helping large companies (their landing page names are Microsoft, Kellogg’s, and HSBC) to host their own internal events—think job fairs, training events, and cross-department networking gatherings.
“These Fortune 1000 companies spend as much on internal events as they do on external events, purely because of the scale of these global teams,” he says.
But every company, and every team, would like to do things a little differently… So Zuddl was built with flexibility/customizability in mind. Want a Step? Sure. Five? Why not! Change the color scheme, brand it however you like, and turn on only the features you really want.
Part of this is allowing companies to create virtual venues as they see fit, with customizable backgrounds/clickable hot zones to give the interface some semblance of physical space. They offer a bunch of templates, but companies are free to make it look like a convention center, or a concert hall, or their actual office – just upload your images accordingly. Image-centric approach brings me back to the point-and-click game of the 90s (Click on the door, enter the room!) Slightly, but hey, it works.
Behind the scenes, they are also doing a lot to ease the complexities of hosting a live stage. The host of each stage invites their guests to go “backstage”, where they are able to chat privately, do A/V tests, etc. – right through the browser. They can then quickly move guests to the stage in front of the audience, or drag a guest backstage if their internet tanks or their mic starts to cut. There’s a dedicated chat area for backstage hosts to communicate with speakers on stage (“Hey, you’re on mute. Zuddl can also handle things like recording sessions, stage timers, and ticketing system integration.
He has put a lot of thought into the experience as a participant. You can attend small/private roundtable sessions while having a live view of the main stage. There is a rich Q&A/Voting system, even allowing audience members to be invited to the stage (of course, after backstage checks, of course, to check their video/audio and any also… erm, to avoid surprise) to ask their questions. It has a built in speed networking feature where attendees can opt for rapid-fire matching with others for quick video conversations (with a predetermined length, so no one has to be the one to end it) ), and encourage attendees to explore an alternative gamification system event.
Virtual Events As Simple As It May Look (Hopefully) Very Behind the scenes there is complex machinery (read: a billion bits of software taped together) doing all this work. I’ve been to (and helped host!) a lot of these things.
The round was led by Alpha Wave and Qualcomm Ventures, and backed by GroX Ventures, Waveform Ventures and several angels. It was also part of Y Combinator’s S20 class. Varma told me that Zoodle is currently made up of about 70 people. Prior to this, it had raised a seed round of $2 million in October 2020.