Will the world ever return to big personal events? naturally. Recently. CES has really moved in that direction this year, for better or worse.
But everyone has already tasted virtual events, and their many vicissitudes. UBS? Potential huge audiences! No flights! No long queues to enter the horror show pools! drop? The technical side of things can get noticeably complicated, and it’s hard to make a more compelling/interactive/interactive virtual presentation than a YouTube video.
Virtual events (or, in many cases, hybrid virtual/physical events) are here to stay. Zuddl, a virtual event platform, has raised $13.35 million in Series A for easier hosting, simpler to customize, and hopefully more engaging.
Co-founder Bharat Pharma tells me that Zuddl’s focus isn’t just on the big trade fairs we hear about every year. Instead, they’ve found momentum in helping large companies (their landing page names Microsoft, Kellogg, HSBC) host their in-house events — think job fairs, training programs, and cross-departmental networking gatherings.
“These Fortune 1000 companies spend as much on internal events as they spend on external events, just because of the size of these global teams,” he says.
But every company and every team may want to do things a little differently…so Zuddl was built with flexibility/customizability in mind. Do you want one stage? surely. five? Why not! Tweak the color scheme, design it the way you want it, and turn on only the features you actually want.
Part of this is letting companies build a virtual place as they see fit, with customizable backgrounds/clickable hotspots to give the interface some semblance of a physical place. They offer a range of templates, but companies are free to make it look like a conference center, banquet hall, or their actual office – just upload your photos accordingly. The image-centric approach takes me back to the ’90s point-and-click games (Click the door, enter the room!) A bit, but hey, it works.
Behind the scenes, they also do a lot to simplify the intricacies of hosting live stages. The host of each stage invites their guests “behind the scenes”, where they can chat privately, take audio/video auditions, etc. – all through the browser. They can then quickly shift guests to an audience-facing platform, or pull a guest away from the stage if their internet cabinets or their microphone starts to stop. There’s a chat area just for backstage hosts to communicate with onstage speakers (for things like “Hey, you’re on mute.”), so you don’t have to try to cram a Slack window onto your screen between everything else. Zuddl can also handle things like recording sessions, stage timings, and ticket system integration.
They also put a lot of thought into the experience as attendees. You can join smaller/private roundtable sessions while maintaining a live view of the main platform. There is a rich question-and-answer/poll system, even allowing audience members to be invited to the stage (after they’ve been vetted backstage first, of course, to check the video/audio and avoid any…surprises, surprises) to ask their questions. There’s a built-in quick network feature, where attendees can sign up to be matched with others for quick video chats (a pre-set length, so no one is the one to finish it), and an optional game system encourage attendees to explore the event.
As simple as (hopefully) virtual events may seem, there is often a file Much There are complex machines behind the curtain (read: a zillion pieces of software taped together) that make it fully functional. I’ve visited (and helped host) a lot of this stuff. At a glance, Zuddl appears to do a good job of boiling several pain points away.
This tour was led by Alpha Wave and Qualcomm Ventures, and supported by GrowX Ventures, Waveform Ventures and a number of Angels. It was also part of Y Combinator’s S20 class. Pharma tells me that ZDL currently consists of about 70 people. Prior to that, it had raised an initial $2 million round in October of 2020.