Communications tech Layoffs Startups Venture

Investors Have Stopped Showing Up For Virtual Events Startups

Illustration of Zoom meeting on Laptop.

At the peak of the pandemic, event-goers didn’t have a choice about whether to join in-person or online. Virtual was the only game in town.

Investors, who did have a choice, opted to put a lot of money into startups aiming to make the virtual and hybrid event experience more productive and enjoyable. In 2020 and 2021 alone, more than $1.5 billion went to upstarts in the space, per Crunchbase data.

But among these startups, no one was beloved like Hopin. The London-based virtual events platform pulled in over $1 billion in 2020 and 2021 from lead backers including Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst. By late 2021, its valuation had skyrocketed to $7.75 billion.

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Less than two years later, a much different narrative is playing out. Live events have bounced back, and Hopin’s valuation has cratered. This week, the company said it agreed to sell its core events product, along with other assets, to RingCentral, a cloud communications platform for businesses that is looking to expand its events offerings.

A pandemic-era investor favorite

Hopin’s trajectory doesn’t bode well for other funded companies in the virtual and hybrid event space that raised big rounds during the pandemic.

It’s a large group. To get a sense of the major players, we used Crunchbase data to put together a list of 31 companies with an online events focus that raised a few million dollars or more. The vast majority have not raised funding since 2021.

The top funding recipients also have been cutting staff. Hopin reportedly cut 29% of its staff last summer, just months after an earlier round of layoffs.

Bizzabo, a B2B-focused events platform with hybrid and virtual offerings, reportedly laid off 40% of its staff late last year. The Israel-based startup was the second most heavily funded company on our list after Hopin, with $194 million in known venture funding.

Another startup, Hubilo, a virtual events platform that raised nearly $150 million in 2021, reportedly laid off 35% of its staff early this year.

Hybrid events are sticking around

Still, even though hybrid and virtual events businesses haven’t taken off like their venture backers hoped, offerings aren’t going away either.

These days, with Covid lockdowns behind us, we’re getting a better sense of where people want to gather and where they don’t. Restaurants and concerts are back, big time. The office, not so much.

Conferences and business events, meanwhile, fall into an in-between zone. Yes, people would prefer to network face-to-face, and there’s a lot of value to meeting others in the same field in person.

However, travel and lodging costs add up. Attending in-person may also not be ideal for someone who’s just interested in a couple of sessions. So there’s still a place for hybrid and virtual gatherings.

The value of platforms that enable such gatherings, however, seems quite a bit lower than what was presumed a couple years ago. While the Hopin purchase price wasn’t disclosed, the deal almost certainly valued assets at a tiny fraction of the full company’s peak valuation.

RingCentral’s total market capitalization is around $3.8 billion — less than half what Hopin was worth at its peak. Also, as a public company, RingCentral is obligated to disclose a purchase price if the deal was deemed large enough to have a material impact for investors. Apparently, it was not.

Although RingCentral isn’t buying the entirety of Hopin, it’s buying the parts that it was best known for — events. What remains of Hopin will be carrying on, including streaming assets and a community project called Superwave. Chief Technology and Product Officer Badri Rajasekar will be taking over as CEO, and founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat will be stepping down from operations.

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Illustration: Dom Guzman

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