Presented by Slack Fund
This is the first in a series of conversations with founders from Slack Fund portfolio companies, which will explore their growth stories and the roles they play in creating the future of work. Slack Fund’s mission is to work with entrepreneurs creating the next great software companies that will change workplaces around the globe.
In the first article of this series, Jason Spinell, head of Slack Fund, sits down with Hopin Founder & CEO Johnny Boufarhat to discuss the start-up’s rapid growth over the past 18 months.
Johnny Boufarhat founded virtual event platform Hopin in the summer of 2019 and by the beginning of March 2020, he led a team of six employees.
The business was growing rapidly. Having just closed a Seed Round, Johnny and his team were in the process of redesigning their tech stack to manage greater scale. A small number of organizations were using Hopin to host live virtual events, and the platform’s waitlist numbered 10,000 of the world’s largest organizations.
When COVID-19 hit, demand for Hopin skyrocketed. Johnny realized they needed to open up the Hopin platform quickly, and the company moved fast to make it happen for organizations that needed a platform like Hopin more than ever. Just over a year later, the business has over 660 employees, and more than 100,000 organizations around the world hosting events on the Hopin platform.
I sat down with Johnny to talk about their journey and explore what the future holds for Hopin.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Jason Spinell: Let’s do a quick introduction — can you tell us a little about yourself, your journey to becoming the founder of Hopin, and a bit about the company?
Johnny Boufarhat: I started Hopin to connect with others, as an autoimmune disorder left me isolated and stuck at home in London. While I was recovering, I was trying to connect with people by attending events. But because I couldn’t go to physical events, I was struggling — webinars, networking, etc., didn’t really work.
I wanted to create a way to network online that actually created a bond between people. I created the initial version of Hopin, and we experienced a lot of virality. We raised our seed round and officially launched in March 2020. We were growing quickly, making revenue at a fast pace, and had a huge waitlist, but the blocker was that our initial platform couldn’t handle the scale.
We were in the process of rebuilding our systems when COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, everyone wanted to use the platform. We’d initially planned to launch towards the end of 2020, but instead, we chose to open up the platform almost immediately, and the viral rate was insane, especially for B2B software.
We had to learn very quickly — as a founder I couldn’t be doing customer support at every hour of the day, so we started hiring a customer support team. It was the same pattern all across the company, so we started hiring faster and faster.
The company is fully remote, which allows us to get the best talent in the world and bring them onboard and up to speed quickly. Today, we have over 660 employees across 45 countries at Hopin who support more than 100,000+ organizers using the platform.
The steady march of a hybrid future
Jason Spinell: For a long time at Slack Fund, we’ve had this thesis around the acceleration of the future of work and you and the Hopin team have been early believers in it. What does the ‘future of work’ mean to you and what role do you think software plays in shaping it?
Johnny Boufarhat: In my opinion, the future of work could go a lot of different ways. But overall, I think people want the flexibility of a hybrid approach.
Our first big customer, before the pandemic, was an organization who was hosting an annual conference in New York City. They wanted to reach a global audience and knew that a hybrid event could help them to do that. Not everyone in their audience could travel to New York, but they still wanted to reach those people, sell them tickets, and build relationships with them.
We firmly believe hybrid events are the future. Why wouldn’t you want to attract more people to your event? Why wouldn’t you want your event to be more flexible?
From a perspective of whether people will go back to the office or not, I think companies will have to offer a hybrid option. It’s going to be an unbelievable disadvantage if you don’t have a flexible working environment, particularly for employees with families or other commitments. I think most will adopt hybrid, if they haven’t already.
Supporting exponential growth
Jason Spinell: What long-term impact do you think the pandemic will have on the way we work and collaborate, and what role does Hopin play?
Johnny Boufarhat: We’re excited. We’re not only going to be with event organizers virtually, we’re now going to be with them onsite, with our recent acquisition of Boomset. We want to be the all-in-one platform for organizers to host an event, and for attendees to have a great experience, regardless of whether they’re attending physically, virtually, or both.
Our mission as a company is to make the world feel smaller, and there’s no better way to do that than to give people the flexibility to attend from wherever they are.
Jason Spinell: You talked about the scale you’ve gotten to, and the flexibility that hybrid work enables. But what challenges do you think companies will need to overcome or address to make hybrid work successful? What tools are you using at Hopin to help with that?
Johnny Boufarhat: There are so many incredible products out there. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to run a remote company as efficiently as you can today. Today, because of the tools that are available, I think it’s an advantage to be a hybrid company. We use tools like Slack, Notion, and Loom — and, of course, Hopin — to collaborate and work together asynchronously. They allow the world to work from wherever they want.
At Hopin, our big hack for remote is having a Vibe Team. It’s a ten-person team that sits within our People organization, and they’re responsible for everything to do with bringing people together. They’re incredibly important.
One thing they’re in charge of is our all-hands meeting, which a lot of people at other tech companies dread. But we operate ours like a TV show — the content is amazing, we use StreamYard to create super high-production value, we produce features with different teams, we play games using integrations we’ve built into Hopin. It’s a real production — they work on each meeting for three or four days.
Their responsibilities don’t stop there. They organize all of our internal events, they bring in awesome speakers and they optimize tools like Slack by adding new integrations to make people more engaged at work.
All these things improve the vibe at Hopin, and ultimately our company culture. We do periodic surveys to measure people’s happiness at the company, which has been over 90% according to our last two surveys — above the average rate for SaaS companies, which is typically between 50 – 70%.
Where virtual events are headed
Jason Spinell: We saw a boom in virtual events last year driven by the impact of the pandemic. But even as companies start thinking about a return to the office and the future of hybrid work, we’re still seeing strong momentum in virtual events. What’s next for the virtual event industry, especially as the world pushes towards resuming in-person engagements?
Johnny Boufarhat: The big focus is creating a bridge between online and in-person. We’re going deeper and deeper to add more features — we’ve improved registration and we just released a website builder for event facilitators. We are also building out the Hopin platform to be an all-in-one for event management. Most recently we acquired Boomset, a leader in onsite event solutions, to add premier onsite event technology and services like badges, self-service kiosks, and tracking management. We’re excited to bring Hopin users even more meaningful data insights for their events whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual.
Through it all, our focus is to move fast and ship cool features our users will love. An example: our mobile app allows people to network virtually whether they’re at the event physically or virtually. It creates that double layer of connection — they can see what people are saying, engage with everyone else, see who’s at the event and more. It’s a very meaningful way to connect, no matter whether you’re attending the event physically or virtually.
Jason Spinell: What customer demands are you working to meet? What new features and functionalities has Hopin been focused on recently to take virtual events to the next level?
Johnny Boufarhat: We’re already a multi-product company. We have event marketing support for event promotion, our virtual venue for virtual events, SteamYard for production and immersive livestreams, jamm for collaboration, and now Boomset for onsite technology and tools.
Our customers’ desire for easy event management drives our mission to be an all-in-one platform. The events industry today is pretty fragmented. A customer might buy their event registration platform from one vendor, an on-site check-in solution from another, and so on. They typically use five or six providers, but there’s an opportunity for an all-in-one platform, and that’s where we come in by providing a seamless solution that includes virtual and onsite technology and services.
Leaving your ego at the door
Jason Spinell: As you think about your journey, what’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs or founders?
Johnny Boufarhat: Oh, so many things. It depends on where they are in their journey.
At the very beginning of your journey, it’s so important to truly believe in yourself. Often, the difference between someone who raises funding, or gets their first customer, is hard work and belief. Believe in yourself, be confident, work really hard, and the luck will come.
As you start to scale, it’s important that you, as a founder, drop your ego. Everyone has one, but it’ll hold you back from growing. It can be hard to give up pieces of your company to the people you hire, but you need to make sure your ego is in check. Otherwise, your perspective can change for the wrong reason.
Jason Spinell: We’ve got one more question, and it’s a fun one — what’s your favorite Slack emoji?
Johnny Boufarhat: Party parrot. We made a custom one that beats to the Hopin logo – it’s awesome.
Slack Fund is a venture fund that invests in and collaborates with entrepreneurs creating the next great software companies building the future of work, a future in which work-life is simpler, more pleasant, and more productive. To date, Slack has invested in Lattice, Guru, Notion, Mural, Hopin, and Loom, bringing them to 90+ total investments across North America and Europe. For more information, visit: https://slack.com/fund
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