Jonathan Kazarian #043
Big John sits down with Jonathan Kazarian to discuss the virtual event space. Jonathans company Accelevents grew 2000% in 2020 and was self-funded. Accelevents is an all-in-one virtual event platform that empowers you to engage your audience, create an evergreen community, and drive sustainable revenue growth. Once live events come back Jon still believes that there is room for live events to co-exist with in person events. Be sure to tune in to gain valuable insight into the power of virtual events!
Accel Virtual Events and Hosting with Jonathan Kazarian
Jonathan Kazarian is the CEO and founder of Accel Events, a virtual events company. In today’s world, virtual events are no longer the future- they’re the now.
He spent a good deal of his career in the investment space. In 2014, his 17-year-old cousin was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to do something for her. So Jonathan, 24 at the time, decided to host a fundraiser. He went down to the aquarium in Boston and put his credit card down knowing he had to sell 185 tickets to break even. He ended up selling 840 and brought in about 65k for her cousin, Dana Farber. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find any affordable technology to run the auction and the raffle. So, they built their own and it worked great. After getting some really good feedback, they decided to take the idea and turn it into a company.
At first, they only worked during nights and weekends. They started to introduce ticketing and moved more into the for-profit event space. Everything was ticking up! But then, March of 2020 came along.
They grew 2000% in 2020, as the need for virtual event professionals grew because of the pandemic. The growth was completely self-funded and they didn’t raise capital- they simply grew organically.
At the end of the day, events are about bringing people together, creating shared experiences, educating people, and collaborating. Whether this is done face-to-face or virtually, it doesn’t make that big of a difference if you’re providing organic, authentic relationships and connections that are valuable to people.
This is what the platform is designed to do- provide these opportunities. The events are geared towards keeping it human and easy to navigate, giving you the opportunity to access what you want in the same way you would walk around a venue.
There’s a misconception, especially among the people who have less experience with events, about the difference between a webinar and a virtual event. Again, it goes back to bringing people together in a way that they can interact with each other, more so than ingesting live content.
Virtual events provide a number of different opportunities and rooms to do that, whether that be meetups (think speed dating), professional networking opportunities, or virtual lounges. There are ways for people to come together and give their views on a shared topic, discussion board, or to engage with the exhibitors and sponsors. About 90% of the events hosted on Accel Events are free for the attendees, and all of the revenue is collected through sponsorships.
Accel Events put a lot of emphasis on making sure that sponsors have a great experience, which leads to higher attendee engagement with those sponsors. Again, it’s human, so the people are coming together and interacting, not just browsing static.
As a sponsor, you can build out your site and promote your products and content, but at the same time, you can actually be in the booth. People can pop in and interact with you or a member of your team (sales reps, marketing professionals, etc).
What is it about Accel’s virtual events that make such a difference?
Oftentimes, attendees will come into a booth and eavesdrop on a conversation that one of those exhibitors is having with another attendee, and won’t engage until they’re ready to ask their question. This makes it a lot more comfortable for newcomers to explore the space and gain confidence to find their place.
Behind-the-scenes, the exhibitor knows who you are, what you’re clicking on, and what you’re downloading, which allows them to have a better conversation with attendees because they understand what their intent is. In person, you don’t necessarily know what pamphlet they picked up off the table. However, the virtual space is a much more controlled environment.
The way events took place before, you might have put a lot of business cards out but there was very little you could do to follow up with those people. Virtual event spaces like Accel Events make following up easier, more natural, and more successful.
You have information to follow up with, perhaps discussing something that they looked at, answering a question they asked, or saving something that actually reminds you of what they did. This leads to much higher response and engagement rates.
As life begins to evolve into a new normal, and physical events start opening back up, Accel Events is gearing up for hybrid events. These are events that are both in-person and virtual.
This is great for all attendees and the experience of the event, but the implications are much more than just that. What used to be a once-a-year experience for many people, because of cost, travel expenses, resources, and planning, can now be an event program series over the course of the year. Taking that experience, and having opportunities to develop the community in advance, can make a difference for attendees who can now get to know each other beforehand.
It builds excitement, loyalty, and awareness so that when they are onsite together, they can pre-book meetings with each other, exhibitors, sponsors, and speakers.
You, as the event organizer, get a deeper understanding of your community and what the interests are. If you’re a tech company hosting a conference, you now know what type of content visitors are engaging with.
The majority of the people who have joined the company are out of the event space, whether it be in-person experiences or event tech. Their median response time is less than 30 seconds on chat. If you’re somebody who spends three months planning an event, and that event culminates in a matter of three hours, you don’t have an hour, or even 10 minutes to wait for a response. You need an answer immediately. Accel Events gets that.
Their team carries a sense of urgency that transfers to everything they do.
The virtual event space is very new to all of us, so the need for expertise in customer service and support is dire.
Something you often deal with in conventional spaces is low-quality communication. Just think of an event where you have a brand, agency, a field team, the venue, brand ambassadors, and dozen of separate parties all trying to communicate. In an event like this, communication and coordination have to be flawless in order to be successful.
The virtual experience removes some of the layers and streamlines the communication.
Accel Events practices what they preach, using their own platform as a mechanism for team building and bonding opportunities. What better way for the team to get integrated with their platform and understand the DNA of it than actually utilizing it?
Of course, part of their work involves having a profitable company and a deliverable service, but it’s much more than that. It’s also about uniting communities and recognizing that the event industry and industries, in general, are greatly suffering right now. Moving on and healing takes creative people, like those at EventSpeak and Accel Events, who take the time to rethink how we’re doing things.