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Bizzabo raises $138M for a platform that helps you build and run virtual conferences

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Conferences have — for better or worse (and if you’ve ever been trapped in a cavernous CES exhibition hall, you might say worse) — become a significant cornerstone of how industries engage with their audiences, whether they are comics superfans, or iOS developers, or insurance brokers. This year has undoubtedly seen a huge shift in how those conferences exist. The Covid-19 health pandemic has drastically curtailed travel and how people spend time in crowded places, decimating the wider event industry, estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion annually before Covid, in its wake.

Today, however, comes news of a significant round of funding for a startup that is showing one way out of the mess. Bizzabo, which provides a platform to plan and run both virtual and in-person conferences, from its earliest stages of conception and handling sponsorships, through to managing interactions between attendees, and provisioning the conference itself, has closed a round of $138 million — funding it will use to drive the growth of its business, said CEO Eran Ben-Shushan (who co-founded the company with Alon Alroy and Boaz Katz) in an interview, after seeing that business boom this year, running conferences for large businesses and event planners. (Its customers include companies like Uber, Gainsight, Github, WeWork, Accenture and actually — disclosure –TechCrunch.)

Revenue has grown 100%, with the number of events organized through Bizzabo up 65%, he said, with the number of attendees registering for events with Bizzabo up 500% and overall usage is up 150x.

“With a vaccine likely and more hybrid events in the future, we anticipate even greater growth,” he added. “Bizzabo has been the category leader, experiencing hyper-growth both pre-pandemic and during the virtual transition, we are excited to continue to lead the market forward by doubling down on product, technology, and user experience, to help organizations unlock the power of hybrid experiences.”

He said that will include the building of more tech to integrate virtual and in-person experiences, and tripling its engineering, product and experience teams, adding two new offices in Europe for the Tel Aviv-New York startup.

This Series E is being led by Insight Partners, the VC known for its big growth investments; previous backers Viola Growth, Next47, and OurCrowd also participated. Viola led Bizzabo’s previous round, a $27 million Series D in April 2019. Ben-Shushan did not disclose the valuation in this round except to say that it has grown by 400% since then. The company has raised some $195 million to date, and for some further context on valuation, recall that Hopin — another platform to help manage events online — last month raised $125 million at a $2 billion+ valuation.

Bizzabo started life in 2011 positioning itself as the “Salesforce for events.” Leaning heavily on cloud architecture and providing integrations into the many productivity and communication tools that an event organizer might use, the idea was to provide a platform to knit all that together and give organizers a way of using apps and online services to extend touch points between and with attendees. That could take the form of registration software to sign people up and collect payments for would-be attendees; chatrooms for people at specific sessions, better ways for exhibitors and sponsors to connect with visitors, and for those visitors to connect with each other during and after the event.

All of that changed this year when key in-person events started to get cancelled. At first these just disappeared into a black hole with virtually nothing to replace them, and then gradually, as the year went on, organisers started to look for virtual alternatives.

“The virtual conference market was almost non-existent” before 2020, said Ben-Shushan. “Pre Covid, a fraction of events were virtual, less than 2% of total events. March 2020 started the ‘virtual transition period’ in which live events were no longer possible in most parts of the world.”

That move dovetailed with a bigger shift in workplace communications: a huge surge of video use spearheaded by the likes of Zoom, Google, Microsoft and many others that had built platforms for people not just to speak to each other over the internet, but to see each other, too. While videoconferencing has been around for years, much of it was based around very costly hardware and software packages used mostly by large corporates. The big innovation was leveraging the growth of faster internet, better basic computers and cameras, and the cloud to make videoconferencing something anyone can use.

Event organisers seized the moment and the bigger events, which had already been offering streams of their live events to those who could not attend in person, started to think of how to shift the whole experience online. That was a whole new set of demands on organisers and those participating in the conferences, but turned out to be just one more thing to add in and consider for the likes of Bizzabo. It hasn’t rebuilt its platform but has just continued to extend what it does within in.

For example, it didn’t offer streaming as a core part of its service, but it’s very much a part of it now, in partnership with Kaltura, which provides live streaming technology as a service.

Interestingly, while a lot of that been in effort to “make up the difference” and has resulted in some interesting approaches to provide new, and sometimes even better, bridges between people, some Bizzabo does not think the live event should be left for dead.

“Our data shows that although there are meaningful advantages to virtual events (higher reach, lower production costs), event organizers and attendees want to go back to live events,” said Ben-Shusan. “2021 will mark a new era in the event industry – the hybrid era that integrates experiences of remote and live participants.”

Hybrid will indeed be the name of the game, it seems, even if we still may have a lot of question marks over how big that game will be after all this is over. Inevitably, some events may never come back.

“COVID-19 has permanently transformed the professional events category,” said Matt Gatto, a Managing Director at Insight Partners, who will join the Bizzabo board of directors, in a statement. “Bizzabo’s impressive growth and momentum began pre-pandemic and accelerated during it as they launched the industry’s first end-to-end event technology solution. Their pedigree in both in-person and virtual events and their impressive execution capabilities have them well-positioned to lead this rapidly evolving space. We are excited to partner with their leadership team and to support them in this new phase of growth.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Facebook predicts ‘significant’ obstacles to ad targeting and revenue in 2021

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While Facebook’s fourth quarter earnings report included solid user and revenue numbers, the company sounded a note of caution for 2021.

In the “CFO outlook” section of the earnings release, Facebook said it anticipates facing “more significant advertising headwinds” this year.

“This includes the impact of platform changes, notably iOS 14, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape,” the company wrote. “While the timing of the iOS 14 changes remains uncertain, we would expect to see an impact beginning late in the first quarter.”

Facebook has already been waging a bit of a campaign against Apple’s upcoming privacy changes, which will require app developers to ask users for permission in order to use their IDFA identifiers for ad targeting — although the PR focus has been the impact on small businesses, not Facebook.

Facebook also highlighted two broad economic trends that it says has benefited from during the pandemic: The “ongoing shift towards online commerce” and “the shift in consumer demand towards products and away from services.” But again, it took a cautious stance, writing that “a moderation or reversal in one or both of these trends could serve as a headwind to our advertising revenue growth.”

As for those fourth quarter earnings earnings, Facebook reported $28.1 billion in revenue, of which $27.2 billion came from ads, with earnings per share of $3.88. Wall Street analysts had predicted EPS of $3.22 and revenue of $26.4 billon.

Facebook also reported an average of 1.84 billion daily active users and 2.80 billion monthly active users for the quarter, up 11% and 12% year-over-year, respectively.

“We had a strong end to the year as people and businesses continued to use our services during these challenging times,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a statement. “I’m excited about our product roadmap for 2021 as we build new and meaningful ways to create economic opportunity, build community and help people just have fun.”

As of 4:45pm Eastern, Facebook shares were up 0.7% in after-hours trading.

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How trading apps are responding to the GameStop fustercluck

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The furor surrounding GameStop and its stock price has consumed social media, business television, and the hopes and dreams of many retail investors. It has even convinced some folks that causing short-term economic damage to a few hedge funds is similar to shaking up the global financial market.

It isn’t, but a lot of folks are doing some downright risky things with their personal capital all the same. And some of them are making those investments — bets, let’s be honest — on platforms that have lowered barriers to buying and selling stocks by cutting trading fees to zero. Apps and services like Robinhood, Public, M1 Finance and Freetrade.

After noting reports that some traditional brokers were limiting access to GameStop and other so-called meme stocks, TechCrunch was curious what the newer, app-based investing services were doing for their own users.

A spokesperson for M1 Finance, a Midwest-based consumer fintech player that offers a basket of banking and investing services — more on its growth here and here — told TechCrunch via email that it wasn’t taking “specific” steps regarding individual stocks.

But the company also provided a statement from its CEO, Brian Barnes. In his comment, Barnes drew a delineation between investing, and trading, which he likened to a casino, adding that his firm “question[s] whether short-term trading is predictable, sustainable or repeatable.”

It isn’t for nearly anyone, of course. Barnes went on to say that his company thinks that “ownership of great companies and assets at reasonable prices that compound for long periods of time is the most straightforward and repeatable way to build wealth,” and that they have focused their company more around that ethos, “forego[ing] the mania of the moment.”

Turning to the well-known Robinhood, an impressive 2020 growth story, TechCrunch asked the same question regarding warnings or other guardrails for users concerning certain equities.

In an email a Robinhood spokesperson directed TechCrunch to a comment that its CEO, Vlad Tenev, made on CNBC earlier today:

Like other brokerages do, we monitor volatility and we take steps as appropriate like raising the margin requirements. I do think it’s wrong to assume though that most of our activity is characterized by trading of volatile stocks. As I’ve said before, most of our customers are what’s called buy and hold. They deposit and buy over the long term.

Robinhood changed margin requirements for GameStop and AMC Entertainment to 100%, TechCrunch understands. And like M1, Robinhood doesn’t allow users to short equities. So, there’s that.

Something notable about the companies we are discussing is that not one of them wants to be labeled as the place where folks like to trade a lot. Which amuses me as cutting fees to zero, which they have largely done, is at once a great way to democratize investing, and, also, a great way to encourage folks to trade more frequently. And as the apps and services that offer free trading often make money when users trade (read this), their chatter about their users being focused on buying and holding always rings slightly thin.

Anyhoo, some apps are going as far as adding warnings. Public, a company that TechCrunch recently covered, said that the company has added “‘High Risk’ safety labels” to the meme stocks that are causing so much ruckus.

Public has long had a stated focus on building community over trading, which led to us having a question or two about when it is going to kickstart its monetization plans. The company did just hire a CFO, which makes this move appear in concert with its general ethos, so more to come there we presume.

And, finally, U.K.-based Freetrade. TechCrunch has covered the service before, making it a good company to rope into this group. Per the company, Freetrade restricts small-cap stocks to the subscription tier of its service, which should limit access amongst its user base to GameStop and other memetic equities.

The company also stressed that it does not offer options or “any other form of leveraged derivatives” and has made “huge investment in investor education and financial literacy.”

So there’s a general bent toward either building products that are not tuned for day trading in silly stocks or providing some protection against users’ worst instincts amongst the cohort of companies that have also made it inexpensive to trade. There’s tension there, akin to this.

But they can only do so much. People are dumb, and it’s not looking like that’s going to get much better anytime soon.

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SoftBank teams with home goods maker Iris Ohyama for new robotics venture

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You’d be forgiven for being underwhelmed by the output from SoftBank Robotics thus far. The firm’s best-known product to date is almost certainly Pepper, a humanoid robot designed for greeting and signage that grew out of it 2015 acquisition of French robotics company, Aldebaran.

There’s also the matter of the investment firm’s acquisition and eventual sale of Boston Dynamics. The deal certainly went a ways toward accelerating the company’s go-to-market approach, but Boston Dynamics changed hands fairly quickly, when it was sold to Hyundai late last year (SoftBank maintains 20%).

The latest wrinkle in SoftBank’s robotic ambitions is nothing if not interesting. The firm announced today that it is joining forces with Iris Ohyama. The Japanese brand, which will hold a 51% stake in the venture (with SoftBank controlling the remainder), is best known for its home goods. The company makes a broad range of products, that includes, as Reuters put it, “everything from rice to rice cookers.”

You’ll be able to add robotics to that list, soon enough. The newly formed Iris Robotics has set an extremely aggressive goal of $965 million in sales by 2025. In a joint press release, the company noted Covid-19-related concerns as a major catalyst in the launch of the division. Certainly that makes strategic sense. There’s little question that the past year has kickstarted serious interest in robotics and automation.

The first couple of products from the venture don’t appear especially ambitious out of the gate, however. To start, it seems they’ll be rolling out “Iris Editions” of a pair of existing devices: Bear Robotics’ restaurant robot Servi and cleaning robot, Whiz.

Here’s a quote from SoftBank Robotics CEO (forgive the Google translate),

With the urgent need to realize the new normal in the corona virus, various new expectations are being placed on robots. This strong partnership with Iris Ohyama is a huge step forward for the expansion and penetration of robot solutions. Taking full advantage of the strengths of both companies, we will respond quickly to the challenges facing society.

Certainly the technical ambitions seem more modest than what the folks at companies like Boston Dynamics are currently working on, but Iris Ohyama seems well positioned to make some headway in the home robotics category to start.

 

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