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34 | Marco Giberti: Black Swans, Virtual Events, and The Future of the Industry

  • April 15, 2020
  • 44:57

In this episode of the IN-PERSON Podcast, Marco Giberti (Founder of Vesuvio Ventures) shares what event and marketing professionals can learn from COVID-19. Featuring tips on producing virtual events and embracing a hybrid event strategy.

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Top Takeaways

1

AVERTING CRISIS THROUGH INNOVATION:  In October of 2019, just months before COVID-19 hit international headlines, Marco wrote an eerily prescient article on LinkedIn where he predicted that the event industry was ripe for disruption by a “black swan” event. When it comes to facing unprecedented black swan events like COVID-19, Marco believes that constantly innovating an event experience is key. “I'm convinced that technology is going to generate better events, more productive events and a way more efficient return of investment for brands participating in those events.”

2

SETTING EXPECTATIONS FOR VIRTUAL EVENTS: Virtual events provide event organizers with an invaluable way to engage their audiences when in-person is off the table and they can also be an invaluable complement to in-person events when in-person events are on the table. But, as Marco puts it, they are very different. “Pay attention to setting the right expectations. A virtual event is not going to deliver a customer experience that is similar to a face-to-face event, and I see a lot of webinars these days saying this is almost as cool as meeting face to face. It's not. It's a different animal.”

3

MOVING FORWARD AFTER COVID-19: Considering what the events industry will look like after COVID-19, Marco is optimistic that in-person events will return. However, he believes that technology will play an even larger role in future event plans. “I don't think that face-to-face is going to disappear...I believe that this is going to be a huge learning experience for all of us in this industry about how fragile our business model is and how important it is to have a plan B on a digital basis.”

ABOUT Marco Giberti

Marco Giberti is Founder and CEO of Vesuvio Ventures. He has more than 25 years of intensive experience as Co-Founder and CEO in media, technology, and events industry companies. He sits on several boards of directors and on advisory boards. He also assists co-founders and CEOs in consultative capacities to help drive business planning, growth, and strategy. Marco is a Harvard Business School OPM Graduate, a member of the Young Presidents Organization, and a frequent speaker at industry conferences on topics such as entrepreneurship, corporate innovation, and digital disruptive technologies.

Episode Transcript

BRANDON:
Marco, I am so glad to be taking the time to speak with you today. I know you've thought a lot about the events industry, the tech industry as a whole and of course how everything with COVID-19 is affecting it. Throughout your career, you've worked for Apple, you've served as president and regional partner of a global event services company. You've held board of directors and advisory roles for a number of other companies and you've done so much more than that. So could you briefly walk us through each of these steps of your career and how they've led to where you are today?

MARCO:
When I started my career at Apple, I was an Apple fan and I still today, and I was having my dream job and part of my job was producing events for Apple and I'm originally from Argentina and I was running those events in Latin America and I used to come here to US and visit MacWorld or Apple Expo and those sort of events. And when I was coming back, I was always frustrated with the huge gap between European or US events and Latin American events, and I quit Apple to start my own company with the thesis that I could probably do a better job. And I joined a B2B publishing company and we start with magazines on specific sectors, business marketing, economy, technology, et cetera. And we started launching shows after that, and I realized that it was a great industry and it started producing initially technology shows and we grew the company pretty well.

MARCO:
We bootstrapped with very little capital, and fast-forward, we created three companies, the B2B publishing, the events company and an eCommerce company in partnership with TV stations. And we were looking at some point to raise some money and instead of that, we're pretty lucky and we were able to exit those companies. We sold the eCommerce company to Liberty Media here in US; the B2B publishing company was acquired by Pearson in UK. And I started a joint venture with Reed Elsevier, Reed Exhibitions, which is a UK public company, and I was their partner for Latin America initially and on a pretty large portfolio after that. And I spent 12 years on that joint venture as the regional president and partner. And we created a very nice portfolio of events, mostly trade shows in many different industries and conferences in different countries around the region.

MARCO:
At some point I started to feel again the corporate feeling and I'm really an entrepreneur and I love building stuff from scratch, but I'm not necessarily having a lot of fun running big companies and I spoke with my partners at that time. I said, look guys, let's plan transitioning me out, and [inaudible 00:02:41] I transitioned myself. I still have very good friends that read on a tremendous amount of respect for the company and I basically exit that role and I promise myself, my wife, kids that I will never be a founder again.

MARCO:
I was in my early forties and I started having this sort of midlife crisis thinking what's next, which is the next chapter. I decided that I want to try a couple of things. First, I want to in some way create a some sort of company that allowed me to invest time and resources and money on things that I really, that I'm really, really passionate, and I started doing some angel and early-stage investments on technology companies and my initial thesis was I want to create an angel portfolio with 15 to 20 investments around early-stage software companies, and go back to my early geek roots during my Apple days.

MARCO:
And I did that and at some point after my first investments, I started realizing that I was not a traditional investor, I was an entrepreneur trying to invest and I had pretty significantly more fun building stuff than just investing and playing an investor role, and I started doing some venture studio sort of deals where you basically you partner with full-time entrepreneurs and you put resources, capital time, connections, expertise and you really have a more day to day sort of involvement role but not on a full-time basis as I used to do in the past.

MARCO:
And I was able to create some interesting venture studio partnerships and at that point it was probably five or six years ago after doing more than 20 traditional angel deals. I started really paying a lot of attention on events technology because coming from previous 20 years plus of organizing events, I was always frustrated with many different solutions around the industry and I was pretty convinced and I'm still very convinced that technology should play a bigger role, and I started investing in solutions strongly related to some problems that I suffer as an organizer in my previous life, and I also, I'm still a share holder on another events organizer company, which means I'm still trying to have a close look on the organizer side as well. And that's how I started focusing on this, sort of, what I call intersection between live events and digital; basically allocating a lot of time into the category and having a lot of fun because as you know, we're still very early days on events technology.

BRANDON:
That's a real entrepreneurial story there of being involved with the business, seeing how something is frankly broken and how it could be done better and then taking the steps to build a company to make that change. It's very interesting to hear and it's also very interesting to hear about your interest in the intersection of events and technology. Now I know that in 2017, you co-authored a book called the face of digital that speaks on the future of events in tech. What were you seeing specifically in the events industry, leading up to the publishing of this book and what inspired you to write it?

MARCO:
At that, I was going on a regular basis to speak about technology on different industry events, association events or meeting planner events, or different sort of events for events organizers and I was always presenting about technology stuff, and as an organizer who can present around technology stuff, I was on a regular basis talking with people about this and one day I remember after a conference, I think it was in Mexico. One guy from a speakers Bureau came to me and said, "Look, which is your book?" I said, I don't know how to book. Well, you should have a book because this is very interesting for many of us and you should have a book and you should try to put your ideas together. And I called my friend and partner Jay Weintraub which is also a co-investor in many of the crazy stuff that we do around events, technology.

MARCO:
I said, "Look, what do you think?" And we immediately started working on the idea of face of digital, which was basically an excuse for me to keep learning, organize my ideas and talk with very smart people, CEOs from technology companies, from venues, from event technology companies invest those private equity venture capital guys talking about their own views about our industry, and it was a fascinating experience. It took a lot of time but it was fun. Now I'm thinking on a new idea for a new book. I want to see if I'm brave enough to do it again, but I think that what we did at that time was start talking about many of the existing technologies two, three years ago.

MARCO:
Now we have a new set of technologies and we have a lot of interesting topics on this situation around the Coronavirus is really pushing me a lot in terms of, okay, it's probably time for another book talking about the intersection between digital and offline from a different angle.

BRANDON:
For sure. I know we're going to talk a little bit more about that here and maybe sort of workshop some of the ideas that will end up in your new book, but I am curious to learn a little bit more with the face of digital back around 2017. What were some of the main takeaways from what sounds almost like a your honors thesis on event technology?

MARCO:
One of the first lessons after talking with people with decades of experience on both tech and events was that we are super early days. This is still the wild, wild West in terms of technology affecting live events. So I want to say live events could be a festival, a concert, sports, a trade show, a conference, a corporate events, associations, you name it. Nobody, and this is some of the people that we talk are really, really sophisticated and smart guys. Nobody was telling us we cracked the code, this is the way to go, this is how we're going to scale these. Everyone after some conversation on a very honest way, the answer was we don't know. This is very, very new. We know that this is going to happen, but we don't know how long it's going to take and which could be the specific triggers for this sort of technology engagement and adoption in industry.

MARCO:
The second learning was this is a massive industry in many verticals, super profitable and still growing nicely, which means we're probably not under super strong pressure like the media industry or the transportation industry or many or the banking industries that are hugely disrupted by technology. Live events where still and still are very profitable, which means Fat margins and a pretty decent business model, nobody was under tremendous pressure to use technology as a way to generate efficiencies or innovation.

MARCO:
And the other learnings at that time, this is three years ago, was we saw at that time and now even more thousands of event tech startups, which means my learning was there is clearly probably not thousands but at least 50 to a hundred super-smart entrepreneurs building very cool stuff and you don't need thousands of disruptors to change an industry, you need five or 10 significant innovators and disruptors in order to generate change, which means my learning at that time was, okay, this is going to change. It's just a matter of time because you have super-smart entrepreneurs, very sophisticated investors and an industry that is big, super, super big and ready for disruption, which means I remember thinking it's probably going to take five years, 10 or 20, I don't know, but this industry is finally going to change.

BRANDON:
Speaking of change, one thing I wanted to touch on before we dive into COVID-19 is an article that you wrote back in October, 2019. Now in what was a pretty eerie premonition, this was just a few months before the COVID-19 outbreak in China hit global headlines. You anticipated that a Black swan event would disrupt the events industry. So in your words, what is a Black swan event and what about the in-person events industry made you think that it was so susceptible to one?

MARCO:
First of all, it was luck. It was not that I'm such a smart guy that I will be ready to anticipate this sort of change; the change that we're leaving and seeing today. A Black swan is an event that nobody expects and could change dramatically an industry. There's a great book about it and I used that book analogy as a way to say, is our industry ready for a potential dramatic change? And the article was coming from a different angle. My angle was, are we going to see an Airbnb disrupting the events industry or Uber disrupting the events industry as they did with hospitality or transportation or not, and I got a lot of emails and messages after that article from industry guys with bold opinions, but the whole thesis around the article was we can see a Black swan event or Grey swan as we...

MARCO:
There are also some great articles about some industries. They're not going to see a Black swan, they're going to see a Grey swan, which means many different specific disruptive situations. My own thesis at that time and probably still today, is I don't think that this industry is going to be disrupted by a play like Uber or Airbnb that is going to change the whole thing. I think that the most likely scenario is what I call the death by a thousand cuts situation, where events organizers are going to realize that they're losing relevance or revenue and they don't know why, and they don't know why their events are getting smaller or less relevant or less impact into their communities, and there is no clear recipe on why.

MARCO:
And that's probably because of dozens of digital players and solutions that are eating their lunch, but piece by piece and at some point an event that used to be 70,000 people, big profit or whatever, now is 25,000 people and probably not relevant for the industry. And those small cuts are basically generating a huge problem on that particular event. I still believe that that could be the case even with COVID-19. I think that technology is not going to replace the human connection. Technology is not going to replace the trust that you will generate on that face to face meeting at a conference or a trade show or a corporate event. I honestly believe that that's not going to be the case. I'm convinced that technology is going to generate better events, more productive events and a way more efficient return of investment for brands participating on those events.

BRANDON:
Death by a thousand cuts; a lot of different feelings of pressure, of indicators that change is needed. I know you mentioned that that digital offerings are going to be eating that lunch to some extent, but I think perhaps also the huge amount of events that we keep on seeing, it's getting more and more competitive in the events industry that may speak to it as well. What does The innovator’s dilemma have to do with this topic?

MARCO:
I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen and everything that he did. I'm an HBS alumni and funny enough, today I was talking with an HBS professor about B2B platforms and all the things. I read his book many time and I was lucky enough to have him as a professor in one keynote at Harvard many years ago. One of the things that he said is that the most successful companies, they could be their own worst enemy in terms engaging innovation, and the reality, ff you see the events industry, again in many verticals, you have these massive players that are super successful, and honestly, sometimes they don't need to change dramatically because they're doing pretty well. I remember when I started working on the book, I talked with a CEO from a public company, event organizer, super successful and he's a friend for many years.

MARCO:
And he told me after the formal conversation, I think that you're right with all this technology, disruption, innovation, whatever, but honestly, I'm going to be retiring in five years. My company is doing great. Why the hell should I complicate my life with all the things if I'm still running a double-digit growing business, super profitable and super successful. When you have those sort of situations, you have the perfect storm for disruption because they don't need to change and because of that they're lazy and they're waiting to change. And that was the situation when I wrote this article, and that was the situation when I wrote the book and that was the situation for the last 30 years that I'm involved in the industry, but that's probably the situation for more than a hundred years. Trade shows are super profitable and events in general, it's a profitable business.

MARCO:
And now, make the comparison with media. What happened with B2B publishing? B2B publishing start changing dramatically when print basically start dying because of lack of relevance into the specific industry is competing with digital players. What we saw on the media industry is pretty different on the what we saw until now at least on the B2B events industry, and I remember because during those days I was running a B2B media company and a B2B trade shows company, and I remember our board meetings and one meeting was super depressive, the B2B publishing and the other one was pretty fun and happy place, which is the B2B trade show.

MARCO:
We had a fantastic business on trade shows and a depressive business on the media side, and that's why you see that the B2B media guys and the B2C media guys as well, because in general, the media industry was completely disrupted during the last 20 years. They changed because of the specific pressure that the Google of this world or Facebook of this world generated on that particular industry. That was not the case on events until now.

BRANDON:
When we're talking about dealing with an unpredictable event; a Black swan event, these gradual pressures that event organizers are going to be feeling. Is it possible for them to sort of predict for these unpredictable changes and if so, how?

MARCO:
I think that it is possible and the way that I think about this, is I used to talk with my team every single year after the event and saying let's start planning next year event, but let's start planning from a completely budget zero approach, which means let's start from scratch. Let's don't repeat what we did this year and try to improve a little bit because it's pretty comfortable and easy to do that. When you're running a successful event, the natural mindset for the organizer is okay, we did pretty great this year. We identify a couple of mistakes or things to improve, let's do the same thing, again let's improve these two or three things. That's pretty classic and my thesis with the team was let's forget about everything and let's start from scratch, thinking fresh on how can we do a better job for our customers for the next edition.

MARCO:
I think that the traditional mentality in many players, and of course there are many exceptions, there are amazing entrepreneurs building unique events right now, but in many cases is let's repeat it again and try to improve a little bit. The way that I see to predict any sort of potential crisis around the industry, and it could be this crisis that we're facing or it could be a natural disaster or it could be an industry crisis in your own specific vertical, is to think of ways to use technology and innovation to create a different engagement between buyers and sellers or visitors and exhibitors or sponsors. At the very end of the event, it's attracting the right buyers and meeting with the right sellers at the right time, at the right place, if it's a B2B event or attracting the right funds and putting them in front of an amazing experience, if it's a B2C fun engagement event.

MARCO:
Sounds pretty simple; it's extremely complicated, and there are thousands of specific factors that are affecting the customer journey and experience from your first contact with the event until the event is done and finalized. What I believe that it's a way to predict potential disruptions or big changes is to think on the event from a different angle, and I think that today, the event should start way earlier with digital engagement, should happen onsite and onsite should be super productive because the digital engagement allows me as an organizer to capture the right data and to put those buyers and sellers together at the right place on the right format, should maximize onsite return of investment, and the conversation and engagement should continue after the event is finalized.

MARCO:
I don't think that events should be positioned as a two or three days experience only, because if that's the case, even successful events with nice leads and good return is not enough anymore. I think that now technology allows us to keep the conversation alive all year long and generate more and better value for all parties involved.

BRANDON:
I really appreciate that way of thinking about the whole entire attendee journey. I mean it's not just the attendee, the whole entire audience journey or prospect or customer, or contact journey, from way before that event starts to way after it ends. I think this is something that we're seeing more and more in the industry of having events not as this thing that it happens and it's done with, but really being an opportunity for a larger community to meet face to face, but then that community can continue those conversations once that event is ended.

MARCO:
Correct, and face to face is just one opportunity along a customer journey where events and engagement is happening on a way longer cycle. And in the past, it was not easy to do that, but at least for the last 10 years you have technology is helping you to start the event in advance, to start the conversation, the meeting in advance, and to maximize the onsite and also keep the conversation open after the event, which is by far the last successful event tech category. Nobody cracked the code on that one yet. And if you know someone that is building something cool on that category, let me know because it's extremely difficult to keep the conversation open after the event is finalized because the mindset from buyers and sellers is no longer there as it was before and during the event, but I'm convinced that some technologies like digital platforms or those sort of technologies that are helping buyers and sellers to stay in touch on a regular basis online are going to help on that part of the conversation after the event is gone.

BRANDON:
I think it's interesting, I've heard several event professionals draw a comparison to specifically in the B2C world, e-sports, different streaming platforms like for instance Twitch where it's, it's not large organizations but you have these individuals who are creating a following, creating a community and maintaining it over a period of time, punctuated with streaming or a live, often remote experiences.

MARCO:
That's a great example. I invested and advise a B2B platform for events. What you just mentioned about Twitch and e-sports on the B2C category, I think that we're going to start seeing great examples on B2B as well, where these digital platforms are going to allow almost daily connection between buyers and sellers, and we're going to see influencers playing a big role. I was talking with a digital marketing platform the other day and they said, look, the YouTube influencers are playing a huge role on some specific industries and product, and nobody's capitalizing that opportunity after the event, which means going back to the whole thesis about being prepared for disruption. It's not about thinking on your existing model, it's about thinking on which new technologies can really improve the overall value proposition for an event. And that's the event organizer mindset that I think that makes sense for the future and young CMOs and event organizers...

MARCO:
When I said "young", is what I call the Google generation; guys on their thirties who were educated under the Google way to invest on digital media. Those guys, which is not me, I'm 53 which means I started organizing events when I was sending brochures by mail but the guys who were born and raised under digital marketing, they clearly understand that events are why it's not easy to measure and they are allocating a huge amount of pressure on event organizers telling them, hey, show me where is my money coming back? Where is the ROI? How many leads? How good are these leads? How many transactions am I going to close after the event? Which means the event organizers needs to pay attention to those KPIs, to those metrics that are really relevant for the brands and the investors and the sponsors of the events. And if they don't have clear answers, the pressure is going to be going up and up in the future because it makes sense, events are expensive.

BRANDON:
Let's talk about COVID-19. I mean, it's having a huge effect. It's influencing the decisions that organizers are making. It's influencing the decisions that technology companies are making as well. Of course, it's having huge, huge effects on the global economy. How have you seen COVID-19 specifically up and the events industry?

MARCO:
We're living a tragedy in so many levels. First of all, from a health perspective on people dying, a very sad and tragic situation. And also this is a combination between a health and economic crisis, which is the perfect storm, which means this is going to, in many ways change the whole world and many industries and the way that we do business. I'm around events as I said for more than 30 years and I never saw something like this. This is not about the crisis. This is about how we are changing the way that we work, the way that we interact with each other and the key question is which is going to be the impact on live events after this? Are we going to go back to massive events in a couple of months or it's going to take years or are we going to have a second wave of problems, and because of that, social distancing is going to become the new norm; how deep and long and painful the situation is going to be.

MARCO:
And I think that nobody knows. If you hear our president and how he changed the message during last couple of weeks, you have a pretty clear idea that this is changing on a daily basis, but initial reaction, talking with organizers, small, medium and big, is this is going to generate at least six months of basically no revenue from face to face depending if you're in Asia, Europe, US or any other place. But the reality is you have potentially six months or more with no significant live events happening.

MARCO:
This is generating a domino effect of cancellations and postponements that is going to generate another six to 12 months with crazy situations around venue, dates, logistics, operational problems plus the potential huge question mark is how fast events are going to come back and in which specific format. I just wrote an article I think last week about different scenarios post COVID-19, and now we're all having these webinars and virtual events when and how events are coming back and which is a new normal and the reality is that first of all, nobody knows.

MARCO:
I can see three potential scenarios that I put those scenarios on that article. One scenario where we go back to normal on the second half of this year and slowly but steady events come back and we find a vaccine and this is just bad memories. That's the best-case scenario, or two alternative scenarios, where we go into a second wave and this is not six months, this is probably a year plus and we're going to see many, many different sort of companies going out of business around our industry, the travel industry, the hospitality industry because it's going to be longer and more painful or we have what I call a new normal, where social distancing is the new normal and we keep having these sort of situations where some specific region or city needs to basically tell their population, hey, we're going into social distance in for X and that will continue to disrupt live events.

MARCO:
I hope that scenario two and three are not the case. I sincerely hope that we go back to some sort of normality during the second half of this year. As any entrepreneur, I'm always positive and naive at home that that is the case. If that happens, even on that particular scenario, I believe that this is going to be a huge learning experience for all of us in this industry about how fragile is our business model and how important is having a plan B on a digital basis that allows our buyers and sellers to connect regardless the fact that the event is happening face to face.

BRANDON:
It seems like regardless of how it all shakes down, you see that the events industry specifically embracing a model that incorporates both in person but also digital elements as well.

MARCO:
Correct, and we're going to see many interesting examples in the next six months about specific experiments and pilots from very smart organizers, and it's going to be very interesting to learn

BRANDON:
For sure, I mean a ton of companies have already very rapidly pivoted. I know it was sort of this wave starting in late February, early March. It went from handing out hand sanitizer to needing to postpone events. In some cases, events were quickly canceled. Some folks were quick and in early March, they canceled their events that were going to be happening in maybe June or so. We saw some other event organizers canceling events the week before the event was going to happen in March. But then we also saw a number of organizations really embrace virtual, at least in the meanwhile, pivoting to virtual keynotes.

BRANDON:
I know that for instance, Salesforce Sydney World Tour, they had a really interesting simulated event environment that they created seemingly on the fly to sort of broadcast that world tour. Are there any other companies that you're seeing who are doing a great job at this moment?

MARCO:
Many companies are doing their own sort of virtual events during this period, and this include corporate events. I just heard today about the Adobe conference that went virtual and many others. And it's interesting because that is also going to generate a very interesting internal debate, if those events are successful, do you think that those companies are gonna invest again, tens of millions of dollars producing the traditional events or they're probably going to rethink the model and do something different where digital plays a bigger role.

MARCO:
If the virtual event experiment is super successful, it's going to be great for those companies because they're going to capture leads on a super-efficient and scalable way, but also is going to rethink their future investment into the face to face category. If it's not successful, I think that we're going to go back to the more traditional sort of face-to-face model and they're going to keep experimenting.

MARCO:
My own view today is that I believe that each event category is going to be different. I believe that your audience is probably more focused and interested on corporate events, correct?

BRANDON:
Correct.

MARCO:
Which means on that particular category, I think that this is a fantastic opportunity to experiment, how can we capture great data before the event and activate onsite in a more efficient way? I don't think that face-to-face is going to disappear. I don't think that face to face is going away. I think that this is a fantastic opportunity for a different sort of face-to-face experience and tons of opportunities on ways to use technology in a more effective way.

BRANDON:
What tips would you have for organizations or event organizers who are making this pivot or at least temporarily experimenting with this virtual medium, and they're not quite sure how to approach it? What sort of tips would you give them?

MARCO:
The first thing that I will pay attention is setting the right expectations. A virtual event is not going to deliver similar customer experience that a face to face event, and I see a lot of webinars during these days saying this is almost as cool as meeting face to face. No, it's not. It's a different animal. It's a completely different animal. The overall human experience is very, very difficult to replace. There is a fantastic example that I use many times from a philosopher that he's explaining the difference between the Facebook friends and the real friends. And you can have millions of Facebook friends and if you don't like anyone in particular, you can simply unplug that friend and nothing happens. Now, if you want to unplug your relationship with a real friend, it's not as easy. It's a little bit painful. It's not as friendly. You have to have a face to face conversation.

MARCO:
The difference between a Facebook friend and a real friend is exactly the same difference between a virtual event and a real event. That human connection, that trust, that relationship that you can start on a face to face meeting at an event is not easy to replace through technology and also billions of peoples are being trained on Zoom and webinars and video calls and video meetings or whatever right now. Billions of people are experimenting those sort of tools for the first time during the last couple of months.

MARCO:
That's a fantastic opportunity, but again, you have to set the right expectations when you're calling into a webinar or a virtual event, you have to really educate that audience and set the expectations on the right way. And also, I will recommend start small, test, learn, fix it, adjust and do it again. I see some organizers moving their a hundred thousand people events to a virtual experience. God bless them and help them because it's not as easy as that, and that's a little bit of a concern because again, you don't want to frustrate your audience. There is a potential damage to your brand if you don't deliver on any experience, which means I'll be very careful with that.

BRANDON:
I know a couple of other areas that I've heard event professionals voice some concern about is trying to address both sponsorship engagement and then also the networking and attendee to attendee engagement. Any thoughts on that?

MARCO:
In terms of sponsors we're changing dollars for pennies, which means trying to charge a digital sponsorships on same levels of physical shows, it's almost impossible, which means there is a huge revenue impact on this. Try to charge... Let's assume a trade; a brand invest a couple hundred thousand dollars on the trade show and they buy space and they build their booth or whatever and they sponsor some activities. There is no way that you can convince that brand even at a 10 or 20% exposure into the budget for a virtual event, which means until now nobody was able to show me how you can maximize revenue on virtual events even at a 20% level in comparison with physical events. Hopefully, someone will crack the code, but it's not as easy.

MARCO:
In terms of the visitor—monetizing the attendees or things like that—conferences that are charging a couple of thousand dollars, they're testing if they can charge $200, $300 for the virtual event, and I don't know, it's still early days. Hopefully, they can move into a deeper model, but again, if you see what's happening on online education, you pay 10 or $20,000 for an executive course in Stanford or Harvard or MIT, you're not going to pay the same amount of money for a virtual online education concept, which means it's not easy; the monetization strategy. It's not easy on the sponsor, it's not easy on the visitor, but of course it's super-efficient because the cost to produce these sort of events or marginal costs in comparison with the real physical events.

BRANDON:
Right. And then how about on the attendee side and sort of, I mean, I know you mentioned yourself, I go to a conference to make connections with real people versus internet people. I don't want to say Facebook friends specifically, but how do you see organizers creating opportunities for attendees to connect with one another or connect with speakers or even sponsors in that virtual environment?

MARCO:
I think that we have to facilitate the one-to-one connection in a simple way. I also invested in a company that is facilitating matchmaking connections through AI, through artificial intelligence and are doing this for physical events but now they're doing this for virtual events as well, which means at the very end, if you go to a B2B event, you want to put the right buyer and seller together, as I said before, and that could happen on a booth or it could happen on a meeting. I think that virtual events should have plenary sessions or keynotes, or you name it or panels, which is the academic content, but also they should facilitate the one-to-one meeting on a different marketing message and on a different environment.

MARCO:
And that's where the magic could happen because if I go to the preliminary session for education and I learned a couple of tips and sparks a couple of ideas, great. Now I'm moving to a separate part of the event where I can really see who are the potential products that I want to see or companies that I want to meet; can I please schedule these meetings, can I have these one to one meetings, and that's where the added value on overall experience starts to be significant, more powerful.

BRANDON:
I know you have had the chance to see a lot in the industry as both an event organizer, an entrepreneur and investor. You've had the opportunity to take on a lot of ventures and to learn some things here or there. If you could go back earlier in your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

MARCO:
Well, I would love to have that power. In particular for this industry and for this category, which is technology for events, I think that the advice would be timing is everything. I think that this is a slow reaction and slow move industry. It's not a fast change sort of mentality, which means I invested time and money on some concepts that there were probably five or 10 years ahead of time, and the concepts... And actually, in one concept that I invested 20 years ago, it's still early days today. It's finally generating traction, but it's still early days, which means timing is everything and this industry until now is so successful and profitable that change is not as fast as entrepreneurs or investors believe that could be.

BRANDON:
What was that thing that you invested in?

MARCO:
It was a B2B digital platform 20 years ago. You're probably too young to remember concepts like vertical net or stuff like that, but at that time the whole idea was basically the same. Hey, B2B buyers and sellers should meet online. Yes, of course, but it was impossible because of many different things. Now you see some successful players on B2B marketplaces and it's finally generating traction. But again, timing is so critical in any sort of technology, in any sort of innovation, timing is critical, and particularly on the events industry, it's even more important because of the speed of the game.

BRANDON:
Marco, thank you so much for joining us today. If our listeners want to keep up with you and all the great work that you're doing, how can they do so?

MARCO:
They can take a look on my blog, which is [MarcoGiberti.com 00:41:11] and I also am pretty active on LinkedIn, and I put some of my thoughts over there and I'm always happy to touch base with people who's passionate about events technology and innovation.