Lalit Mangal is the co-founder and CEO of Airmeet — a virtual event platform that is shaping the future of live events. He has always been drawn to technology and believes that computers are humble companions that follow all of your instructions. Lalit has adopted this mindset for all his life, and it’s also what made him create CommonFloor in 2007, which became India’s leading online real estate platform, who he later sold to Quikr.
Virtual and Hybrid Events
Lalit funded Airmeet in June 2019 and raised $12 million in funding in 2020. That’s an impressive result, also considering that it was in the very midst of the pandemic. How did he do it?
In 2020, the vast majority (if not all) of live events were canceled, and traditional videotelephony platforms such as Skype or Zoom didn’t have the right technology to host a virtual event.
That created the perfect opportunity to provide the market with an innovative way of doing events, and with Airmeet, Lalit aimed to create beautiful and engaging live & hybrid events.
What’s interesting to note, is that Lalit started processing the idea of virtual and hybrid events long before the pandemic hit. In 2016, he attended the World Startup Expo in Bengaluru, India, as a visitor. What he saw there was the typical trade show atmosphere: crowds of people, little boots, folks standing up the whole day giving the same pitch, over and over again. Surely not an optimized process. That’s when he started to think about bringing innovation to the event industry and it’s what kickstarted the creation of Airmeet.
And now here’s Lalit Mangal.
Full transcript below
Video on Airmeet: The Future of Videoconference.
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Podcast with Lalit Mangal. Airmeet: The Future of Videoconference.
people, events, happening, conferences, building, co founders, product, meetup, startup, company, customers, conversation, india, remote, apartment, absolutely, big, previous, table, solutions
Mike Malatesta, Lalit Mangal
Mike Malatesta 01:01
Lalit, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks Mike. Happy to be here.
Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this because what you’re going to learn about today, by the way is, we’ve got a phenomenal entrepreneur from India, with us today who’s been involved in multiple companies and his latest, as you heard in the introduction aremy is something you’re going to all be familiar with, kind of, because for the last year in plus plus, most of us has been doing all of our meetings and conferencing to the extent we were doing them on a video platform like zoom, for example, and we’re all used to bad or as used to it as you can be. When you put aside the fact that you’re not actually engaging with people, you know, live like, like you’re used to and. Well its current company aremy is doing something really special with with video conferencing that you may not have ever seen before so it’s gonna be really interesting to, to, to learn about him and to learn about that as well. Well it I start every podcast with the same simple question How did happen for you.
Lalit Mangal 02:41
I’m like, that’s always a good question to answer. And so, for me, so let me take you back to 2016, right, like five years ago, and it was 2016, I just sort of wrapped up my, my previous company which was the real estate and I was sort of involved with the acquiring company. In other words, and then in Bangalore, there was this word startup Expo that was happening, it was a three day event, it was happening in a very large venue. Close to 500 startups from all over India and Southeast Asia were present and, and then each of these startups are given one small desk one small desk and the founders were supposed to stand there on all these days and do the same pitch to everybody who’s coming in visiting might, so that even me trying to attend that event, It was just too hard for me to drive to that event. And then I spent close to four or five hours in that in that venue, could not meet all the startups, probably 20 or 30. And then, you know, my interaction with those startups. One thing was very evident that those, those people have drained out all of their energy by this time being and reciting the same pitch again and again and again. So that moment was somewhere, the genesis of the idea of me. Because, you know, in 2016 also that felt like a very archaic and a very cool way to connect to people like people who are interested in investing and people who are looking for. So it sort of stayed with me, but I did not act on it. In that moment. But then, after my break. Started to came to my desk and reading it and again and started exploring ideas and this time I deliberately wanted to build a remote company, because in my previous company I had built a large tech organization and spent a lot of time hiring and managing a big team. I’ve always wanted to build a remote company and this time I thought, why not just start with building a remote company and not know which product, I would solve me and my current co founders. Well, luckily we are all three different cities and we decided let’s collaborate over video conferencing and start exploring what are the problems of remote company, right. And so, in our research we’re finding a problem we want to meet more remote companies like us, who have adopted remote work and what challenges are they facing how are they managing records when I was managing payroll or devising compliance with respect to let’s say you know, in India it is there is a lot of compliance that you don’t have a physical presence. So we want to, you know just casually catch up and network, which typically happens during a meetup or conference right if you, if you’re pursuing anything which is mainstream let’s say marketing or product management. And if you’re living in a mainstream city, they got a major city, you will never be, you know, fine, over a weekend or at least once a month, there will be some other meetup that is happening, which would put you in touch with other folks that would bring you up to speed with what’s happening in the domain. for us in India, in 2019, nobody was frustrated about what we were probably the odd ones out. And we want to find out whether there are meetups happening around around us wherever we are about remote work None. Absolutely none was happening in India, especially you know in the cities where we are in most of the action or future of work was happening in the valley, right. That was very ironic right and we were almost contemplating to book a flight ticket or buy a ticket to a conference, which was supposed to happen in the valley around about future work. And, again, at that moment the same Genesis there was that idea that took seed or a couple of years ago, is sort of forming up again that you know, events should be treated in a much more modern outlook right they, the whole Old thought process of getting people under one roof, bearing the cost of transportation, and, you know, all of that has to change now because all of us are now part of global, all of us now Korea is a global identity right and we have networks in circles and I would say reasons for us to be even more active in the global, global, I would say a sphere of influence, then, and then earlier, right, so, so the whole idea of making our presence, available to the larger network or a larger stakeholder ecosystem should be relooked at right so that that was the starting, I would say something that got us started on this problem of remote meetups and events, and we decided it was kind of August of 2019, that we will start working on this problem, right, and November. 2019 is when we did our first meetup of sorts, right, and all the way we got, we were using tools like zoom etc to see if existing technology is good enough for conducting remote meetups right because we really want to, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and so and we conducted a lot of meetups, using traditional tools like zoom and secondary equity realize that the thought process with which zoom was built was not a meetup right it was basically to bring people in a conversation and then, you know, get over with, or. We also explored zoom webinar, and other webinars solutions and over there we what we found was the whole opportunity of unlocking value that you have, which is then by the sheer presence of people at your webinar right now. The people who are watching a webinar are a lot more than just a count, right, and webinar solution we’re just treating them as a count of people who are watching right now. We wanted to create like an event experience and add an event right there is a lot of pre flow conversation that happened right, and there are a lot of social interactions that many times create memorable experiences and very, very valuable connections. So what we decided as our minimal viable product would be just add some sort of different weighting experience right. So, every webinar even today has a sort of a meeting experience like for example if I am if you’re about to start a webinar, and someone who, you know logs in at exactly five or slightly before they will just see a blank screen, like you know they’re supposed to start the webinar, and we thought why not why not just transform that waiting screen into a networking screen, why not just you know, bring something so natural so intuitive, like a virtual table, right, because in a physical world when you arrive at a venue, you do recognize your, there is a seating arrangement and you get yourself seated and then that’s how you know, someone can grab a seat and same table and then, and some conversation you can give swag. That was a very basic exploration of an MVP that we did and got some really good traction and we got really good validation, especially in the community manager segment right folks who are managing a community, and they just became good promoters of the product and, and that was a starting opportunity right and. And that’s, that’s in a nutshell how it happened. And let me just also you know spend some time on the journey forward. So, you will not even, even in a wildest dream, were hoping for, you know, or even imagining a pandemic of this scale right so, so, but then when it when it hit. There was a lot of spotlight that came to me and other products again read and then we have to be ready for, you know, say, nobody can conferences by we were like a futuristic product trying to attack meetups only in committee meetings, and then quickly, you sort of add capabilities which would then be suitable for global conferences right so we grew under the influence of pandemic and now we are we are we are a global company and we have customers like Bob customers, and we were doing close to 4000 events per month, and also 2 million. Attendees come to me on a monthly basis, right. So, okay,
Mike Malatesta 10:42
let me back up a little bit, you said a bunch of stuff there and I want to make sure I get some of first of all when you refer to the value meant Silicon Valley is that correct. When you were talking about yes, okay. Okay, I just wanted to be sure, and that that first startup conference that you that you mentioned you went to in 2016 That sounded like a traditional tradeshow type what I would consider a tradeshow type environment. And is that what is that do I have the right picture there and you went you did not go except to experience it correct. You weren’t present,
Lalit Mangal 11:22
it wasn’t. I was not presenting. I was a visitor, and the name itself was born startup Expo.
Mike Malatesta 11:29
Okay, world startup Expo Yes, but it sounded but it sounded like. That was the format for it was traditional trade show ish like where people had booths and people would come up and you. Right, Right, so it was a. Yeah, okay, okay. And then, um, your co founders, you mentioned that you teamed up with two co founders, how did you, were these people you knew how did you find them and start figuring out that these two would be, you know people that, you know, started the conversation around air meter really the conversation around how you could build a remote company is what it sounded like right so are these people you work with before LED or how did they have they come into the picture with
Lalit Mangal 12:15
you. Yep, so both, both my co founders, Manoj, and I really great working experience with them. In my previous startup, but always was the head of operations at the company and when I was a director of engineering at the company like some really good mutual respect very high mutual respect and we always you know kept touch. During my break as well we kept meeting and bouncing of ideas and I already decided that my next company, I would know these two people as my co founders.
Mike Malatesta 12:46
Okay, got it. Let’s go and explore your former company or two, I think, at least two I’ve got an academy and common floor and I think you mentioned common floor, which is a. Well, I’ll let you explain what it is but how did you get, how did those come into, to being in, I guess I want to get an understanding of, you know how you made it to the point where you could even consider something like air meat for example,
Lalit Mangal 13:16
not for an Academy is not my startup. I was an angel investor in an academy. Okay. i My only other startup which I did before Arabic was common float, and that is a real estate classifieds search engine and. And so the genesis of that was again trying to solve problems, and I was lucky by my rep, has been resolved. So I was in that sort of I was involved building the product and you know, building the product on it and, and having, having worked with technology, technology teams in close quarters and having built acknowledged systems I did see the potential of working remotely, because we, you know, during that timeframe we had to let go of so many really talented people just because they were in a different city right so they would apply for our company, but then they cannot move to where we were located and the data that goes out those opportunities. So, always wanted to know this sort of way of working, where focuses only on output and productivity and there is a lot less wastage of time interviewed and a lot less wastage of time and I would say, other dynamics that happen at an office. Okay. And what did.
Mike Malatesta 14:35
What a common floor end up becoming so was it, you have where’d the idea come from you said it was sort of solving your own problem which is often where I see entrepreneurs come, you know, companies come from solving a problem that they have or recognize but how did it. How did that happen for you.
Lalit Mangal 14:52
Yeah, so. So in India, I think the real estate sector wasn’t very regulated until very recently, and there was a lot of, I would say, challenges and just finding an apartment for to rent or to buy, and the major, the biggest problem is there are no fly by night builders and fly by night, real estate brokers and so you can’t really trust them. And a lot of fake information around our properties. And so, so the online search experience for properties is, is even more painful it actually makes your real estate journey even more passable has important painful right. So, we want to basically bring some structure to that. So we have the problem was like we were looking for an apartment, and we were not able to find that in, back in the day you know every apartment. Every apartment building would have some sort of an internal communication email today everybody is on WhatsApp groups, or maybe slack communities, but then back in. This is like, bringing people over eight times. All right, so I, I was going through as a co founder, for nine years. So we started in 2008, and before that I was working in Oracle and I was looking to switch apartments because when I landed up in Bangalore. I joined a few of my friends as flat mesh so I didn’t go through the property hunt. As such, right so I there was a friend of mine who was staying in an apartment, and I just ended up in his apartment and started staying with him. But then he had to migrate to some other city and then it was, it was posted that I was doing a search for my own residence, and that is when I. That has been my son, one of my other co founders back in time, we faced the challenges of how broken the property search journey was in India, right back in, back in those times, so we were put some structure. We brought about a catalog approach right resolved example, in India, apartments are a big deal right now because it’s a it’s a very densely populated country and apartment is the preferred residential unit of sorts, so every, every, you know, middle income, family would prefer to live in an apartment. And typically, a lot of information about the generic that you wanted to finalize it is quite common, you know, about most of the division is about. This is the apartment building, and in this building this one is available right so we sort of created a catalogue of all apartment buildings in India, and then you can just quickly slice and dice, you can even apply a filter of our apartment buildings, which are in one kilometer radius from this landmark and should we should be having a swimming pool and all that is build a capital, and then that sort of brought a lot of order to the chaos a property search, that was the genesis of that company. Okay,
Mike Malatesta 17:43
So is that, is it similar to going to think about like Zillow for for homes is it similar to that are much, much, much, much like, okay, and also pay a premium. Okay, got it. And you said you were a techie, um, that makes me want to ask about more of like your origins, growing up I mean is that something that was just in you from an early age or something that developed or was it a family thing or what, tell me about tell me about growing up in your family.
Lalit Mangal 18:17
So, the peculiar thing about Korea is that almost every, I would say decently good student is supposed to become an engineer. Either an engineer or a doctor. Yeah so because it’s an emerging economy and there’s a lot of, I would say family expectation around around executes to pick a predictable career path and engineering, as well as you know, becoming a doctor is a lot more predictable right so that definitely did influence my choice as well. But then, what I particularly like about computer sciences that, again, this whole domain is, is, is not more, I would say in your control right you know, they’re not uncertainties whims and fancies right so our program if it is not behaving in the right way, there is a bug in your software is totally your fault, the computer is a, is a such a humble companion that people follow all your instructions right. So, you know, that sort of made me fall in love with computers, and I just, you know like, building products that I would want to use right so in my own free time. When I was in college I was idea Tom’s product that should exist right so in my in my final year of college, I was also helping my, my university bill. Build a marriage that website Official website I was part of a student group, which, which would take that responsibility. And we, whatever challenges that I faced for example we were looking for stock images right and I summarized the idea that there should be a crowdsource marketplace where people can upload their photos and then people who are looking for stock photos should be able to buy that. And I did not go that that’s a huge market individual potential and there’s a lot of other companies built around it. So, so, kind of, you know, ideas keep popping up in my head and I keep in lack of a better word, I keep romanticizing with ideas. Sometimes I pursue those to some extent, but it has to be really compelling for me to you know just get started. So, my previous startup was one such compelling incident where it just got me started, and then this time it was again that one compelling idea that caught the standard.
Mike Malatesta 20:31
Okay, that was amazing what you said. A computer is a humble companion follows it follows all of your instructions, that is. So that was amazing that there’s something worth writing down that’s a great quote, because one, it’s so, it’s, I mean you cut right to the chase a computer does what you ask it to do right or you’re about to tell it to do. But it also flies in the face of what so many other people who aren’t don’t have the same mindset as you it’s like the computer is always messing with you, you know, it’s like the computer is not your companion it’s your nemesis maybe. So thank you for sharing that I wrote I wrote that down, I’m going to use that. What are your parents then. What did they think when you decide to leave, sort of a, you got a good job at Oracle. It sounds like right out of school, that sounds safe and, you know, but on the right path and then you decided to you know do this startup was that okay or was that. How was that, how was that perceived.
Lalit Mangal 21:40
Yeah, so I did this waters by, you know, sort of painting a story of a friend who did the company, and I got very you know I would say unfriendly responses right, you know, my, my parents were not very supportive of my friends decision for them. Yeah, like so. So I then decided to not even reveal to my parents that I decided to start a company and then at least two months into my journey, I did not even reveal that I would just, if I was not living with my parents, but then, on all my regular encounters with them or or or or or video chats and it will always be about, you know, offices going on and everything is fine, and my babies want to know when one of the leading newspapers, you know, economic times in India, they covered my startup, as one of the innovative startups right to me and my co founder was sort of feature on the at startup section, and that is when my parents got to know that sort of quit my job and I’m pursuing something. So then they were. I would say, I would say less angry, they didn’t appreciate that I’m doing something worth pursuing, but then they did warn me around the risk of it and they did, You know, did they say they do duty of at least, guiding me that to have a timeline or a deadline by which this actual materialize into something.
Mike Malatesta 23:00
Okay, so that’s a, that’s an interesting strategy you sort of floated out so a friend of mine and sort of wait for the advice and then you did it and didn’t tell them, but the newspaper The sounds like the article in the newspaper, you know, sort of provided validation like okay maybe the kids got a good idea here and yeah, like it, like so 2019 When you and your co founders were having these discussions. What was the thing was there one thing or was it a series of things against you that, to me, was an idea that needed to come to the marketplace. What, yeah what what was, was there one day, or was there a series of things where you were finally convinced because you had to go on and, and, of course you didn’t know about the pandemic at the time. So you had already see you it you were you were betting that pandemic or not, this was going to be a movement. And of course zoom has been in the marketplace for a long time, and others you know WebEx and some others for regular sort of, you know, video meetings but you sort of took the idea that you took the idea further.
Lalit Mangal 24:19
So what, yeah, yeah. Was there. I think we were just betting on some fundamental trends right so we looked at this problem of a first principle approach right you know what, what are the risks around it right and, and what are the fundamental assumptions and then we just validated each of those are veterans and so one of the, one of the things that we’re betting on with is that video is now a preferred mode of information consumption, and we were looking at how the video, video consumption, especially in the non entertainment category is increasing, right. so I did my own research on tutorial tutorials right so in the previous decade, which is the 2000 to 2010. There are a lot of tutorials which will return as blog with extra tutorials right look how to do something there was a texture to turn around the title category should be to YouTube. Today, people actually searched on YouTube how to do stuff, how to let’s say write this software how to achieve something in this software. And so, it was, that was an absolutely clear that your video is the fundamental medium now of information consumption and learning. The second big trend was, which was also undeniable was that people prefer remote work and the jump in the number of people who are choosing remote, like that was actually very interesting so you know three or 5% Jump right since 2000. There was a data that I was looking at, as well. there was a prerequisite to dump in number of people. Switch to fully remote, and in my own research, I came across people who were who were like, fully remote company majority by company fully remote, and they only meet once a year, then I also came across fully remote venture funds reward accelerators, and these were these will be pioneers right for the innovators of the sorts right, who are pursuing it. Despite all the challenges. Despite tools being inadequate that is pursuing, just because it makes sense from cost, or if it makes it hard. There’s no other way to achieve what they’re trying to do. Because when a certain project has collaborators, which are so far apart that only remote works. So when I saw that that stuff is already happening in the moon, and there is this this there’s a significant jump in that believers in remote work. So, I think I predicted that trend, forward right when no more work becomes mainstream then people would definitely want to move out of their urban residents and people would want to live in their favorite city, why would they want to live in, let’s say, a very crowded city. If it was not a work right. Is it more than I would definitely go and live in the mountains on living at the beach right. And what, what happened is that the your stakeholder ecosystem, whether it is our internal employees or your customers or your executives right so you’ll start to see more and more people, you know, moving out or being not being in the main city that you’re focused on, for example, let’s say, if there was a company which was in San Francisco in 2015 Maybe all their top 100 Customers will be 40 mile radius but most won’t well, maybe the top customers would be important in my radius or my radius, Right, because people would have just chosen to move away. So in that world, in that future, people would not give up on live content, people would definitely want to hear exactly people live, and the serendipity and the excitement of, you know, attending an event that would still be something that people will want to do right and how can we make it more efficient, how can we make it more lifelike. So those are some of those fundamental things that we’re betting on. And, unfortunately, we will actually just you know taking baby steps right and, and it was just the confidence of our customers, early, early adopters and people who just gave rave reviews about our experiences that give us more and more confidence to continue to pursue. Okay. And on a more macro level.
Mike Malatesta 28:23
Since you you’ve done a lot of research on this, I want to ask your opinion on it, you mentioned earlier with common floor, how you had trouble. Well, you may have had trouble attracting talent because someone, you know, couldn’t make it to the office from where they lived or whatever, now you’re, you just went over how that’s, you know, remote work is sort of fixing or is a, is a potential, you know, fix to that problem. But I wonder about how you think about all the things that were important about bringing people into the office for example collaboration and culture and, you know, contemporaneous sort of meetup meetings like, oh I got a great idea that kind of thing versus the remote, sort of, being a little bit different structure where you can see people versus video and you can see what what work they’re doing and all but you’re not, you know, engaging with them the same way you would if they were sitting next to you or in the office down the hall or or whatever, you got to think you have a unique perspective on this, I’d like to know what it is.
Lalit Mangal 29:33
Yeah. So, absolutely not discounting the benefits of being an office being, you know, having a shared space and the entire environment which, which could be made a lot more conducive for productivity and what an office, essentially guarantees is that there is an assurance of time, right, if 2020 people in your team, they are at one location. You have an assurance of time commitment, that is what it essentially guarantees and then being in the same space, you know there are social dynamics that is there as I say, conversations are just inspired out of serendipity. Right and things can just, you know, happen at that level. So, we’re used to all of that. Absolutely, and that’s why we missed all of that, but what, what usually happens in transitions I went when they say when there is a paradigm shift happening right there is usually one very big factor which is driving the paradigm shift. Right. And after, after let’s say some after the dust settles, or after let’s say some stability is achieved what we have seen is that you know, I’m just talking about in general whenever there has been a paradigm shift. There are there are systems which emerge in the new paradigm, which sort of address all your needs, which were addressed in the previous paradigm in different forms. Right, so the need for serendipity the need for collaboration, the need for you know, social bonding with colleagues, etc. Those will definitely be addressed, but in your solutions there will be new solutions for all of that. But what this fundamental paradigm shift will absolutely happen without a doubt, because there is very strong, cost factor, which is driving that paradigm shift. Okay, I’ve
Mike Malatesta 31:16
got yeah that was really good so new, new paradigm new solutions. So in other words you’re saying whatever problems develop and there will be problems that develop that maybe you wouldn’t see in an office space. There’ll be solutions developed for those because you have, because the stakes are high and you have to make sure that people stay engaged, like what they’re doing and not so, so, you’ll figure it out. Basically, the world will figure it out
Lalit Mangal 31:42
as comes from entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs and startups will figure it out. Yeah, they will dedicate connections wherever there is a need there is a, there’s an opportunity to build a product window company.
Mike Malatesta 31:52
So let’s let’s, let’s start talking about how aremy got off the ground. The so you’re having these conversations with your two co founders, you recognize that there’s an opportunity for something that’s not being served well at the moment. There’s a lot of work to do to get this thing off the ground, how did you, how did you get started.
Lalit Mangal 32:20
Yep. So, I think the first step was to, you know, get some more validation but so we, what we did was at least four to three weeks we while we were conducting a lot of meetups on meeting solutions and webinars, just to understand the problem and fiction a lot more, we, we did create an ideal product right what would an ideal product look like, you know, in very bare bones, low fidelity, with a mock up of songs right. And we did show it to folks who, like us, that if this was this meter that you just attended, if this was on Saturday, and also that would that be great, and we’re just getting responses and reactions and and we relegated that video, whatever whatever assumptions that were conceptualizing, that, that should be something that people find naturally find your intuitive. And then, so that the risk is about the solution and not about the disability or the design of the product so we did that with our level of validation for the first few weeks, and then once we had a somewhat clear picture about what the product should be, we started developing, again, we did have two developers join us. Previously with me my previous company, and they joined forces and we started to build a prototype and it was just four weeks late and I’m a person who believes in addiction deadlines right so announced a public that will have an automatic experiment, but there was this very controversial book that has got launched in the next startup ecosystem. And I just got in touch with the author of the book and and you know convinced me to do a fireside chat on my platform which was not even ready yet, and I announced the date that this is where it is going to happen and that my team. Quite luckily you know just put all the races together. It was a very small thing just five people team and then we work through, like, weekends and late nights and then we got the initial version out. And the first thing that was conducted during just five to six weeks of the build. Alpha version of the product. And that is how we actually got this. And then, then I started learning from them but when, when people actually came onto the product, what was the interaction what was what was this. And often, every public event right there was at least four or five people who would come on Twitter, and talk about how great this was people, people, people did call out that this is the future of conferences, we didn’t we never say that this is the future of conferences but there isn’t happy customer happy, attendees, people who attended an elite this in 2019 November December they became entrepreneurs at regional conferences. So that gave us the confidence and then, then I think my investors from my previous company, I called touch with them and then raised a small Series, Series A. Raise the seed round early 2020 And then, since then, we’ve hired more people. The version of the product could be made out of just an alpha, more energy inside on it, and then made a more stable product, then learn from the customers, learned a lot about the event, industry as such, right. I don’t know for me the event industry I, I definitely have a, you know, an experience as an attendee, but then the mindset of the person who is organizing an event, especially big event right Meetup is something which is which anybody can organize right and make sure we keep organizing house parties and data in our own capacities to be able to pull up a conference, major conference that that support a different persona, he got in touch with that persona, who are present, there were some of our active users and and got to know that even supposition very differently but a meetup is a, has, has a very low convening power but conference has a very high convening power, right, and those are two different platforms, speakers, look at these two events differently. Some speakers would not even come for a meetup or they would go only the meetup is organized by someone with a very high prominence, right. So, and then what does it take to make a contract successful right stakes are very high there. And why do people have parallel tracks. Approaching everything from a very fundamental lens right where it makes sense in the virtual world or not right. Why would people sit through eight to 10 hours in front of in front of a screen right for a virtual image, even if it’s a virtual world, Why shouldn’t it be eight hours in a stretch, I’d like to work seven days a week maybe one or each of those one on one questions we will keep on asking and also encouraging our customers to think about, but I think Craig when he was such a drastic shift right, you know, it was a my enemy customers articulated. You know that that phase was a dumb digitization and people just wanted to get digitized and they did not think it through. Right, so they were people were conducting, like, eight hour long conferences, the framework and format of the parameters did not change, it was just tracks and everything that used to happen, physically, they expected all of that to happen virtually but that doesn’t make sense, fundamentally different. So now, what we’re seeing is that people are a lot more receptive, about the innovations that he has done aramid has brought about a new thinking in in the virtual events right. And after that, turbonomic. We are now seeing customers who chose another software or another software which was built on a previous framework. Now they are appreciating what he is doing and how our actual growth is, especially in the high value customer segment our growth is now pick me up. Since January,
Mike Malatesta 38:11
so you said that users were the ones who were saying that eremita is the future of video conferencing, you weren’t saying that what were you saying what were what were you saying to get them to come to this fireside chat in the beginning, or whatever.
Lalit Mangal 38:27
Yeah, so people are saying this is the future of conferences, conferences, you know the physical conferences that we go to. People are saying that this is the future of video conferences. But when I was positioning the product back in time, I was calling it as the online video. This is a video meetup, your webinar with social interactions right you can actually have lifelike social interactions that you have at a physical webinar, because we have created the product or the space, you don’t just enter a live session you’re entering a space and then you can, you know you can move from one video room for the other room, results with poor user experience and also very intuitive, sort of presents you a top down view of a virtual ballroom, or by virtual banquet or a ballroom where you have tables and every table can have a specific label, for example, If your audience if you are conducting a virtual meetup. I’m sure you have a large audience right, a large audience for your podcast, you might want to just have a watch, we’ll meet and greet with your audience right so on air meet you can actually label a virtual table as, let’s say if you, if you know some segments of your audience and you chose to give a location as a way together, or come together, right, and you can label that with your room and people can just, when they join that room they find themselves, you know, in a video call with other folks, and they can easily switch out and go to any other video right so that that degree of freedom that we offer to the participant, that is something that is you know that was unique at the time, and still happens to be unique The way we represented, and it’s really engaging. From the moment someone lands on an AV, they instantly get engaged, they stop looking at all the experts and is online. The white person is available on this table that he’s discussing with that person, and let me join my easy. Okay,
Mike Malatesta 40:19
so when I, when I hear you say that I think a couple of things come to mind first. It’s almost like augmented reality without augmented reality so being put into these rooms and stuff I’ve, I’ve been involved in some, you know, things where you wear the Oculus glasses and it’s like spatial web or something where you’re in, obviously you don’t have to do that to be on me but it sounds like you’re incorporating some of that part of the experience into it. Am I on the right track there
Lalit Mangal 40:53
absolutely bang on the right track. And I will share something about something slightly non conventional, right. So according to me, you know, at least, 2021 years of age that we live in Richmond storage content, you name any speaker, you can already find a lot of YouTube videos and podcasts from that person. But why is it that we still get attracted to that new event that is happening right. So why was people proud to, to listen to Elon Musk, why would people still no aggregate to listen simple level of income, because there is a non fungible, value to the presence of the person has been right, so he learns content and knowledge is valuable, but he knows presence is also value. And so, we have been, you know, in the previous industrial successful products, so we could replicate an iPhone into millions of iPhones and everybody could get their own iPhone, but we can, we cannot do that with a person pick a pipe so we cannot replicate, Mike. Mike, Mike is one non fungible entity in the universe, and your presence can only be scaled cannot be replicated right, and it represents the value. So today, Europe technologies like a meet are basically building for the presence economy of sorts, right. So, what essentially happens at an event is that I’m able to attract someone’s presence, and that is enough to attract presence of an audience and then I can unlock the value of the whole aggregation tool access sponsors, and maybe other connections can happen with the presence of other people at an event right. So, it’s, it’s, in some sense the presence economy, of course, there are multiple currencies getting exchanged some people are exchanging social capital, some people are exchanging actual money, exchanging it for demand generation, but then this is the very nascent stage of the economy, right, and we are actually building and organizing. So
Mike Malatesta 42:55
help us understand the difference say we’re used to. I’m trying to think of how many conferences I’ve been to that were all web. And I think the ones that I have been to have been similar have been sort of like what you describe they’re the they’re essentially the conference, the way it always was. But you’re, you know, sitting there watching it for eight hours or whatever, as you said, you know, they may have breakout rooms for example, they’ll put you together with a couple other people and there’s a topic and that’s the networking or whatever. What people but most people are used to, to, what, what an airman experience is like well it’s, you know, a real good understanding of, you know, we should check this out.
Lalit Mangal 43:49
So, damage is the perfect mix of informal and formal flavors to our event. So the formal flavor to an event is when all your content, or program activities happen, and the informal bit is when the participant also have a degree of freedom to you know create their own conversations to jump into conversation that they like. And that is what the induction is the uniqueness of their way despite the awkward, a much higher degree of movement and degree of participation to the attendee themselves is not okay with that.
Mike Malatesta 44:25
So without the meeting organizer needing to be involved, for example. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Okay, all right because I’m thinking about like zoom, if you’re not the meeting organizer, you can chat with somebody if they let you see everybody else, but it’s just typing if it’s not, you can’t talk to somebody on your own aramid allows you to do that. Absolutely, yeah. And this social bounce thing is that what we read about this social lounge feature is that that sort of beginning thing where you were talking about you know looking at a blank screen or a static screen versus, you know I’m having an experience while while you’re waiting for the meeting to happen or something or is it.
Lalit Mangal 45:09
Okay, so social social lounge is where you have to wait for the webinar to start and that is that is where you know you can take a seat, and then become available for other people to come and join and have a conversation, Right. That was a minimal viable product, to bring about the networking experience in place of a waiting experience. And the way we have designed it, it’s like a top down view of a banquet hall. There are tables where you can actually, you know, move and sit or sit on a table and then slow grab the table. Okay. Okay. The. The other thing that you. Well,
I don’t know if I was gonna
Mike Malatesta 45:47
ask you about clubhouse but I but after you explained it a little further. Maybe, maybe that’s not a good one but I guess what I’m, I’m wondering is what kinds of events can take place well on me like what are you really targeting because I saw that, you know like, I’ve mentioned some of the things that I’ve seen, but I’ve also been to like charity events where they have auctions and they have, you know other components to it and they’re using different software platforms to do that in conjunction with a production company, you know, to set up the the event itself. Is that something that you’re targeting. In addition to conferences or is there a sort of band around which you think eremita is the best solution
Lalit Mangal 46:39
from a customer perspective here right because, because almost every organization does a variety of events on their own right. So, but our customer, the customer that we are building for at the moment, right, is, is basically an organization where the members of that organization already have some bit of a familiarity, right, it’s not that absolutely new people are meeting each other. there is a person of interest based committee that I want to catch up with Mike so I joined there my kids and I can actually get a good mic and then Mike and I can go and we’ll have our own deposition or a different table, right, so that that familiarity, has to be there. And that’s why our associations love our product. So, large associations have just brought in a lot of events on average and they continue to grow their usage, and we are actually. So we have two formats right so one, one is a simple gathering format which where you can actually have an informal gathering and have a few fireside chat sessions. And then second format is basically like a full fledged conference or an expo, right, so this gives associations like toolset for a year long engagement right so they can have almost like a monthly impromptu gathering as along with let’s say quarterly semi annual gala gatherings right so, so we are giving them this all year long engagement solution. And that’s right the customer that we’re building for right now is having a high degree of familiarity between the members.
Mike Malatesta 48:15
Okay, got it, and how does someone start a relationship with, with me, what’s, what’s the process to get started.
Lalit Mangal 48:25
It’s a process so you know product where you can, anybody can go to me.com just get started. We have a free forever plan where you could do, you know events of 200 people, you get our core product absolutely free, other bells and whistles which are not in the free plan but then, many communities especially many too many, I would say, not for profit entities, started using our product the free plan we continue to use 100 people is a good builder from what we do abroad. We’ll do a session there you can also easily livestream your session on your social media channels so it’s easy to get started. And then, at various points in the product journey. You get to book a appointment with a product specialist to understand something if you want to if you, if you have a question in mind. We also have a 24 Seven support lounge. So there’s actually a physical space that we have created using our own product, where all our customers are always welcome, and they will always find at least four or five people from my team who are available to do any troubleshooting to address any questions, you just go to that 24 Seven support lounge, the link is on our footer, and you can see that there are tables and my team is sitting on those tables and you know these tables, our chat with the employee and then your question are there real person in store in store service, kind of a virtual in store service experiences what we are providing.
Mike Malatesta 50:03
So you mentioned early on I think that you’re, You know, doing 4000 events a month is that I remember that correctly. Yep, okay, and you start late 2019 You get the sort of the seed round, of which I think was about $3 million. If I read it correctly, from people who had invested with you before in your previous company that’s that happens in just when you know March or so just when this kind of waking up to this COVID-19 awareness, and then later in the year. You managed to raise a much bigger Series A round. A lot, a lot of money. And so, so, what’s got people so excited about it. How did you end I think the ramp from like the fireside the first fireside chat to 4000 events a month, a year, and even a year and a half later, it has largely been driven by word of mouth referrals that are right I mean it’s not. It hasn’t been a big advertising campaign or any do so you’re getting a ton of traction, you know, regular people telling other regular people about it and then you’re also attracting Sequoia in this area in this case is a serious money from a serious firm. So what’s happening, why is it how’s it. How’s that, how’s that. How is that happening.
Lalit Mangal 51:40
Yeah, absolutely, that’s a that’s a great, great question. So event. Events, you know, people have looked at event. Events so critical events have always existed and you’ve all gotten comfortable with the way events were happening right, because, because it was a big economy driver, a lot of money was going into events and events, they have budgets to demand, right. So, nobody had the, I would say that nobody had the need to even relook at whether or not events really efficient right. So, but if you critically analyze events, they’re big valuable people in reference to an event and because of that presence store value get some long right sometimes it’s a new job offer, sometimes it’s a new million dollar deal or investment offers right so very very big value when these events aren’t right. And, but, the unfortunate part was that 85% of the expenditure in the entire economy was material expenditure, right. So things like paying for the venue. Paying for electricity pay for security paying for tea, coffee, tissues, but all of that right. That would have that used to make events inaccessible to the, to the upstarts right to the to the to the pioneer who is innovating on let’s say, you know, climate change, or someone who is, who has such a great idea that he wants to get my eyes to the world, right, for all those those events becoming accessible, and then they would be dependent upon let’s say information in middle of songs right would organize conferences will be conferences. And again, you kind of just taking a lot more time to reach a larger audience, right. So, what has now happened is that the world has experienced that digital events. The way these products have been built are equally. Physically, physically, there is a lot of physical constraints like constraints about participation constraint about private space could only do, we’re only rented for eight hours, and you could only do let’s say six sessions which I only pay report a lot of these constraints are tied up with joint constraint, right. So, again, the, the amount of connections, if you if you recollect you know one of your previous physical event experience. I’m sure you would have also gone through some awkward experiences where, you know, some conversations you were just sitting through you, did not really enjoy those conversations. You know, people go out to something interesting that was happening yeah right so digital, digital allows you to do that, you can just move in an instance from a boring conversation to something super exciting. The relevance of the people that you need digitally could be a lot higher, right, we can through digital channels we can bring a lot more content to the conversation, right. So, you know, for example through digital, there is more, more than enough information about every person on Twitter, already right so, through a through a very well connected very well integrated experience, I can get to know that the person that I’m talking to is MIT and he, he’s an ex Oracle, and then I can actually have a lot better conversations, I can actually have a lot more deeper conversations to connect with that person, and all of that is not possible in the physical world. We have experiences that digital events are a lot more effective than physical events in terms of the ROI, definitely on the, on the sensory aspects of things and extend the human to human elongated sessions are not there, right. But then the right level of conversations the right. I would say, effective conversations, those are happening in a much better fashion. So, those are fundamental indicators of something permanent ship right writing for someone you will not go back to buying the bike so use Uber, right, wouldn’t go back to let’s say cooking every meal when you’re so used to, you know like calling like say India we have so many things. So, so this, this, these are indicators towards an irreversible behavior change, right, and especially that our younger customer segments, and as well as younger companies and organizations which are so excited about this because it’s, it’s some sort of a force multiplier for them at a fraction of the cost, or even lesser, they can actually reach a much wider audience right so this is again a different class formation of a very old industry, and this happens to be very large industry like a trillion dollar industry. That’s, that is what is getting excited, like all the investors are excited because of this reason.
Mike Malatesta 56:27
You brought up a lot of great points there, the, the one I hadn’t thought of you didn’t actually say this but I thought of it, you know, if I were to sign up for a company, really. And, or I was thinking about it I’d look at the time and I was thinking myself well I’ve got a meeting for one hour of that day so I can’t go with digital, I can be like, Okay, well I can go to seven eighths of it. I’m gonna miss 1/8 of it but that’s fine, because it actually allowed my schedule to work with the, with the conference schedule as opposed to either being an either or, or an if then you know, I hadn’t really thought about that but that’s really smart plus the ROI for the conferences, and he did a great job of explaining that you, you, and I’ve seen this in my own experience, you were doing virtual or digital events now, and the they’re charging you know, 75 or 80% of what they normally would charge for you to come, which I think you mentioned the ROI, I think that makes the conference, more, more profitable because all those expenses that you mentioned are a lot of them you need still need production and stuff I suppose to put on a good event union wages and all the other stuff that come especially with big conference spaces that are all kinds of restrictions and costs. You know you got rid of it. I think I saw you somewhere where you said or was attributed to you that you know what you’re doing is democratizing access to live events and I loved that thought because that’s what it is, I mean if you want to go to a live event. Anywhere you can probably figure out a way to do it through, through aremy, or, or some of the other options that are out there where before I was just like that, you know, there’s no way I could ever do that, so. Yeah. So congrats. Yeah, congratulations on that. Well, it, it’s been a pleasure talking to you i i give you the last word if you if there’s anything that I haven’t asked that you’d like to share or anything else about pyramid or you are connecting with you,
Lalit Mangal 58:37
you know, feel free. Oh, yeah. So, just maybe, you know, I would like to say that our customers are propellers of progress and catalyst of opportunities in their own respective domains right, they are the ones which are, they are pushing the boundaries of progress. And we are super excited to be empowering them, and in our own way we are also propelling the progress of humanity. And so we are very excited about what we’re building on each and every single day is a great day, contributing to
Mike Malatesta 59:12
looking great. Well it sure seems that way and congratulations on your, on your progress so far what’s, if you’re looking out into the, into a couple years into
Lalit Mangal 59:21
this journey look like to. Now, a couple of years into the future I think other segments we are, we are at the very nascent stage of something that presents economy. I think we be and companies like us are waiting for that right so this will become some sort of infrastructure for that presents economy, where you don’t really have to be physical. Still a lot of valuable. Right. That is what we have we will be building the infrastructure and tools for the economy. Nice. Nice. Well, I look forward to
Mike Malatesta 59:57
tracking your progress, you’re definitely well on your way so congratulations and thanks so much for being
Lalit Mangal 1:00:05
like my right. Stop. Hey, thank you. I hope that Mike does I hope that was okay for you. Yeah, it was nice. It was fun.
Mike Malatesta 1:00:21
Yeah, good. Okay. Excellent, thank you so much for doing this, I’ll let you know when, when the episode drops and congratulations on your success. I’m going to check out here me because I think if I got to experience this I need to be propeller of progress and a catalyst of change. So, yeah, you got some good nuggets there thanks a lot. Yeah, see it.