“Growing 3X per month, after 7 years of trial-and-error. As if our growth came out of nowhere!”
Interview with InEvent CEO and Cofounder Pedro Góes.
In a world that’s been reshaped by the ongoing pandemic, remote work and virtual events are becoming more common than most of us could have ever imagined. InEvent provides a platform for team management and virtual events, and as a result, the startup has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several months.
In this episode, Roland Siebelink speaks with InEvent co-founder and CEO Pedro Góes. They talk about InEvent’s journey to product-market-fit and the startup’s sudden success during the pandemic:
- How quickly the demand for virtual events has grown and the potential for future growth.
- The many steps InEvent took to find the right type of customer.
- How InEvent views salespeople for a self-service product that they want to sell itself.
- Why InEvent places so much emphasis on customer satisfaction and customer feedback.
- The importance of not comparing yourself to other startups when it comes to finding product market fit.
Roland Siebelink: Hello, everyone. And welcome to the Silicon Valley Moment Podcast. I’m Roland Siebelink, scaleup coach. And today, I’m so excited because I have a very special guest: Pedro Góes of InEvent. Hello, Pedro!
Pedro Góes: Hello, Roland. How are you? Really good to be here.
Roland Siebelink: I’m very good. Thank you. Thank you for joining. Tell us about InEvent. What does your company do and how did you get started?
Pedro Góes: Yeah. InEvent, it’s a company that we do hybrid and virtual events. People asked me a lot, “Pedro, what’s a hybrid event.” Hybrid event, it’s if you want to extend your webinar experience. If you just don’t want to have just one video and people are doing anything.
You want to be interactive. You want to have questions. You want to have polling. You want to have one-on-one meetings. You want to have branding. You want to have a schedule. If you want all those things on your next virtual event, that’s why you need to have a virtual event solution.
And I think InEvent has been growing really well. The last few months, I think the pandemic was something that helped the business. Specifically, in terms of team management. Everything has been hard but business has grown with virtual events in the last few months. That has been going well.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome to hear. So you consider yourself a net beneficiary of the COVID pandemic?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, it helped business grow. But our goal is really to help people. We’re hiring a lot of team members that were part of other in-person events that used to do a lot of in-person events. We are able to hire those team members and also provide job opportunities. That’s also really important to us.
Roland Siebelink: Can you talk a little bit about, as we talk about the pandemic already, what was the situation before the pandemic started? And was there a big pivot you had to do or were you all prepared and was it just an exact match from the beginning?
Pedro Góes: Yeah. InEvent started as an app, actually. We were in college, me, Vinny, and Mauricio, we were all studying computer engineering together. Actually, Vinny was studying mechanical engineering, which is a bit different.
But then we decided: let’s work with events, let’s work with event technology. And we have been doing that for the last seven years now. And during that time, we saw that there was a big leader in the event management space. Event management is if you want a website, if you want to register people, do the badge, bring on the event, those kinds of things.
And there were already very big players in that specific area. Companies that have been in this market for 30 years. We were able to grow. We’re growing about 50 to 100% a year for the last few years because we were small. But then with the pandemic, that allowed us to pivot really, really strong pivot to go to virtual. And that allowed us to grow much faster. We are growing 3X a month in the last few months just because the pandemic has a really high demand for virtual events. It’s also a new piece of business. Nobody is doing that yet. There are no big players in the virtual event space.
But at the same time, it’s really demanding because we have server pressure. We have customer requests for features. We have to hire a lot of new team members. All those things together. But a really high demand for us to perform and deliver, and in a very short period of time. It’s the new era and we will work to be the leaders there, to be the main leader in the virtual event space.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think Geoffrey Moore called it inside the tornado, right? That phase where you suddenly experience that huge explosive growth.
A lot of the people listening to this podcast would like to be in your shoes, would like to see that huge growth for their startup. Once you’re in it, it’s not always that easy, right? How do you manage your time? How do you prioritize? What do you focus on first? How do you even make those decisions?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, that’s a really good question. First thing for us is customer experience. To understand where exactly the customers are having issues or where they’re having the greatest experience. It’s just to map those things out. And then the places that we’re doing really well, we try to highlight this to all the customers and show that and invest more time on this.
As an example, our customers really loved the idea that InEvent has a trial account. You can just open the software, start playing with it, and you don’t have to talk to a sales person, for example. That’s something that we got really positive feedback on. We started to invest more in this to make the trial easier, to provide more ways to get credits. Also, the customer support, we started to develop chat support. The person replies in less than one minute to a question. People really loved that. They’re like, “Oh, that’s amazing. I Like it. It usually takes hours for people to reply to my question.” With the chat, it’s a real person that replies really quick. These are great things that we have seen.
But in the end, it’s all about this customer experience. How to get the highest amount of happy customers. On InEvent, so far, we have a 97% satisfaction rate.
Roland Siebelink: Wow, congratulations! That’s amazing. You’re always going to have 3% haters, right? So I think 97%, I consider that a 100%. That’s really good. Can you talk a little bit more, Pedro, about the customers you target? Because one of the challenges I see many startups go through is moving from this very broad targeting, win whatever we can get, to a more deep understanding of what’s our true core customer and who do we serve best? Where are you on that journey?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, that’s a really good question. We tried multiple things with InEvent. We tried to focus on being country specific, only American customers. Then we tried to be international. Let’s focus on European customers. Then we tried for a bit to focus on specific features. Let’s focus on the app. Let’s focus only on the event management system. Let’s focus on badge printing.
Then something that we did also was to focus on different customer segments. Let’s focus on only enterprise customers, accounts totaling a hundred thousand dollars. Let’s focus then only on customers below 5k. We tried those many different things. And we realized that InEvents is really good on focusing on this customer that’s willing to have self service. They want to start a trial. They want to actually build the event himself or herself and do everything from the platform. And then they are willing to purchase using a credit card.
They don’t need to have a contract. They didn’t want to review contracts. They don’t have to be in a commitment for many, many years. They want to pay as they go and use the credit card. We really got a really good fit with this customer. But that came because we tried all these different customer segments all across the globe, so there was trial and error to find exact segments for InEvent.
Roland Siebelink: For those that are newer to remote work, maybe they’ve had to themselves go through an abrupt change because of the pandemic. What are some tips that you could give people in other companies on how to make remote work be efficient?
Pedro Góes: I think it’s really all about skills. You need to assess when you’re hiring a new person, do they have the skills that I need for this specific opening. And when I’m talking about skills, I’m really talking to be really specific. If you have, for example, you’re going to have someone to provide customer support for customers on the video side of things, right? Is it important for them to know about the video software that’s included and also to understand more about virtual cameras, for example. You need to assess if they have this specific knowledge. If they have, that really makes a difference when you’re onboarding the person and being responsible about it because then they can remain independent on their own. You don’t have to be tracking if they’re actually replying to customers and everything.
For me, it’s all about making sure that the hiring process is correct, that we are assessing the right skills. And also make sure that you have the right systems to guide the reports.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. Let’s talk a little bit about the development of the company. You said you’ve been growing really fast, especially since the pandemic started. With about 55 people that you have right now, roughly, if you can say, how does that split up between let’s say the people building products versus the people marketing and selling and supporting customers?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, that’s a really good question. We try to say that the product sells itself because of the self-service thing. Because we want customers to actually go and try the product, the free trial product for 30 days. And once they are talking to sales, they already like, “Oh, I already used the product” and they just want to ask specific technical questions, right? Because that helps the whole sales process. We don’t have to actually have to pitch them. They’re actually just coming to ask questions to us directly.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, very good. And the other question I often get is founders telling me, I’m facing pressure from investors to hire a really experienced salesperson, 15, 20 years experience. Is that something you would recommend to a company with product-led growth and a technical founding team?
Pedro Góes: I think it depends on your lifetime value of the customer and the ACV average contract size. And I say that because if you have contracts that are not - let’s say you have a contract average is going to be like $2,000. It doesn’t feel like because a really senior person is going to make 150K at least a year. And if you’re talking about 150K, this person still has the same amount of hours as a junior person, right? Someone that’s making 50 to 60, they still have the same amount of hours. So this person has to close much more. And sometimes, take the closing, it’s not solely about the person’s performance. It’s all about qualification, timing, and things.
If you have a very senior person and your ACV is not that high, what’s going to happen is you’re going to have someone trying to close business and their cost is not going to amount to the average they’re closing, how many deals are you closing per week or per month.
You need to calculate based on your contract value. If it makes sense to you to have - sometimes your contract value, it’s slow. But the customer stays for 20 years, so that may make sense. But in most cases, product-led growth leads to shorter sales cycles and people work directly with sales so you can move quickly. That’s what we have seen. But you really need to make calculations for your business and make sure that you’re not putting a very senior person to work with a low ACV.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. And you said that your goal is to have the product sell itself. To what degree did the calculations of cost of sales, customer acquisition costs come into play when you said let’s segment the market that way, let’s focus on these people that are eager to do self service.
Pedro Góes: Yeah. We actually started enterprise first when we started the company. I think there are some good benefits there. The main benefit is that you can actually work on developing the product together with the customer. Sometimes you’re like, “I don’t have this feature, but since it is an enterprise deal, I can work together with the customer while I’m building this to close the deal.”
This is different, totally different from product-led growth. You have no control over the customer life cycle. You provide them the product and then they have to manage this and make their own assumptions about the product because they’re testing, using self-service, right?
That moved us to be much more like: “You already need to have the product available there for people to decide on this and to be able to make the decisions by themselves.” We moved from when we enterprise to product-led growth basically because it was so much more scalable, at least in our business. Instead of signing up, maybe I have five demos a day, and that was really good. We’re actually signing up 50 customers sometimes a day because now product-led growth, it’s so much more scalable than the enterprise deals. That was the main difference why we started to focus on product-led growth.
Roland Siebelink: What’s your long-term vision and how are you going to conquer the world?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, I think virtual events are going to be - they’re exploding already - but that’s going to be a long-term thing now. Companies are actually investing in this and not only for events or for virtual events. But also, companies that are going fully remote - the amount of people, they’re all saying, my company is awfully remote. They need virtual software for that. They need to have meetings for all the things that are going to run internal meetings. To have the Friday happy hour. To have the customer conference be online. And customers are going to expect that. The second thing is that customers realize that it’s much more affordable to reach people using virtual software than just having to get them to go in person, right? Sometimes you can not make time to travel to California for one week, but you can make maybe four, five hours, six hours to go to a virtual event and connect with your prospects and maybe close the 50K, a hundred thousand dollar deal. Those things are migrating and we really do believe that InEvent’s going to be the leader in this virtual event space. If you think about hybrid, if you think about virtual events, we want to think about InEvent and reach maybe 1 billion people around the world. That’s our vision and how to do that.
Roland Siebelink: Oh, that’s a great, big, hairy, audacious goal as they call it. One billion people around the world, right? And I love also when startups such as InEvent express their goal, not just in terms of money, but in terms of impact. How many people did we make the world a better place for?
Pedro Góes: Exactly. I think that’s important. Growth, for me, it’s really about happy customers. If the customers are happy, you’re making an impact in the world. I think sometimes if you’re growing customers are not happy, then that’s not good because you’re actually forcing something to people. But if customers are happy, that means you’re making a difference and improving people’s lives because that’s based on customer feedback. That’s the main thing that customers should base their assessments and then strategy should all be based on customer feedback.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, it really shines through, Pedro, if I may say so in this interview, how customer-focused you are and how making customers happy seems to be the company’s real purpose in life. I love to hear that.
Where did you pick that up? I’m asking because I think you said all three of the co-founders had a technical computer engineering background. Without putting too much prejudice on it, let’s just say people with technical backgrounds are not always necessarily the most empathetic or the most customer-driven. Is that something that you picked up along the way or was it in your Y Combinator program or just learning from failures? What happened?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, I think that was part of the experience, the experience thing that we were talking about earlier. How to understand customers and everything. I was really technical in the beginning. I think I still am. I still develop software as part of the team. I still send my comments to the source code. But it’s all about getting people to understand. Sometimes, I have customers that tell me, “Pedro, I’m sure the software’s going to work.” I’m pretty sure your software is stable and everything. But I don’t know if that’s compatible with me, right? Sometimes they just want to know that we are going to be able to support them. It’s good to be able to know that when they have a question and when they’re in need, you’re going to be there for them and to be able to help them.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. I mentioned Y Combinator quickly. You guys went through the program, I believe was that last year? You had been in business for a while, of course. And then were able to join that coveted batch. What would you say was the experience like for you and Vinny and Mauricio?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, I think Y Combinator was an excellent experience. It provided us with so many insights, connections, and the ability to rethink our business model. Sometimes you’re doing something for a very long period of time and you need someone to really challenge you to think differently and think about how you can really review a bit of business from scratch because sometimes I’ve seen other co-founders from my batch, they’re already making millions of dollars in revenue. They’re thinking that may be nice, but that’s not like a hundred million dollar business. That’s not a billion dollar business. Because business is, if you think about it, you can be running your business for 10 years, but you can be making half a million dollars in revenue per year, so they don’t scale.
The challenge for us was: how can we keep growing 100% a year for the next 10 years? That was our main vision. How can we do that? And Y Combinator was this place to rethink. And we came out going digital, going hybrid at that time. Not fully virtual but going hybrid came out of Y Combinator also.
Roland Siebelink: You already mentioned an aggressive goal of keep growing 100% a year for 10 years. I really love that. How does it look on the investment side? How do you balance trying to get to a good revenue growth, maybe even some degree of profitability, with the need to keep chasing investor money?
Pedro Góes: Yeah. I think PG, Paul Graham, from Y Combinator, he has one keynote that I got a chance to read. He told us you need to assess from an external perspective if you really think that your business makes sense to get an investment. You gotta go there and make an assessment. Do you think this business is growing? If you were an investor, would you invest in your business? Would you take a hundred thousand dollars and invest in this company?
I think what that comes up to is, are you having growth? Do you see that there is a market for it? Do you have anything that you do you really believe that you’re going to be a leader in this space, not just because you have to say it, but do you really believe that? If you do, then you’re going to be able to fundraise really directly to the point because you’re selling your vision and you’re able to do that. For us, at InEvent, to be really honest, I didn’t have that for the first few years of the company. We were just trying to build like a company. We just wanted to be entrepreneurs.
But then the last few years, it became really clear to us that we must be the leader in the virtual events category. That was when you really see something and that becomes really clear to you. We are able to actually fundraise since Y Combinator, which became a much easier process, much more smooth because you found the market fit and you found a division of how you’re going to develop the business.
Roland Siebelink: Awesome. How would you say that a much bigger vision that you developed has changed the way you manage your time you manage your life? What do you prioritize? What’s taking more attention? What’s taking less attention now?
Pedro Góes: Yeah. In the first few years, six, seven years I worked 24 hours per day without stopping. In the first three or four, I also worked weekends without stopping. I started to take weekends off about two, three years ago as a founder. And now I’m also taking the evenings off, some specific days to just rest or sometimes to go cycling or go swimming. That’s really important.
You’re not running a hundred meter race. You run a marathon. If you get tired when you are on mile 20, you’re not going to finish it. It’s really important, understand that as a founder, when we were five people only, you have to work nonstop because the company is going to die in the next month. And I know that. That all makes sense. But as you’re growing - it’s a stronger company, we have 50 people or so - it’s really important to focus on your health and be able to focus on things that are going to allow you to keep growing and not to burn out. I think that’s really important.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. And you’ve already mentioned how much you are focusing also on building your team and developing your people. Hopefully, you can also rely on them delivering goals for you and you don’t have to do it all yourself, right?
Pedro Góes: Exactly. If you think about hiring, it’s all about people to help you. And what I think today is that the people that are here InEvent, the innovators, they’re actually helping InEvent to build something much bigger than we could have ever built alone. Even if you come from a computer engineering background, we always had the idea, you’re just going to develop a product and that’s it. It’s going to grow to a hundred million dollars by itself.
And what we see is that we need people. We need people to help the customers, to import them, to answer their questions, to help with sales, to do all those things. If you invest in some people, they will be able to grow with you. And it’ll be much easier for you to achieve whatever is your goal in the end.
Roland Siebelink: So, Pedro, if the listeners are excited about working with InEvent or help you in any way, what are some key goals that you need help with and how can listeners help you with it?
Pedro Góes: Looking for two things. If you want to join a great company and if you have experience with customer success, with sales, with product development, we have so many openings available if you want to look at them. And that’s one thing.
And the second thing is if you want to try the product, if you have any virtual events coming up, if you want to just try the product for free for 30 days, it can start today at inevent.com/trial. That’s available today for you to use and to be your next event on InEvent.
Roland Siebelink: Let’s close, Pedro, with what are some key learnings that you had as startup founders that you’d like to convey to other founders that are coming behind you? If you could talk to Pedro from seven years ago, what would you want to teach him?
Pedro Góes: Yeah, I think the main thing today is market fit. I have been trying to find market fit. And then when we finally found it, market fit doesn’t really depend upon the founder. Sometimes, another company raised X amount of millions or they have grown so quickly. And you are just working so hard, as hard as them sometimes, and you don’t see this growth and you’re playing the same things and everything but you don’t see the growth. That’s because market fit comes from demand. There must be demand for your idea on the market. Sometimes you don’t have the right timing, sometimes don’t have enough focus on the right segment. Don’t punish yourself for it. If you have not found market fit yet, don’t be comparing yourself to other companies just because you have not found it.
Try different ideas, try to find your market, and you’ll find it. Even if it takes like five years, 10 years, just allow the market to communicate with you and see how demand is coming through. It depends much more on the market to be able to provide you and then you capture this.
Roland Siebelink: Well, then I have to ask the following question that people always ask me. “Oh, how will I know when I get there? How will I know that I have market fit?”
Pedro Góes: I’ve heard from a really great co-founder at Y Combinator, he told us that out of nowhere - you’re going to be doing the same thing, you’re going to go through your daily thing - and then out of nowhere, there is just going to be growth, really extreme growth. You’re going to go from growing 10% a month to growing 200% a month. And you have not changed the product. You haven’t done anything. And out of nowhere, you have extreme growth. That’s when you know that you have found market fit.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. I love that illustration. Thank you so much, Pedro Góes, CEO, founder of InEvent for joining the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. This was a great interview. Really appreciate your time. And I just want to remind people to try out their software. As well as for customer success and sales people, in particular, to look for amazing open job opportunities.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.