How Eventbase’s big bet paid off
The company charted a course through the pandemic to insulate itself from volatile venture capital and lockdown setbacks. It’s built a better business as a result.
The events industry – to put it mildly – didn’t do too well during the pandemic. With the lockdowns, waves of cancellations, and customers saving money in the face of uncertainty, it was a difficult two years for companies that specialized in drawing crowds.
The story was no different for Vancouver’s Eventbase. A local business that got its start building the mobile app for the 2010 Olympics (remember those?), the company has since grown a regular clientele that includes global brands like Salesforce, Cisco, SAP, Deloitte, Charles Schwab, and many more. Eventbase built best-in-class apps that powered the events hosted by each of these giants. Until the pandemic hit.
“In February 2020, which is a month before our fiscal year-end, it all started with the cancellation of South by Southwest in Austin,” Vincent Cauwet, vice president of operations at the company, remembers. “After that, it was like an avalanche of cancellations every week. Every day, there were fewer events, cancellations, and so on. So we lost the majority of our revenue in just a few weeks. That was devastating. We were having great momentum. But we had to completely change our focus to survive.”
The pandemic hit at a particularly unfortunate time for the company (if, indeed, there’s ever a good moment for a global plague). In 2019, Eventbase decided not to rely on further capital raises, and to push for profitability. It made some tough decisions. Shuttering its office in London as well as making cuts at home, the team finally achieved financial independence in March 2020. And then COVID struck in earnest.
“We had to let go of part of our team, which was the hardest part of it,” Cauwet says. “The team that stayed was extremely resilient. And we all rallied together to find different ways to keep our head above water, as you can imagine. On my side, we obviously reduced our expenses to a minimum. We stopped pretty much all internal initiatives. We leased our office downtown. We used to have three floors, down in Yaletown, but we had to find cash somewhere. So we became a remote-first company. Everything changed in a matter of weeks.”
At first, the company looked at its competition. Many other events-focused companies were pivoting to digital: a move that helped them make money at a time where the world was stuck indoors. It was, as Cauwet puts it, “very trendy”. But Eventbase couldn’t catch up. A mobile-first events company, it didn’t have the expertise to funnel money into virtual platforms. So it made a gamble.
Cauwet and the team had a hunch that, at some point, in-person events would eventually return. Virtual gatherings are a good stopgap, they reasoned, but nothing supersedes the ability to meet others face to face. Against every other firm in the business, Eventbase doubled down on making mobile apps for live events. And they staked the future of their company on their conviction.
“We just had to wait and see through it,” Cauwet remembers. “It was just a matter of time, right? We bet on the resurgence of live or in-person events. And that's when our company shifted. And then we, at that time, also updated our vision to illustrate that; to show how we're betting on that. We're bringing people together for the magic of live events, which was our new vision. Imagine saying, ‘we’re bringing people together’ during COVID. People just didn't understand. But that was the bet that we made, because we were betting on the future. So today, it turns out, it was the right choice.”
In the past six months, Eventbase’s revenue has more than doubled. More determined than ever to strive for profitability – a sensible tactic, given the likely reduction of venture capital during a possible recession – the company has maintained the wise approach to spending it developed during the belt-tightened pandemic years. Its workforce remains remote-first, which saves the firm the overhead of maintaining multiple offices, and Cauwet ensures that all capital spending is closely monitored as the company scales again. The approach has paid off. By the end of this year, Eventbase is planning to be profitable once more.
The team, too, has nearly doubled in size since the COVID-required reduction. “We went down to 45 people,” Cauwet says. “That was the lowest. And we're about to be 90 very soon. So we're pretty happy. We have a few roles posted now. And because we are remote-first, it allows us to hire anywhere in the world. We hired a few people in the U.S., and we also hired a full delivery team, a services team, on the East Coast. And before COVID, we thought it would be too complicated to do that. Now we have different time zones, and it works really well, as we have clients around the world.”
The pandemic could have broken Eventbase. But the company, Cauwet says, has taken the best learnings from that difficult time, and incorporated them into the business moving forward. It’s a lesson, perhaps, that could be relevant to all Vancouver businesses as a recession – and the associated belt-tightening – looms.
“Sometimes you're forced to think differently,” he says, philosophically. “And then you take a very hard situation, and you turn it into an opportunity. We made some bets along the way. And for us, it turned out to work really well on all fronts. We’re really pleased. So that's what we want to tell the world now – that we're really pretty proud of what we did.”
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