Event Tech: The Benefits Of Re-Bundling Your Tech Stack
Struggling to manage multiple event management solutions at a high cost? Learn about the benefits of re-bundling event tech and key considerations when choosing an event management software, straight from our CEO’s recent talk at Event Tech Live Las Vegas 2023.
I'm Jon Kazarian, CEO and Founder of Accelevents. As mentioned, we will be talking about the re-bundling of event tech, but a bit broader than that, the concept of the general re-bundling of B2B tech. And with that, we'll start to think about a framework for how to go about buying event tech and what matters in that process.
The Cycles of Unbundling and Re-bundling
So there's a great quote from the CEO of Netscape, one of the first descriptions of how B2B tech goes through these cycles of unbundling and re-bundling.
And this is particularly interesting because it's coming from the early 90s.
Examples of Unbundling and Re-bundling
And if we look back at some of the different ways we've seen that transpire in our daily lives, look at the music industry, for example, right? We used to buy CDs or B 12 albums on a track. Then we went to the world of iTunes, where you could buy a single song at a time. And now we're back to this subscription model, where you're buying a bundle, purchasing a Spotify subscription, and getting all that at once.
We've seen the same in the telecom space. We used to have landline phones, and we went out and bought cell phones, two different subscriptions, but again, it all comes back under one bundle, again and again. Venmo, now all the banks have Zelle. Uber is probably my favorite example, though, where you've got this meshing of the benefits of having that delivery network. Now you have food delivery and human transport in the same marketplace or environment.
And really, what's happening here is that as new technology comes to light, those products create the unbundling experience we've seen. In the world of event tech, we've had something north of 250 different event tech entrants come into the market over the past three years!
A Framework for Buying Event Tech
Now, I want to talk a bit about the four major criteria in the buying process. And this also gets into a bit of why I started Accelevents. I'll share that story too. But it comes down to these four critical criteria:
- Is the price within what I can afford, what my company can support?
- Is the support there?
- Does it have the actual functionality I need?
- Will it deliver a UX that I want to put forward for my attendee base?
Nine years ago, when I started Accelevents, the reason was that I had a cousin who, at the age of 17, got diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to do something for her. I was living in Boston at the time. So I rented out the aquarium in Boston and hosted an 840-person event to raise money for Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Going into that event, I was trying to find solutions to help me run the event, technology solutions, and there just wasn't anything out there that was either affordable or that had decent support, especially on weekends, or had an experience that was something I wanted to put in front of my attendees. And that ultimately led to me starting Accelevents. With that in mind, you can find the Big Four, and it's out there!
The High Cost of Bundling Multiple Event Tech Solutions
Now, to get all those elements, we're finding that organizers have to bundle together way too much tech.
A great report came out from Forrester just a couple of months ago. It recognized that 19% of marketers now manage four to seven event technology solutions. That's four to seven times the cost they should spend. It's four to seven times the data silos and four to seven times the overlapping functionality!
Every event solution has to have some way of keeping track of registrants, so you just have this immense amount of overlap when you have this breadth of different solutions.
Now, don't get me wrong. There are a ton of incredible vendors in the event industry. I'm going to keep hitting on this point. The ecosystem is strong; it will stay strong. But it doesn't mean event planners must integrate everything at once and they shouldn't be forced to.
The Unbundling of Event Tech: Trends and Implications
So let's talk about the unbundling of tech and event tech in particular.
New Technology In The Space
So we talked about the way that new entrants enter the space. I'm going to jump ahead a little bit here. But we know that this happened so much over the past three years, particularly with virtual events. We learned all the things that technology CAN do to support events in ways we hadn't considered. We realized what the user experience could be and what data was available. And it put event professionals in a position where they couldn't say no to adopting some of these solutions.
The Limitations Of Platform Companies
Now another trend that we see, which is particular to the event tech space, but certainly in B2B SaaS across the board, is that you have these platform companies. These companies are at the heart of all the data, where these ecosystem providers, these best-of-breed niche solutions, bolt on to. And what happens is that they push this app ecosystem, and that's good and well, and it opens up the door for more tech to come in. But often, it's an excuse to shift the budget away from r&d and move that money to sales and marketing. And what happens, as a result, is you have these companies that could be providing a broader solution and giving you more flexibility, but they're not because, frankly, it's not in their best interest to do so. They want to focus on building the business at the core. And we'll talk about some of the implications of that in a moment.
The Slowdown Of Innovation Giving Rise To A Startup Ecosystem
Another reason we have this unbundling is that once platforms hit a certain scale, you have tech debt and a broad customer base, making it much harder to innovate. That's nothing new, right? We know that, and that's what opens doors. That's where the startup ecosystem comes from.
Marketing Ops and Transfer of Tech Debt
The other thing that's facilitated this unbundling is the role of marketing ops. It's a term that wasn't used ten years ago, and it's since shifted into revenue ops. It's created an environment where buyers of these solutions, the people that are organizing events, demand gen teams, etc., can say, hey, we want to use that solution because we know our marketing ops team is going to be able to figure out how to make that happen. But what it does is it transfers the tech debt from the platform company over to yourselves, over to the buyers of that technology, because they end up in a position where they're ultimately the ones that are responsible for making sure everything is connected.
What Drives The Shift Toward Re-bundling
But that doesn't last forever. And we found this out over the past nine months, when we've had massive layoffs, particularly in tech. It means that we've seen significant reductions in teams. Often, ops teams are hit first because they're considered a cost center, not a revenue driver for organizations. So all that tech debt then really starts to bubble up. So that's one of the primary drivers of the re-bundling we're seeing today. It's the administrative complexity that comes out of all of these different tools coming together.
It's also the data fragmentation (that drives the re-bundling). I mentioned before that with registration solutions, well, registration is ultimately at the core of every solution, or at least some mechanism for tracking attendees. And then you have this issue where you can't integrate all these different solutions into your other stack. Maybe it's HubSpot. Perhaps it's Salesforce, because you don't have a consistent data model.
Technology Overlap & Redundancy
Another aspect of what's driving the re-bundling is the attendee experience. I don't mean to pick on this event. Still, here, I think there are three or four different technology solutions that we're all using, from lead capture to registration to badge printing to the hosted buyer program meetings. It's all different logins, right? If you have to adjust, data is not pushing in real time. And ultimately, that has a bearing on the event organizers and all of us. I know I spent probably 15 minutes trying to navigate different solutions to log into, and this happens at every event I go to. So the read bundling is also driven by that continued focus on the attendee experience. And ultimately, what's that trade-off between the best-of-breed solution that may facilitate one aspect of our experience slightly better versus ensuring that everybody can access the entirety of that experience.
Fear Around The Financial Stability Of Niche Solutions
Now, another thing we're seeing today is there's just this general market fear around the financial stability of niche solutions when you want to go and use that best-of-breed solution because it is doing something incredibly cool and innovative. You don't know if that will be around, so you're hesitant to invest because integrating that is a soft cost for your ops team. And I think one reason for increased uncertainty with those solutions is the episodic nature of events. A lot of event technology is not purchased on an annual or subscription basis, right? It's very episodic in nature, and that does make it harder financially for companies to be able to facilitate financial stability.
Now, we're also seeing budget costs as another driver, and you're told that you can't go out and buy four solutions; you will inevitably look for one platform that can cover 80% of what you need. Yeah, it may not be the best of breed with something like surveys. Still, it gets the job done and allows you to focus on that experience for your attendees ultimately.
A Need For Implementation Flexibility
And then the final thing is implementation flexibility. So I mentioned the concept of the app ecosystem, the app environment, and the ability to use all the best-of-breed solutions we're surrounded by today. But you should be able to do that on your own timeline. And when you implement a platform that gives you a breadth of features because they're focused on r&d instead of just sales and marketing, that means you can implement that solution, focus on one implementation, and ensure that all the data flows where it needs to flow over time. As you learn from one event to the next, you can figure out, okay, maybe that solution, they're not investing too heavily in one particular feature. We know this is an area that we need to expand on. And you can go out and find that best-of-breed solution and integrate it, again, on your timeline. So that creates much more flexibility for organizations.
Four Considerations When Choosing a Platform Solution
Now as you think about looking for that platform solution, there are four things that I would encourage you to keep in mind:
A Robust API
What is the API webhook availability to you so that you can build upon the solution? Is it well documented, and are they supporting it?
A Solid Knowledge Base
Next is the comprehension of the knowledge base itself. We use Intercom as our chat support tool. We have 24/7 support, and our median response time is 23 seconds, and that's with real people, but it will not be like that forever. And just last week, I got an email from Intercom on how to optimize your knowledge base so that these AI chat widgets are going to be available to help support your customers 24/7 in real-time, and what we're going to see in event tech and across the board is that companies that are still using human support for everything are going to have to keep their prices higher. There will be a price reduction when all that money doesn't have to be spent on support. And companies can refocus on r&d. So ensuring that the knowledge base is there is critical because you want to ensure that the company will evolve.
A Crafted Approach To Software Building
Another concept is this "crafted, not cobbled" (approach). This is language that I ran from HubSpot, and I completely resonate with it. But it's the idea that the platform that you're building upon is growing organically over time. You're identifying the areas you want to invest in and building that in-house on the same tech stack.
A Shared Data Model
Other companies - and this tends to happen when private equity gets involved - come in and want to do a roll-up, buy different tech stacks, and put them together. But what happens is you create these data silos, and that's ultimately where the shared data model comes into play. When you have a company entirely focused on ensuring everything is built on the same base, you won't have a situation where somebody updates their name in the registration software, and they go to print their badge, and it's not updated there.
It also means that you will have a much better experience when it comes to pushing that data to the rest of your tech stack. So, for example, Accelerants, we announced an acquisition yesterday of a company called high attendance. And as we bring that platform into our ecosystem, we're not incorporating any of their code. We're going to shut down the entirety of that code base. But before we do so, we're going to identify, okay, what are the things that they're doing well and how can we build that into our stack, and that is ultimately the crafted approach to thinking about product management and how you can make sure that that experience for your attendees, for your event organizers, your staff, your exhibitors, your speakers, is entirely consistent across the board.