What You Learn at a Startup that Grows from $0 to $7.75 Billion in 2 Years

By Dave Schools

I just celebrated my two-year anniversary at Hopin, having joined the company when it was just a few months old and in beta — pre-revenue, pre-funding, no full-time employees. Today, Hopin is over 800 employees and closed a $450 million Series D funding, having raised $1 billion to date.

I thought now would be a good time to sit down and reflect on the journey thus far and distill some of the stories and experiences into helpful lessons and takeaways.

Perhaps the best place to start is the beginning, as I get asked a lot about how I became one of Hopin’s first team members.

It was the generosity of a new friend in December 2018. A fellow I interviewed for my Medium publication Entrepreneur’s Handbook sent a flurry of one-line emails to folks in his network where he saw an overlap. One of them was to Johnny Boufarhat.

The flurry of introductions David Markovich sent. One was to Johnny Boufarhat. He spelled Johnny’s name wrong.

I was working on Party Qs, a conversation starter app, and Johnny was working on Hopin (back then it was “Hopiin”), a networking platform that connected people virtually over video. Johnny responds to the email and we hop on a call.

We instantly hit it off. Johnny was one of the most interesting people I had met. He had a genuine intelligence, not like an academic, but as a citizen of the world, born out of a deep sense of openness and ambition. He was endlessly curious, he liked to debate, and his communication style was, shall we say, colorful. It also amazed me how fast he moved as a developer. He could build a feature in a weekend, faster than any developer I had met before.

Over the first half of 2019, we started to build a friendship, fully remotely — Johnny in London while I was in Richmond, Virginia. Every time we hopped on Hangouts, it was only a matter of minutes before Johnny would start screensharing, showing me the latest feature he had built on Hopin. Each time, I became more and more intrigued. He was creating a true event experience, except it was virtual. What differentiated it from everything else on the market was its focus not on just consuming content (like webinars), but on actually connecting people around the world.

Soon, I ran one of the first events on Hopin. In mid-2019, I hosted a virtual pitch meetup for the online community of Entrepreneur’s Handbook.

That event is when everything clicked. I popped off two emails inviting my subscriber base. Using Hopin, I was able to host a successful event for hundreds of people around the world and make thousands of dollars effortlessly. If it was this easy for me, I thought, imagine what others could do with this. I saw a glimpse into the future of events, a solution for community engagement, remote work, and much more, all wrapped into the massive vision Johnny had.

I flew out to London in October 2019 and Johnny and I met for the first time in person and worked together. He introduced me to the best steak I’ve ever had at the restaurant BRAT in Shoreditch.

While Johnny worked on product development, fundraising, hiring, and everything really, I focused primarily on filling gaps in the GTM functions — sales, support, success, marketing — especially product marketing, content, and comms. In those days, there was no notion of a pandemic on the horizon. It was all outbound sales. Just getting anyone to try Hopin for their event for free was a win.

I closed Hopin’s first enterprise deal (Dell) in January 2020 after walking the expo floor with my laptop open at one of the most established startup conferences in San Francisco, TechCrunch Disrupt 2019.

Funny, little did I know, TechCrunch would later host Disrupt on Hopin in the following two years.

In February 2020, I remember being on the way back home from my second trip to London, after coworking with Johnny and the early Hopin team out of the Seedcamp Office. I was stopped in Heathrow airport and one of the airport personnel asked if I had been to Wuhan, China in the last two weeks. I replied no. Security then inspected my carry-ons and shoes. What is this coronavirus thing? I thought. I didn’t think much more of it as I boarded the plane home.

Only now do I realize I had no idea what was about to happen next.

Screenshots of my calendar in March 2020. Full names and company names are hidden for privacy.

As awful of a year that 2020 was for the world, it was inevitably a boon to the virtual events industry. Hopin became a lifeline when the events industry “pivoted to virtual.” Johnny had made the call to launch earlier in the year than we had planned for, but it certainly gave us a first-in-market advantage. We weren’t ready, but we made ourselves ready.

As you can probably tell from the screenshots of my calendar above, the demo requests avalanched into our inboxes. Our calendars were packed seven days a week. It was brutal, but it was electrifying. We couldn’t close deals fast enough. We couldn’t hire talent fast enough. Johnny encouraged everyone we hired to hire at least three more people as soon as they arrived. Hopin’s viral growth loop burned red hot as the number of events increased, bringing in more attendees. A percentage then became organizers, who created more events, which brought in more attendees, which created more organizers, and so on. Month over month, Hopin’s growth metrics soared.

During this period, there was a sort of bewildered comradery in the trenches. The team all had to wear multiple hats. Engineering and marketing also did sales, sales also did success, success also did support.

In June 2020, we brought in our first C-suite executive hire, Armando Mann, as Hopin’s Chief Business Officer and board member. With Armando’s GTM leadership experience at Salesforce, Dropbox, and Google, combined with Johnny’s unbeatable hype skills and ability to identify talent, we were able to scale rapidly as the pandemic set in.

I never imagined it would happen this fast. I knew going in that there was a good chance we would be successful and grow steadily. But not like this. This was, to borrow a phrase from Elon Musk’s favorite movie Spaceballs, ludicrous speed.

Source: dealroom.co and Google Finance as of March 1, 2021

One view of Hopin’s timeline looks like this:

All in all, Hopin has raised over $1 billion in two years.

There are so many stories to tell in and around these funding milestones that I’ll save for another day. But you may have noticed the jump in employees from 400 to 800 in 2021. This came from not just a powerful in-house recruiting engine but also the five acquisitions Hopin made, most notably StreamYard — one of the world’s leading live streaming video platforms — in January 2021 for $250 million.

If you haven’t read my first post from earlier this year, right after we acquired StreamYard, it has more about my first event, Hopin’s origin story, and a few other things I learned:

Read more https://entrepreneurshandbook.co/hyperscaling-hopin-fc457e48886f

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