Lessons from Vaibhav Jain founder and CEO of event tech platform Hubilo on taking his firm back from the brink and on to a high growth path, with a $125 million Series B round
In its recently closed Series B funding round, Hubilo, an event tech firm that started in Ahmedabad, India raised $125 million, with Alkeon Capital leading the funding and further backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Balderton Capital.
It marks a dramatic turnaround for Hubilo which spent the first half of 2020 in the throes of an existential struggle. After the pandemic wiped the slate clean on in-person conferences and seminars, Hubilo found no takers for its flagship product — a technology that increased in-person event engagement — necessitating a pivot to become a virtual events platform.
What makes the Series B round particularly impressive is the speed of this transformation. Hubilo raised a $4.5 million seed round in November 2020 led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Its Series A round of $23.5 million closed this February, which saw the return of Lightspeed Venture Partners and participation from Balderton Capital. Both investors are part of the most recent fundraise.
Asked about the approach that led to this, founder and CEO Vaibhav Jain said, “We grew quickly because customers, prospects and partners liked our product. It took me quite a while to close the seed round, but once I managed to do that, I had confidence. Series A was easier but still difficult, and Series B was the quickest. We were able to close everything within less than six weeks.”
Managing multiple pivots at Hubilo
It is hard won vindication for Jain who opted to pursue entrepreneurship immediately after securing his engineering degree. Fearing that complacency might set in with a regular job, he didn’t attend any placement interviews and abandoned plans for a post-graduate MBA.
Instead, he turned his attention to Hubilo which began life as an attendee recommendation platform. The model floundered amid pandemic induced lockdowns in February 2020, leading Jain to give Hubilo a last shot — this time as a virtual events platform.
However, it could be argued that the pandemic was merely a catalyst for a shift that was imminent. The event management software business was not scaling to the team’s expectations. Apart from obvious signs like a depleting bank balance and lack of funding, Jain believed that entrepreneurs ought to watch out for subtle indications about the need for a change in orientation. He said, “All that matters is product-market fit. If you have achieved that, and the organisation can work without the founder actively selling, it is a sweet spot. If you are not there, something is terribly wrong. Either the market has changed or your product has not adapted to the space that you are competing in.” With Hubilo, the team and the product were in place, but the market had changed.
Bringing Hubilo back from the brink
This marked the beginning of the toughest phase in the company’s existence. Jain said, “I became almost like a taskmaster – everyone reported to me. Every hour was extremely important, because the virtual events platform was something that we needed to launch in 30 days, although we met our goal in 26. If we didn’t, we would have to shut down.” To wring a couple of extra months out of a five-month runway, Hubilo aggressively trimmed costs across the organisation. What followed was a work schedule where weekdays blurred into weekends.
Jain’s hope of being a global pioneer in virtual events, was given a reality check even as the transformation of Hubilo was underway. Startups that had already raised funds began making public announcements. But rather than get disheartened, Jain took this as a sign of being on the right track.
In parallel, he was hiring staff – sometimes onboarding as many as 20 people a week – even as he went about creating a large customer base. He trawled through LinkedIn, connecting with existing and potential users, as well as event management professionals. As virtual interactions became the default, Jain spent an hour daily going through messages and posts on social media about the online meeting experience. He said, “This was great intel to build my future product strategy and vision.”
The first event on the platform netted a modest $250. But despite the market becoming crowded – there are an estimated 300 virtual event platforms at present – Hubilo was able to generate a steady stream of business, growing at an exponential pace ever since it enrolled its first customer in April 2020. The engine powering this growth was a high standard of attention paid to users and new features launched every week. Jain said, “The entire product was built on customer feedback. We attended every event, saw glitches happening firsthand and fixed them.” Taken with the connections that Jain had forged with the wider event management community, Hubilo had an edge over the competition.
Winning over investors
Fundraising was equally complex. Jain had reached out to investors even before he actively began to fundraise, inviting them to events on Hubilo. He opted to go in for a seed round only after the manic build phase was over, and the platform was clocking in healthy month-on-month revenue.
Besides a strong deck, data room and a video demo, he worked with a speech consultant on content. The seed round took almost two and half months. Besides Lightspeed Venture Partners, Hubilo brought in a host of strategic investors including Freshworks founder Girish Mathrubootham, former LinkedIn CEO Nishant Rao, and Slideshare cofounder Jonathan Boutelle. A few months later in February 2021, Hubilo announced its Series A funding of $23.5 million. This was a second investment by Lightspeed Venture Partners, the first from Europe-based venture capital firm Balderton Capital and strategic investors John Thompson, chairman of the board at Microsoft, and Chris Schagen, former CMO at Contentful.
Jain preferred to focus on a very particular sort of investor rather than adopt a scattershot approach. He said, “There was no point pitching to people who had not researched the space. It would have taken too much time for them to build a point of view.” The conversations – even ones that did not lead to funding – left the team with valuable insights on marketing, sales and hiring, as well as what investors were looking for. Jain said, “It created an urgency to move fast, because there was a ton of competition.”
The approach paid off with Lightspeed Venture Partners becoming Hubilo’s most consistent backer. Speaking of the relationship, Jain said, “Because of Lightspeed, we’ve been able to get some really good talent in the US and India.” The investor’s conviction was built on Hubilo’s growth and roadmap, as well as the context it could provide. Jain said, “They have doubled down because I have been a very transparent founder. I give them insights that they may not get from elsewhere. I hope we are able to stand to the commitment that they have shown to us.”
Lessons learnt from the Hubilo transformation
While many founders have recently spoken about fundraising being a necessary evil of entrepreneurship, at Hubilo there’s a deep appreciation for the process. Jain said, “Fundraising is not a milestone but a checkpoint. It’s a chance to pause, retrospect and work on future strategy. Otherwise, the founder always remains in a purely executional space; either putting out or starting fires.”
Speaking about his plans for the future and deployment of funds, Jain said, “We have some really innovative solutions — solving a problem that has existed for almost 30 to 40 years. It will make us future proof, whether it’s a physical, virtual or hybrid event. We do not want to be known as an ‘event management software’, but as a pipeline generation machine for marketing teams.”
Asked if he had any advice for entrepreneurs just starting out, Jain said, “Market research is much more important than you think. You need to choose a growing market. I heard the Mountain Theory in one of the podcasts — climbing a small mountain or a big one takes the same initial effort. So pick a larger mountain. You may not be able to see the peak, which could deter you. But as you climb, your company grows.”
His other piece of advice – one he wished he’d received when starting out – was to set all tasks to a deadline. He said, “You may believe you are doing a lot of work, but if you take a bird’s eye view, you realise it has hardly moved the needle.” His final bit of advice comes from his serial entrepreneur father: the need for a work ethic that puts business above all else. Jain said, “It helped in the initial years. Even if I didn’t have work, I’d clock in 10 hours, since something or the other would be figured out.”
Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, an account of the startup ecosystem in Israel has been a huge source of inspiration. Jain said, “The science behind it is after almost three years in the army, they are able to start something since they are risk averse. Finding niches in larger markets and scaling companies, is something that I learnt from that book. I have read it almost thrice now, but every time, I find something new.”
This content was created in partnership with Hubilo. For more information on its virtual platform, please visit the website