How was Virtuvent conceived and initially funded?
Virtuvent is an event technology company. We service large events and enterprise with cloud software to manage logistics, communications, user-facing apps, and online video— all within an integrated ROI-driven platform. Our product brings a more robust, analytically driven, and simple alternative to event organizers and marketers that want to take their events to the next level.
Virtuvent Platform, our SaaS product offering, was conceived directly from client needs. We have been working in the events space for some time, mostly on the media side, and through conversations with people in industry, we realized that a sizable market gap existed in the events technology sector. In terms of funding, we have not yet taken any formal investment; the company has grown organically.
What need does Virtuvent address in the conference management and trade show optimization space?
Virtuvent consolidates technology tools for the events sector into a single cloud platform. Currently, there are countless technology offerings to this sector that cater to one or two needs, such as event apps or logistics management. This segmentation makes the management of technology at events logistically complex. Also, because these products are totally segmented, there is little cross-product integration of core functionality like user management and analytics. Virtuvent addresses these problems through a consolidated SaaS offering with an app store. All applications integrate horizontally with each other and are underlined with central user management and analytics. One dashboard with multiple events and multiple apps provides one holistic view for event organizers and marketers.
How have you sized and segmented the business opportunity?
Virtuvent is industry- and scale-independent. We are a great fit with events of all sizes—from 20 attendees all the way to 150,000 plus—and can work across verticals, such as medical, finance, entertainment, etc. It doesn't matter because the product is totally malleable. So the business opportunity is as big as the global technology event spend considering there is room for us to gain market share from competing companies. We have started in South Africa and the U.S., and we think between these two markets there is a sizable opportunity to tackle.
Why did you elect to base yourself in New York City, and what difficulties have you encountered in this relocation process?
Basing the company and myself here was a decision based on a few things. My existing network in the city was a big one, consisting of resources in terms of access to technology, skilled employees, finance, and proximity to partners and potential clients. I also love this city; it has the energy that you need as an entrepreneur to keep pushing and the people to allow you to establish a balanced life between personal and business.
Where do you see South African entrepreneurs being most challenged in how they scale and go to market globally?
Access to resources is the biggest challenge in my opinion. It's just a smaller market, so South African entrepreneurs get less exposure to the people in their industry, skills, finance, etc. In addition, expanding into new markets requires on-the-ground knowledge and a strong network. It is difficult to do that from the bottom of Africa.
How has your business background helped with the founding and growth of your latest venture?
I failed at a lot of ventures before this one, so I now know more about what not to do, which has been invaluable.
What do you see as the deficiencies in the venture funding and mentoring climate in South Africa?
It's very small, and people seem to think differently about investments in South Africa than they do in the U.S., specifically on the tech side. South African investors have had much less exposure to tech-type investments, and it is a totally different model. For example, access to seed rounds in the U.S. is very wide for promising companies. In South Africa, you only have perhaps three or four options.
About Devin Drake
As CEO of Virtuvent Inc., Devin Drake is involved in product development, business development, legal, and finance. On the product side, he has experience managing the build process of LAMP stack-type products, user experience, mobile frameworks such as Appcelerator, analytics, third party product integration (API), and e-commerce. Drake has a bachelor's degree from the University of Cape Town.
Virtuvent is based in New York City and has a presence in Cape Town and Johannesburg, with plans to expand to the U.K. and U.A.E. The company is 100-percent self-funded, officially launches in October 2012, and was created as an answer to event organizers calling for more robust and integrated tech solutions for their events. Virtuvent not only offers an integrated and robust approach, but its products are intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and generally simple to use than other B2B solutions. Learn more at www.virtuvent.com.
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