Robin Raskin founded the Virtual Events Group with the idea that virtual events would be our reality for quite some time. The entrepreneur recognized that the pandemic would be changing the industry as we knew it forever and knew it would be a good venture—a decision that would eventually lead to the launch of VEG. We sat down to discuss the future of the industry with Raskin, and what consumers can expect from virtual events in the future.
Grit Daily: For the uninitiated, what’s behind the “Virtual Events Group” name?
Robin Raskin: I’m a big believer in names that are spelled correctly and let you understand what they do without having to think about it too deeply. So, Virtual Events Group was a perfect name. Then we looked at the initials. V—E—G. “How perfect I thought”. Here we are just vegging out in front of our screens during a pandemic and we have a company whose initials are VEG. With that revelation we built our logo. You guessed it. A screen with a cornucopia of vegetables flowing from it. It’s been a lot of fun to riff on.
You definitely need a little humor to get through these dark times. Another good example of having fun was our first meeting. We created this banner for the meeting. And then the Jeffery Toobin thing happened that morning, where he actually left his webcam on and proceeded to have screen-sex in front of colleagues. We quickly added the words “Unless you’re Jeffery Toobin” underneath the T-Shirts and had a fun opening to our meeting.
Grit Daily: What do you mean when you say “suddenly, everyone was in the production business?”
Robin Raskin: When the pandemic hit we all had to acquire a variety of new skills. Doctors for example suddenly found they were in the telehealth business. Curbside pickups, ghost kitchens, contactless payments—just a few of the other ways that business had to adapt. And then there were all of those cancelled gatherings. Schools, arts and theatre, musicians, corporations, AA Groups, religious groups—everything was forced to happen online. Those first spring months of meetings had a pretty low bar. If you could all open the Zoom window you succeeded. Then the bar began to rise. We shared screens and powerpoints, used video, tried variations on the theme to be creative about everything from birthday parties to live events. And just like that even family meetups and bookclubs had production values.
So many meetings online meant there were so many new tools being created and searched for. Every day I was reading about a new product to help event creators get through their day.
Grit Daily: What drove the concept behind a platform “rating system” on the VEG website?
Robin Raskin: The entire ecosystem that was being created around virtual events reminded me of the early days of PC computers. In the 80s there were hundreds of choices of companies that made PCs. That’s when I was the editor of PC Magazine. One of our biggest challenges then was figuring out what made one PC different than another.
Like PCs, many of these event planning solutions will fade into oblivion, but you need a guide to help evaluate these rather complex platforms, especially before you stake your company’s success on one of these live event solutions.
PC Magazine provided the rigorous training to “benchmark” everything. Find out what features these products have in common, what’s unique and then evaluate those features. One of our first hires for VEG was Alfred Poor, a wonderfully meticulous writer, who I worked with at PC Magazine. Alfred’s still cleaning up how we’ll evaluate the features but we will apply the rigour of hands on use, crowdsourced reviews, and fact checking with the creators of the systems and the clients that use them, to make it easier for people to choose.
One of the things we’ve learned since launch is that while they appreciate the tools reviews the hottest section of the new site is the “PRODUCTION” section. Not everyone wants to create their own event. Some want to HIRE people to create their event. We’re very excited about this new area that reviews event planning services.
Grit Daily: What does “phygital” mean?
Robin Raskin: Phygital is a word the industry uses to talk about the blend of physical and digital worlds. It’s not a central part of the VEG website but my heart really went out to folks like Brent Bushnell of Two Bit Circus. He’d just built a large immersive entertainment center in the “Real” world in LA. The pandemic forced him to turn his efforts to the virtual world and transform his IRL experience into an online. He came up with a very clever, entertaining gameshow format that he markets to corporate events. Ditto for Beat the Bomb. They’d just opened a paintball-based/escape room like adventure in Brooklyn but had to move the game online. Ultimately these online versions helped get them through the toughest months of lockdown. Ingenious. I love stories like these where businesses find themselves cleverly pivoting during these tough times.
Grit Daily: What can readers expect from VEG’s own events?
Robin Raskin: VEG events aren’t for everyone. They’re for people who love to share their experiences and thoughts on the future of gatherings. We might on Zoom rather on the different platforms because Zoom is still the lingua franca of the meetings world. Guests present everything from tools, to stories of their companies pivots, to event philosophies and more We all learn from each other since its such an explosive and fast moving category.
Some past meeting highlights include Ben Hindeman, CEO of Splash, who gave an insightful overview of the virtual events landscape and Jim Loudberback, General Manager of VidCon who talked about taking his large VidCon event and bringing it online to a series of daily virtual events, while still growing the company. This month we’ll hear from the Toy Association on how they helped their members get business done during the pandemic and from Twine.nyc, a new tool to encourage serendipitous meetings at virtual events.
Grit Daily: What’s one conventional wisdom about virtual events that’s just plain wrong?
RR: Oh. Don’t get me started. That’s an easy question. Right now the expectation is that if it’s virtual you need to give it away. Bizzabo just did a story that found 4 in 5 virtual events were free to attend in 2020. Yet, they are quite expensive to produce. A large virtual conference like CES, for example, has publicly stated they made a seven-figure investment into resources (They charged $149 a ticket to attend CES). Quotes I’m hearing for a professionally planned online event start at $25,000 and move up quickly. This year we’ll start to see better monetization strategies for online events.
But remember, to make people want to pay to attend your event it’s gonna cost you! Gamification, celebrity appearances, prizes, collaborative experiences, VIP networking events, guided tours — things like these are going to become more routine as this industry matures.