20VC Hopin, The Breakout Startup of 2020 on Scaling from 10 to 230 People and $174M in Funding in just 13 Months, The 3 Phases of Startup Scaling, How To Lead Remote Teams Effectively, The Future of Events PostCOVID and more



In this episode of the 20 minutes VC, host Harry Stebbings interviews Johnny Boufarhat, the founder and CEO of Hopin, an online events platform that has raised over $174 million in just 13 months and expanded its team from 10 to over 210 people across 37 countries. Johnny shares his journey from battling a severe autoimmune disease to creating Hopin, driven by the need for better networking opportunities in the virtual space. He discusses the challenges and lessons of scaling a remote team rapidly, the importance of flexibility and delegation, and Hopin's strategy to stay ahead post-Covid by expanding into multiple products beyond virtual events. The conversation also touches on remote fundraising, maintaining company culture, and the future of Hopin as a multi-market company focusing on connecting people globally.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Hopin and Johnny Boufarhat

  • Harry Stebbings introduced Johnny Boufarhat, founder and CEO of Hopin, a rapidly growing online events platform.
  • Hopin has raised over $174 million in 13 months from investors including Accel, IVP, Slack, Northzone, CO2, Salesforce, and 20VC fund.
  • The company expanded from 10 to over 210 employees across 37 countries.
  • Semil Shah labeled Hopin as the breakout tech startup of 2020.

"I'm very, very excited to welcome one of the fastest growing companies on the planet, Hopin, and their founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat."

This quote emphasizes the rapid growth and success of Hopin and the anticipation of the host to discuss the company and its founder.

Johnny Boufarhat's Health Challenges and Founding of Hopin

  • Johnny's journey to founding Hopin began with health challenges after traveling to Asia and experiencing severe food poisoning.
  • He became bedbound for two years, during which he sought ways to network and connect with people remotely due to his inability to attend events in person.
  • He identified a gap in the market for online networking and events, leading to the creation of Hopin, which started with the concept of combining video interaction with shared interests.

"I realized that I needed to at least build something. And it started off with the idea of events are essentially concurrency and subject."

This quote explains the foundational idea behind Hopin—the need for a platform that could replicate the concurrent, subject-focused nature of in-person events in an online environment.

Scaling Hopin's Team Remotely

  • Johnny Boufarhat discusses the challenges and lessons learned from scaling Hopin's team from 10 to 235 people in less than a year.
  • Remote work played a crucial role in enabling rapid scaling without compromising culture.
  • The ability to recruit globally and onboard new hires efficiently was key to keeping up with customer demands.

"Remote's made a huge impact because even the smaller challenges, if I went from ten to 235 people over nine months, as we did in a physical office, one, we would have been restrained on recruitment."

This quote highlights the advantages of remote work in overcoming traditional scaling challenges, such as recruitment and office space limitations.

Onboarding Process at Hopin

  • The onboarding process at Hopin is designed to be clear and specific, with everything written out to ensure new hires can integrate smoothly.
  • Hopin uses a set of "APIs" that trigger when someone joins, connecting them with their line manager and providing them with necessary onboarding documents.

"Everything's very clear. But you can also do the same thing of calling someone immediately on a channel. It's very clear who their line managers are."

This quote describes the clarity and efficiency of Hopin's remote onboarding process, which leverages technology to replicate in-person interactions and guidance.

Transition to Remote Work

  • Johnny believes that transitioning from an in-person office to remote work would have been difficult.
  • He suggests that companies transitioning to remote work may face challenges and could lose a significant portion of their team if the transition is not managed well.

"Switching from in person to remote would be very difficult. You'd probably have to break a lot of things that existed before."

This quote conveys the complexity of transitioning to remote work and the potential need to change existing processes and expectations significantly.

Remote Work Culture and Efficiency

  • Remote work eliminates common office distractions, focusing on efficiency and impact.
  • The transition to online work can be challenging for traditional office environments.
  • Emphasizes the value of a remote work culture in enhancing productivity.

"We just focus on efficiency and impact." This quote highlights the core principle of remote work culture at the company, which prioritizes productivity and results over the traditional office setting's potential distractions.

Company Onboarding Mistakes

  • Initial onboarding lacked clarity on line management and expectations.
  • The company had a loose onboarding structure, which has since been refined.
  • Improvements include a buddy system and clearer guidance for new hires.

"We've made some obvious mistakes, but they're very intricate, essentially." Johnny Boufarhat acknowledges that while the company's onboarding mistakes were clear, they were also complex, leading to the implementation of a more structured approach.

Buddy System in Onboarding

  • The buddy system pairs new hires with two colleagues, one from their team and one from a different area.
  • Buddies assist with integration into the company and provide a support network.
  • The buddy system includes meetings, scoring, and monitoring interactions to optimize the onboarding process.

"This is like a huge, huge value that we get at the end of the month, and we didn't have that initially." Johnny Boufarhat explains the significant value the buddy system adds to the onboarding process, which was not present in the company's initial approach.

Scaling Team Quality with Pace

  • Flexibility and adaptability are key in scaling a team.
  • Initially, the company prioritized pace over quality to meet customer demands.
  • Quality has become increasingly important, with an emphasis on referrals for hiring.
  • The company balances the speed of hiring with maintaining a standard of quality.

"Quality needed to be there, but it was not of total importance." Johnny Boufarhat discusses how, in the early stages, the company focused on hiring quickly without compromising on quality, though quality was not the sole priority.

Acquiring Top Talent

  • Founders play a significant role in attracting talent to a company.
  • Candidates are interested in the company's future vision and potential growth.
  • Transparency and humility from the founder can be attractive to prospective employees.
  • The founder's mindset and openness to learning from new hires can be a deciding factor for top talent.

"People tend to join a company because of a founder." Johnny Boufarhat emphasizes the influence a founder has on a candidate's decision to join a company, highlighting the importance of the founder's vision and approach.

Delegation and Trust in Scaling

  • Founders must learn to delegate as the company grows.
  • Johnny Boufarhat describes the different phases of his involvement as the company scaled.
  • Delegating tasks is essential for growth and prevents founders from becoming bottlenecks.
  • Founders should focus on setting the vision, hiring, and other key roles to enable scaling.

"The biggest blocker for growth are founders themselves." Johnny Boufarhat advises that founders need to trust their teams and delegate effectively to scale their companies beyond a certain point.

Decision-Making with Imperfect Data

  • Data-driven decisions are valuable but have limitations.
  • Intuition plays a significant role in creating new products and services.
  • Comfort with making fast decisions based on imperfect data is necessary in a dynamic environment.
  • Balancing data with intuition can lead to successful innovation and adaptability.

"Hopin was purely intuition. There was no data from someone, or else someone from the webinar industry probably would have built Hopin." Johnny Boufarhat shares that Hopin was created based on intuition rather than existing data, suggesting that innovation often requires stepping beyond purely data-driven approaches.

Intuition in Business Decisions

  • Intuition plays a significant role in making decisions when there is a lack of data.
  • Johnny Boufarhat emphasizes the importance of intuition, especially in situations where companies are trailblazing, such as going remote.
  • He also stresses the importance of reading extensively to form one's own opinions rather than relying solely on others' viewpoints.

"If we're the first ones going remote from six to 220, there's very little data to take from other companies."

This quote explains the context in which intuition becomes important, particularly when there is no precedent to follow, as was the case for Johnny Boufarhat's company when they expanded their remote workforce.

"I try and read as many as I can so that the perspective is there."

Johnny Boufarhat values a broad perspective and believes in forming his own opinions based on extensive reading, which helps in decision-making.

Remote Fundraising and Founder Psychology

  • Remote meetings present a different dynamic where physical cues are missing, making it harder to gauge a person's true demeanor.
  • Johnny Boufarhat advises founders to be honest and open during pitches to venture capitalists (VCs).
  • He believes that VCs value transparency and can see through insincerity.

"The one thing about remote meetings are people can't get the same gist of you."

This quote highlights the challenges of remote meetings, where it's difficult to read people's body language and reactions.

"I think the more honest and open you are, I think that's what VCs are looking for."

Johnny Boufarhat suggests that honesty is key when communicating with VCs, as it builds trust and aids in their decision-making process.

Fundraising Strategy and Leverage

  • Fundraising is a strategic game that involves leverage and negotiation.
  • Founders should have a clear understanding of their company's trajectory and needs before deciding to raise capital.
  • Johnny Boufarhat recommends against taking preemptive offers without a strategy and emphasizes the importance of understanding why you're raising funds.

"I think it's a game of leverage as well. I think VC itself is a negotiation game."

Johnny Boufarhat compares fundraising to a strategic game where leverage and negotiation play crucial roles.

"I wouldn't take money just for the point of it."

He advises founders to be strategic about fundraising and not to raise capital without a clear purpose or strategy.

Importance of Terms in Fundraising

  • Terms of a deal can be as important as the price.
  • Johnny Boufarhat values trust in VC relationships and prefers terms that do not overburden his team.
  • He believes in having control over who is on the board and maintaining open communication with investors.

"The terms are as important as the price itself."

This quote emphasizes that the specific terms of investment are crucial and can impact the company as much as the valuation or amount raised.

"I want a VC relationship of trust."

Johnny Boufarhat values a trusting relationship with investors, where there is honest communication about the company's status and future plans.

Competition and Market Strategy

  • Competition is viewed as data that can inform business strategy.
  • Hoppin does not have a direct competitor, which requires competing against themselves and time.
  • Johnny Boufarhat uses insights from competitors and related industries to improve Hoppin's offerings.

"The competition just becomes data for me."

Johnny Boufarhat treats competition as a source of information to guide business decisions rather than a direct threat.

"We're competing against ourselves, competing against time."

He frames the challenge as an internal one, focusing on self-improvement and timely execution.

Future of Virtual Events Post-Covid

  • Johnny Boufarhat considers the future of virtual events and their place alongside physical events post-Covid.
  • He acknowledges the size of the events market and the diversity of event types.
  • The future strategy involves unpacking what virtual events will look like and how they fit into the larger events industry.

"What does virtual look like next year? What is a virtual event?"

This quote shows that Johnny Boufarhat is actively considering the evolution of virtual events and their role in the future events landscape.

"Events itself is a gigantic market, over 1 trillion in size."

He highlights the vast size and potential of the events market, indicating the importance of understanding where virtual events fit within this context.

Event Industry Analysis

  • The event industry is segmented into two primary types of companies based on their revenue models.
  • Company A is described as an events company that makes all their revenue from conferences, expos, and trade fairs.
  • Company B represents organizations that run events not for direct revenue but for other business goals like customer engagement or lead acquisition.
  • Physical events with high entry fees are predicted to return to in-person formats with a light hybrid approach.
  • Events not primarily for revenue but for engagement or lead generation are expected to continue being hosted online due to cost-effectiveness and ease of organization.

hosted at different frequencies at different values to hop in at least. And so big conferences, let's call the business market, which probably under 500 billion in terms of physical, let's break that out and then let's look at what's specific in there.

This quote outlines the initial breakdown of the event industry and introduces the concept of differentiating companies based on their revenue models within the event industry.

We think all of those companies are going to stay online.

This quote predicts the future of Company B type events, suggesting they will remain online due to increased leads and customer engagement at a lower cost.

Impact of Virtual Events on Guest Speakers

  • The shift to virtual events has removed the friction of travel, attracting fundamentally better guests.
  • Big physical events can't compete with the democratization of speakers online.
  • Famous speakers are now appearing at numerous online events, which would have been less frequent with physical events.

Can I just add on that one also, you get fundamentally better guests because they remove friction from travel. Absolutely.

This quote emphasizes the benefit of virtual events in attracting high-quality guests by eliminating the need to travel.

So in tons of different ways, it's significantly better.

This quote from Johnny Boufarhat concurs with the previous point about the advantages of virtual events, particularly regarding guest participation.

Hopin's Business Strategy and Product Development

  • Hopin, primarily a virtual events platform, plans to diversify into multiple products and markets.
  • A hybrid mobile app is being developed as part of Hopin's expansion.
  • Hopin's approach is likened to that of Atlassian or Salesforce, focusing on product adjacencies and market expansion.
  • The company's vision includes leading in virtual events and expanding into adjacent markets.

Expect next year, Hopin wouldn't have just one product.

This quote indicates Hopin's intention to diversify its product offerings beyond virtual events.

I think next year you'll see two products from hopin that are equally as big in space.

Johnny Boufarhat hints at upcoming product launches that will have a significant impact on the market, showing Hopin's ambition for growth and diversification.

Hopin's Market Potential and Investment Appeal

  • The market for virtual events is believed to be larger than $10 billion.
  • Hopin aims to expand beyond virtual events to increase its market potential.
  • The company's strategy includes building products in adjacent spaces and possibly pursuing acquisitions.

Well, I mean, that's a really loaded question. So let's say they don't believe in the market. My opinion would be the market's bigger than 10 billion.

Johnny Boufarhat challenges the assumption that the market for virtual events is limited, suggesting a broader potential.

I think next year you'll see two products from hopin that are equally as big in space, where there's an acquisition happening now.

This quote reveals Hopin's strategic plans for product expansion and hints at an acquisition that could open new markets.

Personal Preferences and Perspectives

  • Johnny Boufarhat does not have a single favorite book but mentions "1984" by George Orwell as impactful.
  • He discusses the evolution of the London tech scene and its rise as a viable alternative to San Francisco for business success.
  • Personal strengths and weaknesses are shared, with impatience and anxiety being weaknesses, and the ability to see the big picture as a strength.

It's going to be lame. But it's 1984 by George Orwell.

Johnny Boufarhat shares his impactful reading choice, highlighting the influence of technology on society as depicted in "1984."

I think the London tech scene has evolved.

This quote reflects on the growth and increased prominence of the London tech scene as a global business hub.

Dietary Advice and Personal Health

  • Johnny Boufarhat offers dietary advice, suggesting the avoidance of certain foods like dairy and non-sourdough gluten for optimization.
  • He practices intermittent fasting and has experimented with water fasts.
  • The advice is based on personal experience and optimization of health.

If you're not someone from northern Europe originally, I would say in general, dairy, modern gluten... are not good for you.

Johnny Boufarhat provides specific dietary recommendations based on geographical and genetic considerations.

Future Vision for Hopin and Personal Goals

  • Hopin aims to connect people across various markets through its products.
  • The company's vision is to build products that best facilitate connection.
  • Johnny Boufarhat intends to remain at Hopin, emphasizing the importance of terms during investment rounds.

Well, hopefully Hoppin is a product that really spans across quite a few different markets, specifically around connecting people.

This quote outlines the broader vision for Hopin, focusing on connecting people through multiple markets and products.

For me, I'll definitely be hopefully staying at Hoppin unless I've been kicked out.

Johnny Boufarhat expresses his commitment to Hopin while humorously acknowledging the uncertainties of leading a company.

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