The Big Interview: DoubleDutch’s Lawrence Coburn

CN spoke to Lawrence Coburn, CEO of DoubleDutch, who opened a UK office in 2015, about the challenges the eventtech sector faces and where he sees the industry heading.

The events industry is becoming increasingly dependent on event technology. As it gains importance in the eyes of organisers and delegates, the level of expectation increases with it. It is no longer all about quick registration; it must provide an all-encompassing solution to not only offer smooth event management, but to store and effectively manage data with a view to greater ROI.

How did you come into the industry?

I began my career in HR with Nortel, but was quickly drawn to entrepreneurial endeavours, founding RateItAll, a consumer ratings startup giving customers a social way to find and share reviews. From there, I became obsessed with the social and human properties of live events, and wanted to bring the power of software to this world as a way to make events even better.

Can you give us a bit of background on the origins of DoubleDutch?

DoubleDutch began in a bar of the same name in the Mission District of San Francisco in 2010. We were licking our wounds after our search engine startup had been swallowed by the Google Panda engine.

Over drinks, we threw around ideas of mobile social apps for the workplace. Our goal was to create a company that could not have existed before the smartphone. We were very interested in mobile-first computing, the power of social as a connective tissue among a community, and the power of the cloud as a way to deliver software. We looked at a couple of verticals and fell in love with live events, and gradually the live engagement marketing platform you know today began to solidify.

How do you see the competition in the market?

We are at an interesting moment in the industry. There are a small handful of next generation, modern, engineering-focused companies like DoubleDutch working on interesting projects. And then there is a very long list of niche players. What’s interesting is that we haven’t seen a new entrant of note in a while.

What are the challenges in the current climate?

The challenges today are very much like the challenges in 2013, when we got our start, or the challenges of the 2000s, when mobile technology was about to take off. Events are still very much service-oriented. Historically, technology companies have struggled to carve out their place in service-dominated industries. That tension is being met with a renewed commitment by technology companies to improve service offerings, which is being funnelled right down to events technology, where event organisers are embracing software as a viable solution to providing services to attendees. It’s progress, but we still have a way to go.

What stand-out products are you pushing at the moment?

Our recent acquisition of Eventgrid makes for exciting times as we integrate the registration software to make DoubleDutch more of an end-to-end platform. Event organisers will be able to utilise the DoubleDutch platform from the beginning to the end of their events.

There’s a lot of capabilities packed in, from registering attendees, and creating targeted email campaigns, to personalised communication with attendees and data collection to report on ROI. The other feature we are pushing to our platform is video in the activity feed. Event attendees and users have been asking for this feature, and we are pleased to broaden engagement opportunities allowing native video capabilities within the activity feed.

This will allow event organisers to embed videos as well as allow attendees to share short video clips similar to Instagram videos. Giving the organisers the ability to engage their attendees in a new way.

Is it hard to hire developers?

It is always a challenge to hire developers, particularly in San Francisco where you are up against the likes of Google, Facebook, Salesforce, and Netflix.

However, I couldn’t be more proud of the folks we have here at DoubleDutch who are so committed to the work we do. We are constantly hiring and looking for fresh talent, and plan to continue to grow in the coming years.

We opened a UK office in 2015, which has broadened our reach.

How does the UK fit with DoubleDutch’s strategy, which are the softer markets, and where are you channelling resources?

The UK is one of the largest event markets in the world – it has been and continues to be a cornerstone of our plans going forward. We will continue to invest in our presence in Europe and around the world. We’ve also recently announced a deeper partnership with Australian-based Arinex to expand our platform in the Australasia region.

How have things changed over the last few years?

The biggest change is that it’s not enough to offer up a shiny product in order to win. Event owners are mindful of enterprise grade security, 24/7 support, and integration across marketing platforms, which are surging to the forefront as they depend more and more on their technology vendors. We are officially out of the beta phase.

What are your event technology observations?

The future of event technology will be powered by data: from a personalised, VIP experience for each attendee that opens the app, to live notifications about networking opportunities playing out on the floor of a conference.

Data is the key to personalised events, and I suspect you will see more and more enrichment of data marketing initiatives among our customers and event planners worldwide.

The other part of the conversation is accountability to CMO agendas – CMOs manage a huge portion of company budgets, and DoubleDutch helps provide proof points on the benefit of networking through face-to-face meetings.

Biography

After attending Georgetown University, Washington D.C, Coburn achieved an MBA in Business and Commerce at Goizueta School of University, Atlanta. He moved into an HR role in Brazil initially before running the HR department for Larscom. Coburn moved into the digital world and became CEO at online platform RateItAll. In 2010, Coburn co-founded DoubleDutch, which has since become a familiar name in the events industry.

Martin Fullard

Author

Martin Fullard

Martin Fullard: journalist, presenter, producer. Martin is the Deputy Editor at Conference News and Conference & Meetings World magazines. He leads the digital channels on Mash Media’s Conference Division as well as heading up Mash TV. He is formerly a web editor at a national newspaper in the Middle East and motoring journalist.

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