Bevy is Emerging as a Leader in Software for Building Virtual Communities — with $15 million to Prove It
The venture capital world has started firing up a few cylinders again and looking for businesses that it believes will help us all succeed in ways that resonate with new ways of working as we begin to return to work. It’s clear things have changed for good and the need for managing remote communities of employees, customers and partners has become ever more important. So it’s no surprise that Bevy is announcing a $15 million fund-raising closed in the midst of the WFH era of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In marketing materials founders often refer to their customer base as a “community”, but there’s a huge gap between having customers and creating a community. The best businesses understand the difference and that communities are the single best advocates for others to buy your products.
When I worked at Salesforce we had “city tours” in which a senior exec on our team would fly to a city in America (eventually globally) and host an event with customers and prospects. Marc Benioff was the master at community building and he knew that it was far better to let his customers stand up and talk about how they were using Salesforce in front of prospects. This had a dual purpose — the customer on stage showing your product turns into an advocate or evangelist while the prospect is far more likely to be persuaded by a customer presentation than a salesperson’s pitch.
And when communities work best these new advocates form their own support groups to help each other out and work together on initiatives and once they’re a “member of the tribe” there’s a benefit of attracting other members.
You see it in the consumer world in obvious ways like with CrossFit, Barry’s or Peloton. These aren’t merely exercise methods — they are communities and tribes. A key goal of the community manager is to help like-minded people within the customer base find each other and find prospects and bind together. Peloton has recently done a big push to get users to add hashtags that they create — this is classic community management.
Community-building is advice I give to nearly every startup team with whom I work. Competitors can leapfrog you on features or outspend you on customer acquisitions but communities are very hard to disrupt. It’s what venture capital teams at innovators like First Round Capital and True Ventures realized 15 years ago — they could invest in entrepreneurial communities and the best founders would then bring in new founders. It’s no wonder they’ve both performed so well.
Building a community goes well beyond hosting events. You can think of your event (whether physical or virtual) as the iceberg above the water that is the physical representation of a community event but building a community is so much more about what you do before and after. If SaaStr were a mere annual conference it wouldn’t be as valuable as it’s become. Jason Lemkin nurtures his community throughout the year.
Years ago I came across a young community builder named Derek Andersen, the founder of Startup Grind. The enthusiasm that Startup Grind members had to meet, to connect, and to build relationships far outpaced the company’s ability, financial resources, and available tools to manage those events. I hadn’t known Derek before but he knew I was a huge fan of the late Clayton Christensen, the HBS professor and author of the highly influential book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Ever the community builder, Derek booked Clay to speak at his event but instead of interviewing him he asked me — somebody he knew from afar — to do the interview. I became an advocate for Derek and for Startup Grind, speaking several more times. I connected with Clay Christensen and stayed in touch until he passed. (If you want to watch my interview from 7 years ago it’s here or you can read the summary notes I wrote up)
Derek built Startup Grind from 2011 with 20 people in one room for a conference into a global phenomenon with 600 chapters all over the world and more than 2 million members. As he built this organization he realized the limitations of tools that existed to help recruit, nurture and manage communities so he set out to build these tools and capabilities to enable other companies to launch communities more effectively and with fewer resources.
Derek founded Bevy — a platform to allow local communities police and manage themselves through in-person events and meetups.
Bevy launched in 2017 and quickly helped companies like Atlassian, Duolingo, and Salesforce to scale hundreds of monthly in-person meetups and events. Led by my partner Kobie Fuller, we’ve been a proud investor since the early days and it was exciting to see customers bringing people together IRL via Bevy.
And then came March 2020 and events globally were being cancelled.
In a matter of weeks, most of us went to strict shelter-in-place with no possibility of even seeing family members, much less attending a community event. What happens to an events company when businesses can no longer hold in-person events?
What we all quickly realized in a period where we can’t be together physically is that there’s still a need for community — possibly even more so. We still want connection with like-minded people around a shared set of passions and challenges. That hasn’t changed. But how we do it has totally shifted and while businesses were quick to host online events of all kinds, very few companies had a good sense how to facilitate true community.
Probably many of you have had the experience of 50 people in a Zoom call with no moderation tools, no one in charge, and no sense of how it flows. More often than not people talk over each other or don’t talk at all. Maybe we hear from one droning speaker and the rest of us are passively consuming information. It’s the opposite of community.
Although a lot of companies are scrambling to create tools and better collaboration on virtual interactions, Bevy has been doing this at scale for years. So within a matter of days post shelter-in-place, Bevy took everything they were already enabling offline and started applying those tools to running remote communities and meetings. In just six weeks, Salesforce has hosted 650 virtual events with nearly 20,000 attendees, and Duolingo hosted 1000 virtual events — just to name a few.
That’s because Bevy isn’t simply a video-hosting company, it’s a platform for managing groups before and after your virtual event as well. So instead of having to use a CRM, and an email platform, a video-hosting tool, a chat function, and a video publishing platform like YouTube, you have one complete solution in one product. Plus, because it’s built expressly to scale virtual communities, it doesn’t require a bunch of people to run; many of Bevy’s customers host hundreds of monthly events with a single in-house manager.
As an investor, it’s been incredible to see how quickly the team has optimized its product, but as a long-time colleague and admirer of Derek’s, it’s not surprising at all. Nor should anyone be surprised that today the company announced its $15 million Series B funding, led by Accel. Ryan Smith, the founder of Qualtrics, also invested and has joined the board of directors.
To an outsider, it might sound crazy that an events business was able to raise funding on the cusp of complete physical isolation. And it would be — but Bevy has never just been about events, it’s about community. They’ve had a huge head-start on the competition and are well-positioned to maintain leadership as we adjust to building community in this new COVID era.
At Upfront, we’ve put a lot of effort into building in-person community, including our annual Upfront Summit event. This will always be important to us, but we also see tremendous opportunity to expand our virtual community to include friends and colleagues worldwide. You can stay in touch with us at out own Upfront community page via the Bevy platform, where you’ll find a few upcoming events (and many more to come in the next weeks and months.)
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