Conferences are big business. Think about it for a second: there are thousands of conferences each year, each of them attracting thousands of people focused on a niche topic. It is the B2B advertiser’s Mecca, but it is an undeserved market when it comes to user experience and consolidation of services. BizMe2, a new Israeli startup led by serial entrepreneur Yair Margolin, is looking to do to conferences what WordPress did to blogging. I spoke with Yair last week to learn more about BizMe2 and plans for the future. The conversation was in Hebrew, so hopefully nothing got “lost in translation”.
VC Cafe: You have a pretty long track record in startups. Tell me a bit about your previous experience.
Yair Margolin: I was a member of the core team at Peerapp in 2003, a supplier of caching solutions for ISPs. From peer to peer I learned the world of IPTV and got to Softier. The company eventually closed, and in 2007 I started PeerTV with two other guys as a spin-off, offering client-server software open platform for IPTV.
Media centers were a hot topic, and I used the XBOX media center to develop the product. PeerTV was linux on DSP, which aggregated content from the Internet like Boxee and BeeTV. Google came into a meeting and they were brought forward, but it didn’t work since google went with Youtube and a cooperation with Apple TV. I left the company and since then PeerTV was successful in raising money in the UK and is planning to go public on the London AIM in the near future. The team is very special, and the technology is robust, as it is borrowed from Softier which raised $25 million in VC funding. Long story short, now I’m hard at work with BizMe2.
VC Cafe: What led you to start BizMe2?
Yair Margolin: I learned the peer to peer business well, and through my roles I got to attend many conferences. On my way back I realized that before every conferernce I did a lot of research… I also realized that there were other conferences that were better and I didn’t even know about them. I wished I had a way to meet and contact the people before the conference and the logistics are never that simple: you have to book flights, cars and hotels close to the venue.
VC Cafe: What are some of the pains that BizMe2 is solving today?
Yair Margolin: I always come back from a conference with 400 business cards, but only end up doing something with two. It’s usually hard to figure out who to meet and there’s a range of events within the events, entertainment cocktails, Pr events in restaurants nearby, but there’s no easy way to find out about them.
VC Cafe: What can you tell me about the market for BizMe2? Is it big enough?
Yair Margolin: 120 million people travel for conferences on a yearly basis. They can be subdivided: professional (high tech, medical) niche providers (pottery, photography, ect) and general (cars, boats, etc) – the general ones have less potential of people spending money. When I dug into the numbers he found that the size is huge, everything around it. Hanover city in Germany for example, lives solely on conferences! All the peripheral services are profitable, but there was no place that aggregated everything under one roof.
VC Cafe: What are the main features of BizMe2?
Yair Margolin: We are enabling the user to see each conference before, during and after the event. We also enable conference organizers and presenters to do the following:
- Exhibitor platform – provides product demos so visitors can see their latest products (new product announcements) without necessarily visiting their booth
- Live videos from the show – (Press Room, etc.) so all visitors can watch press release announcements in real time. Companies can also add their products, services, press releases, share information by : pictures, presentations and videos.
- Attendees can update their profiles according to their industry, business, hobbies and interest , can comment/recommend on products, events, hotels etc
VC Cafe: How do you capture the value here? (i.e. what’s BizMe2’s business model?)
Yair Margolin: Promotion – banner ads placement (campaigns ,impressions, clicks ) , banner ad packages for companies to advertise on bizme2 community as well as affiliate revenue on bookings made through the site. Today we’re doing most things for free and we will fine tune our model as we go forward.
VC Cafe: You mentioned there is a white-label solution for conference organizers. Can you tell us about the product?
Yair Margolin: our one-stop event platform also offers a White Label publishing and managing products. So now we enables conference and trade show organizers, exhibitors to set up accounts and set up quickly a mini site for their specific event, that include also a unique link at Bizme2.com. each account can manage all of their events, as well as creating and editing content similar to remote-server blogging – all on the online conference tool and publishing platform.
People will be able to upload presentations, videos and pictures. Both organizers, comers and presenters…. There’s a lot of potential in terms of money, people, etc. we today aggregate 30,000 conferences on the site. We work with two companies (using their databases) and we add aggregations like upcoming.org.
VC Cafe: Can you tell me a bit more about the team?
Yair Margolin: We are 7-8 people. Me and my partner, Boaz Yehuda, bootstrapped the company. We raised a sum in the beginning from private investors. and our brilliant developers worked without a salary (for options). We want to grow from a marketing perspective. The market analysis showed that they want to focus in the first year on 400 big conferences that represent most of the revenue. We need to focus on those conferences to give the user the perfect experience. We need content people to collect and distill the information andwe have a product roadmap for the company. We started meeting with a lot of companies, and are already getting positive traction from companies.
VC Cafe: Are you looking to raise money?
Yair Margolin: In all the other companies, we raised money and needed to come up with the product in 3 years. It was hard. You sell to Telco’s in India and they pay you in two years. With BizMe2 it’s simpler. We don’t need to fly for meetings, as people approach me over the Internet. It’s amazing how many big companies approach us directly. Everything is virtual- with a focus on marketing and managing the system.
VC Cafe: What technologies did you choose to build BizMe2?
Yair Margolin: Php, MySql (built for scalability on servers) and open source (you can add any API very quickly abd it’s also cheap). We thought about building the site with other languages but why bother with harder languages and more expensive ones?
We built the platform for scalability – if tomorrow we want to switch the conferences to something else (like sporting events) we can easily change it.
VC Cafe: What kind of partnerships are you looking for?
Yair Margolin: Travel partners, convention centers, conference organizers (they are harder to approach) – I would love to meet them. Many times there are conferences, and the organizers spend a lot of money on a micro site that expires shortly thereafter. We can help them.
It’s great to see an early stage company bootstrapping and trying to make a difference in an area ripe for disruption. If BizMe2 gets the execution right, this could be big. Watch the space!