Networking through social media is transforming the way we do business. And helping to make this happen are Israeli entrepreneurs Eran Ben-Shushan, Alon Alroy and Boaz Katz. The trio are the brains behind Bizzabo — the popular smartphone app that lets event organisers and attendees make the most of real-time networking opportunities at conferences or business gatherings.
Launched to the public in June after a successful private Beta, Bizzabo is a fully-automated self-service platform aimed at both event attendees and organisers.
Attendees use the app to discover and engage with new and relevant business partners, while organisers benefit from improved communication with attendees, analytical tools and a new revenue stream.
It has received investment from some of the world’s most high-profile angels including internet entrepreneur Jeff Pulver and Eyal Ofer, son of the late shipping tycoon, Sammy Ofer. It has also secured a recent $1.5 million worth of funding from leading Israeli industry figures including: Gigi Levy, a serial angel investor and former chief executive of 888 Holdings; the Kaedan Capital Group, investors in Playtika and 5min; Professor Yair Tauman, leading professor of economics and serial angel investor, and AfterDox angels group, plus other American and European investors.
“I believe people always wanted to connect with eachother but didn’t have the tools to do so,” says Eran Ben-Shushan, 32.
“The need for networking was always there but social networks have made it more efficient. In the past, people were perhaps more secretive about their businesses but are now more willing to share themselves on social networks.”
How exactly does it work? Currently free to download and use, Bizzabo enables event organisers to create an instant mobile social network for attendees prior to the event. They enter the agenda, speaker profiles and update information live, with the ability to post changes to the event.
The app helps attendees to discover people of interest who are also attending the event, and connects them to relevant contacts. It cross references users’ Linkedin profiles and recommends who will be the most beneficial contact based on it.
Once attendees have downloaded the app, they can use it across multiple conferences.
They can message each other through the app, which keeps a database of people met at each event. Conference attendees can also network on the app before the event but then check into the physical location of the conference.
Since its public Beta launch in June, Bizzabo has facilitated more than 100,000 social interactions. For every 1,000 active users, 700 have connected on Linkedin via the app. And the potential market is a big one. There are a reported 20 million conferences a year worldwide, with sponsorships estimated at around $50 billion a year. But with services such as CrowdVine, Schmooze and Omyconf! around, plus location-based networking apps like Highlight and Sonar, is it not a crowded market?
“It’s a hot space but we see that as a positive thing,” says Mr Ben-Shushan. “The competition shows there is a demand.”
Besides, Bizzabo seems to be setting itself apart from the crowd. Hundreds of tech meet-ups around the world are already using Bizzabo as their official networking app. It has been used at leading international conferences including the MLOVE ConFestival in Berlin — dubbed the “TED of mobile” — the Tomorrow Conference in Israel; NOAH Internet Conference in San Francisco; the leading telecom conference Uplinq, hosted by the telecom giant Qualcomm, and UK Israel Business event, Innovate Israel. It has also been selected as the official event networking app for Europe Internet Week, which takes place in London next month.
The three founders met on the sought-after entrepreneurship programme at The Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The programme is funded by Chicago billionaire Sam Zell.
The idea came about while they were working on a previous start-up, attending numerous events and meet-ups. Mr Ben-Shushan recalls: “We couldn’t believe that in this day and age, people were still wearing name tags. We were finding it really difficult to meet the relevant people so we looked into it. We couldn’t see anything that helped attendees create meaningful business opportunities at events, while enabling event organisers to increase social interaction throughout the event, so we went ahead and built one.”
Bizzabo is free to use — the founders are currently focusing on user growth — but the future plan is to offer premium pay-for features. Additionally, the Bizzabo team is working on potential partnerships with several big-name brands and organisations and are using the recent round of investment to expand in the US and grow the revenue streams.