With in-person conferences shut down by the pandemic for close to a year, many event organizers are trying to stay one step ahead of attendees’ “Zoom fatigue.” That’s not easy with many people’s calendars chock-full of company videoconference calls, webinars and virtual happy hours—not to mention after-work socializing.
Gatherly, an online events platform launched at Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X Startup Accelerator this past summer, hopes to offer conference attendees an experience that will keep them coming back.
The platform is different from much of the videoconferencing software that has proliferated in the pandemic in that it allows people to “walk” virtually around the floor of an event in a virtual building and mingle one-on-one when they want. That allows organizers to offer a networking component that is more like real life than many virtual events.
“Our features are built around connecting more people,” says Chris Cherian, founder and CEO of Gatherly.
Clients such as Capgemini, General Electric, Georgia Tech and Rice University are already using the platform for meetings. Cheryan says thousands of events have taken place on the platform, with “hundreds” of customers paying to use it since launch. Subscriptions cost from $150 to $499 a month, depending on the plan. Customers can also use Gatherly on a one-off basis, for $20 to $50 per ticket.
Typically, students at the accelerator work together on-site. The pandemic changed that for all of its members, and the eight students behind Gatherly never had a chance to hold an in-person meeting before launch. Nonetheless, they managed to pivot from their initial idea of creating a body-scan product for gyms to the event platform and to bring their product to launch rapidly.
Now Gatherly faces steep competition. Many companies that switched to virtual meetings are already using Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and other major platforms. Meanwhile, a variety of startups are introducing virtual reality and augmented reality platforms for meetings. Gatherly doesn’t have a big budget to fend them off. It had spent only $4,000 on advertising at the time we spoke in December.
To make sure their product is as user-friendly as possible, Gatherly’s founders are paying close attention to how attendees are using the platform, taking note of metrics such as how many times they have talked during an event. “What is compelling about what we’re doing is you are not interacting with everyone at once,” says Cherian.
Raghupathy Sivakumar, founding director of the CREATE-X Startup Accelerator, says the program has hatched 230 companies involving 5,000 students in six years. This past summer, it launched 72, including Gatherly, up from 46 the year before. One factor in 2020 was that students whose internships got canceled flocked to the accelerator.
Gatherly was one of the first startups in this year’s cohort to go to market. “I think they’ve made the most progress in the least amount of time,” Sivakumar says.
After seeing how startups in the accelerator performed in 2020’s challenging conditions, Sivakumar has set an ambitious goal for 2027. “We want to launch 300 companies a year,” he says.
Now that it’s clear the accelerator can be run virtually, why not?