Reggie Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Cvent, talks at the first Cvent Connect Europe conference in London about the multiply effect of technology, his new CISO, Chief Information Security Officer, and women in tech.
tw: You have launched Cvent Connect Europe. Which learning or aha reaction do take back from London to Tysons Corner, Virginia? Reggie Aggarwal: My most impactful learning was just how enthusiastic our European customers are about technology and keen to learn how they use more for their events to scale and become more strategic, integrate with the rest of their marketing and demonstrate ROI. Clearly Europeans love to meet face to face and really value the power of human connection, as so many great conversations were happening throughout the event over the two and a half days.
400 customers and journalists followed your invitation. Why is Europe important to you? First we started with Cvent Connect USA. What we saw was, that when we bring together some of the most passionate people we build a lot of real relationships with our customers and among them. Many of our European customers came all the way to the US, so we expanded our European presence. Just four years ago we had four people in our UK office, now it’s over a 120. The first time we did Cvent Connect USA in 2012 we had 150 people, so our European conference already blew away our US-conference, where we have today 3,400 participants.
Reggie Aggarwal at the first Cvent Connect Europe conference: General Data Protection Regulation will literally be one of the biggest changes not just happening in Europe, but all over the world. PHOTO: CVENT
What is the share of your users overall and in Europe? Overall we have 28,000 organizations and 300,000 users of our products. We do about 10bn Pounds a year in RFP value on our venue sourcing platform, 700m Pounds is into Europe for our hotels partners. In Europe we have 1,700 organizations with about 15,000 users. UK is our biggest market in Europe. Germany is one of our fastest growing markets, where we have had a presence in Frankfurt for nearly four years, and has really accelerated since we launched our full platform in German nearly two years ago.
We have seen other US-American companies coming over to Europe and learnt: it takes a long breath. Do you have a long breath? We know it takes a long time, but we have been in Europe for seven years now. As I said we have more than a 120 people in Europe and half of our 2,700 employees are outside North America: We have a large global footprint. And also, frankly, it is also when the market is ready for your product. The US was more advanced in using technology. In Europe we did a lot more meandering. Europeans believe in personal relationship. They needed more time to realize, that they build stronger relationship by leveraging technology. Technology allows you to have a multiply effect. It allows you to automate some of the work and gives you energy for the things that matter most.
So Europe, especially Germany was not ready before for more elaborated technology? Yes, at least if you look five years ago. There were not a lot of domestic tech companies in Germany, but in the US. I would say 50 times more. Now Germans see the advantage of elaborate technology and I hope we will be a partner they consider. We built a global reputation and we are putting a lot of money into things Europeans need. I think in particular of data protection, which is a big thing.
Cvent is the global meeting, event and travel technology leader offering software solutions to event planners for online event registration, venue selection, event management, mobile apps, e-mail marketing and web surveys. Cvent provides hoteliers with an integrated platform, enabling them to increase group business demand through targeted advertising and improve conversion through proprietary demand management and business intelligence solutions. Founded in 1999 by Reggie Aggarwal, Cvent’s 2,700 employees worldwide serve 28,000+ customers in 100 countries. The Cvent Supplier Network lists 239,000 hotels and venues.
You are right: The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will take effect on 25 May 2018 in the European Union… GDPR will literally be one of the biggest changes not just happening in Europe, but all over the world. Europe, China, Brazil and the US – everyone is having different laws. This is why we have nearly 1,000 technology people. 25 of them are dedicated to security and privacy and over 150 people working in parts of it. So generally speaking, we are having more people working on security and privacy than most of our competitors in their entire technology department. We put a lot of resources – people and dollars – into it. Data protection will be an ongoing issue and for many organizations this is becoming a critical thing. By May 2018, we expect to be fully GDPR compliant. This is one of our companywide most important initiatives, because it so important to everyone.
What are your other important initiatives? We have our new product ‘Cvent Flex’ coming in. It is a modern and innovative way for event planners to build, design, and manage their event websites and registration process. We have been working on this for about three years, re-imagining the entire user experience. Another initiative is redesigning our platform in order to simplify and unify it. It has to be integrated into an ecosystem, into the back end business systems of larger companies.
Is cyber security getting a bigger issue too? We spend a lot of time on cyber security. Our product roadmap has a lot of details on it. Cvent will have the highest standards: Number one, we have the largest market share by far. I would even say that we have larger market share than all competitors combined. Number two, we have the biggest amount of investments. We have over 920 staff in our global technology team, focused on innovation, product development and security. No one comes close to our budget with our size and skill. Number three is the commitment that we make. I believe that we are the only tech company that has a CISO, Chief Information Security Officer. A CISO is different from a CIO, Chief Information Officer. It is a C-level executive focusing on data protection, privacy and cyber security. Ben Mayrides has just joined us six months ago, before he worked for ‘MACH37’, America’s premier market-centric cyber security accelerator. Most companies cannot afford this.
Do you have a “CAI”, a Chief Artificial Intelligence, as well? I just sat on a panel about artificial intelligence with the worldwide CIO of Accenture. AI will change everything! It’s a way of automating things, leveraging data, algorithms and insights to do things. In our industry, a face-to-face-industry, it hasn’t really taken off yet. It’s like doing mobile apps for events in 2005. Artificial intelligence is still on the bleeding edge, but it will very quickly become cutting edge. We do have a task force that is looking at certain areas, but I cannot announce them yet. AI is something we will invest heavily in 2018 and 2019.
Back to today. On the main stage in the Shaw Theatre of the Pullman London St Pancras I listened to seven presentations, given by seven men. Where are the women in tech? (Laughing) It’s a great question! When I saw the program, my first question was: Where are the women? Talking about the schedule and sessions, I kept asking: Who are the women? How many women do we have? During Cvent Connect Europe we had many women speaking in the program. Right now, Kathleen Garcia, VP Hospitality Cloud Sales, is speaking in room Regents Park. The reality is that the ratio of women among engineers is one of four. But if you look the rest of our company we have about 45 percent women. In our board of directors we have Betty Hung. Our Chief Financial Officer, Cynthia Russo is a female and we have several female Vice Presidents. But I think we need to do a better job from a leadership level, so we have developed a Women in Leadership program to mentor and develop our female employees into new leaders. KERSTIN WÜNSCH
“Even if I am the CEO, I am still an event manager at heart.”
Reggie Aggarwal at Cvent Connect Europe in London, 17 October