Johnny Boufarhat is the Founder and CEO of Hopin, a live online events platform that allows organizers to create captivating and engaging online events. In today’s episode, Johnny focuses on what it truly means to be a CEO, listening to customer wants, moving fast, and being heavily product-oriented at Hopin.
Tell me a little more about your own personal story. Who are you as a founder and what inspired you to build Hopin?
So around four years ago, I graduated university, and while in uni I had made an app sold it for a little bit of money. I taught myself to code when I was a kid, so I was always playing a little bit with apps. What happened was about four and a half years ago, after traveling, I returned home with food poisoning that led to an auto-immune disease after taking a lot of antibiotics. So what happened was I spent two years literally trying to recover, but at that time, when I was sick at home, I wanted to connect with people. People in the company always joked that it’s like we went full circle because now other people are stuck at home and also needed to connect with other people. And that’s where Hopin kind of came from. Literally, two years ago I was trying to connect with people and I built this product that allowed people to connect from the comfort of their own homes. And that’s literally how we got to Hopin, and that’s where my story got to here. As soon as I had gotten myself into remission, I have a very strict diet now. I was able to raise some money in November and since then, we’ve literally been just running at full pace.
I remember the first time we spoke, you were around 30 people max. So tell us more about what Hopin is and a little bit about the scale of your team.
When you spoke with me, it was not many people, under 20 I think, or 30. We are now, 200 people in that short period, in 34 different countries. Many big customers across the world and also for hosting different types of events. So we’ve had like NATO, the United Nations, corporates, like The Wall Street Journal and, Slack run events with us, but we’ve also had smaller events like workshops, run by local people and also, comedy events, etc. I would say my experiences over the last year have been really intense with working, we’ve been literally just hiring most of the time. As a founder, hiring is 80% of the job and another 20% is product.
So what is your background? Take me, take me to the early days of Hopin. How did you build the very first version?
So everybody’s been building these platforms like a webinar is just like a live stream with a registration paywall on top of it. And our thought was, I tend all these things, right? but I don’t actually network, how do you network with people at these events? And then, we built the stage, which was very similar to a webinar. And then the session area was okay. We want people to network. So we built the networking area, which is like a chat roulette in the event that you can customize, as an organizer. And then we built sessions for workshops, and then we thought, everybody, ‘s asking for a way to monetize their sponsors. We need some sort of an expo area where you can go see the sponsor’s buy-in because that’s where most people make their money through events. it’s either through tickets or through expo. That’s literally how the products work, we just listen to what the customers want and we build out features in that way.
With the current situation and the pandemic, your funding round, and all the spiritual growth going on, how is that impacting your roadmap?
So it allowed us to build much quicker. I think anyone who says that funding is a one-way street in terms of like, it just makes you a success, I would say, no, totally not. Actually, it adds a lot of pressure and it makes you have to move faster, which adds to your success. I think speed is the number one important thing as a company. Speed of execution and quality of execution is the most important thing, and so money allows you to do that with fundraising. Our product features, instead of implementing them in three months, our goals were to implement them in one month because we had enough to hire good people and start spreading out. But then it brings organizational structures that need to change because as you know, you can’t throw 500 people to fix one light bulb. It won’t change the speed of the light bulb. It’s about setting up those organizations within the company to make people move faster.
I can imagine the transformation as a founder and CEO of a small team to now running an enterprise of 200 people personally, how have you invested in your own growth?
I don’t do as much as I should. Most people at my stage would have a coach. I have almost got a coach, but I’ve been so busy. Most of my learning comes from other founders in the space. I remember Carlos, even our first conversation, you were like, anything you need from me, ask me any questions. And founders usually give back and want to give advice and help. So I get a ton of advice from founders in the space, and that’s really how I’ve learned the majority of stuff.
So how do you guys go about hiring? I guess you are a remote organization, but is there any other key criteria that you use when you decide to bring someone on board?
We have some key cultural points. Number one is proactive. We need people to be proactive when you’re moving this fast you get tons of holes in a business. When you’re moving this fast when your company’s growing at the pace that has been growing, it means that we didn’t spend two years setting up all these processes, we have to do it very quickly. And so there’s a lot of holes in the process and you need someone who’s proactive who can go and fill those holes as they see them. The number one thing we look for is proactive people, people that can go and go beyond the extra mile.
Number two, low ego, it’s a company profile from day one. We don’t want people that have a big ego. We want low ego because I think that’s what causes problems in the company. People that are looking out for their egos and not for themselves or their company. And so those were the two major things we look for.
The third, which is additional for us, and it just happens naturally is international. We want people that are international that and what we mean by that is wherever you are in the world, there’s an advantage to having you, because the more you’ve seen or the different things that you’ve seen add a lot of value in the event space, because we need to know what people are hosting everywhere, and they are all different.
What do you think about the future of online events?
People are getting more value from online conferences than physical. I think there’s a problem here. So there’s the experiential market. So for example, a lot of people go to an event like a web summit mainly to connect with other entrepreneurs, but also you get drunk, you eat food with people, you make new friends, it’s an experience. Those sorts of events we think will move hybrid. And what we mean by hybrid is there’ll be people watching online who will be able to network, be able to get the content they want, but are too busy or don’t want to fly over and spend five days and waste that time there, similar to a CEO like yourself, Carlos, or me or anyone else who maybe is in school. You just don’t want to spend that much. You don’t want to fly over there, all that sort of stuff. So companies will want to value that market on top, for the hybrid so online. And they will also have people who are attending physically. Organizers and attendees will prefer to have both.
Now in the online event space, purely online events we think are going to become more and more experiential with VR. In the next 10 years, if you’re talking long-term in VR and AR allowing us to do pretty much the same things that we do physically online. But in the short term, we also think that people will be adding, and looking for more and more experiences. We see it now, all the time, people integrating things like Kahoot or games within Hopin to run, for example, a show and tell a comedy show, or turning the session into a Miro board, or a watch party. We see a lot of that sort of stuff. So we think that across the space, virtual events are just going to be on bigger and bigger online events. That’s where our features are going to, integrations. We want tons of integration. So if you’re running a product workshop, then you should be able to use Miro board altogether and inside one event, while other things are going on.
I personally use Hopin for our conferences and we would experiment with different add-ons to create Q & A sessions for people. Those are literally the highlights of our conferences, because it’s almost when our audience feels closer to one another.
I a hundred percent agree with you and that’s what it is. It’s audience engagement. That’s what keeps people connected with your brand and provides more value. So we’re seeing organizers get way more value from their online, and they are from the physical, not per person that shows up, but it’s because so many more people show up that you wouldn’t have had that level of engagement before. If you’re running an event in San Francisco, you don’t usually get people from Jakarta attending, but online, you can get tons of people from wherever they are attending from all over.
I think we all have to rethink as an industry, what are the success metrics? Because we tend to focus too much on a high-level number of people who are just RSVPing for an event, but how many people actually did something and found value?
Absolutely. And on that note, we released a blog post showing Hopin statistics, because we offer people networking – if you host an event there’s usually a networking aspect, etc. Across Hopin events total, there’s a 73% turnout rate versus industry-wide for webinars 22%.
Tell me a bit more about how you guys structure and think about product.
Hopin is a virtual events platform, but we have a marketplace now, which we’re launching in the next week or so, and that has its own product manager. In each area, we call it the organizer dashboard, everything that the organizer experiences, we have an organizer product manager there. We have a sponsor’s product manager to focus on the sponsor’s experience or vendor’s experience. We have an event product manager or owners to focus on inside the events. We have tons of different product owners running these different segments of the product. And that’s how our organization has kind of scaled out with these, we call them product pods. Let’s say, four engineers, a designer, and a product owner, all working on a specific problem or part of the company. And now these pods are just growing and growing and kind of getting smaller and bigger. Then, you add a hierarchy on top, but that’s really how we see the product. That allows us to get a lot more focused because each individual pod begins to work like a startup. And when that happens, you get tons of value because people are now able to scale up or focus on one problem. Each area gets a long term plan, a short-term plan, a midterm plan, rather than when you consider the platform as a whole, you might forget some of these areas, if you have a big org like that,
There are knock backs and there are benefits sometimes better because when you have someone overlooking the whole thing, or everybody knows what’s going on, it means that people can work on different features. But there are so many benefits and pros to it that it ends up outweighing the negatives. And the main negatives, I would say just to be completely transparent is that people focus too much on one part of the pro platform and build stuff for that, without thinking about the rest, if they’re focused on it for too long. But it just allows things to move so much faster.
What are the things that you are still personally involved in because you love so much and you can influence versus what are all the things that you think is better to delegate?
So I would say it really depends on you as a founder. I’m product orientated. I built the initial product, so I stay as close as I can to the product. I have a philosophy or around it, I may be wrong, but that’s where I sit most of the time. So for me, most of my job today is speaking with customers, speaking with investors a little bit, recruitment, and working on product. Other founders maybe get a little bit deeper into different things, maybe don’t get involved in product and leave it to their team who have more time and have more creativity. But, and those are, you know, it really depends on who you are as a founder. But for me, I definitely focus most on the product.
I’m curious, do you have a chief product officer or a VP of product that can help you kind of run that strategy?
We don’t actually. We are now looking for a VP of product or a chief product officer. We hadn’t had one and now we’re looking.
That’s actually the biggest thing, Carlos, that you brought that up. I think founders are usually the biggest blockers in their businesses. Across everything, I think that’s why Hopin, moved a little bit fast and everyone else, cause I got a lot of advice. I know a lot of founders that have a good business, but it’s just them, and that took them three years to begin hiring and moving fast because they were worried about delegating. Delegating is the number one way to move fast, and level up as a founder. If you can’t delegate, you’re never gonna be able to move at the pace that you want to move on.
What are the tools or tricks that you use to have a 200 people remote team that is synchronized?
We use slack actually like our workplace is slack. We use Notion, Miro, Figma and we do a lot of video calls.
We never had that experience of offline/ online. We’ve heard really, it’s really difficult for people to be able to segregate after you’ve switched because people still want to work. Like they’re in the office. We never had that problem, but even scaling online is pretty difficult as well because of async and sync, and you see how WordPress has done it. They’ve done it phenomenally, you have to like to write a post almost at the end of each day. We’re very async, we want to do video calls. And then we ended up having way too many meetings. Everybody just for like a question they’re like, oh, let’s set up a video call. And so the people were in meetings the whole day, you know, cause in real life you can just tap someone on the shoulder and get back to work if you know what I mean if you have a question, so it is complex.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yeah. We’re looking for product managers. Now we’re looking for, from up all the way from junior to the way to the VPs. So if you, uh, if you want to apply, go ahead and apply. We’re super keen. You can find it on https://hopin.com/careers
Tune again next Week for another episode with Mural’s very one CEO!