While the pandemic may have been devastating for the event industry in particular, it helped spawn some incredible innovations and inventions. With major shifts in society and business, 2022 event trends are sure to be different than they were before.
Stas Zaslavsky, CEO of Vii Events, has been a driving force in the development of next-generation virtual event experiences. With a focus on business strategy and marketing orientation, he is known for his innovative spirit that saw him create other companies like One-V LTD and TRiPLE D Illustrations.
Vii Events, an Israel-based 3D 360-degree virtual events SaaS platform, is one of the newest and most interesting entrants in the market, only being founded in January of 2020. It was developed specifically to fit the urgent needs of the events industry to pivot to a virtual platform without sacrificing the visual, communal, and spatial elements of event entertainment.
The inspiration behind Vii Events
When COVID-19 hit, Stas started hearing from his clients at One-V that their events were being canceled and they inquired as to what could be done to replace them. It was at that point that he recognized the market’s potential and had already begun to foresee that all event planners would be forced into virtualization.
“The ‘virtual events’ wasn’t even a term in Google,” Stas recalled. “I came up with the idea to combine all our skills that we acquired through the years, like taking our marketing expertise and development in a web of fields, then combining it with a 3D experience that we newly acquired in 2017.”
The events industry has been heavily leaning on virtual events for the past year due to the pandemic. But though it seems that almost everything is getting back to normal, it’s safe to say that virtual events aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Why 3D events are the next big thing
The immersive experiences offered by this 3D and 360 hybrid virtual world is pushing the envelope on creating an exciting event.
In 2017, Stas founded a company called TRiPLE D Illustrations which specializes in producing high-end modeling and visualization services for architects and construction companies. That’s when his fascination with 3D began. He shared the advantages of adopting 3D events and why they are becoming the most desirable today.
“Everything is customizable, everything is changeable,” Stas said. These events can be tailor-made to what the client wants; they develop their products from the requests of the veteran organizers and digital marketers.
What also makes 3D events special is what Stas calls unique stories for unique events. There are so many types of events for different sizes of audiences and user experiences. “It’s not just a random 3D room that you go into and experience something, and then you see it in 10 different software events or hundreds of events. Each event that’s created on our platform is unique and it tells a story.”
What’s more is that virtual events can convert the audience to leads in real time. They also represent a huge cost saving for both the organizer and participants, which means less expenses and higher profit margins.
What he’s learned
Starting a business during a global pandemic might sound like an impossible feat, but for an innovation leader like Stas, it’s not such a crazy idea. As an ambitious entrepreneur, he knows that the only way to succeed is to be willing and ready to take risks, even if it means betting everything on a green zero.
“Opening a startup during a pandemic, it’s so much uncertainty. Looking back then we’ve been really crazy, but it’s our dream. And when you dream something and if you don’t take the shot, you will regret that all your life later on.”
Entrepreneurs need a clear vision for what success looks like, one that is not dependent on luck, but rather educated decisions, he mentioned. On top of that, having a team that supports your mission will make it possible to reach new heights.
Tune in to this episode of the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast to learn more about Stas’ mission to create unique and personalized events and the company’s exciting plans for growth.
Transcript from Podcast
[00:00:00] Stas: We risked everything because we took the most talented employees from all our companies and added them to this new company, leaving everything we worked for years. Financially, it was a huge risk, not just because we put our money in and we put our timing, it’s because we took all our dedication and took resources from other companies to make this one successful.
[00:00:22] Natasha: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.
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Stas Zaslavksy is a serial entrepreneur and digital marketing expert. Since 2007, Stas has founded multiple successful companies and today focuses solely on his new startup Vii Events, a 3D 360 degree virtual and hybrid events platform. We talk about what it’s like to run a startup, being profitable from the first client and what challenges they’re facing today.
Now let’s get right into it.
[00:01:55] Stas: So I’m coming from a marketing aspect that since 2007, I’d been working in high-tech and various companies. And I started my own company very early. After my army service, I was a developer in the army. Then I switched to marketing and fell in love with marketing. Me and my partner created in 2007 our first company, which is called One-V. Still working up to date, focusing on digital marketing for enterprise companies.
Then in 2014, we decided that we don’t want to grow to become a very big marketing studio. So we started to open our companies that will use the skills that we acquired and some finance from us. And we created the biggest booking studio in Israel is located in Tel Aviv in the heart of Tel Aviv.
It’s 1000 metro square hosting 64,000 people. It was a huge success. So we didn’t stop there. 2017, we opened another company called TRiPLE D, which is doing free illustrations for architects. And that’s where I was fascinated by the 3D world and sold the last thing we are coming to the events.
So 2020, I’m happy with my life working twice a week. It’s most like all the businesses are booming. Each of those businesses are very successful, very profitable reaching for several mediums. So for revenue and profit each year, but it all was a service company. So I always dreamed to be a proper startup beast, open a startup, do something that will leave a legacy.
And then in 2020, we start to hear from our customers at One-V, the digital marketing agency, that their events are being canceled in APEC, like early January, China, and Taiwan, all those areas that are suffered from COVID before it hits Europe, before America’s and the mainland.
So they reached us as their digital advanced digital marketers experts, and thus for what we are, knowing that field, how they can do. The virtual events was even a thing in the Google. Like you type, no results. And I came with this idea to combine all our skills that we acquired through the years, like taking our marketing expertise and development in a web fields, then combining it with a 3D experience that we annually acquired in 2017.
And I pitched one of the customers, this idea of creating 3D virtual events. What I fought at the time was “Why 3D?” I thought that the tools that currently been used and being used before COVID, they kinda didn’t tell the event story. They helped to pass the conference. They helped to stream the event.
If it was in some space, a physical it’s this during the session align. You could not feel the event, excitement, the storytelling elements. Those are all enterprise companies. They invest hundreds of thousand dollars into the branding of the venue and suddenly in COVID it’s all lost. So we pitched this idea, created the POC we feel buying customers.
So we’ve been lucky enough, it’s debatable now, but we’ve been lucky enough to work in with bank customers from day one. They paid us for the POC. We created an event for 400 people from 300 companies and they love it so much that after the event, third of that reached us and said, “We want the exact thing for our company.”
And we found ourself with very unique problem. We had a lot of potential customers with no product. Like it was a POC, rough edges, all around.
[00:05:22] Natasha: When did you start the company and when was your first event?
[00:05:25] Stas: Yes, so we started to pitch our idea in January. It was January. So that’s when we started to play with the concept and the idea.
[00:05:34] Natasha: Of 2020?
[00:05:35] Stas: Yes of 2020 and our first POC event was on a February 26. So it was a nice work to produce. We worked shifts around the clock.
[00:05:46] Natasha: How big was your team? You had to have had a big engineering team, a big development team.
[00:05:52] Stas: We’ve been lucky enough because like I told you, we had previous employees in all our companies. We have 26 employees in our wannabe company, which most of them, web developers and digital marketeers. And then we have more than 40 people that are mainly 3D artists in a 3D agency in Tripoli. So we took all the forces we can get. And of course I, myself was boots on the ground.
My partner was an amazing CTO. I think he’s a genius level CTO. He was involved in many interesting projects with many unicorns that are from Israel, like it already feels familiar with them. They’re in a five finance business and he was one of the first developers there. So we had a very brilliant team that worked around the clock. It was felt like we are after something. And I’m giving birth to these amazing idea that burned in my mind.
[00:06:39] Natasha: It’s amazing. So how did founding and owning and running the other companies cut the ramp up for this new business endeavor?
[00:06:49] Stas: So it was a huge challenge because one day I pitched the idea. I didn’t expect it to go right away so fast. The customer said, “Oh, Mobile World Congress canceled for us. I want us to keep the regional date and do our events using the same book. We plan to have a Mobile World Congress in our own virtual world.”
So when they understood that we are up to something, I told all my partners in other businesses, because fortunately enough, I’m not alone. And I’ve told I’m going to embark on a dream that I had for a very long time. And I’ll need you guys, some of you will not join our group. Like we have five entrepreneurs, five childhood friends.
We were friends since 16. Since school days. I asked several of them to take care of our businesses, that we have to give our booking studio, TRiPLE D, One-V, and myself, Arnold and former CEO of TRiPLE D. We all left all our commitments behind and we knew if we want to succeed as a startup, like opening a company is a challenging thing.
I don’t need to tell you opening the startup during a pandemic. It’s so much uncertain. Looking back then we’ve been really crazy but it’s our dream. And when you dream something and if you don’t take the shot, you will regret all your life later on.
[00:08:02] Natasha: Do you consider this company, a SAS company, correct?
[00:08:05] Stas: Absolutely.
[00:08:06] Natasha: So how are you carving out a spot for this company amidst the 150 plus virtual event platforms that have sprung up since that time and a few of them that were already in existence?
[00:08:20] Stas: Absolutely. First of all, big kudos to all the companies that are there in the beginning. They pivoted the way, like for all us to start this and bringing like 2020 skyrocket the whole entire field, but I must admit vFairs meet you in trouble now.
They are not defined. There’ve been before COVID and they kinda pivoted the way for all those expansions that happened very fastly during 2020, like you mentioned, there’s many companies. Many have different angles. And some of them feed for a music festivals, others feed for a small gatherings on their 100 participants. Some of them arrived for trade shows expos.
So there are so many types of events for different size of audiences and for different user experience and these experiences that you want. So there’s only limited space for even many more our companies to grow in the field and I expect it will happen and continue to happen with the whole metaverse expansion. Now, the metaverse is the buzzword of 2021.
[00:09:19] Natasha: One thing you have to say is, love it or hate it, for your business, Mark Zuckerberg throwing his entire weight into the metaverse is super branding for your company.
[00:09:31] Stas: Absolutely. We still don’t use officially the word metaverse because the word itself is so powerful. And I think some of the people like jumped on the bus before understanding what the word means.
We planned to go into metaverse and I think that the technology itself and the audience that using the technology need to gain some levels until it will be truly a metaverse and not some specific initiatives that done by one or our company.
[00:09:59] Natasha: How are you standing out amongst all of the choices?
[00:10:02] Stas: So we took for ourself a very unique spot. We’re focusing on enterprise companies that are doing big events, relatively big events, not like web summit events, but events that are from 500 to 2000 in average. And in many cases, like the biggest event we’ve done was 50,000 with 23,000 people joining the same second.
[00:10:22] Natasha: How did that work out?
[00:10:25] Stas: Fortunately enough, we tested our platform for 100,000 people joining in the same time when successfully, but still it was the biggest event we’ve done. It was the most important event we’ve done. Why?
[00:10:37] Natasha: Can you say what it was?
[00:10:38] Stas: Yes. I think six, seven months ago, it was a government supported program event for COVID relief jobs for people who lost jobs during COVID. 50 top leading companies in Israel lined up and gave 17,000 opportunities for new jobs for people to join during the event.
[00:10:55] Natasha: That’s amazing. So you’re launching this business. You’re having the biggest event you’ve ever had and you’re doing a great service to those that really need it.
[00:11:05] Stas: Absolutely. That’s one of the points. So I’ll summarize, just don’t answer your question. So what’s special about us, first, our platform, not just the template, it’s great. Unique stories for unique events. That add value for those customers. Like it’s not just a random 3D room that you go into and experience something, and then you see it in 10 different software events or hundreds of events.
Each event that’s created on platform is unique and it tells a story. Second of all, because we are from the digital marketing experience and we are digital marketers at heart, still I’m huge in marketing, we focus on real time, personalized analytics. So we create opportunities and enterprises that are about leads, conversions, and a lot of heavy data converted into action in real time.
So we allow them with vast integrations to all leading marketing automation platforms like Marketo, Salesforce, HubSpot, and MailChimp in real time to monitor the activities of that and these, and to offer them a personalized journey in our platform that will serve them and serve the company.
In many cases, most of our customers doing 200 to 300 return of investment on the event they’d done. And they doing it in a fraction of the cost from in-person event or any other platform, because for us, keeping it affordable and reusable, like resell yearly license. Unimited options for unlimited number of events. So eventually it’s very small money for enterprise companies.
[00:12:30] Natasha: How long would it take you though to build out an environment? So I’m assuming the lead time is more lengthy than just popping into an existing room.
[00:12:40] Stas: Absolutely. So we have several options. When customers started to work with us, we have our partners that help us to create free worlds, and you can work with any of them.
We can train the company designers. Many of enterprise companies have designers in their company so we can train them. Our platform makes it. There are a lot of different 3D formats and not just reading the 2D images as well and create out of it really fast, really unique venue. So that’s one option.
Second option. We can create a custom template for you, which usually takes something between three to four weeks for a mid-size venue. Midsize, 40 sponsors. Free for all the Dorian’s reception. And some are areas that you can like for networking or for gamification. So it’s relatively fast and we are working on the ways that even improve this process.
Even further, we created now a POC. We are supposed to launch it sometime I think this year, which has a freebie builder web based for the builder. You can like style, drag and drop, create unique freedom of venues. You can upload a picture, take a picture out of your house, then use different booths designs, customize them.
Everything is customizable. Everything is changeable. And when you use this drag and drop tool, it doesn’t create templates. It creates a unique design.
[00:14:01] Natasha: That’s amazing. So the next question that is wafting around in my brain is, you started this company in January of 2020. It’s now January of 2022. When do you think that you’ll start seeing a profit or have you already?
[00:14:19] Stas: We’re a bootstrapped company. We started with bank customers. We started our all around for investment recently, but we haven’t finished it yet.
We kind of postponed it for the holidays and we are resuming it now. And one of the things that investors hate about me that I’m profitable from day one. We started with bank customers. So we grew, according to our customers, it’s helped us to develop a very tailor made product. We didn’t develop something and then we searched for the audience.
We developed our product from the requests from the veteran organizers, from the digital marketers from the field. So our product uniquely fits the desire and most of the dreams of our customers.
[00:14:58] Natasha: Let’s break that down. Let’s back that up. Because I can imagine what the startup costs are to start creating this business both with overhead, including employees and such, but also the money and time spent building the infrastructure of the actual platform. So there’s an expense there, right? And then you do your first event.
They’re a paying customer, but I can’t imagine that first event paid for all of the beginning to happen, but yeah but then let’s keep going. As you’re doing more events, you have more expenses. You have continual payroll, you have continual overhead and then. You’re now in the race with everyone else to keep improving you, can’t just create something amazing and then stop.
You have to create something amazing and keep leveling up. So it’s fun, but it’s also expensive. And now you have other clients buying and doing their events. So it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how you stay profitable, but I’d love for you to teach us everyone who’s listening how that happened.
[00:16:10] Stas: I will need to look back a little bit on my personal story. So I didn’t come from rich parents and I didn’t have any help. And so same things goes to my partners. Fortunately we come not from very rich families, very average. My mom had divorced and went to Israel . So everything that we achieved in life to everything that we gained financially or any other way, we’ve done it through hard work. And for taking a lot of educated risks.
If you are an entrepreneur, you cannot succeed unless you’re willing to risk and put everything on a black spot on a roulette. But you need to understand that you might lose what you want to lose and what you can afford to lose. And then you need to have a clear vision, a program, a guidance, all the necessary team members, tools to succeed.
Like you don’t gamble. It’s not a gamble. It’s an educated decision. Let’s say like that. When we started Vii events, first time we’d been in the right time, because each time when we opened businesses before we didn’t have a financial backup for it, like we took some money from home, took some loans from some government program money.
This time we have been lucky enough that all of our founders had a financial good background until that point. We earned a lot of money, in our previous businesses. We have secured our financial for ourselves, like both houses. So our life was already comfortable.
So each of our founders contributed starting money for the company. And even now we are working at one third of salary for the founders team at what the market pays if we were hired by some of our companies, like if we would go and do our jobs in different place.
And yes, you’re right. So the first event we did the POC event, they paid for all the extra efforts, but everything eventually came out of our pockets. We went into huge development and we risk everything because we took the most talented employees from all our companies and added them to this new company, leaving everything we worked for years in a very fragile situation. So financially it was a huge risk, not just because we put our money in and we put our time in is because we took all our dedication and resources from other companies to make these ones successful.
[00:18:26] Natasha: So what is your current number one challenge in this business today as we’re speaking or tonight? Because it’s nine o’clock where you’re at.
[00:18:35] Stas: Number one challenge for us and again, I’m going to sound funny, to convince the right investor to believe in us, because we did receive terms, but we want to receive the terms from one top investor to receive a big check that will suffice for our huge roadmap.
We have so much innovation coming up. Want to share some down the line. I will share some great news that is exclusively shared with you now. We just blend them today and we’re going to release them very soon, like the new products that are coming by.
[00:19:05] Natasha: This next question I have for you may be when you divulge this information and that is, what is your biggest strategy for growth for this year?
[00:19:15] Stas: It’s the same strategy like before. Even if we take the money from the investors and we are really looking forward to it, we still want to be very connected with the industries, especially event industry.
So our first plan is to secure us many strategic partnerships with event organizers around the globe. In the beginning of the previous year, we started our relationship. We’ve caught the MICE, they’re a UK based event organizer company, and they are our boots on the ground in Ireland and UK.
And we have of course event organizers in Israel that we are working with. And we’re expanding knowing the United States and APAC, we are securing now a very excited opportunity in APAC, which I can not discuss publicly yet, but I will keep it a secret and let you know first.
The biggest growth, because all those event industry professionals, they hold all the keys. They have those relationships with the customers for 10, 20 years. You cannot replace it by being a full platform. You cannot build those relationships in one day. It’s trust that you need to gain and you need to earn.
And those professionals, some of them are fortunate to be left behind because some of them kind of waited that COVID is going to blow away and everything is going up back to what they knew from for a long time. And they’re now understanding that it’s not too late, never is too late. I’ll take you to my field for example. Tomorrow, somebody thinks of a new cool deck for virtual platform or hybrid level.
So they don’t need to open because there are 200 companies if that was the case, Monday will never happen. Weeks will never happen. So many great technologies that we love will never happen.
[00:20:59] Natasha: Stas talked about competing in the marketplace, innovation and how many hours entrepreneurs really put in when running their businesses. For more information, go to the shownotes for your listening to this podcast.
Want to know more about me? Go to my website, officialnatashamiller.com. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.