looking at her phone

While you were going to conference after conference to learn more about, oh, just about anything, Lawrence Coburn and six of his friends were trying to find a way to transform your attendance to a digital experience.

They accomplished their goal — at least if you consider a $45 million investment a measure of success.

"It's a stunning amount of money," Coburn told CMSWire.

Saving Trees, Making Money

Lawrence Coburn
Coburn is CEO of San Francisco-based DoubleDutch, a provider of mobile applications for events, conferences, associations and trade shows. The company creates a branded event app for attendees, exhibitors and organizers to communicate, navigate and engage at events.

And today it announced a $45 million round of growth financing led by New York City-based KKR, with participation from several existing investors, including Bessemer Venture Partners and Index Ventures.

"I don’t think too many event tech companies have raised that much," Coburn said.

DoubleDutch, founded in January 2011, has now secured a total of $78.5 million in investment.

Not bad for an entity whose CEO describes it's biggest competitor as "paper." Of course, that's somewhat of an understatement.

Everyone Wants One

While mobile event apps typically act as replacements for printed guides and maps, they are also increasingly used for a host of other event activities, from registration to networking.

Research by Cvent — another event marketing company — and The Event Marketing Institute predicts 86 percent of meeting and event planners will use mobile event apps by 2016.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) reports mobile apps are fast becoming essential elements of meetings and events in North America. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, app use is slowly growing, while use in Asia — with the exception of Singapore — is low.

A widely cited study by Frost & Sullivan valued the global meetings and events industry at $565 billion in 2012. This figure represents 5 million meetings and more than 500 million attendees worldwide.

Coburn calls it "the biggest marketing spend in the world" — one that has until recently been largely ignored. Why?

As Coburn wrote last year, "Because they happen in the real world. And things happening in the real world were out of the reach of software, and their 80 percent gross margins. Real world meant humans and service and high touch and unscalable businesses."

Bringing DX to Life

But then mobile changed everything, he continued.

"Mobile is about creating a digital extension to the real world. Bringing online fundamentals to offline. Digitizing the meatspace.

"Through this lens, events, conferences and tradeshows suddenly get very, very interesting to technologists. It’s the ultimate petri dish for mobile/social/cloud converging on an enormous industry. Hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people coming together, untethered from their desktops, for periods of intense networking, learning, lead generation and commerce."

Coburn said DoubleDutch is capitalizing on the quest for digital experience by providing two things: a mobile app for attendees on the front end and near real time event performance analytics for event organizers on the back end, complete with sentiment analysis and engagement benchmarks.

Call It MarTech

DoubleDutch app
"We're more of a marketing technology company than an event tech company," he said. "Marketers are running blind with this huge spend on meetings and events. We've created something that feels like a digital guide."

The app interfaces with physical events to create a measurable digital trail of interactions and behaviors — something Coburn described as a source of significant value for marketers.

At an event powered by a DoubleDutch app, he explained, users have the options to create their own personalizes agendas and bookmark sessions of interest. Users engage with the app an average 36 minutes per day, Coburn said.

On the backend, marketers can programmatically evaluate user behaviors to identify trends and patterns (Is the attendee especially interested in analytics, for example?). Then they can use that information to "help the user have a better experience," perhaps by suggesting meetings with certain vendors or creating networking opportunities with other attendees with similar interests.

"We treat each event as a marketing play. How can we thrill each attendee with a personalized schedule? How can we make sure vendors at the event don't leave any money on the table?" he said.

Blurring Digital and Physical

As DoubleDutch CTO Nicholas Clark noted, “For the first time, we have the ability to instrument the physical world like we would a website, a phenomenon that has the potential to completely reinvent how events and conferences are run, managed, and measured."

Ted Oberwager, a principal of KKR, said companies are looking for reliable data to measure the success of their marketing programs. DoubleDutch provides the perfect platform to inform their strategy and decisions, he added.

But $45 million is more than a big investment. It's frighteningly large — a fact Coburn doesn't deny. However, he added:

"We're growing really fast. On any given day we have up to 100 events in 25 countries in 15 languages. We have to have the infrastructure in place to be able to assure our clients that we will be there and will not go down, like a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week casino."

And that takes a lot of capital, he said.

Big and Getting Bigger

Coburn said the new investment would be used for global expansion, sales and marketing, and targeted acquisitions.

DoubleDutch claims more than 1,000 customers and already employs more than 260 people in San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, Hong Kong and Portland, Ore.

Company co-founder Pankaj Prasad, Global Head of Sales, said DoubleDutch has been growing more than 100 percent year-over-year, "and sees no signs of things slowing down."

So far, DoubleDutch has sold primarily to event organizers and planners. But it has plans to expand its focus to sponsors and exhibitors. By leveraging data to vendors, for example, the company could "unlock new revenue streams for organizers," Coburn said.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by jesus-leon.