Will Smith, Kevin Hart, a16z back virtual events startup Run the World

Will Smith and Kevin Hart pose backstage at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards at Warner Bros Studios on April 9, 2016 in Burbank, California.

Jason Kempin | MTV1415 | Getty Images for MTV

Xiaoyin Qu never predicted the relevance of its application in a pandemic. The former Facebook employee initially created Run The World, an online event platform, to reduce barriers to attending large in-person conferences.

She glimpsed the sudden surge in demand for virtual events in February, as health fears surrounding the coronavirus epidemic led to the cancellation of several major conferences. At that time, Run The World successfully raised more than $ 4 million in seed funding in a round led by venture capitalist Andreessen Horowitz.

Now Andreessen Horowitz is back to support a $ 10.8 million Series A tour of the San Francisco-based company, co-chaired with the Founders Fund of Peter Thiel. But some of its new investors are not your typical venture capitalists. Run The World has also caught the eye of famous investors, with venture capital funds from American actor Will Smith and comedian Kevin Hart joining as the company’s new backers.

Qu told CNBC it was linked to Smith and Hart through its existing investors. “They are passionate about the mission of using online events to connect people and build communities,” she said. “Will and Kevin are visionaries who create content that interacts and resonates with people.”

“We think their advice can be very important to Run The World in creating this new category of engaging online events that the world is seeing for the first time,” added Qu. She said the pandemic, although a source of great economic uncertainty, was helping to speed up the transition to online events.

Another start-up looking after online event space, Hopin, headquartered in London, raised $ 6.5 million seed tower led by Accel in February. Demand has experienced a similar boom due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Run The World said it would not comment on its valuation at this time, but an industry source familiar with the deal has set its market value at around $ 50 million. The source preferred to remain anonymous because the information was not made public.

Bet on switching to online events

It’s a sign of how venture capitalists and celebrities are betting on physical events moving online while Covid-19’s lockdown restrictions have made mass rallies impossible. While companies typically spend thousands of dollars on travel and accommodation reservations to attend major industry conferences, digital platforms offer an alternative that could help reduce these costs significantly.

“The in-person events were canceled every day, but people wanted and still had to connect,” said Qu. “There was growing demand and interest from investors and users and, combined with the positive feedback, we couldn’t get away from this diverse set of investors.”

Although Zoom, YouTube and Twitch provide a platform for businesses to broadcast live conferences, they do not offer the same networking experiences as those offered in person. Run The World says this is resolved by features such as “Cocktail Party”, which matches participants for several minutes at a time to simulate the experience of a face-to-face networking event.

The Run The World app allows users to host and join virtual events.

Run the world

Run The World says it has seen the number of users on its platform multiply by a hundred in the past three months, although it has not disclosed its total number of users. The company’s workforce has doubled to 30 employees in the past two months.

To date, the organizers have organized more than 2,000 events on the app, with participants from 40 different countries. Events hosted on the platform included everything from a hackathon for developers to create software to help fight the coronavirus epidemic, to a conference for small home hobbyists.

Discussions between Run The World and its investors began in late March and were conducted entirely by video conference, said Qu. She told CNBC that the extra money would be “used to grow the business in order to continue reaching new vertical markets”

“We expect the next Nobel laureate and artist Billboard to meet on Run the World, and our goal is to continue to create features such as the Cocktail Party which will allow the rising artist from Los Angeles or the researcher in Romania to collaborate with like-minded others. “

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