Stewart Kibby on how his team is responding to unprecedented challenges and opportunities.
Recently, I asked Stewart Kibby, CEO of WorkCast, to be interviewed for this blog as I felt he’d be in a unique position to comment on the impact of the pandemic on online meetings. His company provides a leading webinar and live events solution, so as you can imagine, time availability was limited. He proposed instead to take the questions and provide responses when and as he could; the resulting text below makes for a very interesting and revealing read. I’m grateful to Stewart and Melissa Hugel, marketing manager at WorkCast for the effort made here.
How has the pandemic impacted WorkCast from an operational point of view? What's the most unexpected thing that's come as a result?
WorkCast has seen a massive increase in demand not only from new customers but also from existing customers. Everyone, it seems, is looking to take their events online, which I can completely understand. Businesses are looking to connect and communicate with their audiences and we’re helping them do that.
I think the most unexpected thing we’ve experienced is the increase in attendance rate at our customers’ events. The industry average for attendance rate is usually somewhere between 30-50%. We’re now consistently seeing events with a 70-80% attendance rate. It makes sense in the current climate, but it is still interesting to see it in action. This also comes off the back of much higher registration rates. Events that used to get 500 registrants are now consistently getting over 1000. This means that utilization of the platform itself has increased exponentially.
Specifically, we have seen a huge increase in interest in virtual events. We’ve been running virtual events for years, but up until recently, they were a small part of the overall business. We are now looking at virtual events making up almost 50% of the business. It’s great, because it’s allowing us to expand our network and bring on partners like Leighton and Pact to really give us a scalable virtual events solution.
With all of this going on, I’ve been incredibly heartened to see how well the teams - both in the UK and Seattle - have been able to cope while working from home. They are all adept at dealing with massive demand and being flexible but having to do that on their home connection while in lockdown has been impressive. The team (and the infrastructure) has been dealing with the situation really well. I’m incredibly proud of everyone at WorkCast.
Have you changed anything in your pricing or packaging to accommodate new users? Are these changes temporary or permanent?
We aren’t making any massive changes to pricing and packaging as a result, but we have made it a priority to standardise pricing for larger virtual events to make it more transparent. I’ve always been a big proponent of making our pricing understandable for customers, and we’re in the process of scaling up this project.
We’re acutely aware this is a unique situation, especially for WorkCast. We are in a position to be offering a truly useful service while businesses look to shift the way they communicate. We don’t want to price gouge, we genuinely want to help. So we want to keep the pricing as transparent as possible. To do that we have done things like creating an estimate calculator for our webinars, and are running a daily demo where we discuss pricing with prospects.
What this situation has solidified for us is that we want to be transparent while still offering a reliable service. In fact, we have actually backed off lead generation and bringing on new customers, not because the demand isn’t there, but because we want to ensure that all of our existing customers are getting the most out of our products and services.
What’s also been interesting for us is that the pandemic has coincided with the launch of a completely new WorkCast studio, which will be rolled out to all customers in the summer. With this new studio, we will be looking at creating new packages specifically catering to the self-service users who want to be able to run an online events program themselves.
WorkCast is quite a unique product - we are not a meeting tool. We specialise in mass live communication wherein we make webinars accessible and give attendees and hosts completely different experiences such as simulive. And this new studio offers that at a self-service level which we’re really excited to roll out.
Do you believe that your market has changed permanently as a result of the pandemic? And if so, what are those changes likely to be?
Absolutely. We’re witnessing a dramatic shift in the way people consume content. As businesses move their events from in-person to online, more and more are experiencing the immense benefits of the virtual environment. Online events are more scalable, more cost-effective, and most importantly, more accessible than their physical counterparts. As more and more organisations make this shift, the services and technology will only continue to improve.
At WorkCast, we’ve been doing this for years and we have seen a steady shift from physical to online, it’s now just happening on a mass scale. I don’t think there will be any going back. Businesses are seeing that they can scale their events and offer truly accessible programs online without losing out on engagement or content. I think going forward, we are going to see more and more physical events moving online, or at least having an online component. I also think this will push the technology to evolve and online events platforms will be forced to innovate or lose out.
I genuinely see WorkCast as a force for good. When I founded the company, part of the ethos was to make mass live communication more sustainable. Back then, I came across a stat that something like 5% of all air travel was people flying to conferences. That’s staggering, especially when you think about what that means in terms of the environment and climate change. The world - and people - needs less of that, especially in the current climate (no pun intended).
What are the top two or three challenges you are hearing from other SaaS CEOs about their businesses today? Are there any trends in the way these CEOs, and you, yourself are addressing these challenges that would be valuable to share here?
For tech businesses specifically, we are seeing one of two things.
First is a plummet in demand due to the economic challenges of the pandemic. There are some tech businesses that are struggling to keep the lights on and who are doing their best to push through this until we see what life is like on the other side of this.
The other trend we’re seeing is, and WorkCast is a prime example, businesses being hit by a sledgehammer of demand. While this has been fantastic, the opposite side of it is how personally and technically demanding it is for teams. Having to keep up with massive demand while working from home and all the instability and uncertainty that brings has been difficult.
For WorkCast, what has really gotten us through are the people - our teams in both US and UK, pulling together and solving genuine problems (sometimes with kids in the background).
Part of this problem solving has been realizing that we need to prioritise existing customers. When the demand comes as fast and furious and it did with us, especially with your entire workforce working from home, there is a risk that quality of service will drop. We were able to pre-empt this by taking steps to prioritise existing customers, and bringing on new customers as and when it makes sense for the business.
What affects this even further is that, while home working has been very productive, it makes it difficult to scale by hiring new people. We are actually in the midst of scaling the teams, but the interview and onboarding process is a bit different when you’re doing it all from your living room.
And, as we have seen, in any situation Amazon seems to come away as a winner. Our infrastructure spend on AWS is up 300% since the beginning of the pandemic.
Is your product roadmap different as a result of the pandemic? If yes, can you share what you're planning to do differently over the next 6-12 months?
Yes and no. We have had to put a lot more resource into scaling up the platform to be able to service the increased demand. That was always something on the roadmap, but we had to move it forward for obvious reasons.
As I mentioned before, virtual events have also made their way up the priority list. They have gone from being 10% to being potentially 50%+ of our offering, so we are reprioritising the infrastructure and project management there, making it easier to create innovative virtual events and manage them in the platform. Basically, we’re working to simplify virtual events as much as possible so they can be more of a self-service offering than a fully project managed one, which they are now. Part of this is bringing in partners which we had only previously done on a limited scale. Leighton in the UK and Pact in the Asia-Pacific region are providing us with a very efficient way to scale virtual events.
What this has really done for us though is verified that there is a unique place for our offering in the market. We are not Zoom and we don’t purport to be, but there is a place for both of our solutions. We offer a unique attendee experience that is properly scalable. That is a far different product than a two-way meeting solution and we’re heartened to see that there is a growing market for both.
Is there something different or exciting about how your customers are using WorkCast for webinars lately? Any success stories to share?
We’ve always had some very creative customers and we’re seeing that trend continue. Over the past few months, we’ve really been able to see how customers are using the functionality of multi-session virtual events.
Specifically, we have seen massive growth in pre-recording and simulive with live elements. When you’re working from home as a lot of our customers are, you can’t guarantee that you’re going to have a quiet place to present and a good connection at a time that will be best for your audience. With pre-recording and simulive, this doesn’t matter. You can record the content and present it at a different time. This also allows our customers to focus on live engagement rather than presenting content in real-time, which is really the point of a webinar. Engagement.
We are also seeing a rise in consumer webinars. Webinars have always been a great tool for B2B communication, but as businesses scramble to communicate with consumers, they’re turning to webinars. They want an engaging attendee experience and a way to reach as many people as possible in a cost-effective way. This makes the online events space 100x bigger.
We’re seeing so many examples of that, England Rugby is a particularly interesting success case. But probably the best example of this has been the UK Department of Health and Social Care (which is the equivalent of the US Department of Health). They have to reach thousands of members of the public every week, and they’re doing it with webinars. It’s been great to see them run large-scale, successful events week after week.
What are your top recommendations for managing teams remotely during these stressful times? What's working for WorkCast?
Communication. Keeping in touch with your teams is so important. At WorkCast, we have a daily morning scrum to ensure that we can discuss any issues, brainstorm any ideas, and have some genuine human contact. We have always managed our workload through scrum methodology, and we’ve extended that into every aspect of how we work. Every day starts with a scrum where pretty much anything goes. We talk about everything to customer events to the weather to weekend plans. It’s an outlet, and it has been an invaluable tool in ensuring the team is engaged.
It can be so easy to do everything by email but being on a video chat makes you feel more connected, and also means you can discuss issues in a fraction of the time.
I would also say, be understanding. It can be tempting to try and hold employees to a rigid 9-5 as they’re working remotely, but with children at home and other caring responsibilities, you need to be flexible.
This all effectively comes down to trust - it is so important. I know I can trust each and every member of Team WorkCast to prioritise their workload and ensure our customers are getting the best experience possible. So, make sure you’re working with people you trust.
If you had a meeting with a SaaS CEO scheduled for next week, what are the two or three things you'd recommend they consider using webinars to accomplish? What are the emerging best use cases for webinars with in-person conferences and trade shows shut down for the foreseeable future?
Anyone looking to run a webinar, whether this week or next year, simulive is a tool you should embrace. Simulive, for those who don’t know, is when you pre-record your content and present it as live (on a set date and time), usually with a live element like a Q&A. It provides you that subtle combination of recorded content with real-time interaction.
All marketers - organisations really - need to get the most of their content, and this means reusing it where possible. Simulive provides an effective mechanism to reach larger audience while also providing a resource that is reusable. This exponentially increases ROI and the megaphone that you are holding out there.using to get your message out there.
Last year alone, WorkCast saw an 87% increase in simulive webinar attendance across customer events. We’re seeing these simulive sessions being utilized in large scale virtual events and conferences as well, not just standard webinars.
So, to summarise, use simulive!
Is there anything we didn't ask you that you'd like to offer as insight or advice to SaaS CEOs or CMOs?
I believe quite strongly that not only are we seeing a shift in the way we communicate, but we’re also seeing a decentralisation of the tech/SaaS industry. What I mean is that, going forward we are going to see more and more tech companies basing themselves in cities that are not traditional tech hubs.
Not every company will need to be based in San Francisco or London. WorkCast is a proof positive of that. We are based in Sunderland, with offices in Seattle and Edinburgh. I think the takeaway from this for SaaS CEOs or potential CEOs is to not to limit themselves to places where we expect to see tech companies. What you may sacrifice in terms of experience, you more than make up for in innovative spirit and loyalty/retention. And those elements are invaluable when building a tech business.
Readers seeking a webinar solution can learn more about workcast at www.workcast.com.
Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or book a complimentary 30-minute meeting with me to talk about any topic related to this post. I sincerely want to help and hope that I’ll hear from you.
Editor’s note: there’s no commercial relationship between Austin Lawrence and WorkCast.