Australian hybrid-events startup Delegate Connect has raised a massive $10 million seed round, attracting the biggest ever seed cheque written by AirTree Ventures, as well as backing from a swathe of other high-profile investors.
Led by AirTree, the round also includes investment from Skip Capital, the investment fund of Kim Jackson and her husband Scott Farquhar, co-founder of Atlassian. Steve Baxter’s TEN13 also contributed, as well Linktree chief executive Alex Zaccaria and GO1 chief executive Andrew Barnes.
Delegate Connect is a virtual and hybrid platform for conferences, operating primarily in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors.
Co-founders Jordan Walsh and Jacob Thomas first dreamt up the idea way back in 2017.
Conferences were already incorporating tech, Walsh tells SmartCompany, whether through registrations, contactless check-in or conference apps, for example. Even back then, more and more events were also looking to facilitate remote attendance, he adds.
Walsh and Thomas were working in the industry and patching together various different software solutions to make events run as smoothly as possible.
“People were wanting something that could do everything,” he says.
So they started building Delegate Connect to do just that.
In January 2020, the founders launched the product. It just so happened that two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the traditional events industry grind to a halt — suddenly conference organisers were scrambling for alternatives.
“We really hit the ground running.”
Walsh doesn’t share any revenue figures, but he does say the business was profitable pretty much from day one.
Delegate Connect works with “well over 200” large clients, and has opened offices in London and Norway.
In March 2020, they had a team of three. That’s now grown to 45, and is set to more than double again to a staff of 100 by the end of the year.
Investment from household names
This is a significant first funding round, and the largest seed cheque AirTree has ever written.
Perhaps even more impressive is that the co-founders weren’t even actively seeking investment, Walsh says.
It now not only has some of the most reputable Aussie VCs on its books, but also angel investment from experienced founders.
“It’s incredible,” Walsh says.
“We’re so grateful to have investors of that calibre. It’s one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself sometimes to know you’re being backed by the best of the best.”
The round is also something of a morale booster for the team, he notes. This is a Melbourne-based business that has grown up in lockdowns — there are many team members Walsh has never even met in person.
To secure investment from “household names” in the tech sector is a validation, and a recognition of the work they’ve been doing.
“Our team works extremely hard,” Walsh adds.
“Everyone was so happy.”
The funding will be used to fuel further international expansion, particularly in the US market, where the co-founders are already seeing inbound interest.
It will also allow them to bolster the London office, Walsh says.
The founders are also gearing up to build a suite of new products and features, developed in consultation with clients, to improve the hybrid events experience further. That means building out the product team, too.
“An extremely exciting space”
Ultimately, Walsh admits it was a stroke of luck to launch Delegate Connect just months before the whole events industry was turned on its head.
There’s no way of knowing what kind of traction the business would have seen without the pandemic, he muses. But he is certain that tech is here to stay.
COVID-19 has accelerated uptake of technology in the sector, and a lot of events organisers who weren’t previously adopting tech have been forced to.
Walsh doesn’t predict that the industry will go fully virtual. But there are big opportunities in a hybrid model.
“We see technology enabling events to extend their reach to people they never would have reached, and people that never would have attended that event,” he explains.
“We see technology enabling incredible data to build tailored experiences for delegates, and collecting that data to build tailored experiences for sponsors and exhibitors.”
As we start to move out of the pandemic, and get in-person events up and running again, tech will have a vital role to play both in making them safe, and improving the experience for everyone.
“The events-tech sector at the moment is an extremely exciting space to be in.”