Discover more from Consumer Startups
🎢 Newsletter #36 - Let's run the world
+ Rex Woodbury (Principal at Index Ventures)
Hey there! Welcome to my email newsletter. My name is Leo Luo, a student entrepreneur at the University of Michigan. I write about founder stories, trends, fundraising, and unique behaviors in the consumer startup space.
All my previous posts can be found here.
Follow me on Twitter @_leoluo.
🍽 Today’s menu
Startup story - Run the World (Virtual event platform)
Investor POV - Rex Woodbury (Principal at Index Ventures)
What I’ve been reading - 5 articles about startups and investing
Who’s ballin’ this week - 5 new fundraising/developments in B2C space
Jobs - 10 full-time jobs and internship postings
Feedback - help me to deliver better content to you
🔥 Startup Story
Let’s run the world
(Image credit: Run the World)
The fight for niches in the virtual event space is fascinating. Hopin targets large conferences, Gamerjibe powers an immersive 3D event experience, Icebreaker focuses on events for different communities, and Glimpse connects people for1-on-1, back-to-back video chats during community events. (I’ve written about these companies before - check them out here)
Run the World is another rising player in the space trying to make it easier for everyone to create and monetize from a virtual event. It has raised over $14M from GGV, Founders Fund, and a16z. I had the opportunity to chat with Xiaoyin, CEO and Founder of Run the World, to learn more about the early days of the venture and her vision for the company’s future.
“The inspiration for Run the World came from my mother, a pediatric neurologist who, after practicing for 35 years in China, finally had the chance to attend an international pediatrics conference in Chicago last year. At the conference, she met doctors from around the world, learned the latest research and treatment plans, and even met another doctor from Dubai whose patient had a similar rare condition to one of her own patients.
Even though the trip was invaluable, she told me she couldn’t imagine doing it again because the ordeal associated with attending—requiring 2 weeks off work, applying for a US visa in Beijing, traveling from Qingdao to Chicago, and expensive flights and hotels—each posed such a huge barrier alone, let alone all together.
I wished that my mom could have a magic wand that enabled her to meet all those doctors, share knowledge among them, and build meaningful relationships—all with a few clicks. Teaming up with Xuan Jiang, a colleague and friend from Facebook, we’re building that magic wand, ” Xiaoyin elaborated.
🚗 Product Journey
Phase one - Idea Validation (2019 Q3):
At the time, there were relatively few players in the virtual event space. To validate demand (essentially that people wanted to attend virtual events), Xiaoyin and her team decided to run an event themselves.
“I hosted the first event about product and got 10 speakers. We just hacked around all the tools. We used Wix, Slack, Mailchimp, Eventbrite, and a bunch of other tools. The first event was very clumsy but people still paid for it since there were no other alternatives. We planned the event in 14 days and made over 3000 dollars by selling tickets.”
Event ticket for one of the early events
Phase two - more validations (2019 Q3/4):
Xiaoyin and her team decided to further validate the idea by helping other people run virtual events. They acted as a virtual event consulting firm, helping other event hosts (i.e. their friends) by providing the software and marketing content needed to run a successful online event.
Results - they helped to host 4 other events and made over $70K through ticket sales. These events gave Xiaoyin and her team the confidence to pursue this idea full-time, and they subsequently raised a $4M seed.
MVP (2020 February)
The initial events provided them with a better idea about the required structure and unique components of a virtual event. They launched their first product in Q1 of 2020.
“At that time, there was no COVID, so we thought it was going to be mobile only. It was just a product for people to create a bunch of different sessions and it was designed for a really large conference. At the time, it was like Zoom plus Evenbrite plus a website.”
The UI of RTW’s first product
Product iteration and current traction
They added the cocktail party and the web version of the product around April and they have been iterating since then.
Since March, there have been more than 15k events hosted on Run the World in the past six months from 100+ countries. Many creators and organizations are able to significantly monetize on the platform.
“Mandalao, an elephant conservation reserve in Laos, was able to raise $30K from donors from 15 countries in 2 weeks by hosting an Asian Elephant Conference on Run the World. Their limited budget and global base of donors had previously made it infeasible to host an offline event; with Run the World, such an event became possible. They plan to host another event this year.”
🤔 Challenges Xiaoyin and her team have faced
What people want vs what to build
“One challenge is that we need to figure out what are the things that a customer wants that we don't build. We did build a bunch of things that people asked for and sometimes they would not need it anymore after trying it, such as the virtual lobby where people can come and meet each other.”
Choosing the use cases to focus on
“We did many different use cases such as conferences, conventions, festivals, music stuff, and birthdays. They all came to us and we were trying to satisfy as much as we could because we had an inbound model initially - everybody came and talked to us and tried to figure out what they wanted. I think we were a little bogged down in different types of use cases and personas. It was messy.”
“Our vision is to 100X the number of events in the world and not just to move existing ones online.
We are not focusing on large convention trade shows. Instead, we are focusing more on making events something that everybody can do and bringing like-minded people together.”
Check out Run the World!
**I am planning on hosting a virtual event on Run the World soon! I would really really appreciate it if you could fill out this survey and select the topic that interests you the most ❤️
💡 Investor POV
Rex Woodbury (Principal at Index Ventures)
(Image credit: Rex Woodbury)
Rex Woodbury is a Principal at Index Ventures, focusing on venture and growth investments in internet, media, and consumer software.
He’s worn many hats prior to Index. After graduating from Dartmouth (where he was a college athlete), he worked in investment banking and growth equity at Goldman and TPG. Rex was also a mission-driven founder - he built a nonprofit called Worthy that helps LGBTQ+ mentees find mentors for support and guidance. Most recently, he was a member of Airtable’s team supporting the go-to-market motion.
Besides ventures, Rex is also a digital creator - he is a popular Instagram influencer (200K+ followers) and a Substack writer himself (Digital Native). I was beyond thrilled to chat with Rex and learn more about his thoughts on the consumer space.
🚀 Consumer trends that excite Rex
1. The change in how people interact online
“During the social media 1.0 and 2.0 eras, companies like Facebook and Instagram were built on your social graph and your friend network. Those companies are about projecting to many people— typically people that you know in real life. The newsfeed concept is central to this model.
We’re moving in two new directions. First, we’re seeing platforms like TikTok remove the social graph and use AI to let you experience the creative talent of someone on the other side of the world. On the other hand, there’s a new aversion to that broad social graph, and we’re seeing more one-to-one interactions or small group interactions, leading to the rise of Discord and community-based threads.
I like to point to the unbundling of Youtube. Supergreat, for example, is an online beauty community (beauty is one of the fastest-growing and most engaged categories on YouTube). New startups are also building in niches like education, sports and live-streaming.
**Check out Rex’s article here for more in-depth analysis on the rise of internet niches.
2. Consumerization of the economy
“The internet is shifting power to the consumer in lots of different industries, including healthcare, financial services, and education. A lot of these startups are able to use technology to get around regulations and middlemen, going straight to consumers.
‘Within the consumerization of healthcare, there are many companies that are enabling patients to access healthcare knowledge and experts they didn’t have access to in the past because they’d always required an expensive doctor’s visit.’
‘Within Fintech, we’ve seen the rise of challenger bank. Historically, a lot of tools in fintech have been inaccessible to people. Now, they're becoming much more consumer-friendly, both from a UI perspective, and from a features perspective (no fees, for example).’
‘The most interesting education companies are direct-to-learner. Outschool is a great example, especially during COVID. People want to learn in places beyond traditional schools. It’s a scalable model that helps teachers to monetize their unique knowledge and specialized skills, and allows learners to go direct to teachers and cut out the middlemen of the school and district.’
3. The rise of platforms that enable the creator economy
“Platforms are emerging that allow creators to own and manage their own businesses. For example, Popshop live lets you be a livestream commerce seller.
Stir is another interesting one. In my past life, I earned a living on Instagram for a time. Stir digitizes a lot of pain points, such as payments and collaborations. I did everything through Google Sheets and Gmail, which is common for the creator space. Stir is a creator’s new home base.”
*I featured Jemi two weeks ago which is another awesome creator tool for monetization. Read it here!
📚 Rex’s favorite books
Shoe Dog - “Shoe Dog, a book on the founding story of Nike, is one of my favorite books. It’s an incredibly compelling story from an entrepreneur who saw a clear need for the product and had an incredible vision.”
Americanah - “Americanah is a novel by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and is just absolutely beautifully written. I love stories that give you a glimpse of the world through someone else's eyes. Americanah traverses different cultures and groups of people and ways of life. It's just incredibly moving. I'm a huge fan of all Chimamanda’s work.”
Feel free to reach out to me if you are an early-stage founder that is currently fundraising right now.
I would love to help and pass on the deck to investors in my network!
👨💻 What I’ve been reading
Lenny Rachitsky’s 2020 year in review (great summary of some highlights of his product-focused substack newsletter)
Eric Torenberg’s request for startups - opportunities in education
Inside Figma: the product design team’s process
2021 Prediction: The Rise Of AuthenTech
100 tips for a better life (I usually avoid these types of articles but this one is actually quite actionable and interesting)
🏀 Who’s ballin this week
23andMe raises $82.5 million in new funding
CommonGround raises $19M to rethink online communication
FlowPlay buys out investors as Seattle gaming startup sees revenue spike 50% amid pandemic
SAP files to take Qualtrics public
Amazon dives into podcast acquisition flurry, picking up Wondery
😍 Jobs & Internships
Apply - South Park Commons - Chief of Staff (Bay Area)
Apply - Tusk Venture Partners - Investor (NYC)
Apply - Stir - Product Engineers (Remote)
Apply - Affirm - Growth Strategy Analyst (Remote)
Apply - Leif - Biz Ops Associate (NYC)
Apply - Alpaca VC - One Year Long Proptech VC MBA Intern (N/A)
Apply - Glimpse - Growth/Content Marketing Spring Intern (Remote)
Apply - Magna Innovation Ventures - Summer 2021 Intern (Troy, MI)
Apply - Cloudflare - Summer PM Intern (SF)
Apply - LinkedIn - Summer Associate PM Intern (Sunnyvale)
If you have reached this far, could you please take 30 seconds to fill out this quick survey? It will help me to improve the newsletter and deliver you more interesting content in the future. Means a lot to me ♥️.
**P.S. I have adopted many of your suggestions in the past (e.g. having more bullet points, changing the order of the content, creating an archive for all previous posts, etc) so I hear you!
↺ What you might’ve missed in the last three weeks
12/27 - Story of Consumer Startups (end of year reflection)
12/20 - Story of Jemi (Shopify for content creators) + Saar Gur (Partner at CRV)
12/13 - Story of Geneva (Slack for private communities) + Future of Consumer Startups
Check out all the startups and investors I have featured in the past on
this Notion board