Tech Giants: Banzai’s Joe Davy on Event Marketers as Heroes, the Future of Events and How to Prepare

November 19, 2021

Raised in a small university town in North Carolina, where both of his parents were English professors, Joe Davy was self-taught when it came to tech smarts, which have been top of mind for him since childhood. 

“I learned to program on our 386 PC desktop at home using a manual for a Tandy 2000 computer that I found in a box of free books at my parents’ office,” he said. 

Davy’s early interest in technology and programming eventually turned into an interest in business and entrepreneurship.

“I was lucky to meet a few life-changing mentors and friends who shaped me into who I am today,” he said.

Nowadays, he is one of the most prolific people in tech, and he’s already received one major business accolade. In 2019, he was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, three years after co-founding Banzai, a leading event marketing automation platform. Under his helm as CEO, the company had grown during those three years from 2 to 50 people with no outside capital. Today, Banzai has more than doubled in size.

Davy’s journey into entrepreneurship started at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied economics and worked for IBM as a software engineer. During that time, he founded a company called EvoApp, which became so successful, he dropped out of school to run it. The company eventually failed to generate enough profit, and they had to sell it. 

Yet Davy knew that business comes with successes and failures, and his lessons learned along the way have informed his strategic decisions since.

“I learned so much from my experience with EvoApp,” Davy said. “My time there was core to how I founded and continue to run Banzai.”

After losing all of its revenue stream at the start of the pandemic, Banzai, whose name is an ode to both pipeline marketing and the namesake surf  in Hawaii, is now riding some major waves.

We caught up with Davy to discuss some of the key strategies, pain points and solutions for event marketers in today’s environment, get his insights on trends and future predictions for the industry and find out what inspired him to start Banzai.

What led to the creation of Banzai?

Prior to Banzai, I spent time as a general manager at Avalara, where I was able to be a part of a fast growing, successful (eventually public) company. I met my wife at Avalara, and she ultimately inspired Banzai. As an event marketer, she struggled with generating quality registrations and attendees for her events. It was clear that this was a problem for the majority of event and field marketers. I knew Banzai could be the solution they needed, I just had to build it.

Like so many companies, you had to make a major pivot when the pandemic hit. What were the key decisions you made at that time, and how has Banzai has grown and evolved since?

Our business was built around in-person events, so when the pandemic hit in 2020, our sales pipeline went to zero in a week. We made some quick decisions, took some risks and worked really hard. Banzai became 100% about virtual events and webinars. In the last 18 months, we doubled in size, acquired two companies and landed $15 million in new funding.

What sets Banzai apart as a global leader in professional event marketing?

Banzai is committed to making marketing more human, and events are core to making that happen. We believe that events should empower two-way conversations between the hosts and the attendees, so we have built solutions with engagement at the forefront of all we do.

Banzai's solutions support the full event lifecycle from planning and outreach to follow-up and post-event engagement. We believe that event marketers can significantly impact pipeline and ROI and it's our goal to make them the marketing heroes we know they can be.

How do your virtual and hybrid offerings uniquely address client pain points, provide solutions and help event professionals produce standout experiences?

Banzai's solutions support the full event lifecycle. We believe event marketers can truly be the heroes of their business, so we empower them with tools they need to convert their event registrations into customers.

We believe in building with simplicity. Our customers are busy. They need solutions that work for them and are not something they have to work at. With Reach, this is reflected in the fact that a customer simply adds their event details and outreach can begin with a click of a button. With Demio, the interface is clean and uncomplicated while making it easy to engage with the audience. With High Attendance, we want event marketers to use a virtual event platform that meets their specific needs, so we make it easy to customize each experience, and we provide the support they need to run a successful event.

How are you helping your clients boost engagement?

The secret to engagement is leveraging the two-way communication channel that events are at their core to invite participation and build relationships among attendees. With expert content, training and a suite of products that cover all event types (virtual, hybrid and live events), we work with marketers to build events that their audience actually wants to attend. When COVID hit, and marketers were forced to throw out the playbook, many of them didn't have the strategies they needed to turn live events into virtual events. These types aren't the same and need to be strategized differently. 

Can you give me an example of one of your most successful and engaging virtual or hybrid events since the pandemic began?

It's no secret that webinars and virtual events exploded in popularity during the pandemic. But by mid-May we were sensing some webinar fatigue. So our vice president of marketing, Ashley Levesque, flipped the traditional webinar format by running an AMA (Ask-Me-Anything). In order to register for the event, you had to ask a question you wanted answered, and those questions became the webinar content. We saw an incredible amount of live engagement during the event because the content was literally sourced from the audience. We then used those questions to come up with a collection of guides we shared as a toolkit for anyone who signed up for a trial after the event. Within minutes of the event ending, we had people signing up for a trial—even our existing customers were emailing us about it because, again, the content was informed by their questions. It goes to show the power of giving your audience a voice.

What are the biggest trends defining event tech this year?

I think event tech will see an increased need for engagement tools, a focus on creating experiences vs. producing events, and the need for event tech to prove business ROI.

What are your predictions for the evolution of events as we move out of the pandemic?

We anticipate that in-person events will come back with a focus on smaller, field marketing events. While we know the larger conferences will not go away, we think marketers will be focusing on more intimate opportunities to engage with their customers and prospects. Hybrid events will exist as a two-track pathway. Instead of the same content being streamed virtually as is in person, hybrid events will need to provide different tracks of content for virtual attendees than they do for in person attendees. Virtual events aren't going away. Marketers will double down on leveraging engagement as their competitive advantage in virtual events and will be rewarded with attentive and loyal participants.

How can event professionals prepare themselves for the future?

Event professionals need to get clear on two items prior to setting their event strategy. Number one: What are their event goals? What does success look like? Engagement marketing is about identifying how marketers can build relationships that impact the bottom line. For your event, that might mean lead generation, if you have a strong process for identifying the most engaged leads at your event and are clear on how you can continue to provide value for them after the event. Which brings us to number two: Event professionals have to get clearer on their audience's desired outcome. Emotions are the drivers to purchase. How does your audience feel? What are their frustrations? What are the impacts and consequences of their frustrations? What is their desired state and feeling, and how is your event going to get them closer to it?

What are Banzai’s next steps—big or small?

We're starting a revolution on engagement marketing and will soon be the premier resource for marketers to educate themselves on how to build meaningful relationships with their audience, without sacrificing ROI on their marketing efforts. We have a number of incredible things up our sleeve and are really excited to turn the tables on marketing—making it more human in 2021 and beyond.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career that you could impart to our readers?

No matter what, you survive. You will end up with scars, and it will be hard. It is about growing and adapting for the next time, whatever that next time may be.

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