Startup Run the World
Run the World co-founders Xiaoyin Qu (left) and Xuan Jiang. Photo courtesy of the firm.

Among other impacts, the covid-19 pandemic has obliterated the conference circuit, a popular way for venture capitalists to unearth opportunities for start-ups and network with their peers.

Various platforms and apps that help produce and organize online conferences have gained traction since the outbreak has escalated, and one company in particular is garnering attention from VCs.

Run the World, a Mountain View, California-based start-up that operates a platform to organize and run online events and to digitize conferences, is announcing today that it has raised $10.8 million in a Series A round. The funding was co-led by Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund, and includes Will Smith of Dreamers Fund, Kevin Hart of Hartbeat Capital, Green Bay Ventures, GGV Capital and such angels as Tony Xu (CEO of Doordash), Chris Daniels (ex-head of WhatsApp), Sam Yam (co-founder of Patreon) and Bob Tinker (ex-CEO of MobileIron).

The company was co-founded last year by Xiaoyin Qu and Xuan Jiang, entrepreneurs formerly with Facebook. In late February, the company announced it raised $4.3 million in seed funding, which was led by a16z.

Qu told Venture Capital Journal that the company was not expecting to raise a Series A so soon after the seed round closed, but in-bound interest in the company was high. She said she knew or had met some of the investors in the latest round previously, but noted that the funding was done virtually.

“Investors and entrepreneurs are all adapting to the virtual meetings pretty quickly,” Qu said. “The key is to be direct and cut to the chase. That’s one of my lessons for making virtual meetings more efficient.”

When the company launched in February, Run the World was initially working on about 20 events. But then in March many regions instituted shelter-in-place orders and companies enforced travel bans under the pandemic. Run the World has since helped to create more than 2,000 events in under three months, taking place in more than 40 countries. Qu said the company has also grown from 10 employees to 30 and has experienced 100x customer growth.

She said the Series A funding will help the start-up scale worldwide and target new growth areas outside of events, such as catering to professional groups which rely on social events.

‘Virtual handshake’

Connie Chan, a16z general partner, previously told VCJ she met Qu at Facebook and invested in her start-up before the coronavirus outbreak. Chan said she had been looking for a solution to hosting live events when she came across Run the World, which she likens to a hybrid of Zoom video, Eventbrite ticketing, Twitch interactivity and LinkedIn networking.

Run the World helps organizers put on events online, which the company says on average can reduce the costs of an in-person, physical event by 90 percent. Qu said the platform includes a “virtual handshake,” in which a participant pre-records a 30-second greeting introducing themselves before they enter into a conversation on the platform. She said one of the more popular features of Run the World is their “Cocktail Party,” which helps to setup one-on-one interactions among users.

Among the events it has helped to run was Hack in Wuhan, a hackathon that focused on solutions to the coronavirus. The event included a demo day with Chan from a16z, and investors from GSR Ventures and Zhenfund serving as judges. GSR was one of the company’s seed investors.

Qu said she is seeing a lot of adoption in the venture community and noted users include GGV Capital and Pear Ventures. GGV Capital is a participant in the company’s Series A, and Pear, which invested in the seed round, runs an accelerator and is known for hosting speakers, hackathons, dinners and other community activities.

Paul Willard, an angel in the seed round, doesn’t normally invest in consumer tech. But he said he was drawn to the company from meeting with the founders. He said Qu worked under him at Atlassian.

“I think there is a real case for doing conferences and not having to travel,” Willard said. He added that even after quarantines are lifted, he sees conferences turning into hybrid events, with some people attending in person while others would log in remotely.

“If people try conferences from Run the World under covid and find them useful and are able to make connections and the events are more convenient with less travel and at a lower cost, then post-covid I believe there will always be a hybrid of in-person and virtual conferences.”