Step Away from Hands-On Development and Step Into Leadership like Hopin

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This is a podcast episode titled, Step Away from Hands-On Development and Step Into Leadership like Hopin. The summary for this episode is: Johnny Boufarhat (Founder & CEO, Hopin) wasn’t always ready to be a leader. As the pandemic began shutting down virtual events, Hopin quickly became the best solution on the market. That meant acquisitions, fast growth, and new responsibilities. But the product wasn’t ready. And Johnny could no longer be hands-on building. He needed to step into his role as leader of a rapidly scaling, fully remote company.   Learn more: The Shake Up HubSpot Podcast Network Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Hybrid events and average cost per attendee
01:47 MIN
Hopin's growth trajectory
02:56 MIN
Fully remote, hybrid, and fully in-person - Whats the best path forward?
03:08 MIN
Why Johnny chose to focus on virtual events(pre-pandemic)
00:51 MIN
What to look for in hiring
03:42 MIN
What Johnny has learned from acquiring companies
00:41 MIN
Types of problems that might come up while onboarding(after an acquisition)
01:34 MIN

Johnny Boufarhat: I sometimes look at public executives or etc., it's like how do they build that confidence? Is the confidence really there or are they sitting at home thinking about all these things as well? I don't know. It's like all your decisions are like a combination of your upbringing and how you think about the world and I haven't seen how other people think about the world because I wasn't raised in their position. You're always missing something. Thank you for this therapy session. I'll-

Alexis Gay: I'll send you my bill later.

Speaker 3: The time, weather inaudible.

Alexis Gay: Welcome to The Shake Up. I'm Alexis Gay.

Brianne Kimmel: And I'm Brianne Kimmel.

Alexis Gay: Each week, we explore the business decisions that dare to be different and the leaders who are shaking up their industries.

Brianne Kimmel: You can follow us on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Alexis Gay: That's right, we're there ready to talk business. Hey, throw us a little five star review when you have a second, right Brianne?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, please do.

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Brianne Kimmel: And use our code, SHAKEUP, for$ 10 off any powerhouse pass. I'm excited for this conversation with Johnny.

Alexis Gay: Yeah, we've got a big episode today. So today we're going to talk with Johnny Boufarhat, the founder and CEO of Hopin, which is the online conference hosting platform. He founded the company just two years ago and today, it's already valued around$ 5. 5 billion. Also at 27. He's the UK's youngest billionaire.

Brianne Kimmel: We're going to talk about how Johnny is innovating in the virtual event space and managing a fully remote workforce. I'm excited for this conversation because for Hopin, when they initially got started and when I first heard about the company, they were a team of about four people and now, over the last year, they've become a team of about 800 people. Johnny is such a great person to talk about building and scaling a fully remote team because the majority of people that work at the company have never met each other in person.

Alexis Gay: That's so funny. Well, let's set the scene a little bit about why some of those things were able to take place because one of the big reasons why Hopin saw that growth, like a lot of remote companies, a lot of virtual events companies is that events were one of the biggest areas of business that were affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. So companies who ran conferences of all shapes and sizes were forced to find ways to take their events virtual. But before that, more than 70% of marketers didn't have a virtual event strategy. Does that surprise you or does that sound right to you?

Brianne Kimmel: It does surprise me. I hope that Johnny touches on this where historically companies have done webinars or they've had sort of on- demand content may be on YouTube or somewhere else. But this whole notion of how do you actually build community online and how do you bring customers and prospects and interesting, influential people together virtually has been something that's really been re- imagined during the pandemic.

Alexis Gay: Totally. But I will say that I think to your point about community building, that was already happening pre- pandemic. We see things like Discord, like Slack channels, different forums popping up. But as far as events and conferences online, that's something that it seems had a really pivotal shift during the COVID 19 pandemic. I had not attended a virtual event before that.

Brianne Kimmel: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. The one thing I was thinking about, though, and I know Johnny will talk about this is the nature of hybrid events and sort of how all industries have created new formats for people to either engage virtually or introduce maybe COVID safe in person elements.

Alexis Gay: Totally. Just to quickly define it. When you're talking about hybrid, you're talking about an event that has both a virtual attendance component and something in person, right?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah.

Alexis Gay: What's interesting to me about that is how we're going to see companies do that in a way that's engaging for both audiences. Because speaking from personal experience, it can be very different to engage online viewers and listeners than it is to engage viewers and listeners that are in person 10 feet away from you in an audience.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of pressure for companies today to operate like media companies or to have an entertainment component to their business where I talk to companies that are even one or two years in business, like they're an early stage startup and they're already thinking about well, at what point do we start our own podcast, when do we start investing in some of these large, expensive, high production value events because the bar is really high right now.

Alexis Gay: It's interesting. You mentioned that there's a big expense to a company for doing something like that. The average cost per attendee for a large virtual conference is$1,000-1, 500. That's for a virtual conference. That seems really high to me.

Brianne Kimmel: Okay. So that's surprises me. I'm pro- virtual conference from the perspective that it is very scalable. Once you record a lot of these conversations, you can upload them to YouTube, you can turn each conversation or Keynote or fireside chat into multiple blog posts. I think it can be very efficient from a cost standpoint.

Alexis Gay: I just had an idea. You know what companies should start doing? They should start hiring comedians to offer to punch up keynotes and presentations at these events. Because of our point about charisma and entertaining your audience. I'm available for hire.

Brianne Kimmel: You heard it first, Alexis Gay.

Alexis Gay: One of the things that we're Of course talking about today is the fact that Hopin can enable so much of what we're talking about. I wanted to quickly discuss how patently outrageous their growth trajectory has been, because I think it'll sort of set up the conversation that we're going to have with Johnny later. Brianne, you know the story really well. But in 2019, Hopin is founded. That is so recently. When people say 2019, I'm like cool, that just happened. In the same year Hopin saw 60% month on month growth and began fundraising. In 2020, they launched a seed round and then later, they raised a$ 40 million Series A. Brianne, what do you think about seed round to 40 million A round in the same year?

Brianne Kimmel: This is a very special company. I would say most investors would discourage companies to raise this much capital so quickly.

Alexis Gay: Right. So fast.

Brianne Kimmel: I am seeing firsthand where companies are choosing to hire fewer people and to scale in a more reasonable way. This is not the case with Hopin. They went from four people to now over 800 people. And so from the team size to the funding rounds, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, which speaks a lot to both the customer demand that they were seeing. A lot of it was accelerated by COVID. But I also think they... One thing that I've noticed time and time again, with this team is they're not afraid to say yes and to take on really big opportunities, even if they're not quite ready for it and that's a very unique circumstance.

Alexis Gay: I'm going to disagree a little bit, just a little bit. I don't think that's unique. What I think is unique is being able to actually deliver. I've seen plenty of companies say yes to everything that comes across their plate and do kind of a not so great job than actually fulfilling those orders.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, that's a great point.

Alexis Gay: Saying yes is great, but being able to actually deliver I think is where Hopin is separating itself from the pack. That's not the only thing that of course sets them apart in terms of their trajectory because after they raised the seed round in 2020, after they raised the$ 40 million series A in 2020, they raise a$ 125 million B round in 2020. What?

Brianne Kimmel: It wasn't a consensus sort of style of company building where Johnny did not fly to Silicon Valley, he's never been to Sand Hill Road, he's never met these investors in person. They don't have an office. Everyone is fully remote. We're starting to see clusters where they have kind of a larger emerging number of employees that live in New York or some in LA or many are based in the UK. But it's a fully remote team, which a year and a half ago sounded pretty crazy.

Alexis Gay: Totally. Just to add some context around the number of registered users. In the last eight months, it's gone from 5, 000 registered users to 3. 5 million. It's really wild. Okay. And then at the end of 2020, they launched Hopin Explore, which allows users to discover new events. Now, that's something that I think is super interesting because with a lot of events platforms, you see white labeling, you see a heavy virtual feature set, but you don't necessarily also see discovery.

Brianne Kimmel: From a lot of these recent decisions, it's clear that Hopin is making a strong consumer facing push. In the early days, they were a platform that were selling software to businesses and it was very much a B2B business model. Now, we're starting to see because they have such a large number of registered users, they're in a really unique position to build one- to- one relationships with consumers and people that have attended one Hopin event.

Alexis Gay: Yeah, that's smart. It's just a different approach. I think like Eventbrite tried to do this to an extent but it never... I have never felt like, " I'll go look at Eventbrite to see what's happening." Obviously, they're doing in person events, but even still, it always felt like discoverability for events was an afterthought, more so than a central feature. So I think that's very interesting. In 2021, 48, 000 events are hosted on Hopin.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, absolutely. It's great to see I mean, with 48, 000 events, many of them are also hosting repeat events as well. And so I think it's really disrupting the industry from the perspective that once you host one and see how scalable it can be, they're seeing companies actually fundamentally change their virtual event strategy and host more or they kind of keep increasing the stakes to keep iterating on this new format. The general take on conferences is that it's more of a corporate event. If you look at some of the largest in person events, many of them are more tied to what I would call maybe fandom where if you look at Comic- Con, if you look at VidCon, Twitch has their annual TwitchCon, these are people of all ages, of all interests. I think one thing that's interesting about Hopin is it's not just for corporate events, they're actually streaming a lot of major events for publications and for many of these large platforms that naturally have a broader consumer audience.

Alexis Gay: That's really interesting. Have you ever been to VidCon?

Brianne Kimmel: I've been to VidCon. I've also actually... I've been to the Star Trek convention, which I will say of all the things that I've been to, that was the most interesting event that I've ever been to.

Alexis Gay: What were the... Are you a Trekkie?

Brianne Kimmel: I'm not a Trekkie. It's one of these things where I am very interested in consumer trends and sort of where things are going. I've also been to Comic- Con. I think it's super fun to attend some of the industry talks. I think if you look at the Star Trek convention, like yes, you have super fans that will wait in line for hours just to get an autograph. You also have cast and crew and writers who have a lot to share and then it looks more like an industry specific conference as well.

Alexis Gay: Brianne, if you're a Trekkie, I'll support you. You can tell me that.

Brianne Kimmel: I'm a little bit more of a Star Wars fan, to be honest.

Alexis Gay: Okay. So let's talk a little bit about, Brianne, something that I know is near and dear to both of our hearts and something that Hopin is obviously crushing it at or at least so it would seem, we'll have to ask Johnny. But managing a fully remote workforce. This is a pretty hot topic. It's hot in the sense that everybody's talking about it. I don't know that it's a particularly new topic. I feel like this is, like I said, all anyone has been talking about for a year. But that's because it's incredibly, incredibly important. What do we think?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, there's still a lot of debate for even early stage companies where does it make sense and do you want to run the risk of having people working in different time zones? Do you want to run the risk of not being able to jump into the same room and whiteboard? Hopin's been able to do this and they've gone from a handful of employees and primarily, the founding team, to now over 800 people. And so behind the scenes, we're both ops nerds, their documentation and all of the systems that they have in place to make sure that the team is successful is really world class. I hope that at some point, they...

Alexis Gay: I bet it's gorgeous.

Brianne Kimmel: I really want them to just open source it all because I think this is going to be the company that really proves a lot of specifically investors wrong that quite frankly did not want to invest in remote teams.

Alexis Gay: Wow. Yeah, that's a really interesting point. I wish they would open it up. That would be so interesting. As an investor, are you equally as intrigued by companies that are fully remote, hybrid and fully in person or do you see one path as the best path forward?

Brianne Kimmel: It really depends on the nature of the team. I find that for founding teams that have previously worked together, they've already had that established relationship. Many of them are actually choosing to work in an office because that's what they know. They feel very comfortable working in person, they want to get the band back together. I think that's one specific type of company that I'm seeing consistently choose to build an office.

Alexis Gay: That makes sense.

Brianne Kimmel: When it comes to more hybrid or fully remote, it really comes down to the... I would say the ambition and the execution of the CEO. I think you have to be a very structured thinker, someone that is really good at consistently realigning the team to make sure that you're not losing time or there isn't confusion or a handful of people feel like the output of someone else on the team is lower than theirs.

Alexis Gay: Yes, yes, yes.

Brianne Kimmel: An interesting hot take is what if remote teams don't need to have culture defined in the way of happy hours and taking more time out of the day with your co- workers.

Alexis Gay: That is a hot take. But I've actually never heard someone even imply that it wasn't the most important part of running a business. Tell me more about that.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, so an interesting take here is for companies that are really clear on their company values, say you're solving climate change, say you're working on a problem where naturally people want to come work for you, because you're solving a problem that they care about and you're solving a big problem. For those companies, I'm not convinced that virtual happy hours or playing bingo or taking on all these extra hours is actually a good thing. If anything, maybe those employees would like to spend more time with their family or they'd like to pick up another hobby or there are things that they've been lacking in their personal lives that they haven't been able to fulfill in the last generation of corporate culture because they were commuting, because they had to stay after work and join team happy hours.

Alexis Gay: I think it's a really, really interesting idea. I think that's something that more companies should consider. I don't disagree with you. But to play devil's advocate, I think something I'm wondering about is how you can keep people really engaged on the problem you're solving and really excited to keep up that intense pace of work if there isn't something else for them other than being fulfilled by the work itself. But I guess what you're saying is, if you do a good job at rallying people around in a line set of values for the company and your mission, maybe you don't need it.

Brianne Kimmel: You may not have to work from the office or you may not have to do some of the traditional culture building activities because the team is really excited about the work that they're doing. And then outside of work, they get to have fun and make their own friends. If you're working remotely, the nice thing is you can have friends from different industries and kind of reconnect with your neighbors, which is exciting.

Alexis Gay: Can I read you a quote from Johnny from an interview he did where he talked about their hack for being fully remote?

Brianne Kimmel: Absolutely. I'd love to hear.

Alexis Gay: Okay. He said, " At Hopin, our big hack for remote is having a vibe team. It's a 10 person team that sits within our people organization and they're responsible for everything to do with bringing people together." And then he goes on to say that they're in charge of their all hands meeting, which they basically operate like a TV show. He said, " The content is amazing. We use StreamYard to create super high production value. We produce features with different teams, we play games using integrations we've built into Hopin. It's a real production, they work on each meeting for three or four days."

Brianne Kimmel: Wow. I would love to be the chief vibe officer. If there are any startups that are looking for a chief vibe officer, I mean, this is a dream job.

Alexis Gay: You would be a very good chief vibe officer. You would be very good at that. I think that if I were to have a vibes team, I would also want them to do things like release playlists every week, like good work playlist with the coolest new music without lyrics that you can work to.

Brianne Kimmel: Okay, so this is something that is an emerging trend that I'm seeing on investor updates where multiple companies that I've invested in, in their monthly update, they share a Spotify playlist where each person on the team shares their favorite song, they introduce a new artist.

Alexis Gay: Really?

Brianne Kimmel: I love just the level of creativity that's coming out of companies.

Alexis Gay: That's awesome.

Brianne Kimmel: Because realistically, if you haven't met someone in person like music is such a great way to get to know someone. I think there's a lot of like...

Alexis Gay: Is that because they're afraid people aren't going to read the investor updates and so they want something interesting in there?

Brianne Kimmel: That's true.

Alexis Gay: Investors read them. I'm assuming investors read them.

Brianne Kimmel: That's actually that's actually a really good point. That's a really good thing.

Alexis Gay: Not to be cynical. I'm sure every investor out there read every single investor update. It's just one thought is that maybe this is so people open the email.

Brianne Kimmel: That's a great point. It's funny to see... Speaking of investor updates, companies are getting super creative. I've joined a couple of remote cooking shows where if you have a highly international team, a great thing you can do with your team is let's get together and the first Thursday of every month or whatever cadence it may be, you have someone from a different country show you how to prepare their favorite dish. It's so heartwarming and so fun to get to know people on that level.

Alexis Gay: That's awesome. That's great. See, you would be a great chief vibes officer, I'm telling you. Okay. Brianne, when we come back, we are going to hear more from Johnny about how he's not only managing a fully remote acquisition based workforce at Hopin, but we'll also hear about the moment Johnny had to step away from coding so he could step into his role as CEO. All that and more coming up after the break. Today's episode is sponsored by those fine folks over at HubSpot. Managing conversations with prospects and customers and creating remarkable experience can be tough. HubSpot wants to change that. That's why they created a CRM platform that makes it easy to align across teams.

Brianne Kimmel: Oh, it's so much easier with HubSpot's unified system of record, all teams can create a better customer experience without missing a beat.

Alexis Gay: We love a unified system of record. We always say that. You can install live chat on your website and allow sales or support to get in touch with prospects directly.

Brianne Kimmel: Or send marketing emails on behalf of sales reps or customer success managers.

Alexis Gay: Not to mention, it allows prospects to book meetings with reps without wasting time.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, and best of all, teams can get access to all of the contact's history, so they can have more informed conversations with prospects and customers and design a better overall experience.

Alexis Gay: The result? All your customer people can align around the same goals consistently great customer journeys that drive growth and lifetime loyalty. Learn more about how you can scale your company without scaling complexity at Hubspot. com. We're back. While we might not be at a conference, we are interviewing remotely and wouldn't you know it? Today's interview is not only being done remotely, but it's with the man leading the charge. I am so excited for today's guest. He's the founder and CEO of Hopin, Johnny, welcome to The Shake Up.

Johnny Boufarhat: Thank you so much for having me, Alexis and Brianne.

Alexis Gay: Brianne, you want to kick things off?

Brianne Kimmel: Okay. Yeah, Johnny, we'd like to go all the way back to June 2019. That's a whole two years ago, when Hopin was just getting started. You're in your 20s, you're based in London, this was pre- pandemic, why virtual events?

Johnny Boufarhat: So I was very ill for about two years. I had stuck at home for the four years prior to that, but two years where I was recovering and I was reaching out to people on LinkedIn, I was a part of Slack communities. And I realized that when I would attend events, that's when I would meet more people who were interested in the same thing, that's how I built my community, that's how I networked. Because I didn't know anyone, I had just moved to London, only four years back and been there the whole time. The point being that I wanted to connect with people, I wasn't able to. I started to attend virtual events online and it didn't really matter if there was like 10,000 people or 30 people there. Like a webinar experience is pretty shit. And so for me, it was how do I actually get the networking and engagement at these events and that's where I started building Hopin.

Alexis Gay: That's awesome. I'd love to go back to the early days at Hopin. Obviously, Hopin, one of the fastest growing companies in history focusing in on those early days for a second, you as the founder are wearing a lot of hats. My understanding is that in addition to obviously running the business, you were also at that time writing the code and for every startup CEO, it seems like there comes a time when you need to step away from doing a lot of that hands- on work to start building the company and your own leadership skills. Can you tell me a little bit about what that moment was like for you?

Johnny Boufarhat: I don't want to say it was like one moment. Every single quarter had happened at Hopin. For me, it was like a huge learning curve that first moment that I realized that was when we hired our first engineers and I'm sitting there writing some code. Instead of like... And these are much better engineers than me and there's no one else doing the recruiting stuff, all these other things that are really important. It wasn't like I hadn't realized that. Maybe I was just afraid to do stuff I didn't know how to do. I think that's what naturally happens. I think everybody's kind of like... I've never done something, I'm not good at it. How do I even start? Now, ever since that moment because I saw the impact that I brought when I started to get into basically filling holes and wearing hats wherever I didn't fit, the first two or three months switching role for me, like I say, the first two months, I was in recruitment mode. We didn't have recruiters and I was just like, " Who can be a better recruiter than a CEO reaching out to someone on Twitter or on LinkedIn?" Actually, that's how we doubled in size so quickly. It was me filling that role in. And so and then I was doing more customer success stuff, because we didn't have customer success at the time. And so just moving throughout every role and every single time I was shit at the roll for a month and a half, then you figure out how to do it. And then again, you need to do something else, then you're shit at that for a bit. I think almost every part of the scaling of the business, you need to be thinking about am I actually bringing the right value here or is there some parts of the business that I should be doing or should be looking at more deeply than I perhaps don't like to look at or don't understand or whatever that is not getting as much love. I think for me, it was every few months.

Brianne Kimmel: You brought up a really interesting point around customer success. With Hopin, because these are live virtual events and because there are thousands of people on a single link, the stakes are pretty high. Was there ever a point when you thought, " We're not ready to work with a large company, we need to turn away some customers." How did you balance like what the product was capable of today, with some of the needs that were coming from even larger customers?

Johnny Boufarhat: I'll be completely transparent on this. The product when we launched it in February 2020 was not ready. We were planning to launch it in September 20, 2020 and we had this waitlist of 20, 000. We were doing this whole trendy thing of putting on a waitlist, emailing you.

Brianne Kimmel: Wow. Very trendy.

Johnny Boufarhat: Like superhuman- esque over at the store, like, " Let's do that."

Alexis Gay: Yeah, you've got to build the hype. Build a little hype.

Johnny Boufarhat: Yeah, build the hype. And so we had this huge viral chain because of that. But then it was like COVID happens and you realize that there's this opportunity. That's when we were like 14, 15 people. At that point, it's like the product's not ready but we have big companies wanting to use us because they've attended one event and they've said this is... They want the product or else they're going to go somewhere else to some shittier product. And so in our head was like we need to release as quick as possible. That's when the whole scaling thing happened like the hyperscale hiring like 20 people, me being the recruiter... But we were not ready. And we said yes to everything. When you asked me for the strategy, it was just like, " Yes." That was the strategy. But the point is that people weren't that demanding at the time. It was like COVID and Hopin was the best solution on the market. They didn't know what else there existed. We were the first ones. It's like networking features for virtual events, if you know what I mean. So it was like... Most customers are just onboarded.

Brianne Kimmel: The question that I have is fast forward to today, how big is the team? Because you went into this mode of yes, yes, yes, hire, hire, raise more money.

Alexis Gay: Yeah, great question.

Brianne Kimmel: How many people are on the team today?

Johnny Boufarhat: We're now 800 people.

Brianne Kimmel: What the fuck? That is so many people, Johnny.

Alexis Gay: You're literally like building the minivan while it's hurtling down the turnpike. And the minivan actually has 800 people in it.

Johnny Boufarhat: Yeah. And they're in 42 different countries, which is cooler. I love the accessibility part. It's really core to the mission at Hopin for sure.

Alexis Gay: So Johnny, I'm curious, how has what you look for changed from those really early hires to now we're talking about getting into almost a thousand people?

Johnny Boufarhat: Are they low ego? Those were the two biggest things that I looked for was low ego and ambitious. Because if you're ambitious enough, you're going to deal with the pace, you're not going to want to let people down, you're going to want to take ownership of as much as you can and that's what we needed at the time. The same thing with someone with a low ego. For example, I always asked like, " Name a time where basically you did something wrong and tell us how it ended up?" And you'll get someone to answer that question. And they somehow have to say phase throughout it. Even when you ask them something they did wrong, it's like... This was the major problem. But in the end, it was someone else's fault. But I should have also let them know that they were doing something wrong. For me, that was one of the most important questions and I think it made a huge difference when we're hiring the initial starters in the culture later on. Today, when I'm looking for executives, it's similar questions and it's similar like with a low ego and ambitious, but it's also very much looking for how people manage and what is their experience in large teams, what are their experience in companies that went through hyperscale. It's much more about asking, can they organizationally and based on scale, can they survive and excel?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah. High ambition, low ego. How do you stay a high ambition low ego person yourself?

Johnny Boufarhat: For me, it was naturally about the upbringing, but it also was... I came to a realization when I got super sick that I'm kind of lucky to be in the situation I was in. I was super, super ill. But I was also lucky that I was able to support myself because I was able to get a degree, etc, etc. And a lot of people don't have that opportunity. It's the same thing today. I could go outside and get hit by a bus and that's how life works. The ego part is like... Just the realization for me that, we're all the same, we're all mortal, we're all... There's no difference between me and someone else other than perhaps I got a little bit luckier and I made a few different choices, but once you realize that it's probability, I think you'll feel a little bit more low ego about life if that makes sense. And then from a high ambition standpoint, I'm ambitious because I want to make an impact on the world. Money doesn't do much. A lot of people realize that. A lot of people don't realize that because they never get enough money to realize it. So ambition has to be something that you're passionate about, can't be money, it can't be anything like that. For me, I'm passionate about accessibility. I was super sick, I was stuck at home, I didn't have any opportunity. At the same time, my parents were originally from Lebanon. I had family that was raised and I was born and raised in Lebanon, stayed there and look at all the opportunities I had afforded because I was lucky enough to move and migrate to Australia. Whereas a lot of people that I know are just as smart, just as good as people and just want to make as much of an impact, didn't get those opportunities just because of location. So for me, I know Hopin can make one of the biggest impacts in the world in regards to opportunities and location. That's why we're in 42 different countries, because we don't want to force someone to move to San Francisco or London to get a job. We want them to be wherever they were in the world where they want to be. At the same time, the products that we build as well, from an events perspective. It connects people around the world. From no matter where you are in the world, you should be able to attend an event, get the same opportunities, network with the same people regardless of where they are. That's something that we're super passionate about and that's where my ambition comes from, at least.

Brianne Kimmel: Well, it's amazing. Because to put this into context, this has been achieved in two years. You've gone out, you've started a company, you now have a team of over 800 people. What has changed about you in these two years?

Johnny Boufarhat: I think actually, I've probably become a little bit more self critical over time. You always feel like there's more you could do and there's more responsibility. And it's real responsibility. When you're at an earlier stage in the company, there are four or five people working for you, they're excited, they know it's a high risk startup environment and they're like, " Whatever." And you kind of feel less risk. You're like, " We're going for it, we're swinging in here together." When you're 800 people and then it's like equity packages and some of them have kids and they're taking a huge risk. Every decision, you have to weigh each decision. And you also have to think about like, you can never make the right decision as a CEO, because you're always upsetting someone, if that makes sense, from internal cultural perspective. And even if you say, " We're a fully remote company. We hire people from everywhere. We're going to have no office." You're still going to upset people no matter what it is you decide. It's a lot more pressure, that's for sure. So you naturally become more self critical, self conscious, I think. I sometimes look at all public executives, or etc, it's like, how do they build that confidence? Is the confidence really there or are they sitting at home thinking about all these things as well? I don't know. It's like all your decisions are like a combination of your upbringing and how you think about the world. I haven't seen how other people think about the world because I wasn't raised in their position. You're always missing something. And thank you for this therapy session. I'll ask inaudible.

Alexis Gay: I'll send you my bill later.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah. I was going to say though, the great thing about Hopin is with 800 and more people on the team, you do have a lot of smart people around you. I think that you've done an amazing job of bringing in a Chief Business Officer, a head of corporate development. In many ways, the company itself doesn't look like a startup that's been around for two years. It looks and operates like almost a public company, which is really impressive.

Alexis Gay: Was that a conscious decision?

Johnny Boufarhat: Absolutely.

Alexis Gay: Or did that just sort of happen?

Johnny Boufarhat: No, that was absolutely a conscious decision. You hire people to get you to the next stage. We scaled as quickly as possible. But at every stage, we hire people that hired or promoted people, if they were doing a great job at it. That could scale us for the next six months to a year.

Alexis Gay: Well, let's talk about that a little bit. I want to learn more about how you vet an acquisition. It's my understanding that a lot of your workforce has been acquired. Is that right?

Johnny Boufarhat: A lot is I think, is like 8%.

Brianne Kimmel: How do you define or how do you identify people that you want to work with? Considering that these acquisitions have been done during a pandemic and they have been fully remote teams. Are there certain things that you look for from a culture standpoint, that makes them a good fit for Hopin?

Johnny Boufarhat: The key thing from a personal standpoint is the flexibility, because when you're acquiring a company, if they're not flexible, if they're not flexible to the new styles, to the new setups, the new movement, their new goals, then you're never going to be able to acquire it. If they're coming in saying, like if I had to sell a company, basically sell them to come in and say, " Hey, you're going to get everything you ever wanted. It's going to be exactly how you want it. We're going to leave you alone." And then the moment I asked for something that makes the entire brand better or whatever or the moment we need to make a shift and they're inflexible, then the acquisition went completely away. It's about understanding if someone's really flexible and really open and low ego about these things, because... I don't mind if someone's strongly opinionated because opinions are good, let's argue but at least if you're flexible, it means that if an opposing view is strong enough and makes sense enough and you're convinced of it, you're going to actually do it.

Alexis Gay: Totally. Well, having recently acquired your fifth company, I think that's right. Is that right?

Johnny Boufarhat: Yes.

Alexis Gay: Okay. It could be who knows? We could be on seven or eight, by the time this podcast comes out. What do you think is your personal biggest learning from the first one to the most recent one?

Johnny Boufarhat: The biggest learning for me is that you have to really, really keep a flexible mindset when acquiring a business because they're going to have different setups, they are going to have different cultures, they are going to have a different understanding of ways to work. You're going to have to... It's the equivalent of adoption. They've already built their view of the world and you're trying to enforce, push them into your view or, let's say, merge your views together, which again, it's a flexibility thing. I think that's a mindset even for people that we hire, because for us, it's like we change so much every month. And so it's like we need to be able to be flexible and take on these new challenges.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, and this was something that I experienced firsthand at Zendesk as well. Creates a lot of complexities even internally. Johnny, the question I have for you is post- acquisition, what does the process look like to become a Hopineer? Is there an onboarding session? Is there someone in ops that's like driving this post acquisition integration?

Alexis Gay: I love this question.

Brianne Kimmel: What actually happens when a company gets acquired by Hopin?

Alexis Gay: Tell us, do you get a hat? Do you get a T- shirt? Do you have your photo taken?

Johnny Boufarhat: You get all of that. You get all of that. You get all these cool swag and you get... Sometimes we send merged flag as well. So it's like, Hopin Loves StreamYard hats type thing.

Alexis Gay: Cute. I think we need like, The Shake Up loves Hopin. What about that?

Johnny Boufarhat: That's cool. But the biggest thing is you're on boarded like an employee actually. Because you have to remember remote is very different from... When acquired StreamYard, we didn't have to convince engineers to move from Vancouver to London. They're still working in the same environment. So we just onboarded them like we would anyone. Our culture is to take people with their cultures and put them in Hopin and keep your culture but have respect and have goals together.

Brianne Kimmel: Wow.

Johnny Boufarhat: That's literally like... We have a respect around Hopin. Now, I'm sure a lot of companies have these things about like, "Don't talk about politics." For us, it's like talk about politics, but just talk to each other with respect. You have to be able to respect each other's differences and especially when you're in 42 different countries. So when we're onboarding someone like what is a Hopineer? A Hopineer is a person or is it someone that's coming in to Hopin with their separate culture but blending in and finding the right goals, etc. It really feels like the United Nation. I think that's something that we've seen in almost 10 of the last 50 direct feedbacks that I've read about the company after someone's been onboarded, they said like United Nations was two words used in 10 of them.

Brianne Kimmel: Wow.

Johnny Boufarhat: It's really interesting from that perspective.

Alexis Gay: Post- acquisition, you're sending them the swag, you're onboarding your new Hopineers, adorable name by the way, did not say that earlier. And then do problems ever start to come up? What kinds of problems are you seeing come up again and again and how are you rising to meet those?

Johnny Boufarhat: It's a great question. To be honest, I don't want to underestimate it because I might look stupid in a year from now when there's a lot of problems, but the pre- acquisition and the post acquisition is significantly easier remotely. So the pre- acquisition, convincing someone to move, I don't have to convince their loved ones if they're with... That London's... Trust me the weather's crap, but it's a great place to live and they used to live wherever you are. At the same time post acquisition, you're just onboarding them like you would online. Like we're not playing musical chairs to make sure to sit next to the same person anymore. Or like we're not removing like, " Oh, this is the person I always share my hooks with," or whatever and this is the person I... Everything is online, everything's remote. You're added to a new team, but it's not like, " When you're added to a new team, I'm on floor seven now. Oh, shit." It's completely different. I think one day, there'll be... We'll maybe talk more about our experiences with acquisition when we have finalized it because I'm saying all this stuff for now and we're still in the honeymoon period. It's only been one year of acquisitions. In the second or third year, I might be saying, " Remote acquisitions don't work, don't do them." But for now, opposite. 100% anyone that asked me about it, I say that being remote allows you to do more acquisitions more efficiently and also more convincingly because it can operate in the way they want. It's only about sharing the same goals and merging the same ideas.

Brianne Kimmel: Totally.

Alexis Gay: Yeah. I think Brianne has our final question for you.

Brianne Kimmel: I do. Johnny, this wouldn't be a business podcast if we didn't ask for your predictions. As the world is starting to open up, we're starting to see some hybrid events, we're seeing people meeting in person. I know some conferences are trying or attempting or planning to be on site later this year. How do you think about the next couple of years at Hopin and some of the ways that events are going to change over time?

Johnny Boufarhat: Yeah, it's a great question. What I suspect will happen will be similar to what Shopify did in eCommerce, one product, basically, because people want one system of record, eventually, for events, i. e. the data piece of events becomes too important. That's part of our vision that you shouldn't be able to... If you're hosting a conference and then you host two more events after that, all the data about that attendee who went to that conference, who participated in a few things, what did they watch, what do they like, all this sort of stuff, all these interests should be plugged in to the platform and one system of record, what poll they answered. All of these sort of things. What I suspect you know, you're going to see a Hopin be a platform that's not only doing virtual events, also connecting you. We already have the on site technology piece. So you QR code, you're scanning. But anything around events, any type of event that around the world should be Hopin's that's running it, just from a technology standpoint. We want to be an open ecosystems, so you can build on top of us and all that sort of stuff. We have great integrations with Slide and Kahoot! for trivia and all that sort of stuff. But the point is that, I think there's one product for events is going to give a lot of customers a lot more value through the data piece, that everything will be stored and all these intents will be driven and shown for people to use on multiple events. At the same time, what you probably see in... That's where it's going in a year or two, all these data orientated systems for events, but I think in three to five years, I think we'll be talking about because I think VR and AR are getting to the point where I don't think they're in here, they're now but everybody always says every 5 years from now, everything's going to be out in VR and AR but I do think like 2025 hopefully plus, even events will... VR and AR will play a large role in events.

Alexis Gay: Wow, that's awesome. Okay, Brianne, take note. We could do a live version of The Shake Up in VR. It would be like we're right there with you.

Johnny Boufarhat: To some extent.

Brianne Kimmel: That sounds fun.

Alexis Gay: Johnny, this has been such an absolute pleasure. Thank you one more time for coming on The Shake Up. We really enjoyed it today.

Johnny Boufarhat: Thank you so much. It's such a pleasure to be invited to speak with you guys.

Alexis Gay: Cheers. Hey, Brianne, are you ready to do that thing we practiced?

Brianne Kimmel: Oh my gosh, is it time? I'm ready.

Alexis Gay: Okay. Three, two, one. crosstalk Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. Pretty good. Today's episode was written and produced by Matthew Brown. Production support comes from Lauren Shield. Our engineer is William Lowe, with research from Corey Broccolini and special thanks to Kyle den Hoff and Lisa Toner.

Brianne Kimmel: Word of mouth is the best way to help people discover our little podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts.

Alexis Gay: And don't forget to leave a review, to let other people know how awesome we are.

Brianne Kimmel: We have some amazing guests coming up this season that you won't want to miss.

Alexis Gay: See you next time.


Johnny Boufarhat (Founder & CEO, Hopin) wasn’t always ready to be a leader. As the pandemic began shutting down virtual events, Hopin quickly became the best solution on the market. That meant acquisitions, fast growth, and new responsibilities.

But the product wasn’t ready. And Johnny could no longer be hands-on building. He needed to step into his role as leader of a rapidly scaling, fully remote company.