By Lauren Arena

When Hong Kong-based start-up EventXtra was listed as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 to watch 2020, co-founders Sum Wong and Angus Luk thought this would be their year.

Then, coronavirus happened.

Not willing to let a good crisis go to waste, Wong and Luk set to work to launch a virtual exhibition platform at the beginning of the year and have since seen business skyrocket, with a 300 per cent growth in revenue in just six months.

Here’s how they did it.

Q. EventXtra is an event management platform. How has your business changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

A. Most of the offline events in Q1 and Q2 were cancelled or postponed, and we noticed more and more events moving online.

Our business was quite heavily affected in Q1 since we still had not launched any solutions for the virtual world. Then we launched Virtual Exhibition, which allows large-scale offline events to move online, and the requests started rolling in.

On average, we are now receiving 30-40 inquiries per day for virtual exhibitions/events. These requests come from different sectors including IT, media and HR, as well as exhibition organisers, universities, and event agencies.

Based on search volume data, traffic for virtual exhibitions has increased 10-fold since March.

Q. How have customer enquiries changed since the outbreak?

A. Most of event organisers have no idea how to run a virtual event. Usually they asked about how others are doing it. Then the conversation moves to how to sell virtual booths, and how to attract traffic to virtual events.

Therefore, we’ve gradually created more educational content and also set-up teams to help our clients manage the virtual event process.

Q. What’s the secret to engaging audiences online?

A. Definitely direct video call. It acts as a virtual face-to-face interaction, which is great to facilitate a lot of conversation and even real business deals within a virtual exhibition.

Unlike Zoom, in our virtual exhibition attendees can first visit the booths, and once they find their interested parties, they can directly text message and even video call the person on the other side. It facilitates a virtual meeting and allows real business to take place, even if the two parties are on opposite sides of the globe.

Q. What advice would you give to an event manager looking to host their first virtual event?

A. 1. Practice makes perfect. Rehearse at least twice for all webinar content, and trial new devices. The virtual environment is something new to a lot of speakers.

2. Pre-record the content if it involves a lot of overseas speakers.

3. Find all trusted partners who have done it before and can share their experience and learning with you.

4. Prepare at least six weeks in advance.

5. Focus on the customer/attendee experience, instead of the layout, because that’s what really matters.

Q. Where do you see the future of events — is virtual the answer, or will hybrid formats prevail?

A. Very likely hybrid. After trying virtual events, a lot of organisers or corporates said they were surprised about the ROI. Quite a lot of them find that they generate more leads with lower cost compared to physical events. Since many of them have already passed the learning curve, a lot of them mentioned they would like to keep doing it.

But face-to-face interaction will always remain valuable, especially for relationship building. I’ve heard marketers say that from now on, they will invest at least a third or half of their resources doing virtual.

EventXtra is a Hong Kong-based event management software solution co-founded in 2014 by Sum Wong and Angus Luk.