Posted February 27, 2020

When it comes to social and business interaction, the whole world has moved online. We dial into meetings with Zoom, we chat with our friends on apps, and we connect with business contacts on Linkedin. Yet conferences have not seen technology disruption beyond a second-screen experience. What if you could reap the benefits of an in-person gathering—the ability to meet interesting speakers, network with like-minded people, and soak up the knowledge of a curated slate of experts—without the perennial drawbacks: the cold convention centers, the misplaced business cards, and the hassle of travel and parking? Could there be a better way to connect online with like-minded people?

What could the future of live online events look like?

  • A simple, intuitive platform with a UX more akin to a social network than a typical conference app.
  • Speakers beaming in from all over the world, slashing travel and environmental costs.
  • Participants joining on their phones, able to engage fully without being chained to their computers all day.
  • Streaming participant-to-participant interaction that eases awkwardness and yields better returns.
  • Real-time participant-to-speaker feedback that empowers speakers to give their best performances.
  • And, finally, better monetization tools for conference organizers—often the unsung heroes—that enable them to make more money by eliminating burdensome costs like venues, chairs, lighting, insurance, and allowing a variety of ticket upsells.

For months, I had been looking to invest in a stranger-to-stranger online interaction platform that would allow for monetization, but wasn’t a dating app. When cofounders Xiaoyin Qu and Xuan Jiang, both former Facebookers, showed me Run The World, I knew that vision had arrived. Like a hybrid of Zoom video, Eventbrite ticketing, Twitch interactivity, and LinkedIn networking, Run The World brings like-minded people together with live online events. It’s a digital space where participants can learn from experts and connect in a way that feels natural, safe, and fun, while maintaining the professional and personal connection. 

With a user interface as slick as any social product, Run The World is a new way to find or nurture your community. If you have a following or an area of expertise, you, too, can hold an online gathering and get paid for it—even if you’ve never run a conference in your life. It’s a win-win-win for organizers, speakers, and attendees alike.

You may be thinking: tech might be able to replace conference speeches, but can it really recreate the happy hours, private coffee breaks, and everything that happens in between? That’s exactly where Xiaoyin and Xuan’s social product DNA shines. Imagine if every time you walked up to someone to introduce yourself, you could first see their bio and tailor your conversation opener. Better yet, imagine if the platform one day helped match you with like-minded peers, eliminating the fear of rejection and cultivating better conversations all around. (As for the open bar part—there’s probably nothing anyone can do to replicate that.)

Run The World has already powered dozens of conferences and hosted attendees from more than 30 countries. Many major physical conferences have been canceled amid the unfortunate COVID-19 virus outbreak. Run The World has responded to this crisis by waiving all set-up fees for any conference affected by virus (details here). Next week, they’ll be hosting the biggest hackathon for developers around the world to come to the aid of Wuhan. 

This is indicative of a larger trend—in the last few weeks, I’ve already witnessed online live videos replacing a lot of previously in-person interactions in China:

  • Universities and schools are livestreaming their classes.
  • Xiaomi canceled its traditional Mi10 conference, but replaced it with a successful online event.
  • Car dealerships are livestreaming car sale events.
  • Bookstores struggling from a dearth of foot traffic are livestreaming book signing events.
  • The China Unicorn Conference held an online conference after canceling its physical one. That online event accommodated 23,742 attendees, 10x higher attendance than previous years.
Next week, Run The World will be hosting the biggest hackathon for developers around the world to come to the aid of Wuhan.

When we quietly invested in Run The World last year, we felt they were on to something. But the acceleration and variety of uses that we’ve seen in the past few weeks alone has been absolutely delightful and surprising. At the end of last year, a wildlife nonprofit raised over $30,000 by livestreaming sessions of elephants in the wild. Podcasters are selling tickets to recording sessions, authors are selling tickets for online book signing events, and there’s already another online animal birthday bash in the works! Of course, the platform has also been used for professional conferences, some of which saw online networking persist even after the conference sessions concluded. The possibilities are endless. Today, we’re excited to announce our seed investment in Run The World. We hope it will bring people together in a new and fruitful way, and allow everyone to find their tribe online.

 Special thanks to my partner, Li Jin, for being part of the early Run The World beta test.