Conversations: JR Sherman on Series C Funding and a Massive Mindset Shift on Event Format
24 Sep 2021 | Jessica F. Lillian | 5 minutes
The Conversations series features candid conversations with RainFocus executives and other thought leaders. You’ll find discussion of breaking news and trends, invaluable industry tips, and commentary on the biggest topics of current interest to events and marketing leaders.
In this post, we sat down with JR Sherman, chief executive officer at RainFocus, to talk about the company’s recent closure of a Series C funding round, what clients can expect to gain from it, and why the savviest companies aren’t thinking about virtual events the same way anymore.
First, what’s the background on KKR and JMI? What do they tend to look for in companies they invest in?
JR Sherman: Our first round of funding from JMI was in 2018. In general, they look for founder-led emerging high-growth businesses in the SaaS space. They like companies with strong leadership that have found an opportunity or niche where they can speed to the front and grow. As a partner, they’ve been outstanding in giving us greater access to high-level recruiting, expertise within certain functional areas, and networking opportunities with clients and prospects.
KKR, our newest investor, is one of the top alternative investment firms in world, with a long history of private equity and growth investments in leading technology companies. They are not partial to SaaS vs. non-SaaS companies or specific services or industries. Their technology growth team, which invested in RainFocus, looks to back organizations with the leading offering in a segment, strong financials, and high growth. Through KKR, we have access to an extensive support network to help with global operations, account growth, recruiting, regulatory compliance, and consulting.
Can you say more about these international plans for RainFocus?
JR Sherman: Many of the events we execute for our clients were already international, and that accelerated during the pandemic. Pre-COVID, we had event attendees in about 30 countries, and during the pandemic, that has grown to more than 167 countries where people are simultaneously consuming localized content from our clients on our platform.
In the events world, you can be contracted out of the U.S. and deliver for clients globally, or vice-versa. We are now expanding our ability to support international clients locally and grow those relationships, especially in EMEA and APAC.
One area of focus for the investment is integrations. How important are these in the modern martech stack and beyond?
JR Sherman: Integrations really are a pivotal aspect of RainFocus’ advantage and differentiation. Enterprise integrations are a key factor in our recent accelerated growth in the enterprise segment. With RainFocus every single event, experience — whether a small in-person seminar or a large virtual event — is part of the event ecosystem and contributes to an informed customer journey.
All experiences and behaviors are tracked in real time and mapped back to an individual or account customer journey. Secure and bi-directional integrations make events more effective for marketing operations and martech teams, and they give our clients’ customers a seamless, consistent, familiar brand experience. Regardless of the event type or format, these customers are served up content that is personalized and recommended based on their historical preferences, behaviors, and buying cycle stage.
Speaking of event types, what do you foresee as uncertainty from the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to cause organizations to modify their event plans?
JR Sherman: People tend to talk about three different event types: virtual, in-person, and hybrid. I humbly say we have transcended those definitions. If you deploy an experience platform that offers a ubiquitous, consistent experience tied to the martech stack, marketers can look at all their prospects and customers and see where they are in their various buying cycles. They can then map the optimal content to the right individuals based on their preferences and the buying cycle.
For example, with an initial prospect, a broad virtual event or experience may be best to inform them and build awareness for your solution. For an existing customer who is looking to expand their relationship and purchase additional services or software, an in-person, more intimate personalized experience with in-person sales and technical experience might be most appropriate to close business.
The point being, having a platform that offers flexible delivery mechanisms for targeted content distribution mitigates concerns that are beyond our control, such as COVID-19 shutdowns and travel limitations. These risks simply get integrated into the platform choice, and ultimately the event strategy.
If a shift is needed, it is completed without requiring new technology or new vendors, and ensures a consistent experience for the individuals consuming the content. Limitations driven by an unforeseen challenge become simply a factor that enables or disables certain aspects of content delivery within an experience.
This sounds like a major shift in thinking: from seeing pandemic-related restrictions as “forcing” certain event protocols and considering virtual events “inferior” to making event format decisions that are driven by customers. Is this catching on in the industry?
JR Sherman: As a company, you need a platform that gives you the confidence to develop your content and be able to deliver it at the right time to the right targets, in any format — whether that format is determined by the customer preferences or the pandemic, or both.
Smart teams at forward-thinking organizations used their experiences during the pandemic, and their shift to virtual events as an opportunity to truly measure attendee engagement, understand different format preferences, and to see where each format best fits in a participant’s buying cycle. In the RainFocus platform, we’ve gathered broad and deep engagement data over the past 18 months. We see participants in different buying segments and different stages of their buying cycles who prefer to consume content in different ways. We can use all this engagement insight to help our clients build out their portfolios and pivot with confidence whenever needed.
Finally, if someone reading this is a client, what can they look forward to because of this investment?
JR Sherman: We are going to grow. We’re hiring ahead in all our client success teams, and of course investing in the growth engine. What’s especially important to our clients is that we will double our R&D resources, to accelerate innovation in the platform and expand our market lead. We’re also looking to simplify implementation and ease of use so our clients and our own client success teams can more easily deploy RainFocus across events of any size in any environment.
Virtual is here to say, and it’s informing how we all communicate with customers and prospects. As physical events are woven back into the event portfolio we will see infinite combinations of content, virtual events, webinars, live conferences and seminars, etc. In uncertain times, you need a platform that gives you security, flexibility and confidence. That’s the foundation for building your event marketing portfolio confidently for 2022 and beyond.