Episode #491: How DoubleDutch pivoted twice, raised $20m and amassed 500,000 users while making it look easy – with co-founder Lawrence Coburn

Events are big business. In fact, they are the second largest corporate spend behind marketing. If you have been to an event in the last 3 years you will know that mobile has infiltrated this industry in every facet – from scheduling to managing to streaming to immediate feedback and much much more. If there ever was the perfect mix of transient social, content and place it would be events and mobile has emerged as the perfect suitor.

Right in the center of this transformation is San Francisco-based DoubleDutch and their co-founder Lawrence Coburn. It has been over 3 years since I last sat down with Lawrence – back when they were a platform for building social location apps. Since then the transformation has been fierce and fast. You will hear about how they ended up as the leading social solution for events, how they landed their first massive events, how they found their niche, why they decided to shelve two successful enterprise products to focus on events and much more.

My takeaway is simple on this one: In the last 3 years, Lawrence has made the tough decisions to move his company into a position of success. Remaining complacent is a hazard when things around you move so quickly. This doesn’t mean you change strategies every time something new comes along, it means you have to be listening in the right places for the right indications and then be resolute and confident in your decision making process.

Enjoy!



Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. What does DoubleDutch do today 2:00
2. How did DoubleDutch decide on events? 2:50
3. What was the process you went through to focus on one line of business? 6:50
4. What was the internal impact of this decision? 10:30
5. How do investors impact your ability to do your job and make tough decisions? 12:00
6. What did you do with the other 2 products? 16:00
7. What is the mobile philosophy you subscribe to? 16:50
8. What is the percentage of users per event needed to make an impact? 18:50
9. How do you market and sell the service? 19:55
10. Are event apps disposable? 22:00
11. How do you use data to scale? 23:45
12. How many features are too many for event apps? 28:20
13. How did DoubleDutch determine features to implement? 30:45
14. Where to go now: Upstream or downstream? 33:00
15. What are the things that get you excited outside of DoubleDutch 35:30

Raw Transcript

Rob: Hello everybody, and welcome to Untethered.tv. I’m your host and founder Rob Woodbridge and this is the place you come to each and every week to find out what is going on in the mobile landscape, the pervasive computing landscape. Probably anything that has to do with a device that you’re carrying in your pocket, or the screen you’re looking at right now. And welcome back. So September 2010 I sat down with a guy by the name of Lawrence Coburn, who was the CEO of a company called Double Dutch. We got him back again over three years later. This is a company that now has a focus on the product in the events space. It is a social, local, mobile application. We’re going to get into what Double Dutch is, but it’s such a great path from where they were three years to where they are today. And where they are today, they have over 500,000, that’s over half a million participants who use their product and over 1,000 events. They’re doing a 40% quarter over quarter growth. They have customers like Cisco, Amex, BoxSAP, just to name a few. Their revenue, they say, is deep into the millions. They have done three business transformation, not pivots, business transformations, and they’ve raised almost 20 million dollars. 19 and a half million dollars, and that is just, I swear to God, that is just in the time between these interviews, in the last three years. It has been tumultuous, but it has been a path and a strategic path, and here is Lawrence Coburn, CEO of Double Dutch. Welcome, Lawrence, thanks for coming back.

Lawrence: Thanks for having me back, Rob, after all these years.

Rob: It’s like having a reunion, man. I have watched what you guys have been doing forever. We cover you guys on This Week in Location Based Marketing every once in a while, as you’ve been going through this path. But for those who have not have the time to go and watch that piece of art, which was our very first interview, from September 2010, tell people what you guys do now. And then we’re going to take a step back and figure out how you got here from where we were. You, yourself, said in that interview you’re the FourSquare of the enterprise. Man, it was a different world back then. So, what are you guys now?

Lawrence: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s pretty easy to explain what we focus on and what we do now. If you’ve ever been to a conference or a trade show or an event, you’ve probably been handed a paper guide that has the agenda, the speakers, the exhibitors. We take that content, we wrap it in a pretty robust social layer, we put it on the phone and then we measure the engagement. So, we’re basically digitizing that event space.

Rob: Pretty simple, right?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Rob: Like this is…

Lawrence: Absolutely.

Rob: And it’s such a logical outcome. Get rid of the paper, put it on the device, everybody is carrying those. But has that always been the vision, has it always been that easy to see?

Lawrence: Yeah, I mean, I think it all goes back to 2010. I like to tell people it wasn’t so much a pivot as a focus. We had a couple of ideas that were inspiring us back then. Literally, I was running another company and we were flat and we were dependent on Google for all of our traffic, and one day we came into work and 30% of our traffic was gone. Google had changed the rules, and we were dead in the water. So what we did at that point, it wasn’t so much of a divine inspiration thing, it was like mid-
2010, we’re running out money, we know we had about 6 months of life, so we go into a conference room.

At first we went to a conference room, then we went to a bar. But first we went into the conference room and we drew there big circles on the wall. We drew mobile, we drew social and we drew enterprise. And that was sort of how we identified where we wanted to be. We saw those as three giant macro trends that were all growing really really fast, and we felt that if we could insert ourselves in some of these rising tides, there was going to be a good outcome. So way back then, 2010, we had three initial ideas. and this is where the bar comes in. So we started going to a bar after work and talking about what are some different categories and corners of the org chart that were ripe for disruption by these three mega trends? It really was mobile, social, cloud.

So on the mobile side, it was pretty easy. We started to think about collaboration, we started to think about sort of that FourSquare for the enterprise, people checking in about what they’re working on, where they are, so there’s sort of, this internal collaboration network. It was sort of yammer for the phone, these kinds of things.

The second thing we were looking at were really mobile sales. So the idea was that, at the time, it was very hard for a sales person to update their sales force record from their phone. It was really like, sales force had taken their approach, taken this giant database, this list of fields, and jamming it into a tiny footprint and asking the sales rep to go through and update all these fields on their phone, and we felt there was probably a better way to do that usually contextual triggers, like location, like time, like calendar, all these things like behavior so that we could use the small footprint on the phone to deliver the right field, the right time based on things that the sales guy didn’t have to worry out. That was the second premise.

The third one was too obvious not to explore and that as the event space because we knew that people spend a lot of money at events. We knew that at these events nobody was walking around with their laptops open. It just didn’t make any sense at all. So that it really wasn’t a rocket science thing. It was like, wow, there’s a lot people walking around. They’re there to meet each other. Maybe the smart phone could be helpful for that.

This was mid 2010 so what we did as a five-person startup is we actually went out we built prototypes for all three. We built this collaboration app, that we called Pride. We built this mobile CRM that we called Hive and then we built this event app that we called Flock. The funny thing about the event side is that people wanted to pay us from day one for this app.

There was a lot of demand from customers like Ted, from Cisco. These were big brands, but looking back then we’re like we’re a Silicon Valley company. No Silicon Valley company worth its salt works in the event business. Of course, we’re going to be a CRM. We’re going to be a collaboration app because we’re software guys. We write software for interesting software problems. We held the line with that position. We were investing all this time.

Yeah, we were sharing code between these three apps. It wasn’t like they were three distinct products. No matter what we did, the event business was growing. We basically got to a point that we had to make a decision.

I’m going to let you jump in and kind of steer me there, but it sort of gives you a little bit of the context.

Rob: It seems like that those are three such different businesses that you guys were getting in at the same time. Was it hard to lop off something like Hive or Pride? Was it hard to do these because it seemed like there was a little bit of traction you were getting, but enterprise is a tough son of a bitch to get into.

Lawrence: It is. I remember, I’m going to name some names, I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this or not…

Rob: It’s all right. It’s fine.

Lawrence: We were doing our Seed Round of Funding with George Zachary from CRV and George is brilliant, brilliant guy. He’s the guy that led rounds in Yammer. He was of the top investors of our time. I remember sitting in a room with him and CRV really liked us. They liked that we were able to attract these big logos with six people on our staff who were incredibly scrappy and they appreciated that. I remember I was making the case to George that we can handle these three products, even though one of them we were selling the marketing. So events was getting sold to marketing. CRM was getting sold to the Sales VP and then the collaboration app was getting sold to HR. I was making the case that we could share code and we could do this and we’re going to hustle.

George looks at me and he’s like, “What are you going to put on the website?” I’m like, “What do you mean, ‘What am I going to put on the website?'” “How do you explain to people what you do?” I’m like, “We’re creative people.” We created this interesting story line around, it was basically called, The Deconstruction of Enterprise Software. The idea is that the enterprise software was these big monolithic apps that worked together and they followed the customer record all the way through from the event lead going to the actual sales process to post sale to close.

It was brilliant. I was speaking at conferences about this stuff and everybody was loving it. So what CRV ends up doing is they end up passing. They put in 50K in our Seed Round and we were hitting our numbers. We were blowing our numbers out of the water and they passed on us. And that was the first sign…and I don’t blame them because they were like, they said,
“You need to focus or we’re not going to be on board.” We were stubborn. We didn’t focus. They were not on board.

Rob: Did they care where you focused or was it “pick one of the three,” or were they leaning you towards one?

Lawrence: Yeah. I think they were most interested in the CRM stuff. I mean, it’s a $24 billion market. Everybody knew at that time that Salesforce was terrible at mobile. They had bet on HTML5 and anybody in the industry knows that you just can’t build a compelling experience on HTLM5 or anything focused on the user. I think they were leaning us toward CRM.

So get to January 2013, we’re still running all three of these products. We’re giving away Pride as a premium app with about a thousand companies using Pride every day. So it was doing well. A lot companies would be really happy with that. On the Hive side, which was mobile CRM. We had gotten these incredible write-ups that said, this is the best mobile CRM on the market. We had a couple of like 2000 Seed deployments with big logos. We had giant companies saying we want to give you 50,000 seeds on this product, but it’s going to be a six month thing to get out the door. Then we had our event app, which was just blowing up. It was just like people calling us calling our receptionist saying, “Hey, I’m just trying to get some pricing on this product, can someone please sell me this product?” We were too busy to get back to them. In January of this year, it was really the toughest thing I’ve ever done as a CEO. I basically said, “We’re not going to do three things half-assed. We’re going to do one thing really, really well. The thing that we’re going to choose is events.”

We had a near-mutiny, internally. We had a couple of senior sales guys that were like, “Look we get this whole CRM story. We love how we use it internally. If you guys ditch this, there’s a good chance we’re going to leave.” Then as soon as the word got out to my board, I sent them a short email update.

Immediately, my cell phone rang, it said it was Mike Maples. Mike Maples is in the top 30 investors in the world. He’s the guy that bet on us when CRV passed. He’s the guy that basically put Floodgate on our list of investors that made us a legit company. He said, “I didn’t invest in no stinking event company. I invested in a mobile CRM.”

We had to have two off cycle board meetings to get our board members in line with new direction of the company. Basically what we had to do is we had to convince software guys that the real impact of mobile was not bringing existing software to a different form factor. It was bringing software to corners of the enterprise where there was no software. To me, this is what’s exciting about mobile. It’s now the real world is in play. Now the offline the meet space in Sci-Fi terms. Suddenly we can bring data and software in an engagement to real world transactions.

Rob: You mean that must’ve been quite, when you were thinking this through in January 2013, when you were trying to figure out, listen where going to pick one and you looked at the numbers of the events and you looked at the numbers of everything else and everything seemed to be getting great traction. How much in the back of your mind was the investors? Were the investors in your decision? Did it influence your decision? Did it slow your decision-making down? I was thinking about this. You’ve got investors and they think one thing. You’re on a path every year. You’re the CEO of a company and you can listen to the investors and keep going down that path, but if you know intuitively, your gut that says we got a pick one, this is the one we’re going to go with, how much influence did your investors have in the decision that you made?

Lawrence: They have a ton of influence, but the end of the day the CEO, I felt that if we had gone the mobile CRM route, that we are one sales force update away from being dead. I felt that we had a design kind a UI layer advantage and that it wasn’t defensible. The way I see it is that the most recent stuff the sales force has done around their Mobil Chatter updates, there Sales Force One, it would have killed us. It would have wiped us out. I feel really good about the decision.

Getting back to the influence of the investors, I think it depends a lot on the kinds of investors you have. We’ve deliberately gone with the most entrepreneur-friendly investors out there. We have Byron Deeter from Bessemer. We have Mike Maples from Floodgate. We have Duncan Davidson from Bullpen. These guys have records of, at the end of the day they’re backing me and Pankaj, he’s my co-founder. They’re investing in us. They’re not investing in a snapshot of a strategic direction. We stuck to our guns. We basically tried to educate our investors about how massive the event space was. So CMO’s spend more on events than they do on digital advertising. For example, Google has built a $55 billion business based on giving more RLI to digital advertisers. There’s only one spend in the marketing world that’s bigger than that and that’s events. Events are sort of run, data free forever because it’s hard to get data from a live event. It’s offline. So, our case, and I think this is what brought Mike and Duncan and Eric Di Benedetto around, is that mobile can digitize all that and that we can bring software to the offline world.

Rob: It’s such a fascinating thing, because you guys did the Seed Round and then you did the Series A and a Series B and a Series C, and each one, as you shed businesses. Like the last one you did, it was $10 million right?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Rob: I think that’s such an interesting parallel to the way that you’re thinking around your products. Is that as you hone your focus you land on what it is your supposed to do and then the lights go on and it’s like ten million bucks and you closed the round. And now you’re off to the races and your experiencing growth. Did you ever expect it to be like that? Look, you’re not struggling, and I don’t mean to portray that at the time, but you’re running with three products simultaneously, and you’re clawing your way through, and you’re crawling your way through and you’re letting the events not be able to return the calls, as you said, and then it’s like,
“Okay, we have to cut off these heads,” and everyone is looking over here and you say, “No, we’re going to focus on that one that we’re not focusing on right now,” and then the thing shoots up. That had to have made you feel good. Good decision.

Lawrence: Yeah, so it’s still early days, so it could turn out that, yeah, we could have defeated sales force head to head, one to one, but I don’t think that the was the right path. So, yeah, I do feel good about it. It was a tough decision, people were mad at me internally, investors were initially mad at me, but I think it’s worked out okay. But I think it also speaks to the kind of investors we have. I think different investors would have done everything they could to get rid of me. They would have said,
“Look, you have this award-winning app,”which is this mobile CRM, “We could sell this thing to Sales Force for $300 million if you could just hold out the course.” And different investors would have pushed me out, I think.

Rob: So you just killed the products? You didn’t sell them off.

Lawrence: We didn’t. We had interest, we back burner-ed them. At the end of the day, we still sort of think of ourselves as a CRM company, because we are surfacing leads from events. Events are a big source of leads for a lot of companies, so we’re sitting on the code base, we’re proud of the product we built on the CRM side, and it may come back to us when we’re a little bigger, I think.

Rob: Yeah. Stability is always important, especially because events do not, it’s a very competitive, highly competitive market, because you’ve got some incumbents, and then you’ve got your approach, which is much more unique around your thinking, about how you actually run events through these devices. But I want to come back to that same thing that you said, you came that realization that mobile is not extending existing services around another platform, it’s about creating a platform where there wasn’t one before, right? Explain that a little bit because that’s interesting because a lot of companies are looking at this saying “We need another screen. Mobile is just another screen to our existing software,” and you’re saying the opposite.

Lawrence: Yeah. So, I’m going to talk to the events example, but I think the philosophy is bigger than events. So if you got o an event, you see people meeting each other, you see people learning stuff as they go to sessions, you see people getting product demos, you see business cards getting exchanged, you see all of these transactions happening. And for the history of the world, all of these transactions have been in the dark, right? It’s almost like throwing a party. For the organizer, the exhibitor, you throw these parties, you host these things and your hunch tells you that people are having a good time and they’re getting value, but there’s no way to prove that. so the opportunity for mobile in our space is that if you can build a fun, compelling, social consumer-y app that engages people to the point that they want to tell the software about who they met, what they learned, the products they just saw and they can log that, either implicitly or explicitly, then you can capture all of that data and you can digitize all of those offline transactions. And once you get that data, you can start to analyze that data.

And once you start to analyze data, you can start to benchmark every different component of your event presence. And so you can learn what speakers are the ones you should give keynotes to, which ones you should never ask back again. How you should title your content, what exhibitors had a great show and which had a terrible show and are going to need more hand holding to get them to pony up the sponsorship again next year. So it’s almost like you’re turning on Google analytics. So if events are like websites, it’s almost like these websites have been running without any analytics at all, we’re the ones tot urn on those analytics. Because once you have analytics, you can start optimizing, and that’s the whole pitch.

Rob: How many users do you need in an event, do you need to get a good view? I think of all the users as nodes spread out through the event. How many do you need, what’s the percentage that you need to use your product to be able to get that good data?

Lawrence: Yeah, I mean, it’s not a number it’s a percentage, it’s a threshold. And it also depends on the kinds of events. For enterprise events, we’ve always gotten 80-90% engagement because typically there’s a VP at the top of the room that is saying, “You’re going to download this app and you’re going to use it,” and everybody does it. So for some of the bigger trade shows, these giant 100,000 jewelry shows in Shanghai, or these giant, I don’t know trucker shows in Dallas Texas, we just powered a 60,000 person truckers how. If you’re doing 30-40% engagement on these, you’re doing pretty well. So, we never will say that mobile apps are the only data source for the event space, but it’s a data source that just didn’t’ exist before so we think it’s especially valuable.

Rob: It’s funny, how do you market this? You alluded to the fact that people just kept on calling you saying “We want to buy this,” but you’re client list is diverse, as you said. You’re doing high tech shows. You’re doing trucker shows in Shanghai. Tell me about this. How are you marketing this out to people?

Lawrence: Our approach has been to go after an important logo and target verticals. Once we got Cisco we could go after other valley tech companies and they were reassured by the fact that Cisco was already using us.

Rob: How do you close Cisco? Just relationships that you have, board members, that kind of stuff?

Lawrence: The intro is important. It’s a lot of hustle. It’s a lot of, I mean you got the find the…

Rob: Wait, wait, wait. There’s hard work involved? No, no.

Lawrence: You have to find the early adapters and the entrepreneurs within these companies. Every big company has folks that would rather be doing a startup. You have to find those people and convince them that they’re going to be the one to bring the cool sexy new app into their company.

Rob: And then it kind of spreads like that across all platforms and you’ve got sales guys that are out there now selling obviously?

Lawrence: Yeah, we do. We have an aggressive sales team. We’re doing a lot on the marketing side as well. There’s a viral component to our sales, which is fun. It’s very hard to jump users from event to event, but in terms of jumping sales for every one of our apps gets an “about this app”
feature and if you tap on that, it says, this app was powered by Double Dutch. If you tap on that button that say, tell me more, we’re automatically grabbing your contact information because we know who you are from the app. So there’s no lead form. It’s a single tap, like tell me more. When we do some of these big trade shows that are influential, you get a lot of event organizers there and so every deal that we get begets more deals.

Rob: Yeah, I mean I love that approach the simplicity of that. Obviously, because you have their credentials, as long as it’s very clear that you’re doing that and I’m absolutely positive it is. What about, you said that there’s not a lot of cross over right?

I think the challenge with event applications is that you’ve download it. You use it during that time frame, right? So huge use for maybe three days. Maybe a little bit before, as you’re planning the event and then a little bit after to remember the event, but it’s kind of maybe five days of life at the top end and then it disappears and it’s deleted.

Now, most people would look at that and say it’s negative and early on in the event app world, they said well listen, now that it’s on the users screen, you can communicate with them throughout the entire year to the next event, but that’s not happening, is it?

Lawrence: It’s starting to happen more and more. I think when we first started it was a disposable app. We are working hard on our customer success side right now to show the things that can be done to engage people pre-event and post-event. An example of that is we just powered an app for Tony Robbins. You know who that is? He’s the executive coach and the inspirational speaker. He’s a great guy, amazing guy, huge loyal fan base.

What he’s done is after his event ended, he’s actually come up with a 15-
day challenge of how people are going to apply the learnings that they took away from the event. They’re seeing massive posts of an engagement as people share their stories within the app. It’s amazing to see. We’re trying to apply things like that across different customers.

Rob: I mean your focus is really to make sure that those days are absolutely amazing. The app is flawless, the relationships are created and your client, the event coordinator or the event producer gets the data that they need in order to be able to make their event better, right? That’s your goal is it?

Lawrence: I mean that’s it. I mean our dream customers are companies like SAP who we’re working with who throw 1200 events a year. For them there’s no down time. Every week there’s multiple events happening. I think eventually we will get to the point and we are a bespoke app.

So everyone of our customers gets their own app. Like SAP can deliver all of their events within a single app for example, but we’re not using the same app for Cisco that we use for SAP for example. So we are bespoke, but we’re also a SAS company so everything is running off the same database even though the app containers themselves are different.

We’re able to get benchmarks across all of our deployments and I think eventually we’re going to get to the point where we can say, hey Rob we saw you at Cisco Live, but you know, we also saw you at Inter Rock and then we also saw you at Game Developers conference. We can start to learn about you and I think where we’re going to get tough to beat is when we have a big enough foot print that we start to see that repeat usage because then we what we can do is we can almost deliver Amazon style recommendations.

So, Rob, when you drop down into Las Vegas for, I don’t know, for CTIA or something you’re getting a list of recommendations like, here are the people you should meet. Here are the companies that you should see. Here are the products that you should demo and here are the sessions that you should go to. So it becomes more of a concierge’s approach an even though we are doing these stand-alone apps, the body of knowledge that we’re developing across all of our deployments is able to add value to the user experience. And so, just to give you a sense of where the industry is at, there’s 20 million events that happen per year around the world. Massive, massive number. In the history of the world, there’s only been about ten thousand native apps deployed. We’ve done over a thousand of those. And maybe the number goes up to a 200,000 if you consider mobile web apps. Everyone else is still using paper. Not too many people would argue that all that paper is going to go away. So all that stuff is digitizing. And once our footprint gets bigger, we’ll be able to do some of those cross event recommendation things we’re talking about.

Rob: I love that. I believe, and we had this conversation, I think, three years ago about this concept of inference, which is quite literally, this is exactly where the event space has to go. Not only for me as a multiple event goer, so you can hone the message for me as well, but also, I think about that I spoke at these events. I spoke at CTIA in this far corner in the middle of nowhere in this hangar, it was giant, and there was like eight people sitting in front me, and I know that at least ten more would have been interested in that.

Lawrence: Totally.

Rob: So it makes sense for the event coordinators, and the event managers, the people throwing these events, to try to bring the crowds in to these places, and you unearth that data eventually for them. Which is amazing.

Lawrence: Yeah, that’s exactly the point. And that’s from a speaker’s perspective. You can imagine it from an exhibitor perspective.

Rob: Oh, yes.

Lawrence: So, I remember we did a show, we spent a lot of money on the Garnder IT Symposium, which was pre-funding. $45,000 we spent on it.

Rob: Crazy.

Lawrence: We sent three people to Orlando, Florida. We show up and our booth is behind a pillar. We’re literally behind a pillar, and there’s no way people are going to find us. And so we’re sitting back there and day one passes and nobody comes to our booth.

Rob: Perfect.

Lawrence: And we had spent $45,000 and went, “Oh my god, there’s a room full of Senior IT people that are interested in our stuff, but they just don’t know we’re here.” So we start to panic, and we’re sitting outside on these bean bag chairs and we’re going through, we’re kind of trolling LinkedIn and Twitter and looking through people, posting the hashtag, and trying to spam these people on LinkedIn and Twitter and say, “Hey, come find us, we’re behind the pillar in the main gallery.” Of course, it didn’t work, right?

So that experience has led us to think that there’s a real goldmine, and if we can find a way to deliver more leads to the exhibitors, let alone the speakers, more leads to the exhibitors, that folks will pay for that. And they way we’re thinking about that is that in the universe of events, there’s the people that find your booth, get scanned and show up in your lead file. That’s one set of people that’s interested in your company. And then there’s everybody else that did not find your booth.

How can we use data to surface those other people, that maybe they were speaking, maybe they were busy, maybe they got distracted? But we’re learning from all the signals and the apps. So if I visit a competitor’s booth, maybe that means I”m interested in your. If I saw your CEO speak in a session, maybe I’m interested in you. If I trade contact information with one of your marketing people at the party, that’s a signal that I’m interested. So all these signals in the aggregate can tell me that, Rob, even though he did not come to our booth, should have come to our booth. And he’s a highly scored lead for us.

Rob: How many features are too many to fit into this? For usability, we always think about simplicity and you don’t want any app to come with a manual to use it. So when you’re building these things out, it seems like it does so much, but it still has to be so usable, right?

Lawrence: Yeah. Everything is about engagement. So if you talk to our VP of Product here, we not have 75 employees.

Rob: That’s crazy.

Lawrence: Everyone has product opinions, and we’re all giving these ideas to our product people, and our product team is very clear about this. They say, “If you have a wonderful idea of something that’s a great feature, but that’s not going to drive additional engagement, we’re gonna put it in this pile of things that are great ideas, that we’re never ever going to do. But if you have a great idea that will drive people to use the app more, and give us more signals about what they’re interested in, that is going to get fast tracked to the top of our development roadmap.” So that’s how we try and focus our road map, is around that we know that getting people to touch the app is the only thing that matters for us, because once we get that data, we can provide a better value for all of our stakeholders.

Rob: It makes absolute sense, and when it comes to the viral nature of this, not for other event coordinators, I love the fact that you’re going after an established audience. So you sell one group, the SAP events group and then you say they put on 1200 events, they’re touching maybe 100 people per event, you have an opportunity to get in front of all those guys, it’s a very efficient, enterprise-y like sales approach, but that’s why you can grow your participant rate so high, is that you’re helping them and they’re helping you, and then you aggregrate that data into something that you can return to them for added value for their next event. It’s a perfect circle!

Lawrence: Yeah, the pitch is, “Make it so every one of your events is a little bit better than your last one.” And I think it resonates with people. One other thing I love about events that I didn’t foresee going in is that events are the perfect Petri dish to try crazy stuff. So if we see a feature that was inspired by Koala (to use a name from the past), or that was inspired by Frontback, or any of the new “fun” apps that are coming out, we can try it. We can write up a little web prototype, we can run it in a browser in the app, and if people use it, we’ll write it natively. And if they don’t, then we learn that people aren’t interested in that event setting. So it’s a wonderful opportunity for us just to A/B test everything for a three-day period of time.

Rob: So when you were rolling out the event app, you turned your focus inward on this at the beginning of this year, did you roll out one feature at a time, did you estimate what you thought your customers would want to use, did you work with some of your bigger clients in that? How did your feature list roll out?

Lawrence: Yeah, we had a lot of good fortune. Early on, we were working with a lot of smart customers; I think if we had been working with less savvy customers I think we’d be in a bad spot right now. But we were working with guys like Ted and Sisko, and they would say, “We need this feature.” And usually their idea would be good; we’d say, “Of course we have that feature!” We’d go back to the office, and we’d build that feature, and then it would be ready in time for the event. And it would work or it would not work, and then it would be rolled into the platform for everyone. So I think, if I had advice for any of the entrepreneurs out there on the enterprise side, make sure those initial customers know what they’re doing, because they’re going to bully you into doing what they want, and there’s no way you can stop them. I mean, if they’re cutting the check and you’re low on funds, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to keep those early customers happy. If they guide you in a way that’s going to scale, you’re in good shape; if they guide you in a way that’s custom to their unique instance in the world, you’re dead in the water.

Rob: [laughs] It’s like taking bad money as an investment; you’d be holding them.

Lawrence: Absolutely.

Rob: What about opportunities in the event space? So now that you’ve gone into this, you’re on everybody’s device, cross-platform, in all the delegates’ pockets, and you’re collecting data for speakers and event coordinators and those who have booths now that you’re into it that way, what other opportunities are you looking at and saying, “Well, that’s an opportunity, but there’s no way we can even get to that because we’re focused here”? You must see holes in the industry for other entrepreneurs to dive into.

Lawrence: Yes. Yeah, so I’m not going to share those holes, but…

Rob: Come on! Nobody listens to this anyway, Lawrence, come on; it’s just you and I.

Lawrence: But I will say that the big decision we have to make is, “Do we go upstream and do we take on the original event giants?” So I’m talking about Cvent and some of the others, even Eventbrite, would fall into this category, which started when the way to write software for the event space was web. And it was pre-event, it was ticketing, registration, scheduling, it was all the things that happen from the desktop before the event actually happens. And Cvent especially has done a wonderful job of building a real business by building out that component.

So to date, we integrate very well with all those registration providers, so I think from a customer perspective there’s no impact. But does it make sense for us to build out those services for our customers? That’s one
“strategic route.” The other strategic route is to go downstream. What we mean by “downstream” is this: for many of the events that we do, there are rooms full of exhibiters in that room. There’s CMO budget, there’s folks trying to generate more leads. Do we start to use our footprint of all the events that we’re powering across the world to gather data and deliver more values to all those marketers in the room? So really, do we go deep into becoming an event software company, or do we become a marketing company?
And that’s one of the things you’ll probably see clear steps from us in the coming months.

Rob: It’s interesting: that kind of clarity, those kind of questions, can only be asked by shedding the other products, right, and focusing exclusively on this.

Lawrence: Yeah. You’ve got to go deep.

Rob: And long-term, you are becoming a CRM company, exactly as you said. You’re collecting all this information, you’re bringing it close to the people that need it at the time that they need it, and you’re doing it in a pretty systematic approach. What about… Now, aside from event space, obviously, I’m not going to get any entrepreneurial tips from you about where to focus, where to get…

Lawrence: It’s OK. It’s OK.

Rob: and I like that idea. Like we have Shopify in my city, in my home town of Ottawa and you’re in San Francisco and you’ve heard of Shopify. Everybody has heard of Shopify and these guys have decided to do this as well. They’re making that decision. Do they stay in the eCommerce side and they’ve just moved into the payment side, right? So they’ve created a cash register-like Square, like a Square register on an iPad. So they’re moving upstream like that. So you start to see those as things crystallize. But outside of the space that you’re in, you have lived this great life in three plus years inside of Double Dutch. You have taken on three different aspects of business and you’ve focused on the events and you’re in the middle of this petri dish known as San Francisco or Silicon valley, where it is just mobile central in there. What’s gotten you excited? Like, what are the things that you see out there that you think “If I wasn’t doing Double Dutch, man, I would be in that business.”

Lawrence: Yeah, you actually talked to some of them. So I said in the opening that I’m most excited about bringing software to places where there was no software,and I think retail is a wonderful example of that.I think there is a lot of parallels between walking around an event looking for a vendor to buy something and walking around a store and looking for a product to buy.

Rob: Love it.

Lawrence: So I think that the stuff that Shopify is working on now with iBeacon, I think the next big thing if you are excited about mobile or digital or wearable as an extension of the real world, if you’re excited about those things, the next big jump is to have sort of more precise positioning and triggers in the real world that can allow you to, more contextual triggers, that allows you to know as a vendor when you deliver with the right information, the right vendor, the right person. I think that the stuff around iBeacon is really, really interesting and it’s especially interesting indoors, so in a store where the GPS is not going to be precise enough to allow you to do interesting things.

We’re having a hack day next week, where we’re just taking a day off and we’re putting our 25 engineers on just kind of figuring out some of the cool things that are possible with iBeacon. The thing about iBeacon, it’s not iOS only, so you can run Bluetooth applications on android as well.

We’re getting really close I think as an industry to some exciting advances and these real world triggers and these little beacons that can trigger an action on a device or a wearable. So that’s one thing, I think the stuff that Prism Skylabs is working on is really interesting as well where they are working with security camera firms and it’s just a different way to get to the same problem where they are cutting deals with all these security cameras and they are getting that footage and they’re using that to position people.

I think a lot of these real world intelligence companies, it’s a lot easier to go out after an existing market than it is to create a new market and the two monster existing markets in that area are definitely retail and events. Shopify could have just as easily been an events company and we could have just as easily been a retail company but you make the choices that you make.

I even think that there are parts of the world where commerce is a big deal in events. If you go to Asia for example there are these 150,000 person jewelry shows. I used that example before, but the little vendors that are in that room are doing 20% of their annual sale on the floor.

So, if you can actually bring that transaction processing power, you talked about payments, to the moment, then you’re on to something. Anybody who’s walked into an Apple store knows that you can process a transaction wherever you are you don’t need to walk up to a register. That functionality needs to come to the event space because I think for certain industries it’s going to be a game changer in terms of driving more commerce, more return for the exhibits.

Rob: That’s what it has to come down to and I love that idea. I look at media, old media, newspapers and television and radio as the same way, as that if you’re not driving commerce, if you’re not connecting a customer with their wallet, right, like a customer and an exhibitor and the medium is the wallet, you’re really losing out.

If you came to me and said “Listen, Rob, you have to be in this event, because I guarantee you that what you’re going to do is you’re going to drive 20% of your revenue, your year’s revenue, through this event and then you’re going to create a connection with a lifelong customer as a result of being their through the Double Dutch software. We’re going to facilitate the payments, we’re going to facilitate it all. The transactions happen and you go away with a little bit of money in your bank account. I think that that’s the next battleground. I wholeheartedly agree, is that, if you can’t convert a dollar, I’m not going to exhibit. I’m not going to be a part of this. I think that that’s coming, I would say, pretty quickly. It’s coming to the newspaper industry right now and I think that’s going to come to what you’re doing. It’s very cool. So many options, man. I don’t know how you’re going to choose.

Lawrence: Yeah, well, we’ve sort of made our big choices already and everything else is just building out from there, and now we have, I think we have, a solid foundation for a couple of years at least.

Rob: I have to get you back on again as this thing rolls out. So, three years is too much of a gap because it takes too long to catch up. Any parting words? Where should we send people, just DoubleDutch.me, if there is interest?

Lawrence: Yeah, yeah. Check us out on DoubleDutch.me and keep playing with those phones and those wearables because there is a lot of fun stuff happening.

Rob: We didn’t even touch on that, wearables. You’re business is going to be huge as well. Go to DoubleDutch.me. Exactly as it sounds. Double Dutch, for those who didn’t watch the first episode, was the name of the bar in Mission?

Rob: Correct.

Lawrence: Yes. So just go to DoubleDutch.me find all the information that you need. If you’;re running an event with Double Dutch, I’d love to hear from you. In fact, I’d love to have you sit where Lawrence is sitting and we can talk about how things went with their software and maybe Lawrence would be interested in seeing that. So if you do that, reach him, Untether.tv. Go and visit DoubleDutch.me. Lawrence, thank you for doing this again, man.

Rob: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Lawrence: We have been speaking with Lawrence Coburn, who is the CEO of Double Dutch. Go to DoubleDutch.me. And if you’re running an event, I don’t know any other software exactly like this, so go and hit them up and reach out to them. Thank you guys for watching. We’ll see you next time on Unteather.tv.


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About Lawrence Coburn
Lawrence Coburn DoubleDutchInternet entrepreneur with expertise in mobile, user generated content, online community, and social media distribution. Pioneer in the social media space, and founder of one of the first commercial entities made up of 100% user generated content. Mentor at i/o ventures. Editor at The Next Web.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I’m Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I’ve spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I’ve helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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