*APAC Heritage Month* Founder Focus: Jeremy Lam
Jeremy Lam is founder and CEO of Venu, a YC startup focused on virtual trade shows, expo halls, and hybrid events. We'll be discussing everything from the economics of trade shows, the the impact of the pandemic, and predictions for the future.
And we're live. All right. Welcome to another episode of Founder Focus. I'm your host, Jade Wang, and I run the startup program here at Cloudflare.
And we are joined by our guest, Jeremy Lam, one of the founders of Venue.
Thanks for joining us on the show.
Yeah. Pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting us on the show. And by the way, if we're taking audience questions, you can call in your question or you can email it in to livestudio at Cloudflare.tv.
This information is also right down below.
All right. So without further ado, so very briefly, tell us about your startup.
Yeah. So our startup is called Venue. You can see it on the top of my email, venue3d.com.
And we are a 3D virtual trade shows platform for your conferences and conventions and trade shows.
We're actually in Venue right now. Cool.
And your cameraman is going to follow you around. It looks very, it looks fleshed out.
Thank you. Absolutely. We've been working on this since February of 2020.
The funny story is we had the idea of building Venue back in November of 2019.
And we started, you know, trying to do a proof of concept running meetups on different virtual platforms.
We couldn't find one that could really fit what we needed for the trade show expo use case.
So we decided to build our own in two and a half weeks.
And after that, we held our first hundred person investment conference in here in February.
And since then, we've held over 35 conferences and trade shows on here.
And this is sort of the, you know, you've gone through several iterations since then, about a year and a half now.
So out of curiosity, in November of 2019, before the pandemic, like what brought this idea to the forefront of your mind?
Like, was it because of people being geographically distributed that you want to get them together?
Right. So it's funny how we sort of got here and sort of how it's growing right now.
We've been a company for about five years now. We started back in 2016.
We were building VR arcade games and we were hosting the VR arcade conference with AMD and Samsung and Microsoft, inviting companies from all around the world to fly into the Bay Area, to the San Francisco Bay Area.
So we've been doing that every year.
And we started servicing enterprise contracts. People started hiring us since we had the skill set, you know, VR content development skill set to develop enterprise applications for them.
We did one for a CrowdStrike, a game for them to educate people about cybersecurity in VR.
And it was you were shooting cybersecurity threats with their products as weapons.
And we're doing a research project for Northern Illinois University.
And we did a therapy project to help people with wellness and also depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
And so we were looking at that, you know, about like four years in, we were pretty stable and wanted to expand and scale out the number of customers that we had.
And we looked back at, you know, where we got our customers. We got them from the conferences and we're like, well, but it's not possible for me to host more than one conference a year because it takes five to six months of lead time for people to fly in and book their flights and book their hotels and take, you know, a week away from work and home.
But what if we do it virtually? And it's as easy as you and me, Jade, hopping on, you know, a one hour call, you know, scheduling that on our calendar.
And then the pandemic hit. And then the pandemic hit. What timing, man.
So, so it's funny, the event, you know, originally we weren't, you know, this wasn't a solution for COVID.
This was a solution for like in-person conferences and how difficult it is to fly in and also get an international audience, like you were saying, but yeah, well then COVID hit and then everybody knew what virtual events were.
And so that made sort of the pitch a lot easier. We didn't have to explain what it was.
So, okay. Let's talk a little bit about the economics of traditional trade shows and how that works out in the virtual world, right?
Like in the, in a regular trade show, you have different parties, you have the exhibitors, you have the people who organize, the conference organizers, the attendees, the employers of the attendees who are usually paying their way, right?
Like what are, tell me about the, the trade-offs and the, like what changes between in-person trade shows and, and virtual ones?
Yeah. Gosh, there's so many differences.
I think one of the best ways to explain it would maybe to take you around a little bit briefly, would you be down for that?
Yeah. So the first thing we can explore is the speakers.
So we can head down to the auditorium. I'll meet you up on stage.
So I'll, I'll walk and talk while I do this. So one of the great things is you can now have speakers coming from all around the world come and speak at your event.
And before, you know, and we understand us being event organizers ourselves it's very important to get speakers, prestigious speakers to come speak at your event because that's what drives attendee ticket sales and get people interested to come.
So here you can have people just tune in as simple as a conference call to come in and speak.
They can come speak on stage, they can present, they can have a panel on the couches.
And we can also have a webcam feature where people can have their webcam up on screen.
If you know, you have a celebrity speaker. A few months ago, we had a COVID release trade show and we had Dr.
Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent of CNN and Dr.
Celine Gounder from the U.S. White House COVID task force come and webcam in and give the keynote speeches.
So, you know, something like that is, you know, something that you can do in venue.
And if we head down to the expo hall to sort of talk about the exhibitors at that same trade show, we had 135 exhibitors come and exhibit from all around the world from North and South America, from Europe and Africa and Asia, Asia Pacific.
And one of the great sort of value adds is one, as the event organizer, one of the biggest pain points of hosting an expo is like the rent, right?
The huge venue costs. If you want to have hundreds of exhibitors, you're gonna have to get a really big space.
But here you can expand and contract the expo hall and customize it however you like, brand it and change the theme of it and have different types of booths.
And here, you know, we have a standard booth and we started, as we started hosting events over the past year, year and a half, we started getting feedback from our exhibitors.
Our exhibitors wanted to be able to show their demo video.
Our exhibitors wanted to have, you know, a website link to, for people to go to the store and purchase their products.
And it's just all digital and it's all made very easily.
As we walk around and we have a really nice conversation, you can look up at my name tag and my email and just click on it and send me a follow-up email.
Normally, I'd have to like take my phone out and ask, hey, can you type in your email on my phone and then, you know, do all that stuff.
And if you forget somebody's name while you're talking to them. Yeah, absolutely.
Yeah. That's a huge use case too. And on top of that, like when you're looking down at a crowd full of people at an in-person conference, I would always have to like eavesdrop, listen in, see, you know, who might be a potential customer, might be a potential partner, maybe look around at their badge at a glance in venue.
You can see what companies are in the room because we have the work emails.
You can see what companies are there just by looking at the name tags in the room.
So just a few examples of the differences. So in real life, exhibitor halls tend to be like a really noisy place because of all the ongoing conversations.
What's the listening radius? Yeah, no, that's a great point.
So do you see the exhibitor booth here, the walls, that's basically the size of how much you can hear.
So that was one of the big pieces of feedback we got. Originally, we designed this to feel like real life.
So it was really noisy at first, even with only like 10 exhibitors.
And people were like, you know, we don't really go to the trade show to hear all that conversation.
We just care about what's, you know, sort of in front of us, who the people are talking to.
So we're like, you know what, that's a good point.
We're going to, you know, draw back the conversational distance so you only hear the people you're talking to.
So that's an optimization we made against real life.
So you don't lose your voice at the end of the expo.
And so getting back to sort of the economics of in-person versus virtual events.
So usually, a lot of organizers have to think about their upfront risk of, you know, how much money they're going to put down for, you know, a large trade show space, and whether they're going to recoup that through sponsorships, and like how many they can secure, and really having to guess at how many attendees they're end up going to get.
How does that change in a virtual world? Yeah, so in some ways, it's actually quite similar, right?
The whole point of venue is to create a platform that basically acts as a real life in -person venue, but with all these sort of additional value adds.
But the business model, the event organizers can use the same business model.
We understand that, you know, a lot of big event organizers have sponsors, and they make most of the money through sponsorships, and then they make their money through the exhibitor booth tickets, and then they make their money through the attendees, and then they have the speakers sometimes come in for free, and sometimes they pay for them even.
And so we take all of that, and we go, okay, what do the event organizers need to provide to the sponsors, provide to the exhibitors so that they can charge those ticket prices?
So if we look around, you see the banners, branded banners around the venue.
One of the things we do in real life and that they're used to familiar with is you provide branding to your sponsors, branded banners and advertisements all around the venue.
So we can customize the branding and have really nice advertising so all the attendees can see it, so they can continue to provide that value to their sponsors.
In addition to that, typically sponsors at a big expo get like a really big booth, right?
And really nice features in the booth and a lot of space and lots of advertising in there, right up front in the center in front of the expo hall.
So, you know, here we see the sort of the standard booth, the standard exhibitor booth, but we also have bigger fancier island booths, and we also have these exhibit experiences.
Imagine a museum exhibit where you're walking through, and it's sort of this staged progression of storytelling.
At first, you sort of get an intro to the product and the company, very similar to what we're doing on this call, actually.
And then in the middle, you know, you get to hear the story of the company and the team, and then you get to see maybe the customer testimonials.
And at the end, there's a call to action.
Hey, sign up for our newsletter. Here's our website. Purchase a product or send us an email, schedule a call.
So these sort of different types of value add and things that the event organizer can provide to the sponsors and exhibitors, we provide to them.
But do the organizers still have as much upfront risk, or can they space that out somehow?
Like scale it with the number of attendees and the number of sponsors?
Oh, yeah. Oh, totally. So like one of the biggest pain points, and we know this organizing conferences ourselves, there's a huge upfront risk to paying the rent up front, and we have to pay the rent up front.
It's the only way to get started.
And then we hope that we can get enough attendees and exhibitors and sponsors to, you know, to pay for the rent.
But with Venu, it's scalable, you can scale up and down.
And we work with our event organizers to scale their feature set and also, you know, the pricing, the rental, up and down as well.
So, you know, you can say, hey, I want to host an event for, you know, 500 people, right with 50 exhibitors, we go, okay, we got you.
So we set it up for 500 people and 50 exhibitors.
And they go, well, actually, it's actually blown up. We actually have 1000 people now and like, you know, 150 exhibitors, we go, okay, we could do that.
And then we'll just adjust it, add the features. And so, yeah, you actually bring up a really good point.
It's scalable, it's very flexible to your business model.
And the risk is way, way down, because we can, you know, adjust it so easily.
Oh, also, something that actually happened a few months ago, the conference organizer originally was going to run just like one speaker at a time in serial.
And then they just got so many speakers, and so many people attending. So then they were like, hey, can we actually have four simultaneous sessions going at the same time?
And we're like, yeah, of course, we'll just build you out, you know, four more rooms.
And we did that. And we sort of got to like, add it piece by piece.
And you can't really, you know, do that in real life. Yeah, we can't just construct something.
Yeah, out of thin air. Yeah. Do you ever do anything like, does anyone ever want like weird geometries or like, like a toroidal universe?
Things like that? Yeah, no, no, folks actually get really excited about that.
And that's one of the wonderful things about being in a virtual world. We've had like a gaming arcade types of events, and they've wanted to bring the video game characters as giant statues and theme it like, like an arcade, like darken the lighting and, you know, like make it fun, like make it sort of exciting for the consumers.
We also had one that was a business conference from Latin America, and they wanted it to be to look like a city in Mexico and Buenos Aires and things like that.
So and theme it like that, but it was still like a for a professional event.
So of lots of creativity, whether consumer or business that we've seen. Let's talk a little bit about the sort of virtual event landscape as it were, especially since, you know, we, we sort of are replacing a lot of in person type events, right?
Like, what, what's the range of the use cases for which people use venue?
Yeah, so, um, I want to be a little careful about the range. It is a virtual platform, and you can use it for a lot of things.
And we have used it for a lot of things.
But what our team has sort of learned growing up over these five years is we got to pick a niche, and we got to pick a niche and focus on it.
And so our focus and our niche, and the types of customers we serve best are your big trade show organizers with 1000s of people, hundreds of exhibitors, people coming internationally from all around the world to sell their products, business use cases, business networking, keynotes and presentations and, and exhibitors selling their products and sponsors.
So that's the types of audience that we serve best. We've held meetups in here, we've held seminars and teaching, we've held networking events and things like that as well.
But yeah, the the big, you know, conference convention trade show is, is, is, you know, we're the best at it.
Nice. Good, good to have focus.
So as so eventually, the pandemic will, like, there will come a time where most people are vaccinated.
And in your opinion, do you think in person trade shows will come back?
Like, what, like, will? Is there a world in which, you know, virtual events and, like, where is the balance after the pandemic, in your opinion, going to be?
Yeah, no, that's, that's the big question that we're all, you know, that I don't know, none of us know, but we're all sort of figuring out and gathering data and researching, talking to our customers, every event organizers about and exploring ourselves hosting our own hybrid events.
So the lucky thing for us is venue wasn't created just for COVID.
We created venue, because we saw a need for virtual conferences and trade shows, in compared to an in person trade show originally back in 2019.
So that that vision still holds true.
And that's, you know, what we've been working towards, and we'll continue working towards.
So what we've started seeing, especially during COVID, is every event organizer was forced to host events virtually.
What that also meant is they could now market their events internationally all around the world.
So that was a little different, because because, you know, say, our customers, Microsoft in San Francisco, they originally just had, you know, events in the Bay Area, and suddenly they have folks in Europe coming in Asia coming to their little San Francisco events.
And after we come back from COVID, they're not just going to ignore that part of their customer, their audience.
And they're going to want to find a way to bring that international audience or in fact, you know, every event organizer's dream is to continue expanding and growing and go international anyways.
So venue really allows the event organizers to scale up like that scale internationally.
That's that's, you know, something that our customers have been telling us why they'll be using venue after folks go back to in person.
Now, exactly what the hybrid divide will look like, or nobody knows, like, we're all figuring that out right now.
And it's sort of part of the excitement of figuring out what that'll look like.
Our job as sort of, you know, the service provider and the solution provider is to be adaptive and listen to our event organizers on what they need.
And we'll sort of let that guide us, you know, when we work with an event organizer who is hosting a hybrid event, and they have some demos in person, but most of their talks are virtual, and then they have a bigger international expo on venue.
But then they have these other needs, then we'll go, okay, we could do that, we could service those needs digitally for you to complement the in person piece.
And at the end of the day, there are some things that you can't really do virtually, like food, right?
At least not yet. We haven't figured out happy hours and go into a bar like that kind of networking is there's value there.
It's not just for fun, like there's something really gets comes out of that social environment, social dinners and networking with the folks at your table.
You know, there is an intimacy and relationship building that's very important, even on a sales and business side.
Yeah. So yeah, it's just going to be exciting to figure out.
Yeah, but oh, but we did do some research. And one of the market surveys said that 56 to 71% of these event organizers will be hosting hybrid virtual events.
So that's that's great news. That's that's that's a good. Yeah, signal for us.
Yeah, I mean, when you're when you're thinking about the both the economic impact and the environmental impact of how many plane tickets are being not bought, how many hours in travel and like hotel nights are not getting booked.
It's a pretty big impact.
Absolutely, absolutely. By the way, I've noticed that you have body language in there.
And like, what's your rig right now? Are you wearing a headset with like control with?
Are you like, are you wearing an Oculus or? Yeah, yeah.
So so you can use venue on just a Windows computer or a MacBook computer, which is what most people have.
I'm using a HTC Vive VR headset. I have a headset on my face and a left controller and a right control on each of my hands.
And it works on every, you know, major VR headset out there.
We, a lot of our customers and attendees like to use the Facebook Oculus Quest 2.
It's $300. You could get it, you know, at Best Buy.
It's super easy to use, put it on, it's comfortable. And you could just put it on and come to a conference.
We've been actually shipping them out to some folks so they can come and speak or exhibit in VR as well.
Yeah. Once folks, yeah.
Once folks see somebody in VR and they go, oh, how did you move your hands and things like that?
They end up like getting a Quest 2 next time and going into VR.
So that's been really nice to see as well. Back when I had my Vive set up, I had to find a portion of my, of our room that was the designated play area.
When you're walking around, like, how is that working?
Right? Like, yeah. Because you cross a lot of distance here.
Yeah. It's a big convention center. Yeah. So I don't actually walk in real life that much in VR.
To move around in VR, I just use my controllers and I just press a button and I can move, you know, forward and back and left and right.
Yeah. Cool. I guess that means, like, if you wanted to sprint or, or like jump some kind of, jump like 20 meters that way or something, that's, that's something that the controllers could support.
Yeah, absolutely. We actually have three different modes of transportation.
One is sort of like a normal walking speed.
Another is like just a teleport if you want to get somewhere fast.
And that's also a partially a solution for folks who get motion sick as well.
And the third mode of motion is teleportation. So you can bring up a map and I can say, hey, I'm in the auditorium right now.
It's expo hour now. I'm just going to teleport over to the expo because I'm late for a meeting.
I need to go there and meet somebody, you know, something like that.
Yeah. That's, that's, you know, you kind of wish you had that in real life, right?
Like totally. Yes. Oh, like all the walking you have to do and you just get tired out and then, you know, you got to find a water fountain and you got to find a bathroom.
It's physically exhausting.
Yeah, absolutely. All right. So now that we're in our sort of last six and a half minutes, I want to make sure that we spend a little bit of time on your personal journey and your, and your life growing up.
Can you tell me about how you met your co-founders?
Yeah. So the funny thing is I, growing up, I watched this, this anime TV show called Yu-Gi-Oh and it's this card game slash TV show.
And they talk a lot about holograms and virtual worlds and virtual reality.
And that's sort of when I got really interested in tech and VR.
And around that same time, I met these folks, Patrick, who's operating the camera right now.
I met him through middle school, same with Justin, our other co-founder.
And so I've been recruiting for the startup since I was in middle school, high school, college.
I went to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia, and then went to Microsoft up in Redmond, Washington.
And then, and then once I, at Microsoft, I was working on the Xbox One.
I shipped that and then started working on the HoloLens, like all the pieces coming together, holograms and VR.
And, and then once I saw the technology, like really maturing and being available, accessible and working well, stable, I was like, okay, now's the time to, and then so I left Microsoft and came down to Silicon Valley and I just called up all my friends and said, Hey, you want to do this thing?
And of course it wasn't, you know, so easy at first, everybody was working remotely.
We were like, okay, we'll work part-time, you know, we'll meet on Google, back then it was called Google Hangouts.
And, and, and then we were like, you know what?
We have no idea what we're doing. We started making a VR game.
But we know that there are people around the world who are doing what we want to do.
And we know they know what they're, we know they know what they're doing.
Let's invite them to the Bay area and let's talk to them. Let's partner, let's learn from their experience.
So that's how we held our first conference.
And then the team also flew in for that. And we launched our first demo there and they got to see the possibilities.
They got to see, Oh, this is real.
Like this is actually happening. And then, you know, they got convinced and then they came to the Bay area, left their jobs and came to the Bay area.
And that's how we got founded.
So did you guys like have an isolation pod together or did you work remotely from your homes when the pandemic hit?
Oh, so once we all came to the Bay area, we just got a house.
We're all just living in this dev house together.
And we actually started off working in the garage. So very classic Silicon Valley.
Yeah, it got very hot in the summer. So we eventually moved out of the garage.
Laptops in living room, like modern day.
Oh gosh, yeah. But it was great in the winter.
We were so warm. Nice. Can you tell me about a little bit about how you all grew up?
Like who, which one of you first started programming and brought it over to the rest of you?
Oh, yeah. So Justin is this, you know, child prodigy genius.
He started programming when he was six years old. And, you know, we met, I met him in middle school and just saw him on his laptop the whole time.
And he got like special permission to bring his laptop in school.
Back then you weren't allowed to bring laptops in school and all that.
And he was doing all this programming.
And I was like, oh, that's, that's really cool. And we sort of, I got into programming eventually when I got into college.
Patrick got into programming, you know, to develop his own games.
So that's sort of, you know, that got, we got infected with the programming bug through seeing our friends and what they can do and how passionate they are, you know, like the developer community, the, you know, game developers, especially are so passionate in what they do.
And, yeah, it's very contagious.
Speaking of which, I guess in our last two and a half minutes.
Okay, let's imagine that I, I'm inviting you to a magical Zoom call.
And on the other end of that call is yourself from middle school.
Back when you, you know, shortly after you, you made friends with your co -founders, tell me about your conversation with yourself and what that, how that would go.
Oh boy. How would my conversation with my middle school self go now?
Knowing what you know now. I would tell the younger me, there is a lot of tough times ahead, but there's also a lot of exciting times ahead.
So if you truly believe in what you do and you truly love what you do, keep going, keep doing it.
And you'll find purpose in that.
And that's, you know, at the end of the day, isn't that the most important thing?
So yeah, just have fun and be free and go do what you want to do.
That's what I would say. Nice. So were you born in the, in the US or?
Yeah, I was born in Hong Kong and my parents worked very hard, saved a lot of money to immigrate and bring me and my little brother to Virginia, to the States for, you know, in hopes of better education, which I was, I did get out first in my family to get a college degree and everything.
And so it was very important to them.
And yeah, I hope I made them proud. Yeah. All right. And thank you so much for coming on the show.
I wish we had more time. Cause I, I, every time I have a, every time I have somebody who's first generation, I'm like, did your parents, like, how did they feel about going into the entrepreneurship route?
Oh, um, were they, were they like, did they eventually become thumbs up, but only after you kind of like hit them with it?
Uh, uh, let's see. They, they care about me a lot.
They worry about me a lot, equally as much. Um, they, you know, struggled a lot in their lives.
They worked very hard to gain stability. So to them, they value stability a lot.
To me, uh, I'm very spoiled and sheltered. I grew up with their stability that they created for me.
So obviously I seek, you know, chaos and risk and adventure.
So we have different ideas, we have different values, but at the end of the day, we love each other very much and respect, you know, each other.
Yeah. That's, that's kind of our relationship. Yeah. Even, even after like getting into Y Combinator and like, you know, having your venue and after all this time and, you know, um, they, they worry about me, you know, you know, parents will never stop worrying, you know?
Yeah. That's the nature of being parents.
Yeah. But I, I know they're proud of me and then they, yeah, they absolutely are.
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Um, it's been great having you here. Yeah.
Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. It was lovely chatting with you.
This was so much fun.