The widespread use of video-conferencing tools have revolutionized communication and remote collaboration in the present times. However, there is still much to be achieved in terms of providing a truly ‘Live’ and interactive video calling experience that surpasses traditional boundaries and feels more ‘in-person’. Run-of-the-mill video conferencing applications rarely cater to the needs of large events, classes, communities or businesses where collaboration is really needed.
Shindig is one of the biggest names in providing premium video interactive solutions that empower synergy and make virtual meets more personalized. The organization has garnered much accolades and acclaim throughout its glorious decade-long journey, connecting millions worldwide.
We are elated to have interviewed Mr. Steve Gottlieb, the CEO & Founder of Shindig; and know about his journey, future plans, and advice to budding entrepreneurs.
In Conversation with Mr. Steve Gottlieb Founder & CEO of Shindig
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Please share your professional journey with us. How has your work experience and learnings shaped your vision?
Thanks for asking; it’s been a really interesting journey. For 25 years, I had a record company. I started it out of law school with a very odd record called Television’s Greatest Hits, which was a huge global success. It was a collection of old TV themes that grew into an 11 volume series, documenting the history of TV theme songs.
From that start, I developed an independent label and discovered artists like Nine Inch Nails, Pitbull, Ja Rule, and Lil Jon. Just Jack and Underworld were early signings in the UK.
If you try to figure out what could possibly connect those projects across various genres, from Television’s Greatest Hits to Nine Inch Nails and Pitbull, it’s that all of them really began as grassroots movements. They didn’t begin on Top 40 radio in the states or BBC One in the UK. They started with street marketing long before that became a term of art.
They started out in small clubs, breaking into the business by energizing small groups of people, our early superfans, and turning them into an evangelical, irresistible force of change. You do that by providing audiences with intensely personal and motivating experiences, where they feel amazed and excited that they were there at some magical starting point.
So, I see a direct continuum between creating superfan events that launched these successful artists and everything about what Shindig is today.
What prompted you to start Shindig?
Well, I had sold TVT. I was looking around and going through a difficult personal period, and I went online. And I wondered why the online experience was so frozen in time with asynchronous text chat rooms. And I began to puzzle: why did virtual worlds fail? Why was video chat such a disappointment?
What I realized was video chat was little more than a telephone with pictures, a picture phone experience. Things like Hangouts robbed you of any sense that there was really anything “live” going on. They called these experiences live, but they were live just for the sake of saying so; there was no participation among the audience members.
Without any real reason to be there live, the smart choice on YouTube or, Facebook Live or any of these other platforms is to wait until a video or performance gets a million views and then watch it. Because if being there early just means you’re an early viewer, but you can’t engage in any meaningful way, then there’s no point to it.
I looked at these platforms, and thought: this enforced passivity, this loss of agency, being subjected to just sitting there, watching, maybe typing text into some waterfall chat which you have no idea who’s reading and where it’s impossible to have any dialogue—that’s for the birds. That’s not a premium experience. And it’s “live” in name only.
My thinking was: for this to be live, you need the audience to feel the energy in the room, to make them true participants able to share their passion with one another. It has to be like when you go to a club—it’s not just the performance, it’s the hanging out with your peeps for the two hours beforehand. It’s the hours afterward, sharing all the good vibes and energy. And it’s possibly that magic moment where you get to interact, to be brought to the stage and participate!
Without that whole experience, you reduce the event to just a stream performance. You’re not creating a memorable happening. The reality is that a broadcast is great for some things, but that’s just a broadcast. If you want to recreate the premium experience that truly makes people feel special, you need a really focused platform on engagement. So that’s what I set out to build in 2010.
Where do you see Shindig 10 years down the lane?
Still focused on making virtual events as engaging as possible, taking advantage of new technologies we can’t even foresee today in order to empower people to be true event participants, not merely attendees.
A lot of people want to persuade themselves that vaccines are on the way, it will only be another three to six months, and then things will be back to normal. And we can plan on doing our events just like it was 2019. I don’t see that happening.
I think COVID has demonstrated to people that there is a lot of inefficiency in in-person events—that the cost of time, administrative effort, travel expense, the hotel, and catering—all that may not be justified. Certainly not for many events.
There’s a subtle recognition about how participating in these events involves commitments of time and money that are not equally distributed among all potential participants. It creates a limiting factor on these events, a potential impact that people are now more aware of.
So, I see this whole different future for events; I don’t think we’re ever going back to the “normal” of 2019. Bill Gates recently predicted that 50% of business travel was going to disappear after COVID, and even the more optimistic voices predict a 20% decline. I think virtual events will impact live events similar to the way online publishing has impacted print.
In the same way, you’re going to see events deconstruct. It’s no longer going to be about the hotel and the venue and the catering; it’s going to all be about relevance. It’s going to be about timeliness. It’s going to be about getting the right people together at the right moment.
Imagine this applied to COVID. No one would want doctors to have to wait to share their research and collaborate until they could all get invited to a conference at a resort somewhere. You want those people to meet tomorrow.
A similar notion is everyone holding back until CES rolls around to make their latest tech announcement versus trying to assemble that community when it’s most important to them. That’s the way events are going to change. We’ll still have physical events, but they’re going to be much more targeted.
And the best news is: because you’re going to see online events 365 days a year for specific, relevant audiences, everyone is going to be much more connected. Therefore, when they get together at those in-person events, those gatherings will be that much more meaningful, with a lot less scrambling.
How do you plan to differentiate your product in the highly competitive software industry?
On the participant side, our differentiator is engagement. We do that’s so different that we create those serendipitous moments among and between participants that make online events truly meaningful and memorable. The name “Shindig” comes from those dance parties that began in the 20s and 30s. We enable that free-flowing, spontaneous connection of people being able to mingle and bump into each other.
You can have 1,000 people in the virtual auditorium, and with a single click, you can be in a private conversation with a friend, or meet someone new, or start a discussion with a small group of colleagues, fellow students, or co-workers.
In a business context, salespeople can close the deal and video chat privately with their teams. On Shindig, “breakouts are different as they don’t isolate one from the whole experience off in some separate world. These are free-flowing conversations that occur within a large experience where everyone still sees one another and where you can still hear and see what’s happening on the stage.
On the organizer or host side, it’s providing sophisticated capabilities to produce a memorable, engaging event. They can do cool things like dim the house lights if they want to turn off the ability for people to private chat. They can also use backstage space to pre-interview people before they give them the stage, or they can just open a podium, just like at an in-person conference, and say: if you have a question, line up behind the mic, and we’ll answer those questions on a first-come-first-served basis.
Following the formal presentation, the presenter or the panelists can virtually “step down” from the stage and hang out with the audience and engage in private one-on-one and small group conversations.
Most other platforms are very reductionist, like a simple Words with Friends game, where the experience is somewhat attenuated. You don’t know if people are going to reply in five seconds, or five months, or ever. Shindig is more like Fortnite, where you’re connected to others in a real-time ever-evolving experience.
Our platform has lots of advanced features, like the ability to have multiple administrators for complex events, integration with Facebook Live, Twitter and YouTube, customizable backgrounds, an invite/RSVP reminder system, and ticketing for paid events. But it’s really about creating the kind of virtual events that make people say, “You had to be there!”.
What would you credit as a secret behind your success in achieving brand credibility in this swift transitioning IT services industry?
I founded Shindig in 2010, so we’ve got a 10-year headstart on the opportunists who just decided to build a platform because the pandemic had shut down live events. We understand the issues, make the virtual event experience as naturally and spontaneously engaging as in-person events.
During this crisis, we’re focused on getting the word out about how we can help. And so we’re making new connections and doing a lot of charity events, education events, and events for social good to bring people together.
I mentioned my start in the music industry, artists were some of our platform’s early adopters. But today, Shindig is used by an incredible range of organizations uses TodayShindig.
We have universities using it in the classroom where it’s especially powerful because it allows a teacher to go from addressing the entire class to giving individualized attention and moving around the class to talk in small groups. That organic, easy, seamless transition from addressing all to engaging with small groups is fundamentally what’s missing from Zoom classes. We also have a big application in education for the social campus, for creating large campus-wide online events where students can socialize.
We do everything from large corporate conferences for companies like Accenture, Gartner, Informa, and Viacom to all kinds of media events, galas, award ceremonies, receptions, and political events. We just did a reception for Representative Jim Cliburn in Washington for 100 or so dignitaries. We got written up in the Washington Post for a big gala and charity fundraiser we did for Washington VIPs. We just had Mary J. Blige do a big fundraising event for a charity she supports around her introducing her new wine.
We’ve done all kinds of celebrity events, author events, and podcasts. We did an Amazon Music party with a live DJ during Podcast Movement Virtual 2020. We help host parties, networking lounges, welcome receptions, and closing receptions at large-scale conferences, including the Democratic National Convention and the Connecticut State Democratic Convention. We have the US government and the French Embassy as clients and entertainers like musician Imogen Heap and comedian Kevin Smith.
Would you like to share some interesting stats/ numbers for our readers — pre-pandemic versus current times?
We can’t say a lot about numbers, but some of the public companies in this space have reported pretty dramatic growth, and we’re in that realm. In terms of metrics like web traffic which reflects an interest in our platform, it’s not 50% growth or 100% growth—it’s multiples.
Zoom recently reported triple-digit year-over-year growth. I love Zoom. What Eric Yuan has done is amazing. But Zoom was really built, as he acknowledges, to solve the problems of WebEx—to deliver unified communications for big corporations that want to enable all of their staff to do 10-person conference calls easily. It was never intended for events for hundreds.
And the reality is, that’s why the product is called Zoom Webinar. It really is just that. Webinar technology goes back to 1996. It’s time to retire the webinar and recognize that you need to engage your audience and meet them halfway and allow them to participate more meaningfully than with text; that’s no longer fair, reasonable, or what the technology allows.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
There has never been a better time in the history of the world to start a company. But to be successful:
First, look inside yourself to make sure you are truly passionate about the problem you are solving. You can’t succeed with a half-hearted or tentative effort.
Second, make sure you really understand the problem and that your solution will work and be better in some significant way from how the problem is being solved today.
Third, make sure you validate the solution with people in your market, early and often. It’s far better to start out with 10% of the complete solution that people can use, then iteratively build it out based on real user feedback, than to build 100% of what you think the market wants and risk missing the mark.