Building a Multibillion-Dollar Company in 18 Months (with Hopin’s Johnny Boufarhat)
This week’s podcast guest Johnny Boufarhat founded one of the fastest-growing startups in history. He started virtual-events company Hopin in 2019 with just six employees. Today, it has more than 800 employees, and is valued at almost $8bn.
Of course, timing played a huge part in Hopin’s success. When I first spoke to Johnny at the start of 2020, the business was still in its infancy. Plenty of video-conferencing platforms were available, but none had really made the virtual events space their own. Hopin’s tiny team leapt into that gap.
The company’s enormous success since then is largely down to the strength of its product. The platform is richer and more immersive than a webinar, and less cheesy than a 3-D world. Attendees to Hopin events started to use it for their own organisations’ events, helping the company to scale rapidly.
Now, Hopin sits at the intersection of two major trends: the remote future of work, and more immersive virtual experiences – what some might call the metaverse. In our wide-ranging conversation, Johnny and I discussed how Hopin might play into that world, how it could expand beyond the world of work, and how he hopes to leave a legacy as one of the first truly global founders.
Here’s a taster of how our conversation went.
The Big Idea
During our conversation, Johnny kept coming back to the theme of interpersonal connection, and how important it is to him. Hopin is hardly the first communications/social media company to push that line – but Johnny’s fixation on connecting people has a pretty vital context. A few years ago, he was laid low by an autoimmune illness that hampered his ability to meet other people. That pushed him to create a better remote networking tool:
I spent about two years kind of stuck in the house […] I was trying to basically network with people because I should be able to network essentially the same way I did when I would attend an in-person event […] I wanted to make more and more of an impact via the product by allowing people to connect from wherever they are.
Johnny’s family history gave him extra motivation to help people all over access the same opportunities they might enjoy in traditional business and technology hubs:
I started to piece it a little bit more with my history and my family's history. [M]y parents were in Lebanon, and they immigrated to Australia during the Civil War, where I was able to chase opportunities. But I have family members that I think are just as capable or even more so, had they had equal opportunities in Lebanon.
If Johnny leaves a legacy in entrepreneurship, he wants it to be the idea that companies can be founded anywhere, and by anyone with the talent and drive to succeed. Widely-available internet, high-quality educational resources and globally-minded investors will be key to that shift.
But what about the world beyond work?
Johnny suggested that Hopin might consider expanding from professional events into entertainment in the future, but he was less bullish on virtual reality.
[O]ther than gaming and digital entertainment experiences, I don't foresee it becoming something we do. You and I meeting each other rather than going for a walk [in VR] together, I don't foresee it happening.
Johnny and I also discuss:
💻 How Hopin made the most of the opportunities afforded by the pandemic [6.55]
📈 How learning to delegate helped Johnny scale his company rapidly [10.08]
🌄 Why Johnny might never make it to Silicon Valley [23.34]
Listen to this, too
Back in 2018, I spoke to Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and advocate of “blitzscaling” a company. In this conversation, we tackled the interplay between innovation and government, and how policy and Silicon Valley can interact most effectively. If you want to learn how to grow a multibillion-dollar company from (another!) founder who’s been there, you can listen to that podcast here.
On the future of work and the evolution of teamwork, head back to my conversation with the founder and CEO of Atlassian, Scott Farquhar.