19 minute read 27 Apr, 2021

Why We Set Out to Build the Best Automated Webinar Platform

Why We Set Out to Build the Best Automated Webinar Platform

I had no intention of building an automated webinar company. In fact, since I learned about them in 2017 (when my previous SaaS startup Spacio was starting to gain traction), I actively told a number of my peers to build a better automated webinar software because I desperately wanted to use it myself.

Back then, we had a small team and I was responsible for everything except development — which meant sales, marketing, and customer success (onboarding, training, ongoing client education). We had an enterprise SaaS product and it only took a few medium-sized customers before I was drowning in daily demos to make sure our customers’ employees can onboard as quickly as possible. 

Since customers paid a monthly subscription, it was important to show meaningful engagement and adoption numbers early on, so they feel like they’re getting what they’re paying for. But it wasn’t just the first kickoff demo — because most people can’t make a single live event — customers expected me to do more kickoffs and ongoing education for new team members.

Webinars work, and they have a huge impact for people who attend, but they have three key problems:

  1. You have to be there to host a webinar live, which makes them completely unscalable. 
  2. When you have one or limited events, the attendance rate suffers because people are busy and can’t always make time for your schedule. They may sign up for the replay hoping to get the recording, but oftentimes those videos sit in their inbox and don’t get watched.
  3. A replayed static video simply does not have the same level of engagement as webinars, which exist entirely to create that two-way connection between the host and the attendees.

I searched high and low for a solution that would deliver a video as a webinar - because that’s what people like to sign up for. There is something psychological about signing up for an event that’s going to happen in the future — something you block off your calendar for — that makes webinars more appropriate in training and onboarding versus a static video. 

People also expect to be able to engage with the host during a webinar — something that can’t be done on YouTube. There was only one problem - the great solution that does everything I wanted, didn’t exist. I dive into the 5 key reasons for that (and their solutions) below:

The search for a good automated webinar service

There were certainly pre-recorded webinar solutions out there, but everything I found — including all the popular ones — were poorly built, badly designed, and mostly created around the premise of tricking a customer. The pain of doing the same webinar over and over again is so great that I couldn’t believe the perfect solution to solve this problem didn’t exist!

With no other solution, I chose what I thought was the best of the worst and used that to host all our training webinars until that company was acquired in 2019. I loved how automated webinars gave me my freedom back and allowed me to run my business with a small team;  we couldn’t have built our business without it! But I was always a little embarrassed to use that solution because it simply did not deliver an experience that aligned with our brand. We work so hard to give our customers a product that is professional, beautiful, and thoughtful, but our webinars delivered through this subpar platform were clunky and stuck in time.

I would periodically search for any new automated webinar solutions hoping to find an alternative, but nothing ever turned up. After my previous company was acquired, I was thinking about what I wanted to do next and had a number of new ideas to pursue. Automated webinars kept coming to my mind because it was such a huge part of my startup life, yet I never found a solution I was truly happy with. 

I knew I had to be the one to solve this when I realized that on some nights, I wouldn’t even be able to sleep because I was so baffled by the fact that a great solution didn’t exist. I would spend hours searching for it and still found nothing. How is it possible that no one has solved this by now? With so many bad solutions out there, how is it possible no one tried to improve it?

By no means is this a new idea — it just seemed no one had spent the time to do it really well and there was no clear market leader. 

I knew I had to be the one to solve this problem because I was no longer okay with the status quo, and I knew that if one day, someone else did it before me, I would regret not pursuing it when I had spent so much time crafting a vision in my mind for what the perfect automated webinar platform could be.

As part of my market research, I spoke to a number of tech founders in my network about the idea, and to my surprise, most people knew about automated webinar solutions and almost all of them said they had tried them but went back to live webinars because they hated the customer experience. 

They had the same feedback I did about the lack of design and thoughtfulness in existing products, and it seemed they would rather go back to running fewer live webinars knowing it was negatively impacting their business because they weren’t willing to jeopardize their brand. 

These are companies that were much larger than mine, so they had the luxury of going back to live where I didn’t. They had more time to spend, and more team members they could allocate to running live webinars on a regular basis. In summary, most companies I talked to lived with the problems of doing repetitive webinars and never scaled them due to resource limitations. They had tried to solve it, but were unimpressed with existing solutions and ended up never finding a viable solution.

It was then that I knew how big the opportunity could be if we set out to build the best automated webinar platform that’s ever existed.

I researched automated and live webinar software extensively, and what resulted was an understanding of what was lacking in webinar automation, and the detailed criteria for what would make the best automated webinar experience for both the host and attendee.

Why great automated webinar solutions are hard to build

The key ingredients to a great product are founders who are obsessed with the problem they are trying to solve, and who are obsessed about making their customers happy. When you are obsessed with the problem, you become intentional about every detail in your product. When you're obsessed about making your customers happy, you become inflexible with the quality of product you deliver. It becomes unacceptable to be less than perfect, it’s not okay to just be okay - and a great product is a result of those things.

Features are easy to build, but not all features are built the same. The best products anticipate the needs of their customers by considering how users naturally navigate within your software, and truly understand how users utilize features to accomplish their tasks. You can always tell when a feature in a product is built just to exist, and when it’s built with intention. 

This is something that is hard for anything, not just automated webinars, and it’s hard because not only does it take a deep understanding of user experience and thoughtfulness, it also requires continuous improvement, which sometimes means taking things apart and rebuilding them. 

Constant iteration to achieve the best product is a hassle, and it’s difficult. It takes a lot of time and effort that most companies don’t have, or they simply don’t want to do it. It is also hard because this level of obsession and continuous improvement requires a team of highly-skilled developers, and developers are expensive.

If you look at every category of product, there are clear market leaders who persistently work to build a better product, and that’s likely what got them to the top. Live-first webinar companies like Zoom, Demio, and Livestorm follow these principles, there just hasn’t been a company dedicated to building a great webinar automation product until we came along.

While an automated webinar solution doesn’t sound like much, the product has many key components that make it a complicated product. It has a flexible scheduler, email notification system, video component, interactions in the presentation room, chat, and website builder. The bigger the product, the harder it is to get right - so the size of this product adds an extra layer of difficulty in order to make it great.

In my search to find that perfect automated webinar solution, it became clearer that all existing products had shortcomings.

These are the five key gaps I identified:

Gap 1: Successful webinar companies focused on live broadcast but not on automation

A lot of companies were focused on live broadcast, and seeing huge success with it. Zoom was blowing up and the webinars were becoming a household name. Surely, all the companies that are using Zoom are also using it to connect with their customers, delivering regular, repetitive online training sessions, and have the same problem I had lived with for many years. 

It was clear to me with the success of these companies and consumer adoption that the world was moving towards utilizing webinars as a key component of their business, as it’s the only way to get in front of someone anywhere in the world, anytime. What was also clear to me was that the next phase of this had to be webinar automation

Live webinars cannot be scaled because they require a live host; automated webinars can, and this is the key to scaling any webinar strategy without adding any resources. There was no market leader that was 100% dedicated to delivering a great automated webinar solution.

Some live-first webinar companies have automation features, but those features were only gated landing pages with a static video, or playing the video at a scheduled time with no opportunity for two-way engagement with attendees. It did the job, but a very poor one that took away all the benefits a webinar is supposed to have. 

The needs of the host and attendees are vastly different in a live session versus an automated session. Take scheduling for example, a live event happens once and an automated one happens on a recurring schedule. That means event creation, email notifications, and registration experience all have to be different — and that is just one small element of a webinar event. This is the reason why live-first webinar solutions can never deliver a great automated webinar tool.

During live webinars, hosts share content through voice, video, and screen share; therefore, live-first webinars need to be designed for the hosts. So, when they try to build automation features, they are constrained to the set of features that hosts need.

Automated webinars don’t have hosts, and are all about attendees consuming and engaging with video at the time most convenient for them, so they need to be designed for the attendee experience. Automated-first webinars that try to build live features are constrained by the set of features attendees need. 

When either live or automated-first solutions tried to build features for the other purpose, both inevitably sacrificed on the other experience.

Gap 2: Existing solutions were ugly and unusable by enterprise

If you Google automated webinars, you’ll be quick to find at least 5 solutions that make you question how they can exist and have a viable business. It’s almost like they were all stuck in time from 10 years ago, and that outer (lack of) beauty extends from their website to their product.

Companies spend so much time, effort, and money on branding now because consumers are savvy. Unfortunately, the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” only applies to people. In software, you only judge a book by its cover! People are willing to give an app a few more seconds if it looks nice, and no time if it doesn’t. And our measurement of time for attention span has gone down to seconds! 

It’s no wonder that most companies have not adopted automated webinars as part of their strategy yet, because existing solutions were simply not good enough for companies to be seen using it. Like how I was always a little embarrassed by the solution I used, others were probably in the same boat.

To win business from enterprises, SMBs, and LEs (large enterprises), you have to make your customers look just as amazing as they make themselves look, if not even more amazing, and no automated webinar solutions were doing that properly.

Gap 3: Solutions were built for marketers intent on tricking consumers

Not only was design of these solutions uninspiring, there was a common theme within existing solutions - they were designed for marketers aiming to trick consumers into thinking the webinar is live when it is not. 

They had features like a chat system where you can load in fake attendees and fake conversations to make it seem like people are participating and purchasing, to create FOMO, fake demand, and fraudulent social proof so consumers will pull out their credit card. They had fake attendee counters to make it seem like all webinars are well attended. This practice is predatory, and demonstrates the all-too-common lack of integrity in the automated webinar industry.

These companies not only used these strategies to attract and grow their own customer base, they also teach these “webinar marketing strategies'' to their customers to use in their own businesses. The result is the creation of a community of contrapreneurs, which created a bad name for automated, evergreen webinars. It’s no wonder that oftentimes when someone hears “evergreen webinars,” they immediately think of sleazy sales tactics.

Gap 4: Always missing the one feature that makes it a true automated webinar solution: live chat

Even if you are willing to accept the shortcomings in existing solutions — like I had to — because the pain of not being able to scale myself was so big, there is one major gap that couldn’t be overlooked: all existing automated webinar solutions were missing the one feature that makes it a true automated webinar solution. One thing that allows you to be removed from your computer while hosting. Live chat.

While most solutions said they have live chat, you’ll recall my earlier point that not all webinar features are built the same. All live webinar solutions have live chat, but not all automated webinar solutions offer that option. To build a great live chat system is not easy because of the points I have raised above: it takes intention, thoughtfulness, and significant development resources.

“Live chat” features in automated webinar solutions were either a comment box that sends an email to your inbox, or a system that required you to be there answering on the back end when the session is on and attendees are live. The first option doesn’t allow you to converse with attendees live, and the second requires you to be there when the session is going on - which is not automation; automation means the ability to accomplish a task without being there

To truly automate a webinar, you need a system that does not require you to be there to monitor each session, and still gives you the option to engage at your convenience. While I used a solution in my previous startup, I always struggled with the fact that when attendees asked me questions, I only got them through email, and they would only get my response through email, and not through the webinar room so we can engage with each other in real-time.

Gap 5: Most webinar solutions do not offer comprehensive metric tracking or actionable analytics

The best that established companies like Zoom and GoToWebinar offered was the opportunity to download a CSV file that you have to manipulate yourself. Newer webinar startups like Demio, Livestorm, and TwentyThree had invested in reporting and actually offered a dashboard with some analytics beyond the typical registrants list download, but overall, most companies had really poor reporting — if they had any at all. 

If you look at other types of enterprise solutions, like CRMs for example, reporting to understand user journey and activity is a huge part of the offering. Why is it that webinar software is so behind? I should be able to easily look at a report of my attendees and see where people have dropped off, where they reacted, and what they interacted with to figure out what they care most about, so I can improve my content and presentation for next time. 

I should be able to leverage webinars to gather information about my customers so I can collect feedback about my product and service, and use webinars as a marketing tool — not just to deliver video content. If I have the attendee's attention for an hour, I should be able to make use of that time to engage with them, collect data, then analyze that data later to further my webinar strategy business.

And like the others, webinar analytics became one more easily identifiable gap in the long list of what was missing with webinar tools. It was time for a drastic change.

Our strategy for building eWebinar: the best automated webinar platform

With the gaps identified, we had the foundation for building a product we would be proud of, one we know companies would be excited to partner with to scale their teams and free up their time. 

We felt that if we can address all these gaps, be obsessed about the problems automated webinars help solve, and make customers happy, we would genuinely have the best automated webinar platform around, and that’s what we did with eWebinar.

A single product that can offer all of the solutions below was exceedingly hard to manifest and build. So to explain these solutions, I’m going to address each gap in the same order as above, and share with you exactly how we solved all these problems.

Solution 1: A dedicated automated webinar solution with no live capabilities

I had talked about how a live-first solution can have automation features and an automated-first solution can have live features, but the needs of the host and attendees for a live session and an automated one are so different that you cannot have a great live and automated product in one. Any company claiming to both is sacrificing quality on one of these

We decided to focus 100% on automation because so many companies are doing so well in live broadcast offering great experiences, and the world doesn’t need another company solving that problem. That is no longer a problem that requires solving.

The opportunity is in helping companies scale their team and webinar strategies; the people who are already using webinars and videos in their businesses and struggling to keep up. We continue to listen closely for problems our customers are trying to solve, and work at creating meaningful solutions and features to address those needs. 

The result of saying no to any live webinar capabilities means less distraction and less limitations, because we don’t have to fit two solutions into one. It means we can go much deeper into building features dedicated to automation that so-called 2-in-1 companies simply cannot do, and it also means we attract customers who care deeply about the problems we’re helping them solve. Yes, we may lose out on some customers who are looking for two solutions in one, but we’re okay with that — we’ll win them one day.

Solution 2: Make webinars fun and interactive, because webinars are so boring

If you look at 20 webinar solutions, you’ll see that they all resemble each other, both in the creation experience and in the attendee experience. It’s almost like there were improvements in UI/UX over the years, but no significant changes to the real roots of the webinar formula.

When you look at all the apps on your phone and the things you operate your life with, they’re all beautiful, fun, and consumer-friendly. So why is it that when you launch into a Zoom call, it’s immediately corporate and feels like a boardroom? Aren’t we all consumers? Why shouldn’t attending a webinar be like watching Netflix, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, or Twitch? 

If that’s where we consume video during our leisure time, then why shouldn’t consuming video for work be leisurely? Why is there such a distinct difference between consuming video for fun and consuming video for work?

Webinars are boring, but they don’t have to be. If webinar success is measured by engagement and watch time, then webinars should be fun and interactive. When we started the design process of eWebinar, we decided not to take any inspiration from webinar companies. Instead, we took inspiration from consumer video platforms and apps, and decided to reimagine what a webinar experience for today’s consumer should look and feel like.

eWebinar presentation room

The result of innovating without the limitation of existing solutions was a webinar creation process centered around a video that mimics video editing software, and a branded webinar room with a variety of interactions and reactions - because that’s what people are used to in their everyday lives. That’s what they expect, and that’s the new normal for video consumption. We’ve just applied it to something that is traditionally corporate and boring.

Solution 3: Build a product with integrity that companies of all sizes would be proud of using

We’re aware that existing solutions were built around tricking consumers, but that is something that never sat well with me. We know that not building those features means aren’t able to market to existing users of other platforms which would have been the quickest path to revenue, and as a non-venture backed startup, profitability is what keeps us up at night. But I don’t condone this business practice and I wish there were legal repercussions for doing this. 

We made a conscious decision to not have features other tools have that help people lie to their customers.  If you care about running your webinars — and subsequently your business — with integrity, that means:

  • No fake chats and conversations
  • No fake attendee names
  • No fake attendee counters
  • No fake sign ups and sales alerts

Integrity is our #1 principle, and the foundation on which we build our company. We are willing to sacrifice gaining a lot of the wrong customers quickly in exchange for taking the time to find more of the right customers.

The last thing I’d want is for someone to attend an eWebinar and think to themselves that the last time they attended a webinar hosted on our platform, they were tricked into believing the webinar was live when it wasn’t, and worse, tricked into making a purchase because of fake demand.

Having integrity doesn’t just mean not building in features that trick consumers. For us, it also means delivering an awesome product that serves the needs of our customers — always. It means being responsive to our customers and their customers to ensure their reputation would only be enhanced by choosing us as partners. It means delivering exactly what we say we will, and being accountable for any shortcomings. If companies were to take a chance on us, we want them to think to themselves — I’m willing to put my name to this company because they will not let me down.

These are the principles on which our company is founded, and the result is a product built with love, intention, and thoughtfulness that companies of all sizes are proud of using.

I’ve written more about integrity here.

Solution 4: Build a webinar solution that frees people from their computers, completely

The purpose of automation is the ability to accomplish a task without being there - anything short of that is not automation. In the context of webinar automation, it’s not automated if:

  • You have to be there to press play at the session start; playing a video on Zoom is not an automated webinar.
  • You have to be there for every session to be able to chat with your customer; a solution with a subpar chat system cannot offer you full automation.
  • You can’t engage in a two-way conversation with attendees (if you choose to); a video with an email comment box in place of chat does not offer a great experience. This is also why an “on demand webinar” — which is nothing but a static video hosted on a landing page — is not an automated webinar.

Building the best automated webinar platform means building a solution that allows people to run their business without being there, ever, if they don’t want to be. To do this, we had to invest in a live chat system that mimics chat systems you see in support software. A chat system that moves conversations to emails when attendees are offline. That way, you can choose to engage live if you like, but you never miss a question because if you don’t answer live, then the attendee will get your response on email. 

To be truly automated, you must be able to moderate chat from your mobile phone. You will be hard pressed to find any webinar software other than eWebinar, live or automated, that will allow you to log in to the backend on mobile devices; they all require you to login from your desktop.

This type of chat is a similar communication experience consumers already have when contacting tech and non-tech companies. This is not new - we have just applied it to eWebinar so it can be the first truly (and best) automated webinar platform.

I know how painful it is to be tied to your computer doing repetitive webinars because you have no choice, and I have written extensively about designing the life you want to live.

Solution 5: Deliver analytics that are easy to understand, actionable, and mind-blowingly beautiful

We want to be the best in everything that we do, and analytics is no exception. Because most webinar companies don't offer great reporting, we see this as a way we can differentiate ourselves and gain a competitive advantage. 

A lot of beautiful dashboards are difficult to understand, and they present data that is not actionable; it's almost like they were designed to look pretty without consideration to make the data digestible. 

We designed a report that is easy to understand from first glance, actionable, and of course, mind-blowingly beautiful like the rest of our platform. We created something our customers are excited to show their team and their customers, something that helps them understand their presentation so they can make it better, and something that helps them dive into attendee activities very easily. 

We made sure our reporting shows our customers the value of using eWebinar by showing them how much time they're saving with each webinar — because that is our mission. The result is the one feature I am most proud of being involved with in the past decade, and something that continues to surprise and delight our customers.

eWebinar analytics dashboard

At eWebinar, our mission is to give people back their time. We want you to reclaim your time to do something you value more because we believe in life design. We believe that you should have full control over your life and your business, and you can’t have control over either if you don’t have control over your time.

If you feel my message resonates with you, you can check out eWebinar by watching the 2 minute video below, or by joining the 15 minute next demo.

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