Zerista – End of an Era

I recently left Zerista, a company I founded in 2008 and that was acquired at the end of last year by Simpleview. Zerista sells an event platform for conferences – think of it as cross between Facebook and LinkedIn for events with the goal of delivering a better event experience. Zerista provides networking, recommendations, matchmaking, agenda building, meeting scheduling, etc. for both attendees and companies at conferences. It includes a web interface, mobile interface and of course native apps.

So it seems like a good time to look back at what we accomplished since the early days working around my dining room table.

First, I will always be grateful to all my friends and family that both morally and monetarily supported my quest to start a company – without them nothing would have happened. Starting a company is tough. It super long hours and I didn’t pay myself for 18 months. Its only thanks to Yue’s support, and patience, that Zerista was born.

Second, looking back its painful to think of all the mistake we made. I suppose that’s part of learning by doing, but boy there were some painful lessons:

  • Not starting with the right sales talent in place
  • Losing Mobile World Congress as a customer after having one successful conference but not a second (not handling very well a big, unexpected spike in traffic)
  • Dabbling with creating mobile-based communities, ala Ning.
  • Being six months late into making native apps
  • Making some poor executive hiring decisions that later had to be undone
  • Not having enough industry visibility in the early days and therefore coming late to CVent’s acquisition process (they bought CrowdCompass instead of us)

Yet Zerista survived and eventually we found our footing. We gained fabulous customers, such as BIO International and huge media companies like Clarion, Reed, etc. We became the leading company for hosted-buyer events. We also outlasted (or should that be beat?) so many competitors I can’t remember them all. Starting with EventVue, a early TechStars company, and going through tens, if not hundreds, since then. The event industry is alluring – it’s huge, fragmented and everyone thinks they understand it. Its not until you get into it that you realize how complex an event platform can be – conferences are so widely different that you end up building a lot of software.

Most impressively, that was all done on a shoe-string budget. Zerista raised $2.3 million – a paltry sum compared to competitors such as Cvent (was a public company), QuickMobile (8.8 million), DoubleDutch (78.7 million). Its a testament to the team that we could compete, and beat, such companies. Zerista has a reputation for great, hands-on customer service and its products regularly win awards and are considered some of the best in the industry.

Now that Zerista is part of Simpleview, it has access to vastly more resources and can take advantage of Simpleview’s deep roots in the event industry. I’m sure it will continue to do great things! But for me, after having spent a decade building Zerista, its time to say goodbye and start something new.

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