Tech Giants: Daphne Hoppenot, CEO and Founder, The Vendry
By the time she began working in the male-dominated field of technology, Daphne Hoppenot was used to being one of the few women in the room.
“Even in high school when I was studying engineering, there were two classes of 30 students where I was the only girl,” she said. “For better or worse, you get used to it when you’re in this field.”
After graduating from Princeton University with a bachelor of science in engineering, Hoppenot spent her 20s working in business and market development roles at digital AI-led experience platform company Yext, which gave her exposure to hundreds of conferences and company events, as well as deep insight into the event planning process. The experience not only opened her eyes to a largely unmet need in the events industry but also inspired her to fill that gap.
“I happened to be good friends with the women on our events team [and] I observed that these women, who were producing 180 events around the world every year, were spending an enormous amount of time trying to think of creative ideas for the events and find the venues and vendors that could match their vision,” Hoppenot recalled. “I found it quite astonishing in this day and age that there wasn’t a leading platform they could go to for discovery and sourcing.”
So in September 2018, Hoppenot launched The Vendry, an online marketplace and professional community for events professionals that digitizes the traditionally manual process of requesting, collecting and comparing proposals from venues and vendors. The free platform also offers an exclusive jobs board, discussion forums, networking opportunities and other resources to help planners keep up with industry news and seek inspiration for their events.
“[The name] ‘The Vendry’ is meant to aurally recall a foundry, where the work is messy but the output is beautiful,” she explained.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and with it, in-person events canceled or shifted to virtual experiences as event organizers tried to continue to engage with their audiences. Well-positioned to meet this shifting need, The Vendry pivoted to become a crucial source of shared knowledge, ideas and resources to make the virtual transition as seamless as possible, resulting in the tripling of its user community.
Today, the platform is visited by more than 190,000 unique visitors each month, boasts more than 1,200 corporate event planners who are active in its discussion forums, has launched its marketplace in over 87 cities around the world and lists more than 120,000 meeting and event spaces.
Since its founding, The Vendry has helped planners produce thousands of live and virtual events, according to Hoppenot.
“I feel so lucky to have fallen in love with the events industry and the people within it,” she said. “I feel really passionate about the power and good that can come from bringing people together in person. Even though I started this company before the pandemic, the pandemic only strengthened my conviction in the importance of live events, and I’m quite happy to spend my career making the industry and people within it more successful.”
Corporate Event News had the chance to catch up with this driven event tech professional to hear about the valuable lessons she’s learned building and running a tech company, why fun is an essential component of any strong team culture and why being comfortable with failure is crucial to achieving long-term success.
Since founding The Vendry, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned, particularly as a female CEO in the male-dominated event tech space?
I think that being a woman – and having an exec team that is 80% women – has been one of our company’s biggest advantages. While event tech (as with all tech) is dominated by male founders, event planners themselves are overwhelmingly female. Since we run a community of planners, I think it’s materially impactful that our leadership looks like the demographic we’re serving.
I’m fortunate I haven’t had many overtly sexist experiences. Sometimes I wonder, and I think this applies to anyone who doesn’t look like the “traditional” CEO, “Would that venture capitalist have wanted to invest if I looked different?” But I also wouldn’t want to work with people who have that sort of antiquated view of the world, so I don’t let it stick in my mind long. I’ve been lucky to have been able to find employees, investors and clients who aren’t mentally stuck in the 1950s. Those people are out there!
Here are three big lessons I’ve learned:
- Having the right team is the most important thing – the business idea can evolve but the team is the necessary foundation for success.
- You need to find ways, especially as a founder, to actively combat burnout. I’m a workaholic, and I mean that in a bad sense, so my saving grace has been my two little kids (and a lovely husband) who bring me out of the endless void of work to go on picnics, play Legos and recharge. It’s important to set that precedent and support your team in making the same choices.
- It’s really important that work has a strong element of fun. We’ve built a mostly in-person work culture and from little interactions like voting where we’ll order lunch from, to taking spontaneous trips to get ice cream, to arguing over office music, that “work hard-play hard” work culture propels us forward faster and stronger and I value it greatly.
Building a company can sometimes feel like a slog. You experience a lot of rejection and failure every step of the way. We’ve been very deliberate in building a strong team and team culture, and I’m not sure that The Vendry would even exist today, five years later, without that. I feel really lucky to get to work with such a talented, positive, funny, hard-working team. It makes all the difference on a day-to-day basis.
What drew you to the events industry and what in your professional background prepared you to launch The Vendry?
I felt prepared to launch a tech company because I spent my 20s building a software company pre-product through IPO. With that comes not just the personal experience but the deep, valuable network of people who I was in the trenches with for years. I’ve benefited incredibly from the Yext network from an advice, investment and recruiting perspective – I just hope I can reciprocate!
One thing in particular I feel grateful for is that working at Yext with a high level of visibility into the business, I saw how often we failed while still building an incredibly successful company. I know that failure is something you need to be comfortable with in this journey. Part of the ability to succeed is having the tenacity to keep going.
What has been the most interesting and rewarding aspect of your job?
I love working with so many women. It’s actually pretty rare to be building a B2B product where most of your users and customers are women, but I found an industry where that can be true!
What are some of the biggest pain points event profs are facing nowadays when it comes to sourcing venues and vendors, and how is The Vendry solving those issues?
There’s no good place to go search for venues and vendors. Having embarked on a mission to change that, I understand why no good search platform exists. The data a planner uses to source is incredibly complex. They need hard attributes like address and capacity, but also photos, floor plans, an understanding of cultural relevance (what’s new, hot, trending), recommendations from other trusted planners, an understanding of their company’s previous experiences with the venue or vendor and more. And that’s just for the search and discovery process, let alone the RFP and procurement processes they go through after finding a set of good options.
We spent a lot of time building an innovative RFP tool, just to realize that we were putting the cart before the horse. An RFP tool is handy if you’ve been able to curate a great list of suppliers to reach out to, and our view of the world was that the search platforms out there for planners are nowhere close to being as helpful as they need to be. So we’ve really doubled down on being the best search and discovery platform for planners, with the intention to re-focus on our RFP tool after we’ve definitely accomplished that first goal.
What’s next for The Vendry?
We’re really excited about our new search experience and are gearing up to focus more of our energy in Q3/Q4 on perfecting destination search experiences. We’ll definitely bring back our RFP tool in 2024, and we’re really excited to launch an RFP unlike anything the industry has seen before. To the extent that facilitating instant booking in certain categories is helpful for our users, we’ll add that to our platform, as well.