How this virtual event startup rebounded from a near-shutdown to an acquisition amid the pandemic

Pathable co-founder and CEO Jordan Schwartz. (Pathable Photo)

It’s been one heck of a startup roller coaster ride for the team at Pathable this year.

Founded in 2008, the Seattle-based company traditionally makes mobile apps for conferences and events. Its business evaporated earlier this year as physical get-togethers went away.

But as GeekWire reported in March, the 12-year-old startup quickly built out a virtual events platform and saw demand skyrocket. It added more than 100 employees to its 20-person team as revenue spiked 20X.

That caught the attention of Community Brands, a software provider that helps associations, nonprofits, K-12 schools and faith-based groups manage events, memberships, fundraising, and more. The two companies began acquisition talks this summer, and in late September Community Brands purchased Pathable.

Jordan Schwartz, CEO and co-founder at Pathable, called it a “very successful outcome.” Pathable raised a small seed round early in its journey; Schwartz and his co-founder Peter Brown owned a majority of the company prior to the acquisition.

Pathable will continue operating as a standalone business under Community Brands’ umbrella as it helps companies reimagine events now and in a post-pandemic world.

“We get to go invent the future of the event industry,” Schwartz told GeekWire.

When the pandemic hit and companies looked for ways to transition their in-person events to all-digital experiences, Pathable had a head start over competitors. To support its mobile apps, it already built desktop-based back-end architecture to serve online communities for events and help facilitate connection between attendees.

After adding various Zoom video conferencing elements to its platform, Pathable had an end-to-end virtual event offering up and running within a month.

But even with the crazy demand, Schwartz was still worried about Pathable’s future. He knew larger competitors would enter the market and felt that some companies were looking to acquire an entity such as Pathable.

Schwartz worked with Cascadia Capital and reconnected with Community Brands, which actually held acquisition talks with Pathable a few years prior. A deal never happened at the time — but in the end, after a pandemic-induced pivot, it certainly worked out better for Pathable.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Schwartz said.

The company’s culture of staying nimble and attuned with the market also helped, Schwartz added. He also pointed to a financial discipline engrained in the company because it did not take venture capital money.

“We could only work on things that the market wanted enough to pay for,” Schwartz said. “That discipline helped us create a product that was able to survive the ups and downs and twists and turns. And when this opportunity landed in our laps, we were able to take advantage of it.”

Pathable also never had to deal with the shift to remote work — while Schwartz and Brown started the company in Seattle and are based in the region, the startup has been remote-first for years.

Schwartz believes in-person gatherings will return eventually, but he’s convinced virtual events will continue to be a major part of the events industry forever. People will still want to see each other face-to-face, but he said a virtual option helps reduce barriers for those that would prefer to avoid traveling or don’t want to pay for a higher ticket price.

“What we’ve heard from clients is that virtual events are just easier,” Schwartz said. “The cost is so much lower and you can put on more of them.”

ICANN converted its March event to virtual through Pathable and CompTIA has been using the company for hybrid events for some time, embedding broadcasts of their in-person event to remote participants.

Schwartz previously worked at Microsoft for a decade. Brown was a developer at companies including SuperOyster and Trusera before helping launch Pathable as its CTO.

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