Since the rise of remote work, the average employee saves around two to three hours a day by skipping commutes and in-person meetings¹. In exchange, they face rising numbers of remote meetings and webinars – and they’re burning out.
While studies on the causes of “Zoom Fatigue” are inconclusive, it’s a proven phenomenon². Everyone who participates in video meetings, both presenters and viewers, tire quickly, yet these meetings are an integral part of remote businesses today.
Melissa Kwan created her startup, eWebinar, to make the dreaded and tiresome webinar more bearable for everyone involved.
While growing a previous startup targeted at real-estate brokers, Melissa performed an endless series of webinars for agents who frequently failed to show up. She realized that while webinars were a necessary part of some businesses, they were a tremendous time drain for lean startups run by small core teams. They didn’t need to be done live and in person any more than a movie needs to be viewed live.
After successfully selling her company, she launched a new business creating the perfect asynchronous webinar. After three years without taking a paycheck, today she makes $500,000 in annual recurring revenue with a remote, global team of contractors. She’s also created a brand new system for more effective webinars.
Why Is There No Netflix for B2B Communications?
eWebinar is Melissa’s third startup. After an eight-year career in sales, she created her first startup, Flat World Applications Inc. in 2011 and a second one called Spacio in 2015.
Flat World was a real-estate startup creating marketing applications tied to specific buildings. “If you walk into a presale building, you’ll get a paper brochure,” says Melissa. “Our product was those informational brochures on iPads placed inside presale buildings as well as sales tools.”
Flat World kept adding features at client requests until it became almost an agency. Tired of constantly creating new features, Melissa took a loan against the business and created a new real-estate SaaS called Spacio. She ran the business for almost five years until Minneapolis real-estate tech company, HomeSpotter, acquired it in 2019³.
Spacio was a successful business, but webinars were a pain point in its model. “Adoption and engagement drove our revenue, so I’d have to do these back-to-back webinars for onboarding and training all the time – often while traveling,” says Melissa. “Since we were a bootstrapped company, I was doing everything except writing code, including these webinars.”
The busy real estate agents Melissa pitched rarely showed up to her webinars. She says the average attendance was as low as ten percent. That meant she had to put on even more poorly-attended webinars to make up for low numbers. She realized this was something she could automate. The webinars were all the same – just for different companies.
After Melissa sold Spacio, she traveled for a period and contemplated her next venture while working as a VP at HomeSpotter. The more she thought about the problem, the more she knew an asynchronous, automated webinar was what the world needed. Similar solutions existed, but in that decade, Silicon Valley had focused on live streaming. Webinar automation had barely changed.
Why do we expect to press play for consumer content but not for business content?
“I think the future is on-demand content and asynchronous communication – it’s text, it’s Whatsapp, it’s Zendesk, it’s YouTube, and it’s Netflix,” she says. “Why do we expect to press play for consumer content but not for business content? What if I told you that you can only watch your favorite show next week at eleven? There’s a disconnect there.”
She decided she needed to create an asynchronous yet engagement-focused webinar service. Two months after her acquisition in 2019, she pitched her early-stage product to a packed Excel sheet of contacts compiled from her entire career in real estate and sales.
“For eight weeks I went down the list, and ironically, did one-on-one demos with them – the very problem I wanted to solve.”
Melissa knew webinars were a time drain at many businesses and most of her leads agreed. Though her contacts recognized the problem, structural barriers prevented businesses from signing up to use her product – especially large enterprises.
“Most people in small and medium-sized companies were interested, but large companies struggled to get on board. They already employed ten to twenty people dedicated to tasks that included webinars.”
Fortunately, bootstrapped and capital-efficient small to medium-sized companies, similar to the ones she’d run, were excited about eWebinar. She soon picked up her first clients and proceeded to build her product. Today, eWebinar’s customers are largely customer success staff for tech companies and sales and marketing departments.
How to Make a Good Asynchronous Webinar
To save businesses from running the same webinar over and over, eWebinar takes the pre-recorded video and adds a communication component.
“It’s pretty easy to get started,” says Melissa. “You record a video either on something like Loom or QuickTime and upload it into eWebinar. Once it’s up, it’s not just a video. You can program in interactivity like polls, questions, and other resources. It also has a two-way asynchronous chat feature.”
eWebinar’s asynchronous chat lets webinar moderators respond to questions with direct messages either live or after the event via email. The platform also has an autoresponder feature that runs in the background if no one is monitoring the video while it’s being viewed. Presenters can respond on their own time and viewers receive their comments as emails.
Melissa thinks one of the strongest use cases for eWebinar is the amount of data one frequently-used webinar module can generate. Like asynchronous video messenger, Loom, eWebinar provides feedback points like timestamped comments, reactions, and a tracker for where viewers drop off. Unlike Loom, eWebinar provides much more in-depth analytics for presenters.
“As you can imagine, the more you run it, the better data you get. With a one-time webinar, you only get one shot at engagement. If you do the webinar on Zoom and only twenty percent of your invitees show up, you can’t take an accurate poll and you don’t learn anything.”
Great Workers Aren’t Always Great Cofounders
As a veteran of two previous startups, Melissa has seen many of the pitfalls founders frequently fall into. She set out to make eWebinar free of the headaches she’d had at previous businesses – the largest being a cofounder.
“I was a little sick of working with cofounders. My previous cofounder for my last two businesses was an amazing engineer but not a great CTO. Coming into eWebinar I thought I didn’t need a technical cofounder, so I hired a dev shop (an agency that handles software development for clients) to handle that side while I focused on building.”
However, Melissa soon became frustrated with the dev shop she worked with. “They hugely underestimated what it took to build a product,” she says. “And, unfortunately, my friend also owned that particular dev shop so that friendship is not as great as it was before.”
A fortunate connection in her personal life ended up solving the problem of product development and finding a reliable technical cofounder.
“My now cofounder, David, who’s also my life partner, was a fractional CTO for multiple companies,” she says. “He helped me bridge the work from the dev shop to another dev shop in Vietnam, explaining what the previous one had done wrong. He started volunteering his time to fix things and it turns out he’s an amazing coder. I made him my cofounder and we worked out some terms and shares that would make sense.”
Coming in from almost a decade of creating startups, I knew I didn’t like managing people and I didn’t want to deal with hiring and firing full-time employees.
Though Melissa came around to a cofounder, she was certain she’d never hire full-time employees again. “Coming in from almost a decade of creating startups, I knew I didn’t like managing people and I didn’t want to deal with hiring and firing full-time employees.”
Melissa sources her entire development team as contractors in Vietnam and Belarus. She hires writers for specific tasks like blogs and even hires a contractor as her COO and head of partnerships. She believes employment structures like hers are the future of tech.
“I believe people should have the freedom to come and go as they choose,” she says. “ This is the way to give people autonomy and keep people who appreciate how we work. We don’t have to worry about losing people to other startups because we don’t compete on salary, we compete on culture and freedom. I’ve always had a remote team and I’ve always been a nomad.”
The Future of Sales Is Community Driven
Though eWebinar makes healthy revenue today, Melissa is still deciding the best way to grow the business. She laments that her sales training seems much less relevant today. It has forced her to develop different skills.
“I am convinced that social validation and community selling are the new sales – and that’s where I don’t have the expertise,” she says. “I’m taking Justin Welsh’s course on how to create content that engages. I would never have thought about doing all that before. I would just get in touch with you and then, naturally, you’d want to know what I do. The world has completely shifted away from that.”
Specifically, Melissa thinks customers in niches like SaaS don’t want or need the hand holding of large B2B transactions. They don’t want sales calls, they want more information online about products.
People are inundated with too much content. They want to find products on their own and ask their peers what they think.
“I can’t get people on a phone call to buy a monthly fifty-dollar subscription. I’ve found community building is the new sales. People are inundated with too much content. They want to find products on their own and ask their peers what they think. We excel if we allow them to organically learn more about our product.”
Intent on community-building, Melissa is actively creating a presence on her social media accounts like LinkedIn. She not only wants to promote eWebinar, but also provide a narrative counter to the “hyper-growth” model pushed by many venture-backed founders.
“I find LinkedIn such a double-edged sword. On one side, I learn a lot, but it’s discouraging to read about people making millions in only a year. I think ninety-nine percent of people do what I do. You’re not supposed to do $10 million in sales in a year and a half.”
Melissa has volumes of advice to offer other founders. For one, she encourages a frugal mindset – but within reason. “For seven years, while I was building Flat World and Spacio, I didn’t pay myself a regular salary. That was extremely difficult. I would wait to see what was left at the end of the month and then give myself enough to cover rent and basic expenses. My credit was wrecked from all the money I put into the business. For two of those years, I had one meal a day which I realize now was absurd.”
She also thinks a basic grasp of sales and presentation is one of the best ways to get your startup’s story heard and understood.
“No one is a born salesperson, so you need to learn the basics. I’d say if you are already building a company of your own, you should read a book called The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. It teaches you how to present to get a desired outcome. That’s a skill every founder needs to have. It’s not so much sales as storytelling.”
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