Why More Conferences, Meet-ups and Networking Events Should Be A Live/Online Hybrid

Casey Lau
5 min readSep 10, 2020


This story originally appeared on Techcouver.

As co-host of the RISE conference in Asia and the recent Collision from Home — the online version of Collision, normally held in Toronto — it was an incredible pivot by a team of 250+ and you can read all about the response and the final numbers here.

The results are extremely promising, as to question why don’t we do them all like this in the future, pandemic or not.

While there are arguments to do them live (eating and drinking with other humans) there are just as many against (airfare, hotels, jet lag) that there is no ultimate answer for a conference especially when you add in the word “tech” to it as you would imagine our industry is looking to disrupt all the old ways of doing things and that includes trade shows and conferences.

In Hong Kong, where I co-founded StartupsGBA.org, I would host meet-ups every Monday but purposely not record them or livestream them believing you had to just “be there” as that was half the fun and it would also add to the dynamics in getting more and more people to attend — and I was right, the events grew massively to 500+ people each week in spaces meant for half that many.

But looking back, that mindset hurt the main point of these meet-ups and panel sessions in getting the world out globally and to more ecosystems that were looking to us as inspiration and for information.

I see the immediate future breaking down into these three types of formats for large groups — take note if you are building anything in this space or pivoting into it:

The Experts Panel — this happens 100x a day, usually held on Zoom, 0 engagement by viewers.

The Networking Meet-up — a giant chat room, with-without-video-audio, messy, like in real life.

The Conference — full blown organized event with thousands of people like Collision from Home, AR/VR Summit, SaaStock Remote.

It’s good to make a checklist of what is the most important to you and then match it with something you are building or pair with something out there.

A few startups that are in the online conference space: Hopin, Run the World, Dealroom, Icebreaker, Network Tables, vFairs, Evia, Crowdcast, Meetyoo, and Airmeet.

I’m sure this list will grow exponentially every month!

We built our own platform from scratch. We have an incredible app that we use for all our events and were able to build a robust networking feature into and compliment that with a web-based version so that you could have 2 to 3 screens available and cover more “ground” than you could in real life.

My set-up for Collision From Home — big monitor, laptop monitor and iPhone with a mix of speaker panels, Mingle video chats and in-app chats going on simultaneously.

Transparency in an ecosystem or a vertical in an ecosystem is very important. The need to include as many others is as important as having consistent high quality events like Startup Grind which plugs Vancouver into a global ecosystem.

Paddy Cosgrave, the co-founder of Web Summit — said that all events will be hybrid events in the future and I feel like that will be The New Normal. He told me that there were a large number of attendees to Web Summit in Portugal that bought a ticket but didn’t even attend the live event and instead gained access to the networking app and website and made all their connections that way.

Not everyone is there to listen to speakers, a large majority are there to network.

And that’s the key, many event organizers think it’s the other way, but when any company can now throw on their own Hopin event and tailor content directly to their audience the demand for specialty events will increase.

At SaaStock Remote, I hosted a fireside with Andrey Khusid the founder of Miro, a great product — but what fascinated me is that Miro hosts its own remote work conference called Distributed with participation from Slack and Hubspot.

I am impressed that a traditional show like the San Diego Comic-Con is making a run for an online event later this month. I always thought they left a lot of money on the table by not having a simultaneous online/offline event. They are having to rethink their entire business model — for the better — there are just so many opportunities a brand like that can leverage on with a hybrid model event that still benefits attendees, businesses and the city of San Diego.

So the takeaway is basically a call to arms for more open events online, its a call for startups to look at the massive opportunities here and for Vancouver to take a shot at it and focus all of its growing verticals out there so that they can be seen by other countries and ecosystems. Re-channel resources from live events to figure out the best model for yours online one. It’s not “cancel 2020, and use the resources to make 2021 bigger” — if you think that, you are in for a rude surprise.

If you missed Collison from Home, Web Summit is going ahead in December.

Please invite me to your online event and I’m happy to give you a toonies worth of feedback. DM’s are always open at twitter.com/casey_lau.

Stay Safe, Techcouver.



Casey Lau

thoughts on everything from startup ecosystems, conferences, anime, video games, comic books, digital entertainment to cats and ninjas.