Meet Virtually launched toward the end of 2019, and its timing couldn’t be any better given how the coronavirus has flipped the world—and the meetings and events industry—upside down.
Travis Pham, CMP, co-founder of Meet Virtually has over a decade of experience in the meetings and events industry. Before founding the company with his managing partners, Michael Friedman and Javier Valdez, he worked on the destination and management event side of the industry and focused on a lot of incentive programs for global hotel sales.
Meet Virtually is a full-service virtual travel, meetings and events agency for corporate meeting groups that showcases exclusive virtual experiences from around the world. Some of the vetted experiences include virtual hangout with the stars of “Hamilton,” an interactive cooking class with celebrity chefs and escape room challenges for corporate teambuilding. The platform also offers strategic planning services for online meetings and events.
One of the goals of the company is to “strengthen the human connection—one virtual experience at a time.” Connect spoke with Pham, a previous Connect 40 under 40 winner in 2019, about Meet Virtually.
1. Can you explain the origin of Meet Virtually?
In developing Meet Virtually, we noticed a lot of our fortune 500 companies were having to translate their in-person meetings online. But we wanted to still provide that authenticity to a destination within that experience. When we started this program, we fed it to our in-person vendors that we usually hire for in-person events and collaborated with them to develop experiences that translated online to a virtual meeting.
2. Was Meet Virtually in the works for a while? Or something brand new given the current state of the industry?
Right before COVID-19 happened, we were already pivoting to virtual experiences, then it just happened to work. The timing couldn’t be better. We started to use Zoom last year for all of our team meetings. I think a lot of people are new to this space. What helps us is that we come from the live events world and we’re able to easily commit. The entire industry is learning how to change their ways of traditionally thinking about events.
3. Are there logistical challenges with having to set up things virtually?
It does require a flexible team. Our approach is listening to what the client is trying to accomplish from their perspective first. Because we not only provide the experience, but we also assist in building out that virtual platform from beginning to end and that will help us shape what experience is best for you and when is the appropriate time to introduce that experience program overall.
We ship wines and gifts as part of the experience to all 50 states as well as internationally. It requires a more logistical mindset, and I think that’s what differentiates us from a lot of tech companies you see getting into this space. All of us have come from the in-person meeting world and we understand the logistical side of things. We understand the language that our meeting planners are speaking to make it a little bit easier from them to digest the virtual world has they all pivot toward these hybrid experiences.
4. Meet Virtually started with corporate and social groups first. Are there plans to extend to other industries such as association or luxury groups?
That’s really Javier’s lane because that’s what he knows and that’s his space. He owns a luxury travel agency and it focuses on sustainable travel all over the world. All of his travel agents were out of business because of the pandemic. So, while Michael and I have these virtual experiences, Javier wanted to take that and turn it into a virtual travel experience.
What’s interesting is once the technology is there, the opportunities are endless. We’re reaching out to people that we can do things in real life and have them develop their virtual offerings. A lot of our guests are asking us to push the envelope. It’s no longer just trivia nights. What’s getting a lot of attention is our high-end experiences. We have a relationship with the PGA because golf courses are open in Florida. We’re able to do virtual golf lessons with a PGA pro on the golf course itself.
5. For corporate meetings, is there capacity on how many people can be in a meeting, or is it infinite?
It’s infinite depending on the platform. That’s something we would talk through in the beginning and see how many users you need. How many breakouts do you need? How many general session rooms do you need? Do you need an exhibit hall? There are a ton of these platforms that we vetted and have certifications to build out full conferences and trade shows.
6. There are multiple AV providers and companies in the industry that have pivoted to virtual services. What sets Meet Virtually apart from its competitors?
Our tagline is “We don’t speak tech. We speak meetings.” I think it’s different when you’re planning an in-person meeting because there are things you look for. I was a meeting planner that went to the DMC side, planning programs and the destinations you don’t really think about when going in to the virtual world. So, it’s navigating it, talking and consulting, and I think that’s our differentiating factor. That we’re able to speak the language.
7. What are some examples of attendee engagement in a Meet Virtually meeting?
We’re working with a client, an insurance company, on designing your own sneaker with an NBA pro like Walter “Clyde” Frazier. We digitally present a blank shoe and have the event attendees work on the artwork with the NBA pro and then have the shoes customized and sent as a follow-up gift. We’re finding different ways to interact with people and also make it a business session. Frazier was a player and team leader for the [New York] Knicks for years so he can share leadership advice with these event professionals and then at the same time you can get creative and have fun as well. We’re always trying to get different things we can offer depending on the client’s needs.
8. What are some of the goals for Meet Virtually?
Our long-term goal is to focus on hybrid events. After a vaccine is found, people will start meeting again, and we’re huge advocates for face-to-face meetings. But I also think there is an opportunity to create these hybrid experiences where you can have breakouts going on virtually and in-person and still be able to come together and share ideas. And then be able to transport people to different parts of the world, cultures and expose them to different types of experience they may not be able to receive at an in-person event. I think that’s where our travel angle comes in. Being able to incorporate vendors from Berlin into a virtual meeting here in New York, so I think the possibilities are endless and connecting people to the world.
Wine Tasting, Virtually
One of the virtual experiences is having a sommelier experience from the comfort of home.
Some of Meet Virtually vendors are wineries in Napa, California; Sonoma, California; and Santa Barbara, California. Pre COVID-19, the Meet Virtually team would take guests out to the vineyards to experience wine tasting on-site. Now, attendees have the opportunity to have those wines shipped to them in advance, so they can enjoy a virtual wine tasting with the sommelier and the wine maker. Pham says that even though it’s not the same experience as being in person, it’s also a great escape now a days for a virtual meeting and a more cost-effective way to add a little spice to liven up a virtual experience.