Chuck Ghoorah of Cvent. (Illustration by Lennart Andresen)

Chuck Ghoora h used to post event fliers all over the Duke University campus as student body president, only to have the maintenance staff come behind him and tear them down. So when a friend by the name of Reggie Aggarwal proposed an idea for an online event registration business called Cvent in 1999, Ghoorah willingly joined as a co-founder and executive vice president. Today, the company does more than online registration. Its products assist in many aspects of the event-planning process. The company’s latest investments focus on mobile apps designed to be used during events. Rather than a distraction to be discouraged, Cvent sees the ubiquitous smartphone as a way to better engage attendees.

How does Cvent approach innovation?

What we try to do is listen to the marketplace. Some of the best ideas come from our customers and prospective customers. We kind of distill through that to figure out which ones to prioritize.

The history of the company is we initially started out in online event registration. A couple years ago, our customers said, “You know what, we have another pain point in terms of researching ... and contracting with the hotels.” They asked us to help solve that pain point for them. That’s how we came up with the Cvent Supplier Network. When we first entered that business in 2008, only $50 million in group business went through the system. By 2013, $6.5 billion in group business went through the system.

Cvent struggled in its early days and nearly went out of business. What was your biggest innovation challenge then?

Looking back on that period, it was just a matter of survival. Our survival formula came down to three things: One, build world-class products. Two, attract and retain customers. And three, hire great people. That was kind of getting back to the basics. We built the business the right way at that point in time. It sounds easy because that’s kind of obvious, but when you’re in the moment, to keep that level [of discipline] up all the time even in the face of that storm was the challenge then.

How have expectations changed among event attendees?

Their expectations have dramatically increased, and they’ve increased because in this mobile world, time is limited. Now there are more options, and so it’s a competitive marketplace to attend an event. If people are going to attend, they want to know they’re going to get real, hard-hitting value. They want to know there’s a hard return on investment, not a soft return on investment. They want measurable results. Ultimately, mobile is how you do that.

Cvent has made a lot of investments in mobile products. Why is that a hot area for you?

The reason we launched mobile is because the attendees want technology, and they want it before and after for more engagement. Before the meeting, through mobile apps that are event specific, the attendees can engage with one another. They can communicate with the planners. They can see who the speakers are ahead of time and submit their questions.

We have a customer — a tech company — that had 2,000 people at their user conference. They had to switch the lunch room at the last minute. What this event organizer did is they got into the mobile app, they sent a push notification through the mobile app, everyone reached into their pocket because they heard the ping, and the whole group shifted en masse to go to the other lunch room.

You’ve been to a conference where everyone has their nose in their phone. If they’re going to have their nose in their phone, it might as well be about your event. If you can’t beat them, join them.

How widely used are mobile apps at events and conferences today?

I think it’s still early days for the mobile app. The paper conference brochure is expensive and out of date the moment you print it. When your break-out session becomes wildly popular, it’s challenging to switch the room because the brochure is already printed. People want the experience to be moved online. And that’s just first-order stuff.

The second order is the way [attendees] interact with each other. It’s the level of engagement they get at the event that is the expectation; that’s what makes them come back another year.

The third order are analytics and big data for the meeting planner. Previous to the mobile apps, it was difficult to prove the return on investment in a hard manner. Organizers are becoming much more data driven instead of just logistics driven. What we’re seeing here is the consumerization of business IT. Business professionals are demanding now business apps akin to their personal apps.

What is the most popular mobile feature Cvent offers?

Our new Event Compass Social Feed has been a big hit, mainly because it consolidates all of the relevant activity going on at the event in one place within the app. Each feed uses smart content technology to serve up personalized content to each and every attendee based on their own interactions with the app.

What do you predict mobile apps or mobile products will look like in five years?

Location awareness will be huge and will go beyond just sending attendees notifications based on their location. It will hyper accelerate networking by cross referencing location with app engagement activities.

You said data analytics are becoming important for event organizers. What kind of information are they collecting and how are they using it?

There are two main ways analytics are being used. First to prove return on investment to sponsors or internal company stakeholders. And second to identify which content is most engaging so the event can be improved year after year.

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