Tiki Barber’s events startup, Thuzio, expands in growing virtual meetups business

Pre-pandemic, the company produced live events that featured sports stars like Scottie Pippen, Lisa Leslie and Julius Irving, along with celebrity chefs and big-name investors. Barber has regularly appeared at events as a guest and moderator. 

With that side of the business off-limits because of Covid-19, the company has moved to digital events for corporate clients, such as virtual happy hours, interviews and cooking lessons. Thuzio ships out gifts—known as swag—ahead of its events, such as a bottle of wine before a virtual happy hour with retired NFL running back Brian Westbrook.  

“You have to treat virtual events like real events and not video calls,” said Augustine, a former Seamless executive. “Events have swag bags, runs of show and heavy marketing.” 

Clients include Pepsi, JPMorgan Chase, DraftKings and Verizon. 

The acquisition of Robin, which is based in Toronto, will make it easier for corporate clients to book Thuzio events, as well as connect Thuzio’s new members with virtual events not hosted by the company. Thuzio in September launched a $495 per year membership for its virtual event series. 

The market for business events and conferences was valued at about $1 trillion before the pandemic by Oxford Economics. But companies have struggled to shift the networking-driven events online. Web conferences typically garner about 13% of the revenues expected for in-person equivalents, according to a report earlier this fall from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, a trade group.

Augustine acknowledged that virtual events may not drive the same ticket prices, but said they are less expensive to host, easier to launch and can hold larger audiences. His company’s clients view them not as revenue drivers but as a way to connect with clients. 

Thuzio launched eight years ago as a service to book athletes and other influencers for corporate gatherings but for the past three years has focused on producing events. Augustine and Barber launched the company with investor Mark Gerson. Early financial backers included Stephen Ross, who invested through RSE Venture, an investment firm Ross co-founded.

Even when live events are safe again, Augustine said virtual meet-ups will stick around. 

 “Virtual is not just a stopgap, but a cornerstone of our business going forward,” Augustine said. “Our clients have found better returns virtually, so we expect they will continue to do it. The only question is how much.”

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