Photo by Fringer Cat on Unsplash

Hosting a virtual event? Build your own platform!

You could pay big money to Hopin, On24, or Vimeo Live. Or you could roll-your-own, using ingredients you probably already have.

uring The Time of Covid, we’ve all tried to figure out how to do virtual events and conferences. Initially, we all used Zoom because that was what we already knew. But Zoom’s webinar functionality isn’t great, since that’s not their core use case. There are bunch of new virtual events platforms such as Hopin and On24, but my experience with them is that they are pricey and buggy.

And so for Demo Day for the 4thly Startup Accelerator last month I decided I’d try to create my own, using tools I already had — and I was surprised at how easy it was.

Thanks to the RTMP protocol, all of us already have streaming video capability in our web browsers¹. Studio platforms like Streamyard, Restream, and OBS Studio let you broadcast your video, share your screen, mix-in pre-recorded video, add guests to the broadcast, choose who to spotlight during a broadcast, etc. Now you just need a destination platform for your viewers, and you can choose YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook Live, and a whole bunch of others. So that part is actually really easy, with no expensive subscriptions or fancy technical skills.

A broadcast studio such as Streamyard, OBS, or Restream gives you the ability to layer on branding, mix pre-prepared video, share slides, change views, highlight speakers, and display comments during Q&A.

Next you’ll need a registration page for your event, and a way to track attendees. So I created an event landing page in Wordpress, with a registration form built in HubSpot. Then I used Zapier to send an instant email automatically to everyone who registered, with their registration info and a link for the event. Since people today like to have a one-click “add to calendar”, I used Add to Calendar to automatically create embedded links to all the major calendar platforms. And I had Zapier also add each new registration to my MailChip email list, with a tag that associated them with this particular event. Then with MailChimp I could send everyone an email reminder before the event, as well as a follow-up after, with a recording of the event. Boom!

With Zapier I was easily able to create automated tasks. Every time someone submits the registration form send them an confirmation email with an add-to-calendar button, and then add that registration data to MailChimp.

Live commenting and Q&A is often part of a good virtual event these days. The broadcast studio platforms I mentioned above support live commenting (depending on your RTMP destination platform) and even allow you to select which comments to display during a real-time Q&A session. There’s also private chat for the people in the broadcast studio.

The best part is that these are all easily-available tools, and nearly free! I used the free versions of Zapier and MailChimp, $25 for Streamyard, and $7 for Add to Calendar. That’s it.

So roll-your-own virtual events platform. You’ll be surprised at how easy and effective it is. But please buy a professional microphone. Nobody wants to struggle to hear you talking to your laptop mic or (worse yet) using those stupid Bluetooth earbud mics. Be a professional, please.

  1. Not all browsers are 100% compliant so you should read-up on browser compatibility of the platform you choose. Chrome is typically the safest choice.

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.