Cvent CEO and founder Reggie Aggarwal’s history is one of sheer grit and determination. Just like his company.Founded in 1999, Cvent is now a booming company with 1,000 employees and 10,000 clients in 90 countries.
Cvent offers a cloud app that helps companies organise and manage their events, everything from online registration to processing payments.
Revenues are growing by 40% a year, and it has signed more than 1,400 new clients in 2012 alone, including Toshiba, Deloitte & Touche and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
It’s hard to imagine that just over a decade ago, Cvent was another busted dotcom on the brink of bankruptcy.
“We went from six employees to 125 in 2000,” Aggarwal said. “Then the dotcom meltdown hit, September 11 hit, and reality hit because we had just grown to 125 employees without the revenue. We were a $1.5 million [annual] revenue company at that point.”
“I’m going to take 100% of the blame because I’m CEO—but trust me, all of them [our investors] were encouraging us to do that, including our board. You know, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow,” he says.
(Sound familiar? That’s kind of what some startups pursuing the freemium model are doing right now, Aggarwal says.)
Aggarwal trusted his investors’ advice because they were execs at some of the most successful tech companies around.
Cvent had started almost as accident. Aggarwal was a successful lawyer in Washington, D.C. who founded a networking group for tech CEOs that caught on like crazy. At one point its members included 140 public companies include the CEOs of Nextel, Nortel, AOL and Bell Atlantic.
But organising the events was a major pain so Aggarwal founded Cvent to build an online app to make it easier. About 90 members of his CEO club became angels. He raised $17 million from them.
When the bubble burst in 2000, Aggarwal was spending more money than Cvent earned. He couldn’t raise more.
“We only had about $380,000 in the bank, which sounds like a lot, but not when you’re burning a million a month,” he remembers.
The company had signed a five-year lease on office space to house 250 employees. Nine months later, the company only had 26 people left and the lease was eating most of the company’s income.
To renegotiate the lease, Aggarwal’s landlord made him personally sign for the lease. That was a big moment for him.
Aggarwal had already given up his salary and was living with his parents. If he signed the lease and Cvent failed, he would go personally bankrupt.
“I’d be 33 years old, no career, lost all my money, no salary for two and a half years, living with my parents, and I couldn’t practice law because no law firm would hire you if you file chapter 7 or chapter 11,” Aggarwal said.
On top of that, he owed every top executive in town money. But he decided that he really believed in his company and the employees that were still with him and signed the lease.
From that point on, Cvent grew the old-fashioned way—by earning profits.
“We grew from 26 employees and now we’re 1,000 employees—all organically grown.”
In 2011, Cvent finally took an official venture round. It was one of the largest Series A rounds on record at $136 million, led by NEA, Insight Venture Partners, and Greenspring Associates.
He used the money to cash out his investors who had stuck with him for 12 years.
And although he’s now officially a multimillionaire, he still lives modestly. When he was able to move out of his parents’ house, he bought a small two-bedroom condo where he, his wife, and their new baby still live today. And when he travels on business, his executives book affordable hotels, two to a room.
“We still remember the bad times, and we’re always going to think like a startup, which is don’t get arrogant, treasure your customers, treasure your employees, and be frugal,” he says.
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