Blog Post

Unisfair Nets $10M for Virtual Trade Shows

Virtual meeting company Unisfair has scored $10 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and Norwest Venture Partners after proving that meeting people face-to-face isn’t always necessary or cost effective. As a telecommuter, I’m duty-bound to agree, although I’d rather gouge out my eyes than attend a virtual product launch party.

Still, many people must attend product launches, trade shows and job fairs for a living and doing it online is far cheaper (and greener) than trucking around the world with a trade show booth or the latest company literature. Unisfair doesn’t disclose revenue, but says it grew 350 percent last year after what might be considered a slow start. Founded in 2002, Unisfair decided to go with a virtual-environment product delivered using the software as a service model. Competitors at the time were promoting teleconferencing and online trade shows, but Guy Piekarz, CEO of Unisfair, says now he’s certain his company made the right choice with virtual meetings.

Thanks to the media and corporate attention given to virtual worlds such as Second Life, the idea of virtual trade shows isn’t that far-fetched. But in Unisfair’s secured version of a trade show the avatars can’t fly and the environment isn’t, er, prone to attacks from the air. That’s a plus for Unisfair’s enterprise customers, which include the likes of Cisco Systems, National Instruments and Cognos.

9 Responses to “Unisfair Nets $10M for Virtual Trade Shows”

  1. Does anyone know who are the major players in virtual exhibition? and what is the market oppourtunity of virtual exhibition? What is the market share of each of the major player?


  2. Jimmy,

    They usually charge based on the Software as a service model. They host the fairs on their own servers and charge for the number of days the show stays online …. Prices are quite exorbitant and range from $20,000-$50,000 for a few days of the show being online. I know a firm that used it for a job fair, and it provides a really great ROI for the companies that setup their booths in the virtual job fair.

  3. I think virtural trade show have asmall place into todays trade show industry. Sitting aorund a monitor all day is not my idea of a trade show. What ever happen to human contact, Itend to love it myself. Virrtual trade show will wind up just like video games are to the youth these days. Sitting in the house playing on a TV’s or monitor screen, having very little or no contact with the real world. So the answer is now lets do all business the same way. We will all end up with high colestral and heart attacks.

  4. David S.

    There’s an online business network (kind of a Facebook for business) called Fast Pitch! that offers a virtual tradeshow of sorts. Every Thursdays, members login to the site and chat real-time with other members. Apparently over 2,000 members login and actively network from the comfort of their office.

    The best part is that it’s free for anyone who creates a profile… oh, and there’s no gas or parking expenses :) I think virtual trade shows will take off.

  5. Lou, you are right in the sense that the ‘human touch’ is missing from virtual events, but just as the TV didn’t make Radio obsolete, and the VCR didn’t make the Cineplex obsolete, the online event won’t make live conferences and trade shows obsolete. But there tremendous time, cost and other resource savings to be had. And I believe that we’ll see more real human-like interactivity in online events in the future as bandwidth speeds get faster and as we become more accustomed to virtuality.

  6. @Lou –

    You make a very good point about the human connection for virtual tradeshows. I think the important component is augmenting face-to-face connections with an online component. When my company (ON24) has digitized live panels/sessions and made this available at on-demand webcasts for customers, it’s been very successful. It enables live attendees to catch panels/sessions they were unable to attend due to schedule conflicts. In the case when someone truly couldn’t attendee live, this was also a benefit for the attendee and show organizer.

    As tradeshows go online, the need for customizing to the medium is important. Just repurposing physical collateral doesn’t take advantage of the audio/video features available in an online version. And with the advent of social networking, the ability to “network” with peers and company representatives are key.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this develops in 2008.

  7. I’d like to think this is a great idea, but I’ve attended virtual trade shows and they didn’t work very well. The thing about trade shows is that there is human contact and even focus on the part of the attendees.

    When someone goes to a trade show, they make a commitment it time, travel and expense so they damn well better get something out of the effort. Their bosses require it. They meet people they need to see and new people that might bring in business. They work on email and ongoing projects in between sessions and walking the exhibit floor but they are there to learn and make connections.

    In a virtual trade show, they sit at a computer monitor and watch or listen to sessions and presentations, but at the same time, they do email, IM, take calls, chat with people coming into their cubicle, fall asleep, leave to get coffee, take a leak, etc. The trade show then becomes an unfocused part of the regular workday.

    Now if the companies that participate in virtual trade shows are willing to go to the expense to get real communicators involved in the process — writers, editors, artists, performers, etc. — to create compelling presentations that glue the audience to the screen, then you may have a shot. But most companies, especially tech companies, operate under the “field of dreams” school of marketing: If we build it,, someone will buy it.” They believe their technology is just SO compelling that doing something as mundane as appealing to their market is really not that important.

    And that is, ultimately, why virtual trade shows fail. It’s the content that makes trade shows valuable, not the technology delivering the content. If you put the content that is available in most trade shows on a computer screen, it just isn’t compelling enough to make the audience stick around. By removing the human-contact element from a trade show, you remove any real value it has.