Washington Business Report - April 27, 2014

Tough lessons continue to propel Cvent

"When you go through a tough time -- near bankruptcy for us -- it really makes you focus on what's important."

Reggie Aggarwal's story of an entrepreneurial nightmare is one that not only serves him well, but one that continues to propel his company to higher levels of success.

The founder and CEO of Cvent says for him, being forced to go back to the basics meant three things: hire the best people, build the best products, and focus on your customers.

His story, and his personality, make him a local favorite for entrepreneurs who want to hear about surviving a near-death experience in the business world.

Cvent is a cloud-based event organizing tool. Anyone planning a meeting for an association or company can use Cvent software to send out the invitations, record the responses, collect the fees and book the venue.
Linking up an event with the right venue and vendors and then getting all participants invited is an invaluable tool -- Aggarwal says he found that out when he was working as an attorney, trying to set up large scale meetings and conferences and finding himself in front of spreadsheets and sticky notes.
He knew there was a market for his idea back in 1999. So he did what he now advises all entrepreneurs to do: go for it, but be smart.

Aggarwal took five months to research his idea, check the market, and cautiously advance with his plan. Then, he quit his job, and the salary that came along with it.

"If you really believe in something, you really do have to just quit your day job and go for it because it is hard to balance working full time and [working on a] startup. And if you're not 'all in', it's just hard to go forward," said the graduate of Thomas Edison High School and finance major at the University of Virginia. "There are thousands of other people that are 'all in'."

When the dot-com boom happened, companies were growing at breakneck speed, and Aggarwal followed the trend. With $17 million in venture capital -- mostly from the local community -- the company went on a hiring frenzy, growing from six employees to 125 in a matter of months.

"We blew through most of our $17 million. We actually had $400,000 left in the bank. And we had grown to a $1.5 million revenue company. So there was only one choice, which was to cut. We cut 80 percent of our staff and went down to 26 people at the end of 2001," Aggarwal recalls.

With $800,000 in debt, a company teetering on bankruptcy, no salary and a whole lot of humility, Aggarwal moved back in with his parents at the age of 33.

His parents, who had immigrated from India, had been early supporters of their son's entrepreneurial prowess and continued to support him as his dream was on life support.

When the company went back to the basics, that's when Cvent's culture was formed.

"From '01 to '04, we were basically the walking dead," Aggarwal tells Washington Business Report in a one-on-one interview. This time around, he was hiring at a much slower pace, but hiring nonetheless. He credits Washington's thriving tech community for being able to find quality employees for a company which, at that time, had a shaky track record.

He says he rose from the ashes thanks to his employees, and he kept those employees by creating the right culture.

"There's no secret sauce to that -- just create a great environment for your people," he says. People have to feel like they can be part of something successful, he offers.

Cvent is an unequivocal success. The company's IPO was a huge success because investors were very much interested in Cvent's story of survival. The company had been through two recessions, and proved it knows how to make money.

With more than a decade of being profitable, Cvent's founder says executing a vision that you are passionate about can be scary, but it is exciting and, ultimately, very profitable.


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