Omar Christidis: Reinventing to Survive

Omar Christidis: Reinventing to Survive

The event industry remains one of the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of uncertainty remains on the future of work, let alone gatherings, meetings and events. The most challenging part is that no one really knows what’s going to happen or the extent of the ramifications.

The pressure on the already stressful industry is at an all-time high. And for events in the Middle East, that pressure is two-fold.

We spoke to tech-event veteran Omar Christidis, CEO and Founder at Arabnet to find out what the future might look like for the region and more importantly, what companies must do to survive.

Our view is that the market will not be ready for major events anytime in 2020. Even if countries open up and travel returns, the state of mind of consumers is still very much of worry and concern. Until there’s a cure or a vaccine, people will be reluctant to go to high risk activities and conferences. Concerts, conferences, large scale meetings and events are going to be the last industries that come back. Event organizers need to get creative.

Omar Christidis, CEO and Founder, Arabnet

Arabnet, which is based out of Beirut, was already dealing with the political uprising in Lebanon, leading them to think more creatively about the future. Beyond their events across the region, Arabnet produce insights through original research and reports and organize custom-tailored innovation programs for corporates and governments. Their events arm was already shifting pre-pandemic, with the surge in branded company events and government-backed events.

We were amongst the first to launch tech events back in 2010. It was really a blue ocean. By the time, it was 2019, we felt events were a red ocean. And not because there are other large scale events, but more so because of the tremendous number of smaller events that were taking place. Everything was taking share of mind and share of wallet.

The new era of digital conferences

Breaking Down the Events Issue

First and foremost, de-prioritization for customers and companies means the industry will not be profitable. The sponsorship nature of events has been greatly affected. Governments and large corporates are solely focusing on their core business, cutting spending and recovering losses. Companies and customers are not going to be willing to spend the same budgets on virtual events, as they were on physical events. As a result, the profitability return on effort or return on investment for events is going to diminish.

Secondly, the landscape is now overcrowded. Since the pandemic, the internet has been flooded with unprecedented knowledge sharing, live sessions, webinars and content – causing excess supply. Now anyone that wants to engage with their customers without the usual in-person tools is moving online. Anyone can host an online event.

Thirdly, it’s just not the same. If you’ve participated in any of those sessions, one thing is clear, the physical and networking aspect is irreplaceable. “The current online experience doesn’t allow for the serendipity of events, of stumbling into someone standing next to someone you know, introducing you to someone they know and so on. That kind of business networking relationship development is not there,” Omar explains. Virtual simply doesn’t replace real life.

What Will Arabnet Do?

There will be a flurry of innovation in the tools that are going to make the virtual experience better and better, in order to make up for the loss of human interaction across all industries. The question is, how fast will that be? In their webinar with Jeff Hoffman, three strategies were outlined for what startups should do in this crisis:

  • Repurpose: look at what you can do with your skillset that’s new.
  • Retool: update your skillset to deliver new services and new needs.
  • Redeploy: if you can’t staff your entire team, look at other opportunities they can be redeployed.

For Arabnet, repurposing is the main focus right now. “Our events model changed, but our core competence hasn’t. The knowledge, relationships, reach, access to innovators/decision makers, and the ability to connect people – those assets have become extremely valued,” Omar proudly explains. With the significant acceleration of digitization, these core competencies can be repurposed. Arabnet is actively helping people transform their models and experiences online, digitally transforming large corporates/enterprises and up-skilling or re-skilling large portions of the population to meet these needs.

Reinventing and repurposing core competencies to meet the current and future needs is the only way to survive.

As an entrepreneurship ecosystem veteran, Omar thinks the landscape still has a lot of growth opportunities. For investors, they are already in triage and actively redirecting their money. The most attractive sectors to look out for are E-health, e-education and e-commerce, arts/entertainment. He expects that there will be a deflation of valuations and that there will be a shift of traditional investors moving into tech. For entrepreneurs, don’t just look at the immediate impact on booming industries, but also the knock on effects on other industries and opportunities. You can also read more about the extent of the impact on the region’s entrepreneurship sector and the measures that can be taken to alleviate the financial stress on startups, in this report, developed by Wamda and Arabnet.

The new normal for event organizers will be a challenging one. They all must look at every aspect of their experiences and rethink how they can continue to provide value in a non-event format. For example, if the activity is a pitch competition, how can you still provide investment and exposure opportunities for those startups? It’s not sufficient to digitize yourselves today. You must reinvent yourself.

It is fair to say that the risk of planning physical events will be unbearable for most organizations at the current state of things. Those who don’t proactively reinvent themselves will ultimately sink.

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