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Female Disruptors: How Daphne Hoppenot of The Vendry is Shaking Up Event Planning

I’d argue the events ecosystem has largely been overlooked by the VC community. There’s been lots of investment in video streaming solutions, especially recently, but by far the most dollars in this ecosystem are spent not with software providers but with small business venues and vendors around the world. Outside of the wedding market, which is less than 20 percent of the overall events industry, those small businesses lack a marketplace where they can promote themselves and be found. We’re committed to solving that problem.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daphne Hoppenot.

Hoppenot began her career at enterprise software firm Yext, where she ran partnerships for seven years. She helped plan hundreds of events for the company, from private dinners to trade show booths at major conferences, but was frustrated at having to constantly search for new venues, design or theme ideas, and vendors. In 2019, after raising an initial financing round from previous colleagues and two top New York venture funds, she launched The Vendry, a marketplace for the corporate events industry, connecting planners with the best agencies, venues, and vendors for their events.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Recently I found the first business plan I ever wrote which, embarrassingly, was for a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen fan club. I was also always inclined towards the hard sciences, so I studied engineering in college and then joined what, at the time, was an early stage startup called Yext. After that company IPO-ed seven years later I got the guts to set out and do my own thing.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I’d argue the events ecosystem has largely been overlooked by the VC community. There’s been lots of investment in video streaming solutions, especially recently, but by far the most dollars in this ecosystem are spent not with software providers but with small business venues and vendors around the world. Outside of the wedding market, which is less than 20 percent of the overall events industry, those small businesses lack a marketplace where they can promote themselves and be found. We’re committed to solving that problem.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was walking to my friend’s house in London, ready for the first time to tell someone other than my husband about the company I was planning to launch. On the streets of London, on that walk, I decided I needed a domain. I always wanted the “ven” sound in our name, because it fits in with “Event,” “Venue,” Vendor,” so I quickly looked up a couple options on GoDaddy and purchased evendra.com for $12. Over the next five months all I heard from friends, family, and investors was how awful my company name was. I heard from multiple different people that it sounded like a pharmaceutical company or a witch’s name. I was thrilled when we came up with The Vendry and I could move forward under a name I was proud of. Lesson learned to do some market research on your company name.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My closest mentors are my old colleagues at Yext, across different levels of the organization. We were all in the engine room together for seven years, building a company from nothing into a publicly-traded global software brand, so that tends to be the community of people I lean on for advice. The most formative advice I got when I was starting The Vendry came from Yext’s CEO, Howard, who I’m proud to also count as an angel investor. I went to him early with my pitch, and at that point was taking more of a “boil the ocean” strategy, explaining how we’d cater our platform to the entire event market — from parents planning mitzvahs to event marketers producing major conferences. His advice to me was to focus, that building a platform that speaks to the needs of a social planner is very different from one for a professional planner and, if the market gap I was passionate about was in the latter, to focus there. That was one of the best strategic decisions we’ve made to date.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

With any disruption to an existing norm there will be winners and losers, and it’s a balance of understanding if the net gain for society is positive. The easy example is social media being a conduit of connection and joyful sharing across the globe, but also having the side effect of proliferating fake news that damages our society. Or self-driving cars being a net gain for society if there are fewer traffic accidents, but eliminating the jobs of millions of Uber, taxi, schoolbus, and truck drivers whose skillset is no longer relevant.

Sometimes, a system is so entrenched that only the government has the power to force positive disruption. That’s why we don’t allow companies to be monopolies. As another example, I’d argue that we’d benefit as a society by having a multi-party political system. Has our two-party system “withstood the test of time” or is it so entrenched that we’re unable to change it? Sometimes disruption needs to happen artificially, by the government deciding that a new norm would be in all of our best interests.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I have mini mantras that I try to live by. Don’t be a drone. Feel the dirt. Channel your energy.

When I went to Princeton, something like 30 percent of the students graduating were going into investment banking and, especially as a Financial Engineering major, it felt like that was the pre-programmed outcome for me. I made this commitment to myself to not be a drone — to make sure I wasn’t making major life decisions just because of the environment around me but because I intrinsically felt confident it was the right decision to me.

After graduating and joining a tech startup, I was living a good life in the East Village full of work, Saturday brunches, and bopping around Manhattan with friends. But I couldn’t get rid of this nagging feeling that I was living in NYC on the surface, and not really getting to know the city and my fellow New Yorkers. I started volunteering regularly with New York Cares, and it was by far one of the most meaningful experiences of my early adulthood. I felt like I was digging in and getting to know the city with the level of depth it deserved.

Lastly, I launched The Vendry a week before giving birth to my son, and soon after our family went through a difficult health scare. With so many stresses (and joys!) that I was dealing with on a day to day basis, I had to really learn to compartmentalize my focus on a single task or subject. Being a working parent has absolutely made me a better professional, and it comes from refining the ability to channel my energy throughout the day.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

The live events industry has been devastated by COVID. We believe that as the economy rebounds, and the professionals in this industry get back on their feet, there is a role for a new type of jobs marketplace specifically tuned to the needs of event professionals.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Fear of being a stereotype. When I was pregnant, I had this urgent desire to prove to everyone that I wasn’t going to have a baby and promptly forget every professional ambition I had beforehand. I also wanted to prove that having a baby wouldn’t in any way deter me from being a successful founder. And then we went through the health scare I mentioned, and one of the most difficult things for me as our family’s future stood uncertain was “Am I going to prove to my investors that investing in a pregnant founder is a bad idea?” I felt a burden to not hurt the next pregnant women that went to them raising money. I’m lucky in that my family is ok and healthy and we were able to move on, but it never leaves my mind that I’m part of a small, special group of women who have successfully raised venture capital and that any success I could have in the future will help change people’s mindsets around the feasibility of women, even more so women with young children, being able to found great, global technology companies.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The Handmaid’s Tale left a mark on me like no other TV show I’ve ever watched. In particular I was struck by the scenes of diplomacy, with other nations doing business with Gilead and disapproving of the way they treated women but also accepting in part that it was Gilead’s culture. I wish it were as easy as a diplomat or businessperson to say “f-that” and not engage with societies that hold their women down, but of course it isn’t that simple. There are some countries around the world where I’m not sure I could morally justify The Vendry doing business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My maternal grandpa was an immigrant from Croatia who came to the US as a doctor and for a better life for his family. “Money is like manure, it’s only good if you spread it around.” was his favorite quote, and one he referred to often as he slipped us $10 bills to go buy some ice cream. I hope to embody the spirit of that quote throughout my life, and I admire leaders like MacKenzie Scott (formerly Bezos) who are generously reallocating their wealth to segments of society that can make better use of it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Paying it forward. We as humans are naturally inclined towards reciprocity, it’s in our DNA to want a clean balance sheet with everyone around us. I’ve gotten so much help, so much good advice from people who don’t need anything from me. My new thing is to promise those people that I will pay it forward and really commit to doing that.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow my personal instagram @daphne.e.hoppenot.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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