by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 01, 2015

The temperature outside was pushing 108 degrees Fahrenheit, but the 2,500 attendees gathered at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas this past June hardly noticed. They were there for Cvent Connect -- four days of standing-room-only sessions, powerhouse speakers and intense networking. They also were eager to learn about the latest innovations from Cvent, the Tysons Corner, Va.-based meetings-tech juggernaut, including Cvent Express, a new streamlined version of the platform for smaller, less complicated events.

Cvent's rise in the meetings world, from bit player to game changer, has been dramatic. The company, which launched in 1999, has grown from a modest software registration service to a public corporation with 1,800 employees and offices in Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; London; and New Delhi, India. The total number of electronic requests for proposal sourced through the Cvent Supplier Network in 2014 alone came to 1.6 million, representing a staggering $8 billion in meetings spend.

Every month, Cvent attracts some 1,300 new users, each of whom sends at least one eRFP. This year, the company estimates it will be approaching $10 billion in group hotel business -- a steep rise from $50 million in 2001, when the online RFP platform was introduced.

What follows is the story behind this remarkable company and its impact -- some would liken it to a tidal wave -- on the meetings industry.

In the beginning
Ask Cvent employees what their company's mantra is, and they all say the same thing: "Find the customer's pain point and solve it." In fact, solving their own pain points led Cvent's founders to start their business.

Company co-founders
Reggie Aggarwal (left)
and Chuck Ghoorah

While pursuing a law degree at Georgetown University, Reggie Aggarwal, now the company's chief executive officer and chairman, founded the CEO High Tech Council, a networking group for senior executives of Indian descent in the Washington, D.C., area. It eventually swelled to 1,000 members, with as many as 600 participating in some 40 events a year. Meanwhile, Aggarwal's friend, Chuck Ghoorah, who served as class president and special-events chair at Duke University in Durham, N.C., spent his free time running meetings for the college.

Both managed their events the old-fashioned way: sending out email invitations and then tracking responses on an Excel spreadsheet dotted with notes, in a desperate effort to get a handle on registration numbers. "That's how we zeroed in on our first pain point," says Ghoorah, now president of worldwide sales and marketing for the company. "Back then, I would have paid good money to solve that problem."

Instead, the two, along with Dave Quattrone (current chief technology officer) and Dwayne Sye (chief information officer), started their own company, though the fledgling Cvent had its share of woes. The enterprise almost went under when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, leading to a payroll cut that eliminated 101 people from a staff of 126. For a while, Aggarwal found himself living out of his parents' basement. "We went from $17 million in the bank to not being able to make payroll. I had never been knocked off my horse before," he recalls. "It was the worst time of my life."

The company battled back, and in recent years Cvent has taken a holistic approach to the meetings industry, launching a dizzying array of online products across the Cvent Supplier Network that allows planners to source, track and manage meeting spend, as well as ascertain the return on investment of every event on a seamless, integrated platform.

"We were a one-trick pony for many years," admits Ghoorah. "We kept listening to our meeting-planner customers, though. When we heard them talk over and over about the pain of sourcing hotels, we decided to build something, make it user friendly and tie it into our registration platform."