The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Tim Groot, co-founder and chief executive officer at Grip, a company based in London that leverages social media and event registration data to provide an AI-powered event networking solution. Groot discussed how Grip’s AI supports offline human interactions through online matchmaking, for visitors and exhibitors.
This interview has been edited.
Eline Chivot: There are a number of event networking apps. What makes Grip unique, how does it use AI, and what data does it use to formulate networking matchups?
Tim Groot: Some call us “the Tinder for networking,” which is rather fair because Grip was founded four years ago on that very premise. I was attending all these events and was finding it difficult to meet the right people, while I knew that building personal connections were becoming much easier with the rise of dating applications at the time. And this is how we came up with the idea of Grip. Our AI-powered event platform is a matchmaking engine, which is typically used in trade shows and other events. It uses a combination of contextual data, registration data, and social media data. The user’s personal data and registration data, provided during the registration process, include variables such as nationality, seniority level, position in corporate decision-making process, sector information, the product categories the user is interested in as a visitor and which ones a user provides as an exhibitor, etc. We overlay that information with the user’s social media data, particularly using the LinkedIn profile, summary, and headline. We then combine it with interaction data, which is how the user uses the platform, for example to request meetings or to get basic recommendations. We use that information to improve these recommendations further and the user’s overall experience in real time. Our system runs a multitude of recommendation strategies that “compete against each other” to deliver the best recommendations.
Chivot: What are the benefits for an individual, a business, an event exhibitor, or organizer to use your system?
Groot: For a visitor, using Grip means an increased return on time invested by going to an event. Our system values that time, and ensures you get the most out of the experience. Grip books up your calendar with meetings and sessions. As a visitor, I know I have myself experienced the fear of missing out and the feeling of having missed out on meeting interesting people, but also on interesting content, because it may be difficult to keep in mind an entire program and identify which workshops or talks may be key.
For an exhibitor, the added value of using an application like Grip is to initiate, accept, and book more appointments on the day. An exhibitor can monitor and control return on investment. All the money and other resources spent on exhibiting at the event can visibly turn into actual, high quality meetings. For the event’s organizers, using Grip ensures that all these people they have spent so much time selecting and trying to bring to the event, and all these exhibitors that paid to be there will actually meet, and connect with each other, rather than keeping their fingers crossed in the hope that all will have a good experience. We provide organizers with the peace of mind that their participants are empowered to harness all possible benefits at an event.
The feedback we get from visitors and exhibitors is that this system completely changes their entire event experience. Normally, they would show up and hope that it will be a busy day. Now they can plan ahead and book their senior staff’s calendar with meetings. They can assess what kind of investment and value they can expect by joining an event.
Chivot: How do you store users’ information, share the data, and help your users make sense of the insights?
Groot: All our data is stored in Ireland, and we use Amazon Web Services (AWS). We are able to share quite a few insights with organizers. These are anonymous insights, but still interesting.
Grip is featured in quite a few of those tech events that bring together startups and investors. There is an expectation from organizers that the connection between these two types of actors is obvious, and the fact that it is a typical feature of these events would be what adds value to it. With our system, we noticed that this assumption doesn’t hold. What happens in reality is that, while startups really want to meet with investors, investors often want to meet with other investors. What organizers think is a unique selling proposition (USP), is actually not a USP at all. With Grip, organizers can really zoom in on that investor-to-investor networking, by offering the possibility for investors to request meetings with each other on the platform, but also to make options such as organizing an investor dinner more visible.
To give you another example of interesting insights we generate, we compared the interest in blockchain based on our networking data with the interest in blockchain on Google Trends within the same two-year period. We observed the exact same trend, with interest significantly increasing during 2017, reaching a peak in early 2018, and then a drop. Behavior that emerges in search data coincides with people’s networking interests.
Chivot: What would your technology need to improve to provide better quality, more sophisticated matchups, and an improved user experience? What do you wish to do now with Grip’s technology that cannot be achieved yet?
Groot: The more interesting elements we could include would be about expanding recommendations, for instance recommending to users particular sessions which, based on their data, are the most relevant to their interests. Another way we could improve our algorithm is by getting more data. A huge part of an algorithm’s quality is the data that you feed them. We are aiming to connect more with exhibitors to provide better vendor experience, as this could give us access to more data sources to further enrich the system’s recommendations and outcomes. For example, if we could identify and get a better understanding of an exhibitor’s existing clients, we could connect that exhibitor to similar profiles present at the event—potential clients—thereby providing additional commercial opportunities. In addition, if we could gain more data from visitors, we could connect them with contacts that are more relevant to their existing connections.
Chivot: Your system has been used at several events around the world. How quickly have users picked it up? Do you notice any difference across countries, cultures, and professional environments in the ways in which people network?
Groot: Americans are way better at networking than Europeans. More switched-on, sales-driven culture in the way they see, think, and interact. In Europe, people are more passive, it takes much more for them to get out of their shells—and although they are open to using our application as much as the Americans, they are slower technology-adapters in general. Otherwise, we have done some events in the Middle East and in Asia, but we don’t have enough data yet to form a clear picture to compare with more cultures.