Five Reasons to go to conferences
This focuses on attending conferences, not setting up exhibits. Running an exhibit at a conference is more expensive and requires more resources to support. An exhibit could be useful for you, but let’s make that a separate discussion. There are a lot of reasons to simply attend tech conferences, summits, and tradeshows, including:
- Find prospective investors and customers
- Make connections and share experiences
- Learn from industry experts and get inspired
- Get some free press
- Observe and learn the ropes for future events
Ideally, define the events you want to attend 2-3 months (or more) in advance so you have ample time to prepare. Make sure the event will be useful for you. As the founder or partner in a startup, your time is valuable. If the event fits your niche, very few things could be more valuable than attending it with a plan to get the most from it.
- How large is the venue?
- What kind of reviews did it receive in previous years?
- How much do the tickets cost?
- Are its vendors and sponsors closely aligned to your target market?
If you decide the convention or match is a good fit for your startup, identify specific companies you want to meet with – then, identify who will be representing them. This may take some research on LinkedIn and/or social channels. You can also write the company directly if all else fails and try to arrange a meeting with their representative, in advance.
As a startup, you probably have a lengthy shopping list of things that could be useful for you. Make that shopping list – and prioritize the items on it. Be realistic with your expectations. Merely attending a conference won’t bring you investors, but it may get you a foot in the door. Some objectives might be:
- Enter any startup pitch competitions or contests for which you feel you can be prepared.
- Meet and talk with representatives from angel and venture capital firms to see if there’s a match between your startup and what they invest in.
- Connect with prospective clients and customers who may be interested in what your startup aims to offer. Find out what software they’re using now, how happy they are with it, features they’d like to see, etc.
- Connect with groups and organizations that represent your industry. See if they have an events calendar of their own. This can range from programmer groups to professional associations or lobbyist groups on the high-end.
- Talk with vendors you will need in the future like providers of cloud or hosting services, advertising agencies, distributors, and retailers, as appropriate to lay the foundation for future deals.
- See how others have handled obstacles and problems that you’re still trying to resolve.
- Try to get some free publicity with journalists or influencers that you follow regularly.
Most importantly is knowing what you are able to offer based upon where you are at in development. Know what kind of deals you can make and be ready to offer them on the spot. This can range from promoting a free webinar to explain your project after the conference to early access or a free trial. Of course, promote sales or subscriptions if you’re ready to provide at least basic customer support.
If funding is your primary objective, be able to concisely how much you need and what you need it for should someone ask. You don’t want to waste their time or yours, suffice that most investors know and expect that the details are more complex. Your answer will tell them whether they should take further interest in your startup or not.
Your startup may need other things – so know your budget and be ready to wheel and deal, because that’s what all of the vendors are there to do, too.
Also, if you have questions, write them out in advance. You’ll have direct access to industry experts and they’ll be happy to answer most questions for free.
Whether you’re attending physical events or virtual ones, you’ll want promotional materials. In the physical, you’ll want plenty of nice business cards at the very least. From there, you may step it up with a promotional brochure, cool (but cheap) swag like a pen with your logo, tagline, and website URL. It can also be a good idea to carry at least a few press kits with you. If you’re doing virtual conventions, you can use PDF versions of the same.
Practice and memorize your elevator pitch so that it sounds natural. This can be based, at least in part, upon your product vision statement. It’s useful to have a short but memorable 15-second version that segues into a longer version according to listener interest.
Buddy-up! It can be awkward trying to socialize alone. Ideally, bring others from your startup with you to make as many contacts as you can. Alternatively, if you have friends or colleagues in other startups see if they’d like to tag-team the event. Share your goals and keep each other informed of opportunities throughout the conference.
The real goal is to create opportunities for introductions. Each and every introduction you make has a chance to lead to more introductions. Or to put it another way, “The more you network, the easier it gets to network more.” Qualified introductions, where one party is in the market for what the second party is offering are always best. Networking, where one party is in the market for something the second party knows someone else is able to offer also works.
As noted in promotional materials, it’s always a good idea to have press kits onhand and available to handout. Tech and business journalists, television and magazine reporters, attend conventions, too. They might make videos or write articles, suffice that they’re constantly on the look for an interesting story, new technologies, cool quotes, and industry insight.
A press kit makes it easy for journalists to write a story about your startup. If one journalist picks up your story, you dramatically increase your chances of getting picked up by others. It’s also “news” that you can publish on your website, press kit, or blog.
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If you have reason to think that your startup will want its own exhibit in the vendor area, take stock of the most impressive setups. What’s the first thing you noticed about them? Where were they located on the floorplan. What was the foot traffic like and what portion of people paused to at least look at what they were offering? How many people do they have? Are they dressed in suits, casual, wearing company t-shirts or other branded attire? What do they have in the way of promotional brochures or swag? What devices are they using? Were they using videos?
After the convention, make sure to follow-up with the people you met if you managed to get their contact info. This can be a quick letter thanking them for their time and the information they shared. Then see if they’d like to schedule a short chat on Zoom, Skype, or whatever’s convenient for them. Try to have a couple of questions at the intersection of what they do and what you do. This may require some thought, but odds are if they’re in tech, they’ve interacted with other startups.
Of course, your discussion could immediately jump into the details of your startup or finalizing a deal that you already discussed. That’s likely to be with a minority of your contacts – but you never know when other contacts you made can be useful. If you had a meaningful conversation and they were friendly, take that as a win and try to touch base with them every so often. If your contacts seemed particularly keen on social media – like, share, retweet them on those channels, too.
Again, the more you network – the easier it is to network more. We might have to discuss that in a lot more depth one of these days!
There are a lot of other things you can do to get the most out of the conferences and summits you attend – here are thirty conference tips to help you cover everything down to the hand sanitizer.