How to get noticed as an ALPHA startup at the Web Summit
Written by Olga Pavlovsky
So, you’re going to the Web Summit for the very first time? Hurray, it’ll be an experience that you will likely remember for many years to come. The Web Summit really is a unique event. The team behind it has made it so, and have grown the event into something that has become a key calendar date for technology companies in the space of just five years.
The Web Summit can be a sort of springboard for an early stage company to get exposure to the right people that can help their company to grow. It it a place where the right connections can be found and great futures can help be made. However, a lot of controversy has recently broken out about how the event is run, the company behind it, and the level of benefit startups get from it.
Well, I don’t have good enough information about whether what’s cited in the article is accurate, or how accurate. But, let’s face it: we are two weeks away from the event, and a lot of people now have booked their travel to go. Having seen that many people point out the Web Summit has just become “too big to be useful”, it’s important for me to share the information that will be helpful to those going there, so that they can make the best of their trip.
My overall feeling is that just being at the Web Summit doesn’t guarantee anything positive will come of it — just like at any other event. It’s all about the work that you put in, above getting yourself there and on a stand. When I ran events for the telecoms industry many years ago, sponsors would typically allocate a budget that addressed both the cost of the actual sponsorship package, and then the same again for things like collateral, travel and staff costs. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb, as it goes.
My experience of the Web Summit
I attended the Web Summit as a mere observer last year, seeing if we’d ever have a reason for using it as a springboard for our own company (ImaginaryCloud) and projects, and saw that many people who attended first time as an ALPHA startup got a lot less than they’d hoped out of the experience. One particular moment showed me just how much it happens. While out at an event for investors during the summit, I was told a story that brought home to me just how much of a struggle it can be for people who didn’t know how to navigate the summit, to achieve what they came for. Here it goes:
Two investors were heading out of the Investor Room one afternoon when one of them realised his phone was still on the table, and ran back in. The chap left waiting outside started to check his emails… and when he looked up a minute later, an orderly queue of startup founders had formed in front of him, all desperate to talk with him. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, he of course, he walked off as fast as he possibly could and none of these folks got a chance. Upon hearing this story, some of the other people listening in added that they had trouble moving from place to place, because of so many people trying to talk to them. In other words, a lot of people just didn’t have the route to get to the investors they wanted to meet. Much of the preparation, much of the time at the event, brought no results.
After hearing this tale, I spent the next day speaking with some of the companies exhibiting and found that some of the ALPHA startups had arrived without a solid idea of how they’d meet investors. It felt to me that some did not even fully know what to expect to find at the event — especially the sheer scale of it. Even with all the help from the Web Summit team in helping prepare, there is a knowledge gap that I believe still exists.
This year, the Web Summit is growing even bigger. It presents greater opportunity, but even more difficulty to stand out from the crowd. Having spoken to some companies going to the Web Summit for the first time this year, and knowing that these people may go through the same experience, I felt compelled to write my thoughts on what to expect, so that someone in this situation can make their time most productive.
Who is this blog for, what it’ll help you achieve
The aim of this blog is to let those attending the Web Summit for the first time, especially those exhibiting as an ALPHA startup, know what to expect. I hope this will help people to clear up some known unknowns, as well as open their eyes to some unknown unknowns they have.
There are a number of reasons people decide to attend the Web Summit and exhibit as an ALPHA startup. I’m going to aim this article at those people who are aiming to raise investment, raise awareness of their product and find new customers or partnerships. My article will be more general and make some recommendations about how to plan your time there and navigate the event.
Of course, you should be spending the time yourself to very clearly define what exactly you want to achieve and which of the instruments offered by the Web Summit will help you. For example — winning one of the pitching competitions will have very different benefits to getting a meeting with one very well qualified investor or journalist). If you don’t have very precise plans and actions in place, I believe it’s highly unlikely you’ll be happy with the results you get at the end of the summit.
Finally — it’s obvious, but it has to be said. All this advice comes with the assumption that you have a solid company, a fantastic team and well as a product that’s actually going to make money and a difference in the world. If you don’t… well, just don’t go to the Web Summit, unless it’s to gather inspiration. The competition you’ll be up against there is so good, that it’ll just be a waste of time.
Who goes there
There will be 30,000 attendees at the Web Summit. There will be 1,000 speakers. And 21 summits. If that’s not enough for you, well, then I might consider yourself a bit greedy :)
Those figures are great, but that gives you very little idea of definition of it’s really like to be there. Let’s take a look at how those 30,000 attendees break down, how they’ll be spending their time and how to get in front of them.
Many, many startup teams will be at the Web Summit. These will range from folks with an idea attending to get a few conversations going about their company, to those exhibiting — and they can range from companies with no customers, to those needing serious VC funding to get them even greater traction.
My observation is that the startups at BETA stage will already have their connections made (pretty obvious really) and their stands will be the draw for investors, journalists and potential partners who will walk straight past the ALPHAs. It’s the real world playing out in front of your eyes — everyone hunting after those who already have proven traction.
As an ALPHA startup, I believe it is possible to get yourself on a BETA stand which are much less in number and attract the quality traffic. I heard from a few folks that their connections were able to help them out, or that they won the space somehow. If this will help you, find out how.
As a subset of the 30,000 attendees, there are not too many of these folks, but they are the ones most people will be hounding. The pure maths tells you that getting in front of an investor without a pre-planned route is going to be tough.
During the summit, many of the top investors will be hanging out in the investor room, mostly meeting with companies they’ve already invested in or getting introduced to new companies worth their attention by people they trust. So beware, they don’t have very much time at all for spontaneously meeting their next investee in the hallway (although of course we can never rule this out altogether).
The exhibition floor is also far from teeming with Angel investors and scouts for funds. It seemed to me that most people found the exhibition floor simply overwhelming and planned their time between meetings very carefully.
In the evening, most investors will be at the events that have been set up for their benefit — don’t expect to bump into them at the generic pub crawls. Those pub crawls are great fun, but they’re not the places to go in the hope of raising funding.
Without a doubt, and again representative of the real world, the best way to get to speak with an investor is to get an introduction from someone they trust. And for this to happen, you need to have your ducks lined up in a row before you get to Dublin.
As usual, you can expect that the best and most organized journalists will have a pre-set agenda. Even if they do venture to the networking events or out on the exhibition floor, there will be so many people trying to get their attention that it’ll be near impossible to be noticed by just being at your stand. Your chances will be pretty small, especially if you don’t have something remarkable to entice them with.
The best thing to do is make sure you do precise targeting. Go after those that will really make a huge difference to you. Target journalists you want to speak with before the summit with a very compelling reason to meet, or make sure you find out whether they’ll be at some pitches and coordinate to meet them after you present. Just do whatever’s right to get yourself stand out from the crowd.
Paddy and the team really get some extraordinary speakers to the Web Summit. You may feel that some of these people would love to know about or try your product. I don’t have any experience or specific advice on how to target these people, but I would say that if you can demonstrate to a celebrity that they would really, really love your product and can understand why having something to do with your company makes sense, then getting in touch with their staff could lead to at least a brief meeting.
Large corporations and big player tech “startups”
There are a number of large corporations and also the companies that just a few years ago were tiny companies (like Instagram) who now facilitate a mass of exchanges across the web. Their stands are of course the best staffed at the event. Going to speak with these guys about things such as potential partnerships is easy at the event and something that could be worthwhile. Sometimes you can get hold of the right people there and then to help you understand if it makes sense to talk further.
By facilitators I mean organisations and individuals whose aim is to help their clients grow, or achieve a specific goal. These will include IDA Ireland and other development authorities who have a mandate to help a certain country or sector to grow economically.
I also include in this group startup incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces. One notable facilitator I’d like to mention is Startup Lisboa, the organization that is tasked with growing the attractiveness and success of Lisbon as a startup ecosystem. Last year, Startup Lisboa was extremely active in getting their affiliated startups to the Web Summit and helping them stand out by getting to the pitching events, make better presentations, facilitating conversations with journalists and investors. I believe it was not a coincidence that Codacy, a company started in Lisbon, won the BETA Award.
Further, Startup Lisboa went on to become instrumental in helping to highlight Lisbon as a potential venue for the next Web Summit,. And we all know where this led.
Looking back at these outcomes, it made me realize that by aligning yourself with a facilitator or organizing a tribe alongside some other companies (maybe you all work in the same co-working space, or graduated from the same accelerator, or come from the same city) has a huge advantage.
Getting someone to organize meetings on behalf of all of you, to help you apply for the various initiatives going on around the event or even doing things such as getting breakfast in for the whole group to save time, can bring a massive advantage to your efforts.
Yes. You will be sold to, but not as much as at many other events I can remember. Which is nice.
I notice there were a few folks who went to the Web Summit because they were simply curious about what was happening there. They were most interested in staying around the main stage to see the interviews with big names. Either they’d have bought the ticket themselves, or been gifted it by their employer, or a company they buy from. I found that having them around really balanced the atmosphere since most of the people attending were pretty stressed — the curious folks really just wanted to have a nice, relaxed time.
So, I’ve listed the people that will be there. I don’t have the silver bullet for you on how or with what message you approach them with — if your company is going to be a success, you’ll have to answer that. But, here is my main list of takeaways for getting things done.
- Plan, plan, plan — who to meet, where and when it’s most convenient, what you’ll communicate,
- Team up with facilitators or other startups to achieve more.
And, actually, it’s as simple as that!
Other things to know
Web access and your marketing
You might, or might not, know that the Web Summit has been having problems with one key bit of infrastructure — web access. Last year, there was a lot of upset about the wi-fi not working. Which is completely understandable.
This year, everyone will of course be hoping that things will be better. But, if you’re planning on doing lots over social media over the course of the summit, then I’d advise to ask someone working away from the venue to be working on this for you. It’ll let you have more time to make the most of the event, as well as be a bullet-proof option of wi-fi issues arise again.
In a word — it’s huge. Last year it could take up to 20 minutes to walk from one end of the summit to the other on a good day, so you really do have to plan very well. At certain times, there is a lot of movement around the venue, and this brings congestion. Make sure you get to know what’s where and that you plan to make the best of your time.
Number of people
Again, the number is just huge. If you want to get in to see a presentation, especially a popular one, you’ll want to be showing up at least 20 minutes before it starts… and sometimes there is no guarantee you’ll get in. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is exactly why it’s so hard to meet the people you want.
Dublin is relatively small. That’s both a bad and a good thing. The bad news is that its transport infrastructure gets pretty overwhelmed when the Web Summit is on. Getting a taxi early morning is almost impossible. If you’re staying far away from the venue, the best option is to opt for walking, cycling or taking the train to the summit. The bus will stick you in the same traffic jams as all those taxis.
There’s also something to be said for leaving wherever you’re staying early to get to the venue and chat to some folks before things become incredibly busy.
Other resources worth a read if you’re heading over to Dublin
Please share with anyone you know that’s going to the web summit for the first time and might find this helpful.
Our Head of Design at ImaginaryCloud, Nicholas Mandelbaum and iOS Developer Natalia Terlecka will be at the Web Summit together with the founding team from Mucho, a company helping to improve the way that consumers interact with supermarkets and vice versa. If you’d like to meet with us, then just drop us a note here or follow us on Twitter @imaginary_cloud