Startup Conference Guide for Founders

We are in the middle of the startup conference season and, with the collective excitement for these events, it is easy to get lost in the hype and not see a return on the time and money we spend on all these conferences. Some voices in the startup ecosystem criticize entrepreneurs who attend conferences arguing that they should be spending their time and money developing their business. I personally believe that if you focus on the essentials (your product, service, tech, team, etc.) money will come to you (as VCers we are always hunting these good startups). However, there are some great outcomes you could get from startup conferences if you do your homework before the event. Here is my guide for entrepreneurs who want to get the best of any startup conference:

a) Define your objectives:

Before spending any dime on a startup conference, define what you want to get out from them:

  • Networking? Then decide with whom (investors, other entrepreneurs, etc.) and get the concrete names of the people you want to meet and talk to.
  • Get inspired by other entrepreneurs? Make up your mind about who would be meaningful for you to hear giving a talk and first look for his/her talks on YouTube. The internet has many free resources to offer you (e.g. How to start a startup). As second option look for your idols in conferences (the bigger/famous the conference is, the higher-rated entrepreneurs giving talks).
  • Learn about industry trends, growth hacking, or a specific topic? First, choose your topic of interest; you need to be very specific. Then look for the specialized conference about that topic. Major conferences (Web Summit, TechCrunch Disrupt, Noah, etc.) tend to be more generalistic, so you might be better attending a more specialized and maybe not so mainstream conference.
  • Recruit talent? This is a tricky one because 1) usually not even the top conferences have a tool to find talent among the conference attendees. Most of the tools they have are made to connect founders and investors; 2) without a tool like this it would be difficult to jump into someone inside the crowd with the exact skill set you are looking for; 3) you have the option of getting a stand for your startup ($$$$) but, unless you are a well-known startup, I doubt many job seekers will approach you that day. The only startup events that might be useful for recruitment are Hackathons. Here talented people (lots of coders) go to find a co-founder or team.
  • Exposure? Mmmmmm, I don’t think so unless you are giving a talk, you are a finalist in the pitch battle or you pre-arrange meetings with the people you want to make sure they know your startup. There are just too many startups, too many funders in a conference event.

b) Choose the right conferences for you:

Use your objectives to choose which conference to attend. Just because everyone goes to Disrupt San Francisco or Web Summit does not mean these are the best conferences for you. My suggestion is to look for the right startup events based on the topic of your interest & location in Crunchbase Events Database. If you are looking for investors or entrepreneurs in specific, I would first try out reaching out by a personal introduction of someone in your network, email (try Voila Norbert to find any corporate email), Linkedin or Twitter.

c) Prepare, prepare & prepare:

Conference days are HECTIC; everything happens so fast that if you do not have a schedule prepared you probably will see the day just go by. You must prepare in advance; contact the investors you want to talk to and arrange meetings with them prior the conference. Also, make your personal schedule of the talks you would like to see.

Don’t forget all the materials you need. Some must have: a) business cards; b) t-shirt of your startup (wear it!); c) download the app of the conference (to get news, access to the networking platform, etc.); d) charger.

d) Please enjoy:

Conferences are very fun. While you are not in meetings or watching talks, enjoy talking with strangers. You can meet some really smart and interesting people. Also try out new gadgets and tech by visiting the startups’ stands. There are very cool things around.

e) Follow up:

This is a 1–0–1 of startup conferences; follow up with the leads or people you met. Normally I receive emails between one or two days after the conference finished with this key information: a) who is writing; b) in which context we met; c) next steps regarding our talk. If you don’t follow up quickly people get to daily life activity very soon and forget.

Enjoy the conference season!

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Some notes:

Here you can find a short profile of those conferences I have attended this year.


Originally published at VC Hype.