A #Girlboss Guide to Networking at Large Events: 500 Startups Demo Day

Network, network, network!

In Silicon Valley, there are endless opportunities to meet and connect with smart and inspiring people in the tech industry. It can be an intimidating process, especially for someone who is new to the startup scene in San Francisco. Sometimes it’s not all about practice, but also about guts.

The Valley is home to the most recognized global seed accelerator programs, like 500 Startups, that has invested in over 1,600 companies since it’s humble beginnings. For the foreign eyes reading this post (hi, Mom!), these accelerators are ‘bootcamps’ for the most promising startups from all over the world. Companies like Talkdesk, Mayvenn and Le Tote have graduated from 500’s program. Their ‘graduation day’ is an event called Demo Day, at which the founders pitch their awesome products to a pool of important investors.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to steal an invitation for 500 Startups’ Demo Day 2017! I was determined to make the most of it, so I had to have a game plan.

This post highlights the 4 steps I took to research, prepare and execute my game plan.

Step 1. Know your event — find the agenda, research the structure and know who will be there

500’s Demo Day consists of an afternoon of two-minute pitches to a pool of investors. In between pitches, the founders and their teams showcase their products. There were 41 companies represented in this batch, 10 of which hail from international countries and have a notably diverse group of founders.

The Demo Day two-minute pitch room (picture makes it look scary, actually had great vibes)

Step 2. Shortlist your ‘must-speaks’– know who/which startups you want to learn more about and why

I pre-screened the 41 companies and looked for the ones that were in-line with my interests. Given my multi-cultural background, my aspirations to break social and cultural barriers, and being a young woman in business, my selection factors were:

1. International aspects (a global audience, origins in foreign country, etc)

2. At least 1 woman (because #GirlBoss power)

3. Mission-driven

I chose to focus on companies that had at least two of these factors. My list was then narrowed down to 6 companies. This directed my focus towards companies that shared my common interests — and gave me a ‘plan of attack’ for the day of the event. I made note of the company profiles, memorized founders’ faces, researched them on Angellist and Crunchbase. Then I was ready to go!

Step 3. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself — find the right moment, lock down your elevator pitch and BE YOURSELF!

I found that the perfect time to connect with the founders to be between pitches, as all the investors were in the conference room, and they had more time (and headspace) to speak to someone like me! I needed to be mindful of the founders’ time, so I made sure I was concise and coherent where appropriate. I should have (/wish I had) used this framework to help me structure my pitch:

During the conversations, it was important for me to feel connected with the founders — understand their product’s raison-d’etre, and feel excited about their visions!

Step 4. Remember to create a reason to follow up — understand founders’ current situations and strive to show value

I followed up when:

  1. I was inspired by the founder
  2. I had something to offer the team
  3. I was even more excited about the product after meeting the founder and the team

Sometimes you can show value just by being curious, motivated and eager to learn more. Ideally you’ll have a business card for these kind of events (even though some say these are dying )— you can always leave your email or take their cards if you don’t have one yourself.

After all is said and done, make sure you follow up with the people you connected with! Bear in mind that they will be very busy, and will have spoken to hundreds of people at the event, so drop them a line with your details the next day.

Don’t forget…

“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way…. and not starting.” — Buddha

Bottom line: prepare, research, act on your game plan, and follow-up. I still have a lot to learn, but now I know there’s always room to plan your hustle to make the most out of opportunities.

PS: All the startups I spoke to were amazing. Here are 4 startups that particularly resonated with me:

Cadence allows you to stream real-time translation into your business meeting or live event.

Number of people: 11

Base: San Francisco/Beijing

Mission: promote linguistic diversity, empower people to become a part of a global economy

Why I love them: Breaking Cultural Barriers, International Hustlers

Visabot is the first bot-embedded solution streamlining U.S. visa process - “100x faster than any attorney”

COO and Founder, Andrey Zinovev and a Portuguese hustling immigrant

Number of people: 7

Base: San Francisco/Moscow

Mission: they help immigrants make America great again (YES!)

Why I loved them: Breaking Cultural Barriers, International Hustlers

Littlefund is a smart savings app for families to turn gifting into valuable experiences from birth onwards.

Number of people: 8

Base: San Francisco

Mission: helping Millennial parents with the whole terrifying parenting thing by smart saving for their kids

Why I loved them: Empowering Woman Founder

Shoelace is “retargeting on Autopilot”

Number of people: 13

Base: Toronto

Mission: helping e-commerce merchants increase sales by recapturing lost visitors. They help staying clear of annoying Ads, run successful and engaging retargeting campaigns.

Why I loved them: One of the fastest growing startups of the batch, according to Mattermark’s growth metrics, and International Hustlers.

My sources for this research were 500 Startups Demo Day, TechCrunch and MatterMark.

A special thanks to niket, Faisal Al-Khalidi, Mico Pulice and the guys at Tradecraft for editing, all the people I spoke to at Demo Day and the 500 Startups team who are awesome!