How to promote & build visibility to your startup @ TechCrunch Disrupt?
We were newbies, we were excited, and we had a product that promised a wallet full of happiness. We had everything lined up, but what we didn’t know was how it would be received at the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, CA.
After all, this was the largest start-up event in the world. That year it had 9,000 visitors across three full days. There were 550 exhibitors from around the world, including 250 speakers, numerous investors (seed, angel, series A-to-Z), serial entrepreneurs, and a Startup Alley Battlefield with a $100,000 prize for the victor - all of it happening at the bustling Moscone Center West in downtown SF. This sprawling convention center has three levels and over 300,000 square feet spread over an 87-acre campus, which is by far the largest in the city.
But hey, it didn’t stop there… TC Disrupt had workshops, a showcase stage, networking and pitching events, one-on-one sessions, and more. You could peruse all the latest innovations, or you could get some mentoring by the world’s best, or you could hit up the fun filled after-parties. It was endless.
That year there were 240 female founders, product leaders, engineers, and investors who came together at the “Women of Disrupt breakfast” to share their experiences, network, and mentor their fellow women entrepreneurs. Disrupt was all about diversity and inclusivity. I could feel it from their guidelines about what they wouldn’t tolerate at the convention to the way they treated everyone. Check out their Code of Conduct here: https://techcrunch.com/pages/code-of-conduct/
How did we start?
It all started with an email from our teammate: “Aren’t we gonna attend TC Disrupt?”
I replied, “We should, but it is too expensive.”
Like most frugal entrepreneurs, I was not in favor of spending money on events. I was always in the habit of asking: How is attending going to bring us business? How many leads will we generate? Are we going to get VC money? How do we get selected for the Battle Field? And so on.
But then one day, I decided that if we’re going to fail, we should fail BIG. Right then and there I decided that we should attend - and rock it. Even if we didn’t make it, at least it would have been a great experience and an opportunity to learn.
Planning and organizing has always been the key that has helped me thrive and live my life to the fullest. I met with the entire team of Get Things Done and asked a bunch of questions about why we should attend, how was it going to help us, what should we do, how we should promote ourselves, etc.
The first thing we did was pick up three “founder” passes. Each pass was $1,395, and by looking at the expense every day, we were all charged up to make it happen.
Strategy and planning
With my 24 years of experience attending hundreds of conferences, I always saw the same thing in common: barely 1% of the exhibitors were creative enough to attract any foot traffic. Most of them just gave away the standard boring T-shirts (which are usually big enough to fit a grizzly bear) along with other useless schwag that always ends up going in the garbage.
So I thought to myself: If we are spending so much money, why not go all the way and make a splash!
Numbers don’t LIE
Like always, we started planning everything — but even though our planning was impeccable, things went wrong. We couldn’t get the bags on time, and our head of product had his travel visa rejected not once, but twice! His ticket was essentially wasted… But the rest of us continued on, and the three of us packed our bags from Bengaluru, India with as many goodies as we could carry, and the rest we shipped.
“We Work” party
The day before the event we attended the We Work party, and it was amazing to feel the incredible energy of our fellow entrepreneurs. But we still had to decide what to do with the extra ticket? I thought the best way was to give it to a wannabe student entrepreneur, and we marketed it to all the schools in SF. Ally, a TC team member, was kind enough to circulate our message, and we ended up having 42 people apply for it! We selected a girl who moved from NY to SF to start her entrepreneurial journey.
We trained ourselves to be like a SWAT team, and our stall was scheduled for the last day of the exhibition. But to my surprise it all came as a blessing, because during the first two days we could scope out the other stalls, study how they sell, their USP, blah blah. We made a few last minute changes to our approach, and then on the big day we brought nine boxes of stuff to the venue at 7:30 a.m.
Akshay, our full stack engineer, brought the huge boxes, while Alka, our Lead UX & UI designer, was keeping an eye on the boxes outside Moscone West. Meanwhile, I was preparing the cardboard cut-outs. To my surprise, two guys came and asked me if they could take a picture with the cut-outs. That moment the whole world came calling. I said, “Of course!”
Our stall was small but creative. Curiosity brought in a lot of foot traffic to our booth. We had these two 7-foot cardboard cutouts of Silicon Valley star Erlich Bachman and Entourage star Ari Gold - and let me tell you, they attracted a lot of visitors to our stall! Everyone wanted to know what these two cut outs were doing there, and we told them that we just wanted to make a statement that conveyed the bold attitude of Bachman and Ari Gold. Basically, both characters lived by the motto: “Either You Know it All or You Blow it All.” And that was precisely the frame of mind we were in at the time.
We met Asher Leids at the We Work party, and not only did he spend four hours with us, and he was kind enough to share his life story. He is without a doubt one of the most courageous people I have come across in my life.
On the closing day, Asher Leids happened to visit our stall. As he was getting a feel for the product, we waited with baited breath for his verdict. We were probably the only ones at the event who were shy of direct selling, but instead we let our product do the talking.
Asher not only liked our product, but he also spent time at the stall getting to know the product and the team. Asher’s verdict definitely boosted our team’s confidence and validated the product.
Our 60-second pitch to the prospects
If you don’t know how to pitch, then I strongly recommend that you prepare 30-, 60- and 90-second pitches and keep fine tuning them until they are perfect. The most important thing to do is pay attention to the other person’s body language and understand whether you are able to hold their attention.
Pitch 1 - The world is full of tools that make work stressful in the name of productivity, but a tool for every task only complicates productivity. Imagine a different tool to message, communicate, collaborate, deliver, and present. How many tools do you need to get your work done? Do you know, none of these actually consider the most crucial aspect of work, namely Time?
Pitch 2 - The foundation of work is built on Time, which is the essence of any business. But, with all the knowledge and information available, people are more stressed than ever. The mere sight of to-dos, deadlines, memos and meetings can set your heart racing. Truly, work-life balance has become a myth.
Pitch 3 - Unlike existing products that are built around work, Get Things Done is built on human empathy. It was created by observing people’s frustration and feelings, asking that one simple question of: “Why we can’t create a simple, honest, and effective software product that makes people’s work-life easy?”
Overarching message - Get Things Done is transforming the way people work and live, with its core belief that there is more to life than just work. Achieve more, spend more quality time with what you love, and experience stress-free productivity with features like a “happiness wallet” that truly liberates you.
Meeting the Dropbox founder
Who better than Drew Houston, Founder of Dropbox, to talk about productivity and how distracted we are at work and life. The moment the speaker list came out, I knew that we had to meet him and share our vision of how Get Things Done is “Accelerating Human Productivity.”
We all listened attentively while he was on stage, and then I went out and shared with my teammates my strategy for how to meet him.
1. How many entry and exits are there?
2. Where is the lift?
3. Where is the restroom?
After we came up with our non-AI-powered strategy, we waited outside the green room, and boom! He came with his entourage. I ran to him and shared my idea - he was very kind and approachable, listened to my vision, and asked me to reach out to him.
Lessons learned from TC Disrupt
1. Bet BIG on your idea.
2. The biggest risk is not taking risk.
3. Don’t underestimate your potential.
4. Your product is as good as an idea lying in your hard drive if you don’t validate it with users - and quickly.
5. If you fail, then fail fast and fail big.
6. Having a vision and a business plan is more for you than for the VCs. It helps refine your product and strategy.
7. Don’t be desperate for VC money, because most of the time you may not need it to start with.
8. Don’t be defensive about your idea; rather, look at your product with an outside-in perspective.
9. Not everyone will be a customer; define your target audience and stick to it.
10. There is no hierarchy, so roll up your sleeves and get things done.
11. Take your team along with you, delegate work, and trust them to get it done.
12. Just go all out, because your first chance could very well be your last.
We were also giving away freebies like T-shirts, bags, and buttons that we had painstakingly designed and brought all the way from India as a giveaway to those who registered and downloaded the app.
And as hundreds of people registered to be a beta user, it only proved the need for apps that are more human-centric than tech-centric.
TC Disrupt was an exhilarating experience as we got to meet people from different backgrounds and places as far as Australia, London, Africa, Japan, Korea, Finland, Jordan, Russia, India, Dubai and many more. Apart from the usual tech crowd, we got to interact with an eclectic bunch, and our conversations all had a unique flavor as we spoke to students, millennials, and entrepreneurs - we even got to talk to an actress named Stacy, and the wife of the ex-Prime Minister of Ukraine. To our pleasant surprise, they all agreed that there is more to life than just work!