Conference Etiquette

In the last post Eeswaran touched on the value of conferences as a potentially useful way to spend money to pitch your idea.  But more importantly he mentioned some ways to potentially get more for less if you plan your conference attendance correctly.  Well, I thought it might be useful to expound upon that with some simple dos and don’ts illustrated with situations that we personally experienced this year.

Do: Plan your investor meetings ahead of time

Don’t: Just try to plan a meeting with every investor in attendance

Each of us must have been contacted by at least 100 well-meaning startups who were diligently trying to get the most out of their time at Web Summit.  The problem is that the vast majority of these startups were very obviously either not at a stage we are interested in or not working on a B2B solution.  Pro tip: Most investors are quite clear and public about what type of investments their portfolio is interested in, it doesn’t look great if you don’t fit that that description when you contact us.  It clearly indicates that you either a) contacted every investor on the list with the same basic message or worse still b) specifically identified us as a target without doing any basic research first.

Look, we’re there to meet you and we genuinely appreciate it when you reach out to set up a meeting if it makes sense for us to meet.  Believe me, there is a way longer list of startups for me to go through than investors for you to go through so any help identifying useful collaborations is warmly welcomed.  But let’s not waste each other’s time.  As an example of a good way to approach this I'll share an email I received which said “based on one of the companies in your portfolio I think you’d be interested to learn more about what we’re doing.  We’ll be exhibiting at Web Summit and would love you to come by”.  Perfect, tells me they’ve done the research and I am a carefully selected investor they’d like to work with; it immediately gives me an idea of what they’re up to and why I might care; and isn’t too pushy.  We met in Dublin and had a great chat.

Do: Network like your business depends on it (it does)

Don’t: Be so focussed on the act of networking that you miss the value of doing it

Networking isn’t meant to be a contest about who can collect the most business cards and LinkedIn connections by the end of the day.  It’s about having useful conversations with strategically valuable people.  If we’ve identified early in our chat that we aren’t really in each other’s space it isn’t rude to politely conclude that chat and get on with meeting people.  However, conversely, if we are having a good chat about something mutually beneficial it is quite rude to abruptly end the conversation because someone you haven’t yet met happens past.

Slightly tangentially, if you’re a startup and you’ve connected over drinks with a group of investors and you’re getting on quite well and they invite you to join them at the bar (where they’ll likely have a connection to many other investors), don’t turn them down without a very good reason.

Do: Consider sponsorship where it will benefit your brand

Don’t: Use that stage to highlight one of your biggest product flaws

Event sponsorship is a great way to get valuable exposure with your core audience.  If you’ve done the research and judge there to be a useful rate of return on the investment then I say go for it.  However, don’t pay all of that money to then turn around and highlight the weaknesses in your product.  We went to a party sponsored by an app designed for skipping the queue at the bar, a great concept and a drinks event seems fitting for showing it off.  Biggest problem, no data reception in the club and wifi which either simply didn’t work or buckled under the pressure of several hundred active devices at the same time.  Result: very long queues at the bar the irony of which was clearly not lost on anyone actually standing in them.  This doesn’t seem like a problem that would be limited to this one particular club and I would think extra ordinary measures might be taken to ensure that a room full of investors aren’t made aware of this glaring flaw right away.

(Backwards this time)

Don’t: Spend money on conferences that you simply don’t have

Do: Find creative ways around the problem

Eeswaran mentioned in the last post that being creative to avoid unnecessary expense was always advisable, his example was to simply show up where the event is happening and attend the evening events in town without buying a conference ticket.  Better still, we met a company that simply signed up as a Web Summit volunteer.  For a few hours of free labour each day they were granted free access to any part of the event they wanted, including the investor lounge and pitch areas.  We set up a time to meet with them in London immediately.  It’s a simple solution to a basic problem that everyone has but it’s also the kind of hustle we’re looking for in founders.

I am sure there are many more dos and don’ts but these are a few that have really stuck with me over the last couple of weeks so I thought I’d mention them.  They seem like common sense and yet, personal experience would suggest they’re still worth pointing out.

Happy conferencing!

Chris Haley