A few days ago I got back from the Summit, which turned out to be the biggest tech conference in Europe in 2013 with some 11,000 attendees (I didn’t even know 11,000 tech entrepreneurs existed, but let yourself be surprised). Sitting on the plane back to Berlin I asked myself, was it worth it? I would say: partly. Would I still go to the Summit ‘14? Sure! I would just do 5 things differently:
1. Be Less Egoistic
Instead of constantly being concerned about who WE need to meet, it would serve most of us well to think about who would benefit from knowing US. Assuming we’re not Elon Musk, we could probably benefit from almost all people at the Summit who would benefit from us. In order to start constructive and durable business relationships, a best practice is to be of use to someone before demanding their attention. Even in biology, mutualistic relationships (“one hand washes the other” or favor trading) are among the most durable and evolutionarily beneficial, especially in situations where being highly competitive doesn’t help your game (e.g. in a conference of 11,000 people where there’s only one Elon Musk). So instead of going through the conference attendee lists and fishing for investors, go through the list and think about what you can offer other attendees. Then write them on Twitter and tell them where they can find you and when.
Gary Vaynerchuk inspired me with a great talk about destructive egoism in tech entrepreneurship.
2. Do Your Homework
Do all of the stuff that you can do from home, from home. And I mean EVERYTHING. Create a list in Excel with all the meetings you have planned along with the Twitter handles of everyone relevant to you and what you can offer them. Make sure your team is ready to go and that your products and promotional materials are complete. It’s a complete waste of time to spend the first day of a conference finishing things up, especially if you need to present the next day (I know this firsthand because I have done it and it’s bullocks). Instead of crunching at the last minute, have your eyes and ears completely focused on what’s going on around you. You never know when your next business partner, the one who will change your story completely, will come around.
3. Be Visible
I still haven’t figured out the best way to tackle this one, but at my next conference I plan to wear a t-shirt that says:
Front: “Darja, CEO, founder of Triptourage, global developer at Waymate. Offering: Start-upping around the world, early stage funding, lessons on how to get an MVP as a non-coder, etc.”
Back: “Seeking: Early customers, business partners in travel industry, advisory board members with at least one successful exit. And I love surfing!”
At a conference bursting with 11,000 people, first names only play a role for the polite introduction – nobody ever remembers the names they heard during those 2 days. But even if they don’t remember names, they do, however, remember products, focus areas and experiences they shared with you. This is a tech conference: we are all passionate about what we do, so why not wear our heart on our sleeves?
4. Use Your Resources
When you attend a tech conference, make sure to apply to all the programs on offer. Applying to and getting into Summit’s Alpha Start-Up Selection helped my startup immensely! The most intense networking/business development and user feedbacking I experienced at the Summit happened when we exhibited at Alphaville. The exhibition basically is Powerade for your networking and a reversal of the mutualistic networking strategy you should be following: you get to stand there, visible and interesting (if you prepare your stand right), and people come to you to tell you about what they can do for you (and if you are in the proper mindset you will tell them what you can do for them). The Summit gave startups with the Alpha exhibition package 3 tickets for team members to attend. My advice? Use those tickets, ALL 3 OF THEM. All good things come in 3’s, and this is no different for teams highly effective at exhibiting at conferences with stands. You need 3 people: 1 person (the motivated pitching hero) who is always by the stand, 1 person (the networker) who is running around making connections at other stands, coffee places, etc. and a third person (the strategist, thinker) who is attending talks. At least at this year’s Summit the talks were totally worth attending: you don’t want to miss Elon Musk!
There are some neat tools out there to help you to identify key players in real time at the conference you’re visiting. One of them is Bizzabo, a tool that allows you to instantly connect with people who should matter to you. The only downside is that it’s only available where Bizzabo founders Alon and Eran got conference leaders on-board the Bizzabo ship.
5. Network Like a Pro
In order to get the best advice on how to rock it in networking I asked Mario Palladini, founder and CEO of G1obals, what his hacks are for networking big events like the Summit. Mario recommends that startups go all out to make themselves as visible as possible. He said:
I spoke to about 100 people during the Summit and around 20% of those conversations turned into leads. My tip for events like these is: schedule meetings with target audience beforehand, position yourself at a visible meeting point (i.e. decorate your booth with branded helium balloons) and wear an eye catcher like red glasses without the actual glass. This time it got me an interview with the Irish Times!”
Last but not least, I would strongly recommend that you enjoy the whole event as much as possible. In the end, Web Summit offers a pretty amazing program with great sponsors such as Spotify that bring you not only drinks on the house but also some of the best live performances out there. But beware: always be on top of your game! The next investor is just around that bar corner 😉
Editorial note: Darja is the founder and CEO of Triptourage, the next generation travel concierge that takes all the stress out of travel planning. For more of Darja’s thoughts on startup life, follow her on Medium.