When We Can Pitch Startups at Events
Again, Take These Lessons With You
Here I am, a twenty-year-old astrophysics student designing satellites
to place in orbit around Mars and a self-starter entrepreneur longing to show my baby — nect MODEM
— to the earth. I've had a few bumps on the road. Thankfully, I learned a few valuable lessons, and the experience of attending five conferences with my startup as my product made me reflect on a lot I'd like to share with other aspiring startup owners.
I hope you find my insights helpful, and respond with your own unique stories — I would love to learn from you.
Bump #1: IT Arena
is the best tech event in Ukraine that is widely known for its global outlook and scale. It has a dedicated “Alley of Startups,” where each is allotted a few square meters to gaze and amaze.
- Significant on the national scale, the event is rather small in comparison to globally recognized IT conferences. Thus, you do not have too many chances to meet investors interested in your niche — something we anticipated.
- Smaller national conferences are great places to meet peer entrepreneurs from your own country that will open many partnership opportunities and will guarantee you some heartfelt meetups during future global events.
- A local event is a safe place to test and, thus, optimize your product and your pitch — something we did with great pleasure.
Bump #2: Bits&Pretzels
was the second conference for our startup. An excellent investment, considering the wealth of contacts you can make around the beer carousel conveniently located in the center of a conference space.
It's fairly useless to go there with a startup stand, however.
- Bits&Pretzels is an excellent place to go to for networking. I met tons of people to refer to in case of a business need, found a software development partner for our product, and received contacts from two accelerators, where we can potentially be accepted.
- It is best to attend the conference as a visitor without any startup stand: this will reduce the expenses while giving the freedom to move around and network to your heart’s content.
Bump #3: South Summit
, which takes place in Madrid each October, has been our third conference bringing in cooperation with Peter, an entrepreneur who was excited to leverage our 5G expertise in logistics tracking — something we had never thought before. Still, now, when I know what South Summit is like, there is something I would do differently when attending it again.
- Unlike Bits&Pretzels with its amazing carousel, South Summit restricts access to sponsors and investors; they all hang out in a Business Lounge. To enter this lounge and make the most out of conference networking, you need to buy a ticket for Business — more expensive but definitely worth it. And I will sure do this the following time.
- Another way startups can ace South Summit is by taking part in a competition. Finalists enjoy a media coverage one can only dream about.
Bump #4: Web Summit
Having some experience of attending conferences behind our shoulders, we tried to make our Web Summit
stand as interactive as possible. We developed a test “What kind of internet user are you?” (you can still try it here
) and rewarded test-takers with medals displaying their results.
Out of three conference days, startups can only have a stand for one day, so we spent the other two running around the space to get useful contacts and ask participants about the issues they had because of the unreliable Internet connection. This kind of “market research” made us have a better picture of our buying persona.
- The fear of getting lost among Web Summits’ 70k participants is quite unfounded. The conference has its mobile app for the visitors that allows people to find who they need. There we met Pascal, one of the evangelists in Indiegogo, the platform where nect WORLD’s crowdfunding campaign is planned. His interest in our product and promise of support upon the launch is invaluable.
- Web Summit is a heaven for anyone working in the SaaS industry, especially in B2B segments. Bringing a hardware product like nect MODEM there is not the best idea.
Bump #5: CES
With Consumer Electronics Show
or CES, it has been “our heaven” at last. Contrary to Web Summit, the exhibition united those presenting and interested in hardware products. And we were happy to bring the first consignment of our modem — newly designed and produced from the recycled plastics
— to CES and gleaming Las Vegas streets.
- Not taking the whole team to CES was a great mistake I still regret. The fact is, the conference fee was $1000 for the chosen startups, which presupposed access for a team of up to 10 people. Since flights from Kyiv for the whole squad multiplied conference expenses by far, I decided to go on my own, asking two friends from San Francisco to join and help me with a stand. Despite the excellent results we have gained, I keep thinking that they could be times better if I have brought the whole team with me.
- After all the long searches for a perfect accelerator for hardware product startups, I have “come across” one at the conference, also attracting a strong advocate expressing personal interest in us being accepted. Just a lucky chance, you say? Might be. But it still depends on you to create perfect conditions for such opportunities to come.
Instead of the Afterword
After all the gains and bumps I had, would I recommend startups to go to conferences?
Yes, I definitely would.
At the same time, I would not recommend anyone to start calculating return on investment on the way home from each conference.
Yes, we have spent much more than we have earned so far. Still, I cannot imagine moving forward without investing any money, or — even more pricey — time and passion.
The insights into your idea, the experience of your product presentation, tips from top experts, which they generously share in a small talk chat (otherwise worth thousands of dollars). All the benefits are hard to name. And it’s hard to put a price tag on them.
What I am sure about is that the experience made me a wiser and more realistic entrepreneur, even though I remain a 20-old dreamer, stubborn enough to keep going.
It is sad that the next conference we were going to, MVC Barcelona 2020
, was canceled due to COVID-19. Residence and flights booked, money spent
. If anyone can share their experience from the conference and give me some insights into all the rookie mistakes I was about to make at that conference — I will appreciate it if you do share in the comments.
Either this post remained planned and drafted for too long, or the time has speeded up for our startup, but I finally hit “publish” being in the US, several weeks into the Boomtown Accelerator program
. I will share my insights into this new experience any time soon, so stay tuned.
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