Startup Advice

Seven tips for getting the most out of big startup conferences

Daniel Wirjoprawiro /

Last week over 11,000 people from 50 countries converged on New Orleans for Collision, Web Summit’s annual tech conference in the US.

With more than 332 speakers talking across multiple stages, there was a huge variety of talks traversing topics like the future of work and emerging technologies. Some of the big trends discussed included SaaS products being developed for the enterprise making the workplace more enjoyable and human, and the plethora of applications for emerging technologies in artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality.

There was a lot of talk that ‘winter is coming’ with venture capitalists feeling uncertain about the availability of venture capital next year and speculation around current unicorns being over-valued.

Trimantium Capital has a regular presence at the big tech events and this year at Collision we judged a pitch session, chaired an investor roundtable on China, and hosted ‘office hours’ to engage in more intimate discussions with startups.

With 630 startups and 407 investors in attendance, the pace was frenetic and challenging for startups to stand out.

Here are some tips to help startups make the most from their attendance at a big tech event:

1. Beware of marketing gimmicks

The big tech conferences are money-making ventures for the organisers, so dig into the detail of how the event works, the costs, the setup, what opportunities would realistically exist for your startup, and how you could create the most value from the experience.

Speak to other entrepreneurs who have previously attended the event and ask them for tips on how to get value from the event, but also ask for their honest opinion on whether they found the event worthwhile.

2. Do your homework

Before the event, establish clear objectives for attending and the outcomes you hope to achieve. Make sure you arrive at the event with a reasonable level of knowledge about the investors in attendance, including their investment approach and criteria so you can carefully target your efforts in the finite time allowed.

Collision saw a lot of new funds with capital to deploy ranging from Hollywood VCs looking to invest and incubate content and intellectual property for commercialisation to focused VCs investing in companies with potential growth into China.

3. Differentiate yourself

The big tech conferences are literally and figuratively noisy. Startups are rammed into tiny booths competing for attention. Founders must differentiate their startup – from your appearance and booth setup, to your pitch, to the product or service – to realise maximum value from the event.

4. Practice your pitch and product demo

Founders need to have slick pitch decks and a compelling elevator pitch that clearly articulates the problem you are solving. You also need to be prepared to answer some tough, more detailed questions, usually reserved for a due diligence session. Wherever possible, leverage the face-to-face opportunity to seamlessly demonstrate your product.

5. Take advantage of intimate sessions

While the scale of these conferences can be quite overwhelming, most of the big tech events organise more intimate sessions such as ‘office hours’, where startups can engage with mentors and investors on their business. Founders should take advantage of these opportunities and aim to build a lasting mentor or investor relationships. If you engage with the right people you might get invited to other side events or informal sessions with valuable people.

6. Work hard and play hard

So much of the value of the big tech conferences is derived from building a rapport with people outside of the actual conference at private side events, lunches, dinners, and drinks. When you’re a founder it’s easy to get stuck deep in the trenches but it’s important to come up for air, have a little fun, and develop genuine connections with people.

7. Follow up

The work doesn’t stop after the conference. Founders should make the time to reflect on their experience and ensure they appropriately follow up with connections and leads. Events like Collision provide an app so attendees can easily message each other after the event.

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