With the rise of megaconferences in Europe like Web Summit, Slush and The Next Web gathering over 20,000 attendees each, tech event organizers are facing a critical challenge to remain relevant in such a competitive landscape.
Some entrepreneurs consider there are too many conferences already. What can event organizers do to better help them grow their business?
In the present post, we’ll be looking into the top 5 strategies applied by events to bring value to entrepreneurs and infuse growth to their companies. We’ll be focusing on Europe and most specifically on the founding partner events ofStartup Sesame, the first European event accelerator program.
These strategies can be useful for any organizer, small or big, in and out of the technology world.
1. Differentiation is Value
The best way to stand out from a crowded market is to be different and tap into a smaller, unstructured segment of the market.
“Internet lets weird people find other weird people, which amplifies their weirdness”, according to Seth Godin. Events are here to help you live with your weirdness.
Conferences are like the Internet in the way they can tap into a specific niche and address customers who are looking for a community, a place and a message that resonate with their own life or business.
An important way for tech events to differentiate themselves is to cover a new topic or an emerging trend. Anybody starting a conference on Drones orArtificial Intelligence will be able to serve several industries at the same time and bring value to a community that still needs guidance on what its weirdness is about.
This is the role of Field Configuring Events as defined by Lampel and Meyer:
Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries. They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.
Conferences like Arctic15 or Pioneers Festival have understood that it is critical to cover specific topics to remain relevant. If you’re into growth, and ready to exit… Arctic15 in Helsinki is made for you. And if you work with science and R&D based innovation, you’ll have to travel to Vienna in May for Pioneers. It’s a given. These guys were smart enough to find their own mojo early, get clients and their money.
A tech event is also poised to be different by its content and its format. It is a fact for anybody who has attended enough conferences to get bored and tired by the repetition of panels and fireside chat overdose. If you want to provide value to entrepreneurs, you’ll have to challenge yourself with what you’re delivering and the way you do it. No more sales pitch. Kill the unrehearsed keynote presentation.
LeWeb has been really good at curating content (disclosure: I was responsible of part of the program in 2014), but the format is still quite traditional.Challengers have tried to break some of the standards and established rules in its latest edition. And by doing so, the event was able to provide a different value to its attendees. Maybe it’s not good for everybody, but outstanding experiences are always memorable and talkative.
2. Support your Ecosystem
Highlighting a local ecosystem is the most efficient way to help startups grow. As a matter of fact, this is the starting point of any important conference and one of the key drivers to success of accelerators and meetups. Making their own ecosystem thrive and grow.
Think of Web Summit igniting the Dublin scene with its Spark of Geniusprogram or the way Daniel Ek and Ash Pournouri are promoting Stockholm’s upcoming unicorns to the world with Symposium. All major cities will soon have their own startup conference, it’s just a matter of time.
Tech Open Air is a compelling exemple of an event fully integrated within the local ecosystem promotion. Founders have been involved in strengthening the fabric of entrepreneurship through several initiatives and they are now presenting their own curated version of Berlin to international media, investors and corporates during their marquee event. The promise? Get acquainted with the blooming startup city while having a Club Mate.
Another fascinating achievement is Slush in Helsinki. Starting as a community-driven event in 2008, the conference is now bridging the Nordics with Asia and gathering over 15,000 attendees.
Rude Baguette has recently pointed out that peripheral cities like Helsinki or Dublin consolidated their startup conferences in ways that the main capitals of Europe have not been able to, according to Liam Boogar:
What’s interesting is that, even including Mobile World Congress, Europe’s biggest tech events are all happening in ‘secondary’ cities — Helsinki, Vienna, Dublin (& potentially, in the future, Lisbon), Amsterdam & Barcelona — meanwhile, London, Paris, Stockholm, & even Berlin lack their signature conference.
I’ve just arrived in Istanbul to discover how Webrazzi Summit is showcasing the local ecosystem and I expect nothing less but what DLD Tel Aviv or The August Fest in India are offering: a smart way to connect the best startups from the country with international investors and influencers. Ecosystem-centric.
3. Connect Beyond Expectations
Startups are attending events mainly for two reasons: clients and investors. While the number of clients and investors attending events is probably growing, the fierce competition between entrepreneurs for their attention is growing as conferences are limited in space and time to a reduced number of days and exhibition halls.
The networking function of events is increasingly important and matchmaking is the main ROI expected by startups.
We are praising along with many conference organizers for a stronger investment in networking solutions and we are thrilled to witness how some events are dedicating more time and resources to solve this pressing need.
The Human Matchmaker and the Deal Room developed by Arctic15 are worth mentioning, as well as the online database provided by Slush. Pioneers has also spent a lot of energy in their networking solution and offered a fantastic space for meeting in their latest editions. It was always crowded.
And now Forbes is partnering with Tinder.
Forbes teams up with Tinder for ‘speed networking’ app, debuting in Philly for Under 30 Summit Millennials in…www.philly.com
Is it finally happening?
For the past decade, event organizers have been searching for the holy grail of business networking: an efficient and user-centric algorithm that would open the era of automated matchmaking.
Will Slack become the go-to companion for entrepreneurs willing to connect with like-minded individuals, as seen during XOXO?
Throughout the three days of XOXO, Slack was a thriving hub of conversation, offering a place for attendees to encourage and congratulate speakers, ask questions about the event’s code of conduct, and find like-minded souls with whom to sneak out and grab a beer, or a bite, or whatever.
Startup conferences have their own networking codes and set of rules that deserve some attention for traditional event organizers. Most industry gatherings and academic conventions function as a platform where long-lasting communities create consensus on their worldview, trade value and more or less directly make business. No need to offer beers at the venue, right?
Well, the exact opposite happens in the startup world where everyone has potentially something to pitch.
Tech conferences are embracing full stack networking.
To bring value to the diverse crowd that makes up their audience, tech conferences must embrace an integrated approach to networking. Dinners, parties and cocktails are as important as the conference itself.
It also attracts corporate sponsorship, but that’s another story.
Organizers can help startups attend their events by different means.
First of all, they’re expected to bring sponsors to the show to offset the ticket costs for founders and innovators alike. The most promising entrepreneurs even deserve more than cheap tickets. Passionate founders crave praise and recognition.
Monetary and symbolic rewards are an important contribution to this virtuous circle and it’s hard to imagine a startup competition in 2015 without some sort of social incentive.
However, you will still find some organizers who are reluctant to give away monetary prizes. Some will even ask finalists to pay for their tickets! Well, this is exactly the opposite of what those formats should provide to contestants.
Startup competitions are a rite of passage where community leaders pick the kids who are ready to join adults. A form of contemporary potlatch ruled by unicorns, global brands and legendary pioneers. Circular institutions.
If your event is not welcoming a competition or an award ceremony (or both), you should be worried. You’re sending the message to your ecosystem that you’re not part of a community and that you don’t feel that you should be giving back. Press coverage and prestige have never been enough. You must give back cash. Investments. Deals. No bullshit.
There is a growing list of tech conferences that have been focusing on their active role as circulation catalysts, organisations that lubricate the system and the flow of value within it. Some are even going nuts such as MassChallengeor XPrize, with dotations well over 1M€.
The difference between fictional and ritual ceremonies is the cast. Choose your startup judges wisely.
Disrupt, Demo and Launch in the US have all been offering a monetary prize for years within their competitions and they promote the picture of the check heavily. The selection process, the pitches, the questions from judges, and the climax of the winners holding a big cardboard check, all of those cultural memes are part of this ritual.
Some events are even going further, expanding their annual startup competition into an investment program. Pioneers is a major stakeholder and partner of a fund leaded by Speedinvest with already EUR58 millioncommitted in investments. Others like 4YFN will start in 2016. Giving back, all year long.
TechCrunch, The Next Web or Web Summit are dominating the event space with a sophisticated content marketing strategy that hook readers and potential attendees everyday, everywhere.
Every conference is a medium for communication and social interaction. But not all event organizers are born equal and only a few are seriously building the right media properties around the event itself.
It’s easier if you’re an online media getting into the event business. But it takes a vision to turn this audience into attendees. You will need to align everyone within your organization to make that giant leap forward.
On the other hand, traditional media getting into this industry will face immense challenges if they want to build a lasting brand and remain relevant for an audience that is usually new to them.
Top tier tech conferences are in the eyeball business, while most organizers are still in the travel and hospitality business.
So what should event organizers do to turn their participants into a captive audience?
- Social media: get into the platform where your participants are already interacting and start as soon as possible creating a social media marketing plan. Instagram and Snapchat anyone? If you’re targeting marketers and geeky professionals in the US, you should be all over Google+, even if it’s to disappear in a year. Do you have Facebook groups, public or private, where you engage with advisors and superfans to involve them in your next edition? For anything related to this strategy, Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a good start.
- Local events: organize as many small events as you possibly can. Meetups, pitch contests, panels at conferences or parties. Tons of them. Create a license like TEDx. LeWeb did its own Startup Tour in 2014 covering 4 different european countries. Pioneers and Slush tap into new audiences with a global event strategy. Organizing events is what you know to do best, right? What are you waiting for?
- Curated news: share information that matters to your audience and filter the social noise for them. Most conference organizers are avid readers of newsletters, RSS and other digital outlets where they source the trends and experts that will shape their program. Are you using scoop.it, Flipboard or Nuzzel to share this curation with the world? Have you started your own newsletter? What’s going on with ProductHunt?
- Content creation: stop reading this and create your own Medium account right now. This is where you will welcome guest posts from your existing network and opinion pieces from upcoming speakers. Did you know thatpodcasting was kicking it in 2015? Where are you on Periscope? What’s your level of investment in Youtube? Content creation can be intimidating and costly. But you can always balance your efforts with the curation strategy you already implemented in the previous point.
- Investment: start an AngelList syndicate like jason and convince local investors to inject their capital within your annual funding strategy. Maybe your own cryptocurrency based on Ethereum? Are you tracking the successes of the startups involved in your event in the past? Keep in touch with them, talk to their founders as often as possible, invite them to your local events and highlight their news within your social media accounts and curated channels. Give back.
These are only 5 ways to make it happen and tech conferences have been testing and mastering them for the past decade. So it’s up to you to learn from successful event founders how to remain relevant all year long, everyday and everywhere.
Entrepreneurs have lots of ambition, but without support, driving your businesses to new levels of growth becomes…www.eventbrite.com
This is the ultimate way to provide consistant and measurable value to those entrepreneurs who spent time and money at your gig. You can also learn from them, if you ask the right question in your post-show survey.