It’s hard to stand out when you’re an entrepreneur. So you convince yourself to go out and attend events to promote your project as soon as you’ve got an idea. It starts with bootcamps and hackathons organized by local accelerators and business schools.
At some point, you begin to attend international conferences and professional fairs but nobody really trained you for that and you end up losing your time and, worst of all, your money.
You only wanted to build a useful product and solve customer needs, right? Now you’re competing not only with other startups for a piece of the market share but also for attention at events.
Out of this experience, I realized with a group of event professionals that we could help startups grow internationally by attending the right event, at the right time. This is why we launched Startup Sesame, the largest alliance of Tech events in Europe.
Collaboration between events has been in the organizers’ minds for several years already but it wasn’t until last year at Challengers in Barcelona that this initiative came to life.
At first, it looked like a joke. But we got serious about it and managed to launch our first call for entries in September 2015 with 6 partner events. The response was above expectations with 80 applications from 28 countries.
We selected 2 startups: Ingenious and Zettabox. We learnt a lot with them and we even did a panel at Slush about how events can help startups grow.
Obviously, this is a young industry and creating a new category is a daunting challenge. But we rely on a pool of mentors to make it happen. They are the ones who know how entrepreneurs can better their pitch for conferences or master the delicate art of B2B networking. We are so grateful to them and we’re thrilled to announce the latest additions to Startup Sesame’s lineup of experts, Dan Taylor and Sophie Goossens.
Today, we have 10 partner events in 8 cities and we’re at a turning point with our second call for entries coming to an end in March 31st (you can still apply here).
A growing number of events is also willing to join Startup Sesame and we’re doing our best to address their requests. If you’re interested in joining us, please fill in the following form.
We expect to be in all major cities of Europe by end of 2016 thanks to our current partner events and those joining us very soon. By providing time and resources to this initiative, Tech events are accelerating the rise of the digital single market in Europe.
Partnering with Atomico
Today we’re freaking out and overwhelmed by what’s yet to come. It is a very special day for us as we are unveiling an exciting collaboration with Atomico, London based international technology investment company.
With this new partnership, the companies selected by Startup Sesame will get, among other perks, the opportunity to pitch and get valuable feedback on their product or services from Atomico’s investment team before heading out to Startup Sesame partner events throughout Europe.
This collaboration will enable our startups to better their pitches, make precious connexions and prepare for the Tech events they will be attending this coming season. We all know it is better to be challenged before an event and arrive totally prepared than during that event.
Shari Doherty, Partner, Communications at Atomico said the following about joining Startup Sesame:
Startup Sesame helps fast growing European startups navigate the annual event circuit in Europe to accelerate their growth and development of powerful international networks. In our continued efforts to help unlock more of Europe’s potential by building closer links between our tech hubs, Atomico is proud to partner with Startup Sesame.
Advocating for entrepreneurship in Europe
It’s been crazy to witness the amazing response of accelerators and startup ecosystems across the continent. Over 50 organizations have shared our call for entries among their network to help entrepreneurs thrive in Europe.
We’re making tons of new friends and we can’t mention all of them here.
But I’d like to highlight the work of Allied for Startups, a global network of startups, entrepreneurs, VCs, and advocacy organizations, working together to create a worldwide consensus on policies that can positively impact startups and grow digital entrepreneurship and digital economy at large.
Accelerators and incubators such as Startup Sauna, Startup Wise Guys, Techstars, Wayra, Startup Reykjavik, H-Farm, hub:raum, Rockstart Accelerator, L’Accélérateur, 500 Nordics, Beta-I, Startup Pirates, OpenAxel, Startup Bootcamp, Tetuan Valley, Sting Accelerator, Welcome Europe, Impact Accelerator, and many more, have presented our project to their portfolio and alumni.
One more thing…
There is no science for Tech events yet but with your help and constant feedback we’re building something close to it.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out eventologist.tech and give a try to the first rating app for Tech events.
Eventologist allows you to review anonymously some of the best Tech events in the world. By using a live ranking system, the app lets you know which events are the most popular today.
You can even win a free ticket to your favorite event if you’re lucky 🙂
We’re running our call for entries until March 31st. What do you think of our project(s)? Are we missing anything? Please leave your comments below, on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to get your feedback.
Startups, you don’t have time, money, or credibility to waste at events. But industry events can provide a huge boost to business growth and international development when mastered. And if your plans include a trip to SXSW in the coming days, then this is your last chance to learn how to get the most out of these opportunities.
I took part in more than 50 professional events, not to mention meetups and hackathons, during my five years organizing international conferences. I attended everything: mega conferences like SXSW, Web Summit, and Slush; trade shows in Cannes, Barcelona, and other cities in Europe; and premium summits like DLD and LeWeb.
I’ve seen firsthand why startups struggle and what they need to do to successfully navigate this crowded and complex game. Nine times out of 10, founders don’t know what to expect from a specific event, where to find interesting people in the venue, or how the unofficial information is being traded between influencers like investors or journalists.
If you’re working at a startup, you’re supposed to be good at coding and (hopefully) at pitching. But do you know how to introduce yourself in conversational settings without using an elevator pitch? How do you follow up when you’re not selling? What’s the easiest way to get value out of serendipitous networking?
These five tips will let you hack events like SXSW, even if you’re a first-time entrepreneur. They are tricks that I’ve tested and validated with event organizers. Actually, those organizers even taught me some of them.
1. Find the right wristband
Just like at music festivals, tech event organizers distribute wristbands of different colors to control the flow of participants: yellow for speakers, green for the press, purple for sponsors, black for the staff, orange for the opening ceremony, rainbow for the VIP zone of the closing party, and so on. Each event has its own color code, and the code changes every year.
Getting the right wristband is like playing capture the flag. You have to be prepared for the battle and lay down a proper strategy. You must approach with determination and clear objectives in mind. Are you ready to challenge your moral compass?
Here are three possible techniques: First, if you’re an experienced festival-goer and prone to thievery, you can simply steal a wristband during badge collection. Second, sponsors nearly always receive extra wristbands with their booths. You might seduce them into giving you one. Third, if a wristband is needed to get into a VIP event, then there’s always a PR person controlling the access who is completely overwhelmed with wristband distribution. It’s quite easy to convince that poor soul to give you one by claiming that you should be on the guest list. You can also swipe wristbands while this gatekeeper attends to another participant.
– Check if there’s a printed list of wristband colors next to the backstage area; it will be easier to spot the most useful ones afterwards.
– Wait near the VIP exit and kindly ask a speaker to give you their wristband. Cut it by the fastener and gently stick the whole thing back together around your wrist.
– Wristbands come and go; don’t wear them too tight. You may want to share yours with a cofounder or friend. They’ll owe you a huge favor.
2. Squat VIP areas
Tech events usually have restricted access areas: Speaker Lounge, VIP Club, Media Village, Green Room, Backstage, and the like. Those exclusive locations are full of influential personalities who could take your business to the next level. Your goal? Get in and squat those spaces.
Follow an accredited person and claim you have an appointment with them. This is the easiest way to get in. If you don’t find anyone to follow, check to see that there’s actually someone guarding the entrance – sometimes there’s no one around. If there is indeed someone checking wristbands, try to buddy up to them and ask them to let you in as a favor. Or, ask a friend to distract the guard. This works especially well with volunteers. If the guard doesn’t fall for it, then wait for the next shift and try again.
– Once you’re in the VIP area, don’t move until you’re part of the landscape. Talk to lonely people who pretend they’re busy, working on their laptops. Enjoy good Wi-Fi and the free buffet. Act like you belong.
– When the influential person arrives, you’ll be ready to pounce.
3. Get the mic
Even if you’re not a speaker, it’s still possible to get the microphone. If you succeed, make sure your CMO is around to capture this moment on Instagram.
Most conferences let their audience take the mic, usually during Q&A at the end of panels. Organizers might also offer last-minute pitching opportunities on social media. Some free slots are made available when a speaker cancels, especially with matchmaking formats that require mentors and experts. Be ready to take the opportunity.
– To get everything to go right during a Q&A session, sit near the stage or the aisle so you can grab the mic easily. Of course, you must be ready with a question that will let you introduce yourself while still highlighting the speaker on stage.
– Don’t forget to give the audience a simple way to find you afterwards. Giving your name and job title is not enough, mention your contact details clearly and wait near the stage at the end of the panel.
4. Solve the business card dilemma
When you’re specialized in hunting speakers, you’re constantly interrupting important people with the ultimate goal of collecting their contact details. Normally they don’t want to hear about you, much less get bothered with your emails. Their usual answer is: “Sorry, I don’t have business cards anymore.”
If you think that offering your card will be enough and that they will actually write to you afterwards, you still have a lot to learn about B2B networking. Instead, you should start with: “Let’s connect on LinkedIn,” then “What’s your email?” and finish with the phone number. Write this information down immediately.
– The event speakers are probably geeks like you and love to discover new apps. Use your smartphone to automatically send contact details and spark their interest. Sadly, NoBizCard is not available anymore, but you can use Contact Info or Swapcard. It’s a gimmick that should continue to work for a year or two.
5. Rock the follow-up
Creating business opportunities with people you meet during an event is a science, and follow-ups are an area where many beginners stumble.
Time your follow-up well if you want to increase your chances of getting a reply. There are three levels of follow-up that every startup should master:
First, LinkedIn and Twitter, within 24 hours
Second, standard email, between 3 and 5 days after the event. Explain when you met, what you do, enclose your Pitch Deck, and kindly ask for feedback. If you don’t get any answer, follow up a week later.
Third, ultra-personalized email, at the latest within two weeks. Detail what you expect from your contact, why he or she is so important in your industry and what you see as the next steps.
– Organize your follow-ups in email folders and tag them so it is easy to find them and continue a correspondence, even months after.
– You’re more likely to get a reply than if you start a new thread.
The more familiar you are with tech events, the easier it becomes to break their rules. Meanwhile, be patient — B2B networking is a marathon, not a sprint.
Don’t forget that collaboration is everything in the startup world. Get ready to help the people you meet. (Hack yourself first if you’re too selfish.) Listen carefully and give a hand when you can, without expecting anything back in return. A good place to start is by seeking out and helping event organizers. They won’t forget the help, and they just might reward you with a VIP wristband.
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.
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.
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.
There are already several apps in this market, such as Weave, Grip or the newtiedots for example, while some tech conferences develop their own solutions. But the code hasn’t been broken yet.
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.
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.
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.
I believe events can provide immense value to entrepreneurs, especially when they are built with their needs in mind. It might sound obvious but this is ultimately what make some conferences outpace their competitors. What if we could build an alliance of event founders driven by excellence and commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem? What if events could strengthen the digital market in Europe?
With this ambition and set of values, we’ve launched Startup Sesame, the first event accelerator program for startups with 6 conferences that are dedicating time and ressources to accelerate the growth of the entrepreneurial culture across the continent.
As per our manifesto, we believe that creating bridges between ecosystems across Europe will help startups grow faster and prosper, expand their network and break national barriers through connections and collaboration.
Our goal is to provide the most promising entrepreneurs with unparalleled advantages at some of the best tech events and help them become the next European unicorns.