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When I began my career eight years ago as a cub-reporter in a national business newspaper, I often wondered why my editor was careful about the conferences he chose to attend. As the junior-most member of the team, I was the default representative for my newspaper in almost every conference that happened in Delhi’s technology and startup ecosystem of the time. I have even attended four conferences in a day. Looking back, I have come to appreciate my editor’s discretion, and also why some smart entrepreneurs are similarly selective about the conferences or events they attend.
Every year, there are more than 3000 conferences on startups globally. If you are a startup, you might be led to believe that the more conferences you attend, the better it will be for your business. In reality, conferences are certainly not the only way to know more people, make contacts and learn more about entrepreneurship.
Not only is it important to choose a conference wisely, it is also important to make the most of it once you are there. I have seldom met entrepreneurs who had something substantial to share when asked about the direct benefits of attending a conference. At the same time, I have also met a few who have phenomenal stories to share. For instance, Rajul Garg, an investor-cum-entrepreneur and the founder of GlobalLogic told me that he and his co-founders met their first investors at a conference for technology startups. The investors got interested in the idea of GlobalLogic when the product was just at ideation stage. “We got lucky,” he says. You may not be able to predict your luck – in whether a conference might help you find a potential investor, client or partner – but you could certainly choose and shortlist wisely. Here are some tips which will help you benefit the most from conferences:
The opportunity cost of attending a conference
It is not always about the registration fee that you will pay to attend a conference or event; more valuable is the time you will be spending at the event. Personally, this is my favorite exercise before attending any conference: I make a list of all the tasks that will get completed if I miss the event and then tally it against the things I might takeaway by attending the conference. This helps me concentrate better when I am attending the talks or panel discussions, and I often end up fixing meetings before the conference. I ensure that I am able to cover atleast 70 percent of my opportunity cost of attending a conference in terms of things learnt, contacts made and meetings. The rest 30 percent, I leave for luck.
Vertical or sector specific conferences
Sector-specific conferences are more useful than generic conferences about entrepreneurship. This sharpens the focus and there is scope to build relationships that could help in immediate growth. Harit Soni, Founder and Director, Ecolibrium Energy says,
“I think the conferences which were useful to me were the ones that focused on specific topic such as fund raising, recruiting, scale up using partnerships, international expansion into a specific region, etc.”
Soni mentions that through this, there is a clear expectation around why the startup is coming and what is to be delivered using success stories around the particular theme. He claims to have benefited most from industry events (energy sector for him-such as elecrama) where he got to meet people who were his potential clients, partners, or mentors. “There are some startup events where I have got to meet like-minded people and have been useful to make connects – but might not be the best for immediate growth for the company,” he says.
Small vs. big conferences
For immediate returns, small conferences are always a better networking platform as people attending them often have a specific agenda. Lean roundtable conferences accommodate more intense conversations among participants. Bigger conferences are good for startups that have already been into the business for a year and are looking for non-specific networking. However, a big startup conference like TiE Global Summit in India could be an inspiring place for entrepreneurs as it has the who’s who sharing their stories. For instance, this year had Travis Cordell Kalanick, Founder, Uber as one of the keynote speakers. A big conference could be beneficial if you are just seeking inspiration as a young startup.
Treat conferences as a practice ground for pitching
Conferences are the best place to know about competition. Feel lucky if you find companies similar to your profile in a conference/exhibition. Ask all questions you want to, compare pricing, see what you can learn from them. Why would anyone chose you over others? Exchange notes. Younger startups could also treat conferences as to practice pitching. Practice to pitch your products or services to investors, clients or people you would like to work with. Kristina Baumgart, a tax advisor located in Hamburg, Germany who supports startups with tax advisory says, “I recommend to join conferences, talk about your plans and your business, get to know people and learn from their experiences.”
Do your homework
In previous articles, we have mentioned the importance of strategic networking on our blog. This applies to startup conferences as well. Florian Hübner, Founder, Startup Creator sums it up,
“The majority of people regret going to a conference. Why? Because they don`t prepare beforehand – scheduling meetings with potential partners, clients or being informed about the agenda, and then expect that everyone will be interested in their service or product. No chance! If you prepare and stand out of the crowd, it`s worth it.”
While the number of conferences in the startup ecosystem is increasing with each year, startups and investors are becoming more selective in participating in these events. It is time that entrepreneurs choose wisely and invest their time in conferences that will add value – personally as well as professionally.