If you run a startup then, odds are, you’ll want to get some publicity for your endeavor sooner or later. One of the most natural opportunities for publicity is at a tech conference.
There are, however, numerous options, so how do you decide which one is best for you? In this post, I’ll cover our experiences attending four major European tech conferences (TNW, TechCrunch, WebSummit, LeWeb).
Follow your users
The first thing to mention is that, being a startup, you probably most of all require traction. When you have good traction, then a lot of doors are opened up to you – to media outlets, to VCs, to hiring talents. Everybody wants to discover or be involved with the next Facebook. Traction is about users loving your product and bringing in new users. So, when making an investment, (and sponsoring a tech event is a huge investment) you should not forget about your target audience. If you target startup-ers, then having a booth at a tech conference is a safe bet. In this case, you have the chance to interact with your target audience as well as the media and VCs. If your audience is geared more toward creative minds, travel bloggers, or videographers etc. (as in the case of Together) then think twice about which conference you are going to sponsor.
Understand your market
In case of our Together service, our target audience doesn’t exist within startups and the main purpose of attending conferences was to get feedback and gain some publicity, as well as to develop relationships with some media outlets and VCs. Even if startups are not your target audience, you can still gain valuable feedback for your products or at least develop new connections with locals who could help you to know whether the product looks good to them. It is pretty hard to market and distribute services in a foreign country without any kind of local presence. Tech conferences can bring you resources to provide you with some kind of presence across your target markets.
The, perhaps unfortunate, reality is that you aren’t likely to get any funding at any conferences you do attend, but you may start something important there. Most of the VCs I have spoken to at events have reiterated different versions of the same point: that they generally avoid collaborating with startups who sent them slides through a web form. It seems that it just doesn’t work that way.
You either need to get introduced to a VC (grow your network, socialize with other startup-ers) or get noticed at a tech event. Work hard to try to pre-organize meetings with VCs beforehand. They won’t queue at your booth, even if you have the brightest idea in the world. But there are still good odds that they will be exploring startup booths, unless you are at Dublin WebSummit.
Most of these tips are similar to those for getting in touch with VCs. It’s advisable that you anticipate what kind of news you could offer to media representatives. Your idea, your launch, you first users, your presence at a conference – all of these are not the kind of news items that open doors. You need to have real news: traction, funding, a viral story, something worth sharing (e.g. a great product video). Think about their purpose: the media has to inform and entertain their readers. Help them do that. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get in touch and build relationships early – quite the opposite. Do it as early as you can, but keep in mind that some results will only come when you have real news.
I would recommend bringing at least part of your team to a tech event with you. Tech events help to clarify and communicate the purpose and feeling of a startup to your team. Key team players will see the product from the user’s eyes. It is also such a great exercise for team members to explain the product or service they make in a short and succinct manner to others. Talking to users helps to develop a user-centric approach, as opposed to being feature-focused. It is especially important for teams whose engineering skills dominate their design skills.
One final remark: It doesn’t matter which tech conference you attend; master your social media skills as early as possible. It can give you great opportunities from an event-focused perspective, and far beyond.
To finish, let’s compare the events discussed here. I’ll mention the most important thing for you to consider when making a decision.
- TNW Amsterdam – good networking opportunities, good timing (no major conferences in spring). LCD included with a booth contract.
- TechCrunch Berlin – best chances to meet a VC and media, especially at a VIP dinner, startup alley at the entrance, good traffic. (Best food by the way.) 250 EURO for 2 days of small LCD rental.
- Dublin WebSummit – a very crowded event, a lot of tech-minded people, almost no chances to meet a VC or media, best for startups-targeted projects. The cheapest stand.
- LeWeb Paris – startups in a separate building, small traffic, 800 EURO for 3 days of small LCD rental.