Startup conferences are hot right now – and with the way they’ve served as a catalyst for startup to investor interactions over the last few years, it’s no surprise.
Last month was Tech Fest in Stockholm, and next month sees Slush in Helsinki and the massive Web Summit in Dublin (to name but a couple EU standouts).
For most anyone bothering to buy a ticket, pack their bags, and then roll out a booth for their startup at one of these events, the goals are simple:
- Get attention for your project
- Catch the eye of someone with the resources to help bring your vision to the next stage
Of course, there’s just one small problem here: That’s what everyone else is trying to do too!
There’s plenty of room for everyone, but it can be really difficult to rise above the noise and showcase your company as one of the special few deserving of VC and angel interest when you’ve got one small table in a room crowded with hundreds or thousands of others.
But rising above the noise is exactly what you have to do. You’ve got to get ‘more than just a table.’
Last week, we got the chance to showcase our own product in a really neat way at a tech meetup in Uppsala, Sweden, and we thought we’d share our little victory with you in hopes of inspiring some creativity in how you ‘bring it’ to your next tech conference.
It also started with our CEO Alex Palm hanging out in the same Stockholm entrepreneurial Slack channel as Jason Dainter, English entrepreneur turned Sweden-based head of brand relations at Universal Avenue.
Since the Autumn, of 2013, Jason has also been the mastermind behind Uppstart, a stellar startup event hosted about an hour north of Stockholm in historical Uppsala’s very own castle.
On the event itinerary at Uppstart is a pitch competition, in which startups can pitch themselves to not only a panel of investors, but a room full of the event’s attendees, largely from other startups or individuals with an acute interest in the tech world.
The winner of the competition wins some pretty cool stuff, like one of the Web Summit tickets currently retailing at $1,300+, but it was the determining of the winner that we saw an opportunity in.
Out product is a survey tool, after all, so we reached out offering to help collect and organize votes for the pitch competition. The organizer thought it sounded like as good of an idea as we did (yay!), and three of us were soon piled in a car and headed north with a trunk full of iPads.
As a software startup, regardless of the confidence you have in your product, you’ve always got your fingers crossed that no untimely bug or crash is going to come along and turn your product showcase in an embarrassing faceplant.
The way you avoid this is through thorough preparation and run-throughs of what you want to do well-ahead of an event. Of course, that’s a little difficult when everyone is already working 50-60+ hours per week on their regular tasks.
So, we crossed those fingers and arrived in just enough time to load up the survey and set up some iPad kiosks running Responster to catch votes as people exited the pitch competition room.
All of that finger crossing paid off, because the voting went off without a hitch, from the collection to the automatic uploading and graphing of results. Niiiiice.
Jason announced the winners on-stage, but not before giving a couple of pointed shoutouts to Responster and “the Responster guys” (that’s us!) in front of a large, castle-sized room full of businesses, investors, and tech enthusiasts. Not bad!
Plus, Uppstart isn’t your typical table or booth style event for startups, which meant that finding a way to weave our product into the event itself meant going from zero brand exposure as attendees to a fair amount.
Of course, we’re already reaching out to other related events and looking into ways we can help place Responster as a helpful tool within each event we attend, rather than just becoming another face in the crowd, and we thought we’d share how you might utilize the same strategy.
How to find your ‘More Than Just a Table’
I’m not blind to the fact that having a survey product gives us some fairly easy avenues into event integration: From feedback, to planning, to voting, there are a lot of universal applications that we can bring with us from show to show.
That said, I’m confident that anyone with a bit of creativity can bring their brand into their next event in a way that helps them stand out and secure ‘more than a table’.
Here are just a few ideas:
- A payment startup can offer to service ticket sales or on-site purchases for an event.
- A design-based company like Canva or Bannerflow could offer to help create promotional materials for the event.
- A music-based startup could provide tunes for the event – this is exactly what the awesome Mash Machine does.
- A food listing or catering app could provide refreshments for the event.
- But these are just the obvious ones, and the more niche your product is, the more creative you’ll need to get.
Look at it like this: If you’re driven and creative enough to found a startup, then you’re creative and driven enough to do your brand/product justice and bring it to your next event in an exciting way.
Tips for being successful in this approach:
While we’re getting better at this approach, and look forward to leveraging it more in the future, there’s no perfect formula. That said, here are a few ways we’ve found that can boost your success rate when pitching these types of ‘event integrations.’
- Build a relationship before making contact. Exchanging a few tweets or emails about the event before pitching your own angle helps to build a relationship with the organizer(s) and makes them more likely to be open to hearing an idea from you.
- Focus on the benefits the organizer will receive from working with you. Yes, you want exposure and to standout, but the way to get brought on is to show that you can help make something on the organizer’s plate easier, quicker, and/or better for their needs.
- Be concise. Don’t ramble on, explain just enough to present benefit and pique curiosity. Event organizers get a ton of emails every day leading up to their event.
- Start early. You’re more likely to have success with this approach if you pitch it a couple of months, rather than weeks or days, in advance.
- Do your homework. Know what the event is like, what its focus is, and the types of attendees and speakers that will be there so that you can intelligently speak to the needs of the organizer in your email.
- Be polite. Obviously, your chances of success go up in just about anything when you’re thoughtful and respectful in your interactions, and getting more than a table is no different.
Now it’s your turn. Get out there and get more than a table at your next event.
Oh, I almost forgot!
As I wrote last week, I want to shoutout a startup we see doing big things in each of these Startup Sunday posts, so this week’s shoutout goes to Not Alone, the startup that won the pitch competition at Uppstart (we’re confident in our survey’s results!).
Not Alone is a personal safety app founded by four 19 year old girls who saw a need and acted on it – impressive!
Not Alone is, well, not alone in its approach to app-driven solutions to personal safety concerns (for those walking alone late at night, for example), and they’ve got some competition, but we wish them the best of luck!
In the comments below, tell us about your outside-the-box promotion ideas for your startup, or let us know how cool your company is and we might feature it in next Sunday’s shoutout!
– Brandon Landis
Chief Customer Happiness Wizard and Community Manager @ Responster