As we said yesterday, going to a Europe or US-based tech event can be a game changer, but this is a costly investment, so once you’ve made your choice on which one best addresses your needs, you need to make sure you make the best of this investment.
Events like last month’s Web Summit (pictured above) could either be a game-changer or a money-sucker; it all depends on how well you’ve prepared. We’ve asked some Arab startups that were there to tell us what they did to make sure they got the most out of the event.
Plan ahead of time
The bigger the conference, the earlier you need to start preparing yourself. People are already booking their accommodation for SXSW, the number one US tech event which isn't until March! So if you don’t want to spend a fortune on a last minute Airbnb, you better start booking now!
Each event has its specificities; you need to make sure you know what the highlights are (is it the parties? the tradeshow? the buffet chitchat?), and what the mindset is (should you be all dressed-up, or wearing a casual holiday outfit?). You’ll find plenty of information online, and if you still have questions, you can ask people who have gone before, or attend preparation meetups in your hometown, if they exist.
SXSW for instance, is all about having the key global players in one place, looking to do partnerships, and about connecting with people at (day and night) parties. Some startups are choosing not to spend money on a booth at the Tradeshow, or on a ticket to attend conferences, but rather to contact people they want to work with beforehand to set meetings, and to network at parties.
Palestine startup Yamsafer talked to many major players in the ecommerce, and travel sector at the Web Summit, and has good reason to believe they will end up in game-changing partnerships. “I think this is the best way to do things, set meetings ahead of time,” shares CTO and cofounder Sameh Alfar.
Raghav Mimani from Nischint, a Dubai-based startup providing Parental Guidance Solutions to make the internet a safe place for kids, concurs: “We planned meetings with investors before coming.” Now, only time will tell how far these investor connections will go.
Securing meetings with investors before the event is not enough believes Cary Pool’s Mohamed Johmani. For him you need to continue booking meetings during the event. The entrepreneur walked around the Trade Show and asked startups he was interested in for a coffee, so as to chat in a more comfortable (and productive) setting.
Tamatem’s Hussam Hammo was also on the lookout. As he wandered the halls of the Gaming section of the Web Summit, he would stop people with an investor or a media badge, and pitch them Tamatem, assuming that “if they pass by [the gaming alleys], it means they're interested in that field.”
Make yourself noticeable
The Arab region is known for its warm hospitality, and this extended to booths manned by startups based here. Jordan-based Tamatem lured people with baklava; Morocco-based Jumpstart Africa used Moroccan tea, and added traditional Moroccan hats. The Feelit team also took an interactive approach. As an app for emotion sharing, they put in place a jar in which people could leave cheerful messages, explains cofounder and CTO Albara Hakami. This morale-lifting initiative attracted journalists from The Guardian who later featured them in a piece.
There’s no way you could possibly talk to all the people you’d like to at events as huge as the Web Summit or CES, and you can’t physically go to all the talks SXSW, or Pioneers Festival have to offer, so better be selective. This will help you avoid being overwhelmed, and will help you optimize your meetings.
Leave room for serendipity
Attending these events is also about meeting those people you wouldn't normally come across, so try to stay open. You never know who might be able to help, or bring a new vision to your product or service.
Now, I’m not one to advise you to break the rules, but if you find a way to leave some press releases in the press room, get invited to a VIP party, or enter the speakers lounge, that could be interesting. But, remember, you didn't hear that from me.
Photo: Web Summit, Wamda