Alec Hartmann is the co-founder of TechDay
So you’ve decided to invest in attending a trade show? Great news. You’ve cast aside the naysayers who told you trade shows are either too noisy, too crowded, too expensive, too hard to calculate actual ROI, or all of the above, and you and your co-founder are flying to New York, or Austin, or Las Vegas, or some convention center to wheel and deal. We thought we’d provide a few pointers on how to make the most of your time.
When it comes to events, founders have lots of options, but limited funds. Every dollar has to be accounted for and tied to a ROI, so event participation has to be a calculated strategy for your company – one where you thoroughly research participants you want to meet, what to talk to them about, what results you want to achieve, and how to follow up.
If you don’t have a strategy walking into an event, you’ll never reach the ROI you’re after.
As a founder myself, and over the course of the past four years producing TechDay, I’ve been able to abstract a healthy amount of information from our exhibitors. Since most founders calculate ROI on how many meetings they have during a show, I always ask them, “What were the most valuable connections you made and how did you make them?”
As you might imagine, the key connections tend to be in the audiences that help startups thrive: investors, potential users, press, or talent.
So, I’ve assembled a small guide on how to talk to each of these groups during trade shows.
How to talk to Venture Capitalists
VCs care deeply about their investments. They care about the entrepreneurs they work with, the partners they’re responsible to, and the market their portfolio companies serve. That’s why they want to connect intimately with the founders and leaders of each company they may invest in.
Unfortunately, building the type of relationship that results in an investment is extremely unlikely in a first meeting – especially at an event with thousands of people. So, in order to make the most impactful first meeting – and to get a follow-up meeting, entrepreneurs should specifically focus on giving VCs a strong snapshot of their company and themselves quickly.
Our recommendation is to stick to the core aspects VCs care most about: (1) your problem, (2) how you solve the problem, (3) why your team is uniquely able to solve the problem, (4) what stage your company is at, (5) the current traction you have, (6) what resources you’re looking for and what you can do with them.
How to talk to Angel Investors
Angel investors are different to VCs. Oftentimes, they are high net worth individuals who have only limited formal investment experience. That means the way they look at an investment could be the polar opposite to a VC. It’s also important to note that they don’t have partners they’re responsible to and therefore have a generally higher risk tolerance.
Angel investors are interested in passionately connecting with the entrepreneurs they invest in. Most also – because of their backgrounds as operators themselves – have a heightened sensitivity for entrepreneurs that have the acumen to actually run a successful business.
Our recommendations when talking to angel investors are to: (1) give a brief overview of your founding story and why you care about what you’re doing, (2) a synopsis of your credibility as a business operator, (3) an overview of why there’s an opportunity in your market and how you intend to fill it.
How to talk to the press
Just like VCs who have a responsibility to their partners, members of the press have a responsibility to their readers, viewers, and listeners. They want to deliver impactful, cutting-edge news that may affect people in big ways. Simply talking about one company’s product isn’t necessarily what’s most meaningful to their audience.
When talking to members of the press, we recommend that you: (1) talk about their audience, (2) if you’re familiar with the interest of their audience, offer subject matter expertise, (3) talk about your current product – note: not future iterations – and how it will impact people.
How to talk to potential hires
Hiring people is one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. While that’s been said by every entrepreneur ever, it doesn’t make it easier. There are so many dimensions to a person, so many responsibilities to a position, and such few glimpses of insight into the future for most startups that making a decision on long-term fit is always hard.
When making a first connection with a potential new hire – especially in such a fast-paced environment like a trade show we recommend the doctrine of “honest excitement.” You should: (1) talk about why your founder story is so exciting, (2) why your startup is not just a product, but a real long-term company, (3) what the genuine day-to-day responsibilities are of the position you’re recruiting for, and (4) what would totally exceed expectations.
Remember, employees have both the same and different expectations as you do – they want to be part of a small team that makes a difference, but they also want security and happiness.
How to talk to community members
It’s often an underrated consideration, however talking to members of the community that don’t immediately benefit you is extremely important. Trade shows – good ones – should be specifically engineered to foster community, welcome new members, and highlight a large group of people evangelizing for each other rather than a few people with similar asks shouting independently for resources.
When talking to community members we suggest you: (1) get in the mindset of confidently meeting new people, (2) present why your at this event, (3) honestly give people your asks and tell them what you could use help with, and (4) seek to meet people whom you can help yourself. Remember to try to give as much as you ask.
No matter who you plan to talk to, set expectations for what you want to accomplish. Oftentimes we hear goals like, “I’m going to talk to 10 VCs.” This isn’t the goal most people are truly after. Making one meaningful connection with a VC, angel, or anyone who can give you a warm introduction to a perfect-fit VC is more on par with what you need.
Whether exhibiting or attending, be prepared. Understand your key audiences, anticipate their questions, practice your talking points, be open to potential opportunities you haven’t previously considered, have a plan for what you expect from yourself.
Regardless of the show’s size and attendance, getting funding, press or hires isn’t a numbers game – it’s about building relationships over time. The best way to make those relationships is to have fun, be authentic, and embrace the community.
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