A startup from Singapore called PIF (Pay It Forward) wrote an epic blog on hustle and it is required reading for any startup founder planning to go to a startup conference. I’m going to summarise the tl;dr for you here, but read the blog!
Is TechCrunch Disrupt (Read any startup conferences) even worth the effort?
- Startup conferences are expensive “$2k for two 3-day passes” plus travel, plus promotional stuff (“we ended up spending close to $6k in total”)
- They are noisy in terms of attention: “we would have to vie for attention alongside the other 400-or-so startups who were looking for the same things as we were”
- They take up time you could spend executing
ABSOLUTELY! But only if you’re willing to work your ass off, think out of the box, embrace rejections, and you get a good dose of luck and serendipity.
BIG DISCLAIMER: None of the following will amount to ANYTHING if, at the end of the day, you can’t build a product that users love! And frankly, we’re still trying to nail our own product-market fit too. I guess that is the only thing that matters in the end, not the hustling gimmicks
Top 5 tips to hustle startup conferences
1 Be prepared
- Start early. PIF started FOUR WEEKS before and that was not enough time!
- Coming up with ideas to get noticed (“hardest part of this was thinking of a way to really cut above the noise”) will take up time
- Design & printing of marketing collaterals like flyers, namecards, t-shirts, etc takes longer than you think. Do not leave it a week before hand
- If you order custom stuff from China to save cash, it will take 3 weeks (“custom balloons, custom cardboard cut-outs, as well as some custom-printed vinyl laptop stickers (that can turn your laptop into a small white board; meant as give-aways) that were ordered and shipped over from China”)
- Set up your social media (twitter, facebook etc)
- Get a MailChimp account and draft email pitches to members of the tech press. Conferences will provide a press list a week before the event
- Use Kimono to scrape the event web page for email addresses and names – awesome tip!
- If you have an App, make sure you submit it to Apple so it works!!
2 Scope out the site before turning up
- Go to the venue a few weeks before hand to understand the lay of the land “We needed to be sure about certain topographic details (eg. “Where would our banners be most visible around the Pier 70 site, not withstanding the legality of putting them up?”)”
- Identify the natural choke points for the footfall entering the event by figuring out where people would park their cars, and the possible routes of entry for people driving or taking buses/trains
- Set up “mobile booth spaces” at one of the choke points, handing out flyers to conference-goers
- Try finding the owners of nearby buildings to put up a huge banner, but understand it is hard and very expensive (Only waste the time if you have budget)
- Figure out where the entry/exit points of the main stage and the nearest restrooms are if you want to ambush speakers and journalists
Picking the right spot/time can mean the difference between never speaking to anyone and having a decent chat with the person you’ve been dying to connect with.
3 Think different
- Being creative is hard, but do it! Think of what everyone will be doing and basically NOT do that, i.e. No table, no laptop, no standup banner.
- Life-sized cardboard figures of Darth Vader, Ron Conway (the legendary angel investor) and a founder holding a ginormous iPhone showing off your app might work for you too! “Throngs of people stopped to ask ‘What’s this?'”
- Loo out for security if you steal a clothes rack to put the figures on them 😉
- Create talking points such as your business cards “a screenshot of our personal profile in our app on our business cards”
4 Create an event-specific campaign
- A good number of startups were giving out discounts that were applicable only to people who attended Disrupt, but that is not different
- Create a competition. “we decided to seed the prize money with some capital, and crowdfund the rest.” Bear in mind it is hard to pull off “awareness building and promotion beforehand. Had we come up with the idea of the campaign sooner, and spent more time on drumming up participation in the contest, we would probably have seen better results.”
5 Get people to help out at the event- free is best!
- Events take up a lot of effort and making things happen with only 2 guys is hard
- Their hack: the student-interns! Student tickets went for $300 per person. They scouted for students at UC Berkeley and Stanford who were interested in start-up work and convinced them to skip class for a few days, in return for a reimbursement of half of their ticket price. Boom – “we got 6 extra “warm bodies” wearing our company t-shirt, and pitching our app and the Founder Betterfield contest to folks all around Disrupt”
They have another installment of 5 more hacks coming out. Will post when they do!
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