You know what? I think that if Jurassic World actually existed, visiting it wouldn’t be as expensive as some of these tech conferences have become. And that’s including the damned helicopter ride that you’d need to pay for to get there! If you’re a struggling startup who’s squeezing every penny hard enough to make copper wire, that hurts. So is it worth it? Is it a field of opportunities, or is a Jurassic World?
I’m going to say ‘both’.
Now I know, that’s not an incredibly exciting answer. Then again, if I’d said either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ you’d have said, ‘thanks for that’, and flipped on to the next page. Now I’ve got you thinking, ‘both, how can it be both?’ Read on and find out.
Why you go
Are you doing it to hear what new ideas are out there? Are you doing it to get charged up? Are you doing it to perfect your pitch? Fantastic! Go! You can do all of those things at a conference and more. There are great talks both on stage and in the hallways, and there are great opportunities to listen to the big boys.
But if you’re going to get new customers, then don’t bother. According to a poll most startups go to:
- Gain Massive Exposure.
- Create meaningful biz-dev opportunities.
- Find investors.
- Recruit talent.
- Connect with influencers.
But 70% never achieved a single one of these goals and though many of them follow up on connections they make, fully 60% say they don’t get any kind of response. That seems like a lot of money to throw away to have less than a coin’s flip to develop any kind of business, right?
So make sure that’s not why you’re going.
Where you go
Well, obviously where you’re going matters. You’ve got to do your research and since you’re far away from the glitter of Silicon Valley you’re going have to think long and hard about whether you want to fork over the airfare to go over to technological Mecca or stay closer to home.
Instead I’m going to talk about the sizes of the conferences and whether you should go to them as a startup.
The Really Big Conferences
Don’t go. It’s as simple as that. There will be so many workshops and sessions to attend you won’t know which ones to go to. You’ll find it hard to meet the bigger parties as they’ll be attending their own mixers where they’ll largely be walled off from the plebes. And there’s a good chance you’ll end up feeling more remorse about where you didn’t go than you will feel enjoyment for attending the things you did. Add to that that they’re by far the most expensive to not even mention how much you’ll be shelling out for cab fare and you’ve got to admit, it doesn’t look good!
The small local events
Here you’ve got to talk a look at who is speaking and do some serious research about them to see if it’s worth it. It really can be quite hit and miss. Fortunately, because the event is rather small, that’s an easy thing to do.
You won’t experience any ‘oh I wish I’d gone to the other event’ feeling as you can always get up and go take a look!
Also, because the event is much smaller it’s much easier to mingle, even for those of us who are slightly more socially inept. Add to that that many of these people live right in our own backyard and you can see the opportunities here to possibly actually connect are probably better than at the other types of events. As they’re markedly cheaper than the other events, even if you don’t connect on one, then you can always attend another.
On the downside, there is the problem that not quite as many movers and shakers will be about. So if that’s the reason why you’re going you might want to reconsider.
The out-of-town need-a-hotel conference
These are somewhere in between the two I’ve already mentioned. They’re not so big as the mega ridiculous conferences, but they’re not just a one-day affair either. So would you say they’re in between the other two in terms of whether they’re worth it for a startup?
Not quite. I’d say these can be better than the sum of their parts. You’ve got a larger audience here to mingle with and potentially more interesting speakers as well, as these things have a bigger budget to bring in interesting people.
But what for me is important is the multiple-day aspect of it.
It’s a little bit like summer camp. People get into a certain state of mind, where they end up completely immersed in the experience and if you’re willing to go along for the ride, you can get some fabulous ideas.
Oh and quite often once you’ve in, the food and drink are all free. So if you’re not getting your money’s worth out of the talks, you can always try to eat your weight in canapes.
When you should go
But there is one more question that is probably even more important than the two I’ve already covered and that is the ‘when’ of it. And with that, I do not mean what time of year, but rather where you are in your startup sequence. Where are you in your startup plan? Are you only just starting out or are you well along your way? Have you got customers? Have you got a finished product? Are your patents in the mail?
Because you’re not the only person who has come to this conference to learn, observe and pick up a thing or two. And if that just happens to be your business idea, that can be terrible. Now I know, you’re thinking, ‘that won’t happen to me’. And it probably won’t. I mean, you’re smart people, right? You don’t occasionally have a pint too many in the pub and talk too much do you? Who does that?
Take a moment to imagine that you’re talking to one of your absolute heroes in the industry and they seem genuinely interested in what you’re doing. What if you end up gushing and saying too much? There are no takebacks. That’s not how it works.
Therefore, if you’re going to go make sure that you’re ready and that your ideas can’t become somebody else’s.
Most conferences are incredibly exciting and useful for startups. They can learn new ideas, as well as new business models and meet important people. And yet they’re still Jurassic World in that it’s a dinosaur eat dinosaur world. And if you’re a startup you’re not the eating variety of dinosaur yet, you’re the one that screams like a little girl as they get ripped apart.
After all, the big boys have got the experience, they’ve got the lawyers and they’ve got the know-how. You can’t compete with that. So be careful out there at those conferences. For they are both a world of opportunities and hybrid camouflaged monsters ready to rip you apart.