I used to be the clueless wanderer at conferences/exhibitions. I’m sure many of you have been in my shoes.
There’s nothing wrong with going to marvel at the sights at an event. But when you’re there with a purpose — it’s a whole different ball game.
Last year, Tech in Asia Singapore was one of my first forays into the Asian startup scene. My mission was simple: Check for any startups and venture capitalists (VCs) that would benefit from the services provided by G3 Partners. I swear, I must’ve talked to almost every damn startup at that event,and then some. And of course, there were the random VCs I approached.
You can read all about that experience, and what I took away from it, here.
If last year I felt like a rookie walking around the exhibit; this year I felt like a steady vet. So what did I learn over the course of one year that brought me so far?
Rules of the Game
Compared to last year, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I made myself a rule early on: I would read what the startup had written on their intro board above their booth. If I felt that confident that I could pitch that product to a reporter, I approached that startup and asked them for more details about their startup and why they were there. If I felt that there was a place for G3 Partners to add value, I pitched a service to them, if not I thanked them for their time and moved on.
Let me say, I appreciated each and every startup that took the time to speak to me. Innovation is always cool to see and listening to a passionate entrepreneur is always a privilege.
But I digress.
After having been to a couple of these types of events, I felt that I got much more out of each conversation.
For example, if a founder told me his startup, based in Singapore, had recently launched in the US, I had three immediate follow up questions to gauge if our services could add value: How’s the new market entry was going?. What marketing or PR have you done? What stage of funding are you in? After asking these three questions I knew immediately if the startup could benefit from working with us.
Of course, if the founder told me they had great sales numbers, fantastic PR, and were completely bootstrapped without the need for investors, I would ask a few questions to satisfy my own personal curiosity (I ended up doing this far more than I intended haha).
The Ingredients for a Home Run
That said, what I found an interesting trend among the startups I visited.
For many of the startups, securing investment was a key reason for their presence at the event. As such many startups had prepared to impress at the event. I saw everything from hardware to props and in some cases, costumes.
While I can’t tell you an absolute rule for what works and what doesn’t, here’s a list of things I felt really helped startups tell me about themselves and what they offer:
Having an elevator pitch down: I can’t tell you many times my question (tell me about your startup) was met with a long and drawn out answer that didn’t really touch on the product’s value. For example, some startups responded to me by going into what seemed like the problem and solution slides of their investor pitch. While knowing what problem your startup solves is pivotal, it doesn’t require you to extend what should be a 30 second pitch (at best) into a 5 minute trek that’s going to lose attention rather than heighten it.
Access to your props/explainers: I came across some startups where between the 3 or 4 people on staff at the event, there was only 1 product or a tablet that was being shared around between them. If you are going to attend the event I highly recommend that you borrow or acquire those props for each member of staff you have at the event Trust me when I say: There is nothing more awkward than waiting for a prop to be passed to the staff member you’re talking to.
Board copy: When I was skimming the booths, catchy, well written descriptions were make or break for drawing my attention. Were I an investor with just an hour to cover the entire room (and I totally will be one day), those 3 or 4 sentences are likely to determine whether I stop to talk to startups or just walk past them. While the hardware or more visual software can, to some extent, get away with a crappy description, it’s not advised.