Friday, 24 August 2012

The Startups List of 5 Reasons You Should Attend Conferences

Over the past couple of weeks, the iWishfor team has had the chance to attend a couple of significant conferences, both here in Vancouver and in Seattle. Though it has been a crazy month, the iWishfor team went and presented at Startup Riot in Seattle, came home, turned around and headed to Vancouver to attended an amazing conference, Grow2012, in Vancouver.

But was it a productive use of the team's money? Some might say that that money could have been better spent focusing on building product.

While it's true that the conferences together did add up, with hotel, parking and other expenses thrown in, we think that there are way more benefits to attending these conferences than staying hunkered in your basement staying at computer screens all day.

These are some of the things we have been learning over the past month as we have made our way up and down the coast.

1) Connections, Connections, Connections: 

The startups world is all about connections. Who can help you get ahead. Who can give you a fresh perspective. Who can help you meet the right people that can make the difference between startups languishing on the sidelines or jumpstarting it to the next level. Conventions like Grow 2012, bring all the important names, start-ups, mentors, advisers, service providers and entrepreneurs together under one roof with access that can be extremely difficult at the best of times. The conferences that been huge for meeting those people that have been crucial in helping us to get ahead. It's also not just about trying to get money. Advice, perspective and mentors can be just as valuable. Networking opportunities are always important in the growth of startups.

2) There Are Others Just Like You:

While we didn't get selected to present at the Smackdown, a trial by fire 1 min opportunity to pitch to tech blogs and VC's, we still went to watch. And we noticed something. Other startups often have their ideas dissed and dismissed. Other startup's have difficulty getting their ideas to come across in their pitch. As we watched the proceedings, we realized that all startups are in the same boat. We all work hard to get our pitches pitch perfect. We all struggle to rise above the noise and chaff. We all get positive feedback that we are doing amazing things from one corner and totally trashed by others. It's brutal with the high's coming from fantastic, energizing discussions with venture capitalists invested in wanting to talk more and the low's coming minutes later as someone challenges and rejects the validity of your idea and work. Conferences allow us to get that perspective, the strength to move and the capability to weather the storms of criticism and negativity that you will get as you build your dream. Staying at home doesn't give you that perspective and instead leaves you in the bubble of self hype.

3) Get Up on That Stage: 

The Startup Riot conference, was our first chance to get up on the stage and present in front of a large group. And what an opportunity. Totally different from speaking to people one on one. With the time and other constraints coming from getting the opportunity to pitch on stage, it was a fantastic challenge to get out of comfort zone and perfect our story. We worked for weeks prior to makes sure our story was clear, concise and accurately portrayed the problem and solution in a way that was not only consistent but also gave us a base to build off of whenever we get the opportunity to present again. The three minute pitch we worked so hard on to embody in our psyche, gives us the power and ability to be comfortable in giving anything from a 1 minute pitch to a group of VC's to a 15 minute, full-on pitch deck presentation in front of hundreds. Not only that, but the networking opportunities that come after the discussion were valuable as they came from people who had seen you pitch and WANTED to approach you, which is what happened with us at Startup Riot.

4) Listen to the Speakers, As They Speak From Experience: 

While the networking opportunities, getting venture capitalists invested in your ideas and seeing other startups pitch are important parts of a conference, the speakers also can be huge for startups trying to make a go at it. These are people who have done it, are still doing it and continue to have successes and failures. Their advice and wisdom can be important thought-shapers for startups wondering how to solve the same problems or startups looking for validation. The iWishfor team learned a huge amount at this last Grow 2012 and Startup Riot conference. What did we learn? View each social channel uniquely as a conversation. Have we focused on happiness to the detriment of performance? That what makes a company great is people and that, while that is easy to understand, it is harder to actually do something about. For every interest or passion, there is a world of people who care deeply about the exact same thing. These are just some of the things the iWishfor team took to ponder more deeply on in the development of iWishfor as THE mobile social gift registry. Conferences bring that collective wisdom together in one time, one place and one opportunity.

5) Be Bold: 

One of the toughest things about being small startups, is being bold and pushing yourself onto the other attendees. If conferences are mainly all about networking opportunities, standing in the corner waiting for someone to talk to you is not getting the job done. Very few people are going to stop to talk. If your experiences going to conferences are anything like ours, most of the attendees know each other well because they have been to the conference before and are already well connected. Venture capitalists invested in companies will already have people to talk to. They won't stop to talk to someone hugging the wall for dear life, afraid to step into the chaotic stream of networking opportunities swirling throughout the hallways. It can be very daunting and challenging to get out of your comfort zone. This has probably been one of the harder challenges for members of the iWishfor team. But it is something we continue to work at and going to these conferences is the only to get past that and learn to be bold in making those ultra important opportunities and connections happen.

So, in the end, while these conferences can be a drain on important resources, the networking opportunities, the meetings with VC's, and the opportunity to develop and perfect your story are all crucial the growth and well-being of startups and we will continue to make use of these opportunities to share the halls with the important thinkers and doers of our generation.

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