Starting Up (Is Hard To Do): Things To Do At Conferences

For the past two weeks I have talked about what startups can gain by having a booth at a conference, as well as some of my missteps. To wrap up this series on exhibiting at my first conference, I want to talk about some things that went really well that you can hopefully use at your next — or your first — conference.

1. Bring Your Own Internet

Everyone knows that conference Internet is janky. At best, you can access the web at a crawling speed. At worst, you won’t be able to connect at all. If you are planning on showing off your web-enabled software in the cloud, then it will be best to make sure that you bring your own Internet.

My Clear hotspot served us well and we were able to have web access throughout the entire conference. Whether you use a mobile hotspot or tether your smart device, make sure that you have the ability to access the web outside of the conference Wi-Fi.

2. Attend Conference Sessions

For us, the exhibition hall was cyclical and was a ghost town during the sessions. Instead of sitting around and reading the paper, we took this time to attend some of the sessions to learn more about the industry. This is particularly important if you are trying to disrupt an industry that you are not familiar with.

People talk in sessions either about how they are doing something new and revolutionary, or about how they are doing something really well. Either way, you will learn something valuable about the industry to which you are providing a service and you may get some ideas on how to sell your software.

3. Visit Other Booths

Another thing that you can do when the exhibit hall is empty is visit the other booths. This is an opportunity for you to see what your competitors are up to as well as make contacts with people who could be potential partners. This turned out to be extremely important for my partner and I.

Learning more about our competitors was valuable. We were able to understand more about their businesses and how they were different from us. This has helped us craft our value and brand, in addition to giving us ideas for future enhancements. Even more important was meeting people who had services that our software complemented. I was able to interact with potential resellers of our software as well as make partnerships with others whose users could be helped by the software.

4. Go To Social Events

While the conference is a good place to understand the industry and pitch your software, the real action happens at the evening parties. You are no longer the person who is trying to sell something, but instead someone who is working on a relevant project. This is a great way to get unfiltered opinions from your consumers in a more relaxed environment.

Be sure not to try and sell something at the party – simply introduce yourself to people and they’ll ask what you do. This is a very unassuming and easy way to meet new people and get industry contacts without being “salesy.”

5. Ask For A Discount

You’re a bootstrapped startup and probably don’t have a lot of cash on hand. You’re debating attending this conference, but if it were just a couple hundred dollars cheaper you would definitely go. I was in the same situation and picked up the phone, asked for a discount and saved $200. That $200 savings was the difference between attending the conference and staying at home.

Starting Up (Is Hard to Do) is a weekly series published every Friday on the Rackspace Blog from a guy who is in the trenches of starting up a business while working a day job. Check out Garrett’s previous post that talked about some of his missteps while exhibiting at his first ever conference.

Garrett Heath develops content and supports customers on the Rackspace Social Media team. His previous experience includes technical project management in the cloud, content marketing and social media marketing. He enjoys writing about how the cloud is spurring innovation and telling stories about the people behind the tech. You can also read his work at In his free time, Garrett writes about food and local San Antonio culture at SA Flavor.


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