This year, Founders Network partnered with Techcrunch Disrupt SF to provide our members with a promotional code for discounted access to the tech startup industry’s most iconic conference. The 2014 conference featured interviews with notable founders like Travis Kalanick of Uber and Brian Chesky of Airbnb, a startup pitch competition called Startup Battlefield judged by top Venture Capital firms and Angel investors, and numerous industry journalists looking to cover “the new, new thing.”
Because of the coverage, many founders want to launch at Disrupt SF–but it’s not cheap. Bootstrapped startups must make a sizable investment to attend, which is why getting the most out of the conference is key.
I checked in with 5 Founders Network members at Disrupt to see what they were doing to get the best ROI possible. Here are a few of their tips:
Tip 1: Separate yourself from the pack by applying to the Startup Battlefield. Not only do Startup Battlefield participants get to attend the conference for free, they also distance themselves from the competition. Michael Monaghan‘s startup Beartooth Radio, which keeps you connected with your friends when the cell network can’t, was accepted into the Battlefield. “After our presentation, multiple investors walking the floor approached us to schedule a meeting. After months of product creation, to show our product off in front of a standing room only audience was the highlight of the week. The TechCrunch team runs an incredible conference.”
Tip 2: Leverage social to create pre-conference buzz. Listicle founders Taufiq and Meer Husain (pictured) leveraged the 1M monthly uniques on their own social media platform Listicle to build buzz ahead of time. “We had a lot of booth visitors who told us they heard about us from the site. There is a lot of noise at the conference and this helped us stand out.”
Tip 3: Upgrade your lanyard with a startup t-shirt: Taufiq also advises, “Conference badges are small and wearing your company t-shirt helps you stand out in the crowd. I was stopped by several journalists and investors just walking around the conference who saw my t-shirt and said ‘Listicle, I’ve heard of you guys’.”
Tip 4: Use the conference as a deadline to accelerate progress. Exhibiting at the conference can create a deadline for your team to rally around. Diego Villarreal Meyer, founder of Banter!, said “The deadline gave us extra motivation to make key decisions.” Banter! went through a rebrand including a new name, logo and demo product – in just 2 weeks!
Tip 5: Include a conference-specific call to action. Diego also used the conference as an opportunity to enlist nearly a hundred early adopters through a mailing list sign-up page on his laptop. Other members have used a conference-specific promotional code to get guests to try their service.
Tip 6: Leave your booth to find promotional opportunities. YC Alum Tim Varner is the founder and CEO of Roost, which brings push notifications to web browers. Tim’s advice is simple: “Leave your booth. As the founder you should be out proactively making connections and creating opportunities.” His strategy paid off, when he ran into a fellow Founders Network member who secured him a promotional interview with famous tech industry blogger Robert Scoble.
Tip 7: Every conversation is an opportunity. Treat each conversation like an opportunity to do customer development. As Steve Blank prescribes, “get out of the building” and exhibiting at Startup Alley is doing just that. Yale PhD and predictive analytics expert Werner Krebs “found value by watching and listening to visitors as he pitched Acculation. If we hadn’t gone to TechCrunch Disrupt SF, we would never have been in the same room together with people who already understand why they need our technology. It was great customer validation.” Bonus: Placing a promotional code on his startup t-shirt also helped break the ice.
Kevin started Founders Network to help tech founders achieve success through peer mentorship. Prior to Founders Network, Kevin advised hundreds of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs from idea stage through funding. Kevin was named “40 Under 40 in Silicon Valley” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal for his work with startups and promoting entrepreneurship. He has served on the adjunct faculty at both Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business and the University of San Francisco School of Business. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Business Administration from Santa Clara University.