Six Takeaways from Web Summit 2015
Post by Dylan Husted ’17
From November 3rd – 5th, I had the privilege of exhibiting my startup, SaveOhno.org, at the biggest tech conference in the world. Web Summit 2015 hosted over 40,000 attendees, 21 summits, and 1,000 speakers in Dublin, Ireland. As you might imagine, it was an overwhelming but incredible experience. In any 30-minute span, there would be 5 different panels/speeches I’d want to attend, 5 startups I’d want to get an intro with, and hundreds of people I’d want to find and meet with. The Web Summit app was a huge help in this area, because it had every speech, person, and startup listed with the ability to message people through the app to find a place and time to meet. It also used algorithms to find things for you to do based off your interests. After 3 amazing days, with the help of the app, here are my 6 takeaways from Web Summit, and giant conferences in general:
- Use the mobile app and plan out your days in advance
- There are endless amazing things to spend your time on at Web Summit, and endless amazing people to meet. It’s your job as an attendee to spend time on the mobile app before even going to the event. Reach out to relevant people and set up times to meet, find relevant startups and figure out when they’re exhibiting, set up office hours with investors, and fill the gaps with interesting speeches and panels to create a schedule for every day.
- Creativity is even more important for nonprofits than it is for for-profits
- After hearing Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water, speak about his story, I realized that innovation and ET&A is even more important for nonprofits than it is for for-profit companies. Scott has achieved an incredible amount of success with charity:water, but it wasn’t because he spent long hours planning out a reliable business model. Scott simply saw that the water crisis was hardly on anyone’s radar, and created a nonprofit to change that.
- At its heart, charity:water is a marketing company for the water crisis. They find innovative ways to raise money, and then send that money to nonprofits with tangible projects solving water-related issues. They took a problem no one was talking about, and got people to start talking about it. They experimented with a lot of different fundraising strategies, and struck gold with having people give up their birthday presents for the issue.
- If you’re showcasing your company, have some kind of interesting ‘pull’
- If you’re lucky enough to be in Web Summit’s Alpha, Beta, or Start programs, you’ll get to exhibit your company to event attendees and potentially pitch on stage. This is an awesome opportunity, but you need to work hard to stand out from the crowd. There are hundreds of booths for people to visit, and it’s up to you to make them want to visit yours. In my case, I have an interesting tagline for my company that I used to my advantage. I printed 1000 business cards that say ‘Save the world, in your underwear.’ and handed them out to people as they walked near the booth and said, “Do you want to save the world in your underwear?” This was interesting enough to get a chuckle and interest in hearing more about my company.
- Find relevant events
- There are a lot of events out there, but they’re time consuming, draining, and typically cost money to exhibit at or attend. Make sure you’re only going to the most relevant events where it’s likely you’ll get valuable connections and exposure. Meetup.com is a good starting point, but the best events I’ve ever gone to have been from people emailing me a link and saying, “I think this would be great for SaveOhno. Check it out!” So your networking is at its finest when it feeds off itself – but that can only happen if you get out there and start connecting. It took me about 6 months of attending events, cold emailing people, taking meetings etc. until SaveOhno started to become something people remembered when they’d hear about a relevant event, connection, or competition.
- Get sponsorships from schools, institutions
- If you’re like me, it’s really hard to finance a startup, college education, and fly around the world attending events. For Web Summit, I was about $2500 short of being able to go, so I spent 3 months meeting with department heads at Babson to get various sponsorships. I eventually received a lot of help from the Blank Center and Undergraduate Professional Accelerator Fund.
- Don’t be shy – especially if your idea isn’t refined
- People who attend conferences like these want to meet energetic, young people working on interesting problems. In the early days of SaveOhno, I wasn’t very energetic at these events because I felt I still had a lot more refinement to do for my idea before it was pitch-able. This was a mistake. Pitching nascent ideas to as many people as possible is the best way to refine an idea – it won’t happen from researching industry data and sending out surveys to no end. The best way is to get out there, give an elevator pitch, and see how people react.