How to make Web Summit Work for a Startup

We have been exhibiting at Web Summit for the last three years. This conference has grown so large, that some attendees feel lost and overwhelmed. After three crazy days here in Lisbon, I have come up with a good, manageable plan for the next year.

I am happy to share these tips, and hopefully, you will find most of them useful for next year’s meeting!

Set your goals

Every conference takes a lot of work, time and money. You must be very clear about what your goals are and what are you looking for at the conference.

If you write them down, they will become much more certain, and you will find a way to attain them.

Web Summit brings 50,000 people together. So you can find practically anyone you might need: press, investors, founders, potential partners, etc.

The main goals for us this year were:

  • Discover customers (making sure Spark 2.0 will solve real problems that users have)
  • Find the messaging that works best
  • Catch up with the people that we already know (press, other founders, investors)
  • Look at trends and where industry is going
  • Let the team talk to potential customers

Set up meetings in advance

Once you know your goals, it will become much easier to decide which people you need to talk to. Seek those people with similar interests and research who’s going to be there that could assist you..

Web Summit app is surprisingly good making it easier to find and message people. Make sure you will be useful to the people you contact too. Don’t just ask for something; think about what you can give.

It’s all about building relationships at the conference. The business part of it will follow.

Try to get into “START”

START package elevates you to a bigger league. You will have a good booth, tickets for four people and more credibility. Moreover, you will have access to a few Speakers’ dinners where you can meet a lot of speakers, investors and press.

I have observed that startup naming confuses people. Alpha (the startups in the very early stages) are often perceived as the ones with traction since people sometimes associate “alpha” with “dominance.” At the same time, I’ve been asked several times, “Oh, are you guys just starting your company?” when they see START on my badge.

Bring at least four people

We had a team of five people there this time, and it worked well. At any given time, there were three team members at the booth while two others were walking around, looking for interesting stuff.

Have we had brought eight people, all of them could have been busy talking to potential customers all day. Bear in mind, one proactive team member can effectively talk to 50–60 people per day. Next year I will bring at least six or seven people.

Exhibit for two days

If you buy tickets, getting a booth for two days will be much better. You will be able to talk to more potential customers and get more feedback and advice. You never know who might wander up to your booth. The President of Portugal was casually talking to startups.

Days 1 and 2 are the best ones to exhibit.

A lot of people leave on the third day or are just tired from a Night Summit.

Be proactive and approach people

Having a booth doesn’t mean people will stop to chat with you! They often feel lost and pass by.

Make a very short and eye-catching sign for your stand. I find it impossible to read all those long descriptions, that give me no idea what you do.

“Hey! How’s it gong?” is a good way to start a conversation, followed by a smile to send a good vibe. Or ask a person what he/she does rather than start pitching your product immediately.

Be positive, approachable and genuine. And don’t forget to smile! It’s really important.

Apply for a Pitch competition

Surprisingly, there were a LOT of people attending the speeches and the PITCH competition. Our SPARK 2.0 for teams is not ready for a prime time; so I didn’t apply to pitch. However, it’s a great opportunity to tell 300 to 500 people about your product and get feedback at one sitting.

WIN the pitch competition! That’s the only attitude you should have when you apply. The art of pitching is complex and requires a lot of training, but you are there to win. Go for it!

Become a Speaker or Media Participant

You have no idea how different the conference will feel once you are a speaker. Suddenly it’s easier to talk to anyone, you have more credibility, and better access to all the other speakers, lounges and events.

If you have an unusual story, you should share it!.

Try to get into chat groups

One last tip: There are people who organize group chats on messenger to coordinate activities after the official sessions. There are often cool people in those; so try to get into one, or create one.

Overall, Web Summit is a great conference that brings a lot of people together and provides wonderful opportunities.

As is so often true in life, it’s completely up to you what you get out of it.


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