Entrepreneur

Are conferences a waste of time?

 This sponsored post is produced by Andrew D’Souza, COO of Top Hat.

About this time last year I was asked to participate in a pre-conference pitch event in San Francisco produced by the folks behind the GROW conference. It was being judged by some of the GROW speakers.

Coincidentally, the day of the pitch event was the same day we announced our Series A financing for Top Hat (then called Top Hat Monocle). We certainly weren’t looking for new investors, and I was feeling pretty confident, so the pitch went well.

Outcome: Investors

The next day I received a note from Sundeep Peechu at Felicis, who was one of the judges. He was interested in what we were doing and saw a strong fit with their core investment theses around mobile, education, and international companies. While we weren’t looking for additional investment, we saw the strategic value in working with Sundeep, Aydin, and Renata as we spent more time with them. Ultimately we found a way to bring them on board as investors.

I’m Too Busy Building My Company

Even though the GROW network had already proven valuable before the conference, I was still skeptical about attending. We weren’t raising money, and I was busy executing and building the team. This wasn’t a customer conference, so we weren’t going to drive leads or business directly from being there … or so I thought.

And I couldn’t afford to take three days off to attend a conference with no clear ROI. After several conversations with friends and trusted colleagues, I reluctantly decided to attend.

Outcome: Unplanned Connections

Walking off the plane, I bumped into Eric Koger from Modcloth, who was speaking the next day. Neither of us knew Vancouver very well, but we decided to check out a nearby sushi place we found on Yelp. After a few hours of sushi and whiskey, Eric and I realized we had a lot in common. The conference showed early promise.

Outcome: Press Coverage

The next day, I met with Ki Mae Huessner at GigaOm, who just wrote about our financing round. She was beginning to focus more on education tech at GigaOm and we had a great conversation about the space. I wasn’t looking for additional press coverage at the time, but since that meeting she’s written about our company several times over the past year, and she moderated a panel for us as SXSW. Relationships matter.

Outcome: Killer Hires

The last connection I made at GROW certainly had the most significant impact on our business. At a happy hour event, I found myself at the bar beside Mark Organ, founder of Eloqua and Influitive. Anyone who’s met Mark knows how enthusiastic and engaging he can be, and we spent the better part of an hour brainstorming how we could use Influitive to drive word-of-mouth growth for Top Hat (which we have been and are seeing excellent results).

A few months later, I bumped into Mark at another event in Toronto. He knew one of the top hires in the city who was about to become available. Mark introduced me to Ralf, his first employee at Eloqua, who ran several business units and saw the company through its IPO and subsequent acquisition by Oracle.

We brought Ralf on as our CFO earlier this year, and it’s been one of the most significant moves we’ve made as a business. He’s set us up to scale significantly, got us making more fact-based decisions, and shifted us to a true performance culture. Not to mention, I’ve slept better knowing that Ralf is watching the numbers.

Worth Attending?

We’re all busy building our company, hiring, putting out fires, and closing customers. I learned a pretty important lesson here, you HAVE to get out of your office. Spending 2 days at events like these can land you that key hire, the coveted press relationships, long-term partners, or investors you didn’t need. So, choose a conference worth attending this year. Get out of the day-to-day, go with an open mind and some flexibility, and I can guarantee you’ll make at least one connection that will have a significant impact on your business.

Andrew will be moderating a panel at GROW with the CEOs of Shopify and Wave, Tobi and Kirk, about how to hire talent to really scale an organization.

Register here for GROW Conference with the discount code VB and you’ll get $100 off!


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