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Lessons Learned from Conferences such as SXSW

Thanks to SXSW this year, we had a chance to host hundreds of startups, and in particular, an incredible group of founders recently graduated from our incubator with Digital Den.   Damjan Cvetanovic, the founder of Intell Informed, shared 5 lessons from his personal experience in the United States and rather than just share some perspective and commenting on his post, I thought we’d reinforce and share what we all can learn. 

Focus on Achievements over Ideas: Investors, particularly venture capitalists, often prioritize tangible achievements over mere ideas. Consider presenting your track record and current traction before delving into your product or market size. This perspective shift can resonate better with investors and increase your chances of securing funding. Seeking guidance from seasoned mentors who excel at articulating investor perspectives, is critical.

“People (VCs for example) might not care too much about your brand new idea. Try to flip the roles and put yourself in the investor shoes – it might be good to start with your achievements (why you), especially if it leads to your current traction,” noted Cvetanovic. “The intro would then make more sense than the TAM or product for early-stage startups. Some people who are experts in explaining why they don’t care (such as Paul O’Brien) might be very useful as mentors on the way.”

In fact, Paul just taught this again in Texas at Round Rock’s Startup Pitch Competition.

Embrace the Fail-Fast Methodology: While the fail-fast approach is well-known in startups and product development, extend that to refining your pitch dynamically.  Keep in mind the previous lesson learned (that no one cares until you first explain convincingly why *they* should care) and then iterate your pitch (and pitch deck) before crucial meetings so that you both convince the person with whom you’re speaking, and you fail-fast to change what you’re saying as you go.   

Strategic Preparedness for Events: Major events such as SXSW offer prime networking opportunities, but preparation is key. Beyond identifying your target customers, it’s crucial to pinpoint potential investors or partners. This strategic foresight ensures meaningful conversations and maximizes the event’s impact.

Austin Kleon has been exceptionally guiding people to make the most of such events, for more than a decade, and he has a wonderful reminder of the first lesson learned, “There’s basically the people who want to take all the inspiration, and then there’s people who want to flood you with their own thing that they’re shilling,” he says. “Sharing is an act of generosity. You’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or useful to other people. You’re not just sharing it because it furthers your own agenda or it self promotes.”

Hope to make the most of a conference?  Prepare, and keep in mind that everything you do and say has to first be of value to the people to whom you are speaking.

Evaluate Startup Accelerators Wisely: While startup accelerators offer valuable resources, they can also demand significant time commitments. Prioritize joining accelerators when you have a clear idea validated by potential pilot customers. Focus on nurturing your customer base before engaging with accelerators and work with an incubator, such as ours, BEFORE you do that so that you validate the market, the opportunity, and develop a venture valued by potential customers.

Celebrate Milestones and Prioritize Efficiently: Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Celebrate milestones along the journey to maintain morale and motivation. Additionally, hone your ability to discern priorities effectively, minimizing the need for repeated iterations highlighted in lesson two.

Celebrate milestones, such as Labena Ventures excitement to nail working with one of the brightest advisors in Europe, Balkan Tech Fund’s Darko Ivanovic

These lessons underscore the importance of leveraging the expertise and resources offered by startup incubators.   That your time spent at conferences and events can be incredibly valuable or, frankly, distracting – entirely a result of how well you plan, prepare, and deliver value to others, first, while there.

“The last 9 days we spent at 2112 Creative Industries Incubator in Chicago where MediaTech Ventures prepared 6 of our Digital Den startups to pitch Intell Informed, FinalFind, Solutaria, HappyPlace, iPets and TheDrives during SXSW,” shared Digital Den Venture Builder, Jonie Oostveen, “A great experience with a steep learning curve, thank you Megan Botha, John Zozzaro, and Scott Fetters for your help in preparing.” 

That, a wrap of 3 months preparing through our incubator; collaboration not only facilitates learning but also provides invaluable guidance for navigating the challenges of entrepreneurship. By embracing these insights and seeking mentorship from experienced individuals, startups can chart a course towards sustainable growth and success.

John Zozzaro

Thinker, Tinkerer, Problem Solver, Entrepreneur, Musician, Husband, Dad.

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