How founders can get the most out of trade shows

So you have just bought the ticket for Tech In Asia’s next conference or are you still hesitating to press the Buy button? Fret not, this is not an advertisement but an attempt to share effective strategies to offline events. Every startup begins small. At the beginning no one takes any notice due to lack of branding and customers. Trade Shows and Conferences are in the school of outbound marketing which includes TV/Radio advertisements, telemarketing, mailed brochures and newspaper/magazine ads. Trade Show is the perfect platform for companies to form relationships and showcase products to their prospects.

Many would argue that inbound marketing is more effective and scalable. The truth is that lead generation is poor until people know and give trust to the brand. If your business target audience does not have a natural place to gather online or belongs to the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers generations, inbound marketing shouldn’t be the your only medium as it is mostly delivered through technologies which is widely adopted by tech-savvy generations.

What happens if your startup decided to adopt Trade Show marketing but felt frantic about doing it? I have made and seen common mistakes made by founders through organizing startup events, to speaking, sponsoring, and attending them all over the world in the past 4 years. Good pre-event planning can make a difference, but the difficult question remains about how to navigate successfully. So what should you do?


The first hard problem is to decide which events to attend as every industry has a large number of events. Be clear about your agenda for attending the Trade Shows. Are you trying to get media, investors, secure major customers or something else? Have a list of all the events in that industry. Subsequently, assess each event according to your goals. Many conferences state the speakers, audience and schedule on their sites or eventbrite so that you can think about the type of interactions that can take place in each event. It is also a good idea to check with past attendees, social media and sites like Quora/Reddit on the reviews to get a feel of the event without attending. Once you have done that, check how much you can spend and allocate how much you can spend per quarter on events and align with schedule. Finally, based on your quarterly budget, work backwards to see if attending that event makes sense in both non-quantifiable and quantifiable benefits.


To prepare, make a list of key people (media, potential partners, existing and potential customers, vendors and investors) that you plan to meet. Get their contacts through the conference networking tools, LinkedIn or friends and send an email with non spammy email like ‘Can we talk at [Trade Show ABC] for 5 minutes?’ to get a meeting scheduled beforehand. If you will like to reach out to media people, prepare a one page media document to jump start them with media angles and excitement to write about you. This could be a new product, partnerships, big customer acquisition or anything media worthy. Also, don’t forget to post on your social media platforms that your company will be attending.

What if you are not invited to VIP dinner or exclusive night activities? You can still host your own dinner on other nights. A great way to secure high value prospects is to get your friends to invite the “brand name” person and the rest of your invites can mention that person’s name who will be able to attract others. Two pro tips: pick a killer venue as everyone likes to dine at somewhere hot and potential customers always prefer to talk existing reference customers.

Event Day

When you decide to do booth, think about well-trafficked location, swags, impressive decors and something meaningful to engage people long enough to see your product or answer to your call to action. If resource allows, your team can be proactive on the floor to bring people back to your booth.

The opportunity to speak in front of a crowd for 30 minutes introducing your story to potential customers is time well spent. You will save time introducing yourself to each individual at the event because people already saw you on stage. Landing speaking engagement is tough so build relationships with event organizers. Start at small events and align your talk with your expertise so you become a recognized expert. Soon, you will get more speaking gigs and get invited to exclusive speaker’s dinner to network.

At major events, you end up meeting hundreds of people, of which few are key contacts. Use CamCard to scan business cards, make notes on how you meet them and send emails reminding them as well as giving them call to action. If an attendee doesn’t have a business card, politely ask for LinkedIn immediately.

To end off, being able to be outstanding among swarms of Facebook Adverts and Google Adworks is as painful as buying lottery tickets. These inbound marketing methods can be thought as the ongoing development of a relationship; however, you can’t have a relationship without an initial introduction. In contrast, Trade Show and other outbound marketing greatly increases the probability of that “first glance,” so that a business relationship can thereafter develop. The most comprehensive thing is startups have to hack more and fast so as to learn the mistakes. Startups need to start thinking about doing things that don’t scale when they are trying to get the first 1000 customers.

This article does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer. It is solely my opinion.

Article has also been republished in the following:

Product Manager, Ex-PayPal, Ex- Google. Mentor in ONL, SBC. TechCrunch Contributor

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