Research and acting classes: A beginner’s guide to the Dublin Web Summit
From relying on good luck to abandoning your stand, rookie Web Summit mistakes are commonplace – but they can be avoided
‘To be honest, the first time I ever I went to an event which I was supposed to network at, I think I found myself standing on my own in the corner for quite a while,” says FoodCloud founder Iseult Ward. Thankfully though, as she prepares to head for this year’s Web Summit later this week, things have got a little easier.
“You become a lot more comfortable approaching people as you go on,” says Ward, whose non-profit business is based on an app to help get surplus food to charities.
Arriving at an event of the size and scale of the Web Summit can be “intimidating” says co-founder of “social rewards” business Popdeem, Richard Whelan.
“The first year that we went to the Web Summit in 2011 we were just out of college and it was kind of the first time we were in a professional environment,” he says. “I didn’t have any major networking skills put it that way.”
Both firms are part of the 30-strong shortlist for the €25,000 ESB Spark of Genius prize awarded to “Ireland’s best start-up” on the event’s main stage on Thursday. They’re also among the 10,000 people arriving at the event looking to network, find investment, strike up business partnerships or even find a mentor.
With 350 speakers and talks full of CEOs, CIOs and venture capitalists as well as a wealth of firms vying for attention at their stands, the whole thing can leave some people “overwhelmed”, says Barry Downes, CEO of the TSSG innovation hub at Waterford Institute of Technology.
“If you’re not prepped, don’t have your meetings organised and don’t know who you want to speak with then it’s very easy to get lost at these events,” adds Downes. “The challenge is to organise your own time. There’s a certain amount of serendipity that can happen at events like this but you wouldn’t want to be relying on it.”
Brian Honan of IT security company BH Consulting agrees, “Things don’t just happen out of the blue,” he says, “a lot of people say you can be really lucky to bump into somebody and it’s led on to business but really you make your own luck”.
FoodCloud’s Ward says that for anyone walking through the doors of the RDS this week having paid at least €995 for the privilege “you’d be crazy not to do your research on who to talk to”.
Whelan meanwhile started real preparations “around four weeks ago”, researching the companies in attendance which Popdeem should speak to and “splitting jobs between us for talking to potential investors and potential partners”.
“For the two days of the web summit we want them to be completely full of 15-miinite meetings,” he adds. Offering advice for first time attendees, Whelan recommended asking to shadow “experienced people who are really good networkers”.
While in terms of preparation and trying to drum out the distinctly Irish habit of falling into “self-deprecation mode” rather than networking and pitching for businesses at such events, Whelan also recommended something a little leftfield.
“We actually did acting classes to help us with our presentation. We went through one of [business start-up] accelerator programmes in Dublin where they brought in professional actors who went through body language and stage presence,” he says.
Honan for one though says the manner in which Irish companies “don’t come across as being overly confident or aggressively cocky in our capabilities” can “actually work in our favour” at times as well.
“The Irish tend not to be viewed as slick sales people, but they are viewed as quite approachable. We’re willing to spend some time having a chat with you so I think it actually works in our favour.”
The event doesn’t just have to be about attracting business, being inspired or creating commercial partnerships though. As Gerard Forde, CEO with another Spark of Genius contender, Bizimply notes, the summit will also offer under-pressure businesses the chance to attract “the right staff” in a crowded Irish marketplace for those with IT expertise.
He also preaches a simple but often ignored message when it comes to getting the most from the two-day event, “In terms of taking a stand at the web summit we have that for one day and getting value from that is huge. I’ve been to some summits before and I’m amazed that I’ve seen people leave their stand – if there’s one piece of advice I’d give to any other start-up it’s to not leave your spot.
“You never know who you’re going to meet,” says Forde, “You have to talk to everyone, and you never know who’s going to be the investor or who’s going to be the right contact.” As for when you do meet that contact, Honan has a final tip.
“Get your story slick and smooth so that you have 30-second pitch down pat. If you’re talking to a potential investor, partner or mentor they’re going to meet plenty of other companies like you so you need to make sure you stand out from the crowd. You get their attention by being well rehearsed and well thought out.”