I used to go to a lot of events. SXSW, The Next Web, Dublin Web Summit, Le Web, DLD, Founders Forum, f.ounders – you name it, I was there. Networking away, pitching, talking and having drinks with everyone from Jack Dorsey to Reid Hoffman (see how subtle my namedropping was?).
I have, however, stopped (well, almost, but more on that later), after realising one very simple fact: they’re a waste of time if you’re not the person on stage. You see, most people go to events to hear and see the people on stage talk. The ones on stage are usually hard-working individuals who are doing something so cool that everyone wants a piece of them. You don’t really see them at events unless they’re invited as speakers, because they’re too busy building some cool. Quite ironic, isn’t it?
So towards the end of last year, I took a look at all the events I attended during the year (where I wasn’t a speaker) and assessed the ROI. Unsurprisingly, other than having a bit of fun and catching up with people I already knew, there wasn’t much value to them. On the other hand, events where I was invited as a speaker generated tons of new contacts, business opportunities and even clients. I decided not to attend events unless the organisers feel I could add value as a speaker. And even then, I only select the ones that Brainient could benefit from directly.
That being said, there’s one little caveat to my argument above. I’m missing out on the serendipitous element of conferences (you know, that one investor you met in a bar who decided to write you a cheque there and then). And I do think that serendipity plays a role in an entrepreneur’s success. So I kept a small list of events that I still attend. They’re usually un-conferences, with no formal speakers or presentations, and invite-only, thoroughly curated by their organisers. f.ounders, Founders Forum and STREAM are very good examples.
In conclusion, some of my friends will hate me for saying this, but rather than paying hundreds or thousands of pounds for some of the upcoming technology conferences in Europe, you’d be much better off spending that cash on a better website and that time on calling up some customers. But, of course, that won’t give you bragging rights that you got drunk with Loic Le Meur.