Ah, yes: conferences. We love them, we hate them, but they used to be part of the job, and they’re coming back. At least in the IT world that I inhabit, things are beginning to start happening in person again. I attended my first conference in over two years in Valencia a couple of weeks ago: Kubecon + CloudNativeCon Europe. I’d not visited Valencia before, and it’s a lovely city. I wasn’t entirely well (I’m taking a while to recover from Covid-19 – cannot recommend), which didn’t help, but we had some great meetings, Nathaniel (my Enarx & Profian co-founder) spoke at the co-located WasmDay event on WASI networking, and I got to walk the exhibition hall picking up (small amounts) of swag (see Buying my own t-shirts, OR “what I miss about conferences”).
For the last few years, when I’ve been attending conferences, I’ve been doing it as the employee of a large company – Red Hat and Intel – and things are somewhat different when you’re attending as a start-up. We (Profian) haven’t exhibited at any conferences yet (keep an eye out for announcements on social media for that), but you look at things with a different eye when you’re a start-up – or at least I do.
One of the differences, of course, is that as CEO, my main focus has to be on the business side, which means that attending interesting talks on mildly-related technologies isn’t likely to be a good use of my time. That’s not always true – we’re not big enough to send that many people to these conferences, so it may be that I’m the best person available to check out something which we need to put on our radar – but I’m likely to restrict my session attendance to one of three types of session:
- a talk by a competitor (or possible competitor) to understand what they’re doing and how (and whether) we should react.
- a talk by a possible customer or representative from a sector in which we’re interested, to find understand possible use cases.
- a talk about new advances or applications of the technologies in which we’re interested.
There will, of course, also be business-related talks, but so many of these are aimed at already-established companies that it’s difficult to find ones with obvious applicability.
What else? Well, there are the exhibition halls, as I mentioned. Again, we’re there to look at possible competitors, but also to assess possible use cases. These aren’t just likely to be use cases associated with potential customers – in fact, given the marketing dollars (euros, pounds, etc.) funnelled into these events, it’s likely to be difficult to find clear statements of use cases, let alone discover the right person to talk to on the booth. More likely, in fact, is finding possible partners or licensees among the attendees: realising that there are companies out there with a product or offering to which we could add value. Particularly for smaller players, there’s a decent chance that you might find someone with sufficient technical expertise to assess whether there might be fit.
What else? Well, meetings. On site, off site: whichever fits. Breakfast, cocktails or dinner seem to be preferred. as lunch can be tricky, and there aren’t always good places to sit for a quiet chat. Investors – VCs and institutional capital – realise that conferences are a good place to meet with their investees or potential investees. The same goes for partners for whom setting aside a whole day of meetings with a start-up makes little obvious sense (and it probably doesn’t make sense for us to fly over specially meet them either), but for whom finding a slot to discuss what’s going on and the state of the world is a good investment of their time if they’re already attending an event.
So – that’s what I’m going to be up to at events from now on, it seems. If you’re interested in catching up, I’ll be at RSA in San Francisco, Open Source Summit in Austin and Scale 19x in San Antonio in the next couple of months, with more to come. Do get in touch: it’s great to meet folks!