What we learned from hosting our first event.

Sooner or later, it’s going to make sense for your startup to hold an event. If done right, it’s a great way to gain exposure and make sales without coming across, well, salesy. The most successful events are usually ones that feature a prominent guest speaker, an accredited panel, or an exciting showcase. We did a pretty daring thing, incorporating all three aspects into our event that we hosted last week. And while this at face value may come across as a recipe for success, it’s a strategy with the greatest chance of something (or everything) going wrong. The good news is that we, and you, can learn from our mistakes the first time around. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from our event, and how we’re going to adjust next time.

What went well

1)  We predicted the turnout super accurately.

   Depending on where you read it, sources will tell you that out of all registrants, 40-60% will sign up. We decided to go with the worst case scenario, opting for 135 chairs for 334 registrants because we figured it’s better to have a full house with some people standing than having empty seats. We ended up having roughly 140 people show up, so if this is your first time hosting an event, I would very highly suggest using these metrics.

2)  Networking, networking, networking.

 Let’s face it; at the end of the day, as much as we attend events to learn or observe, we’re ultimately in it for the networking. The problem though is that many of us are inherently introverted, so at best, we’ll hold off until after the presentation to start up a conversation with an easier opener, like “so, what’d you think?” That wasn’t the case here though. It seemed like from the get-go, nobody was afraid to meet as many people as possible and make their presence felt. We hypothesize that it had something to do with the friendly, laid-back atmosphere of our host venue, WeWork. There, openers are super easy. You can start with something like “hey, do you know what kind of beer this is?” or “wow, this place looks super startupy, do you love it as much as I do?” Corny, but works every time.

3)  Social media.

 Hosting an event gives you the power to tell people what to do. Think about it – you have 100+ people in a room with all eyes on you. Leverage that. In our case, we just so happened to have an unused pair of Snapchat Spectacles lying around, so we decided to put them to good use. We decided to do a giveaway contest at the event, and in order to enter, you had to like us on Facebook and share our Livestream of the event. Let’s just say that since last Tuesday, our Facebook likes have almost doubled and we’ve reached over 5,000 viewers with our video. How’s that for free marketing?

Not so well

1)  Wine, beer, restroom?

 I’d say out of the 140 attendees, about 80% of them at one point or another asked where one of those three things is located. Unfortunately, we didn’t have wine, which ticked off multiple people for whatever reason. Additionally, half my time at the event was spent walking people to either the restroom or the kitchen. Easy solutions: supply the wine and have signs pointing to basic amenities.

2)  We fell well behind schedule.

Our presentation was set to start at 6:30, but people didn’t get settled in until 6:45. Moreso, we scheduled a showcase of 8 startups to pitch for 5 minutes each with 2 minutes of feedback from the judges. Nobody adhered to this, and understandably so. Many of the startups went too in-depth into their slides, often reiterating what was already on the board for the audience to see. The judges had awesome feedback and a lot to say, so they went overboard as well. After half of the startups had presented, we noticed the room was getting a little restless, so we held a short intermission, and watched as some spectators shuffled out. Lessons learned: A) Plan for the worst. Build your agenda around the event starting a little bit late. B) Have a timer. Make it obnoxiously obvious when the startups’ time is up. C) The feedback might have very well been the most valuable part of our event. Instead of shortening the feedback portion, perhaps subtract something from the agenda. D) Keep it engaging. Better to maintain a lively atmosphere than try to do damage control when you’ve already lost the crowd.

3)  Social media.

  It’s a blessing and a curse. While yes, we did get 5,000 impressions, we also had sub-par audio and lighting quality on the stream. We received countless messages and notifications asking us to fix it, and no matter what we tried to do it seemed like nothing was really working. While we still gained good exposure for TechSuite and WeWork, we did not achieve our goal of getting audience feedback for the startups. I can’t stress this enough: make sure there are no issues with the stream prior to the event. Set it up like a “dress rehearsal” with the same conditions and you should be fine.

Although I talk about problems and solutions in the context of our own event, they can very well be applied to most startup events. We’re willing to admit our own mistakes because we know that in the end, that’s how we improve. The main takeaway is, you can never really anticipate EVERY issue that may arise, but it’s important to be prepared for anything that might be thrown your way. Hopefully this article has made it easier for you to do just that.