Armed with a fresh stack of business cards, I started Livio on Jan. 7th, 2008 in Las Vegas at the International CES. Back then, our country was full speed into the Great Recession, business was down and it couldn’t have been a better time to start a new company.
CES is the only place to start or launch a new business in the tech space. With more than 100,000 attendees and thousands of exhibitors, you’d have to stay in your hotel room to avoid getting new business going.
Here are some of my tried and tested tips and tricks:
- Print 1,000 business cards. I recommend having the back of your business card blank or with lines so you can take notes. At a minimum, use a white background. Our Livio cards have lines for notes.
- Plan your trip to the show by hall. Figure out who you need to meet and write their info down. Go there first. Use the CES website to find the companies you want to connect with and write their booth numbers in your Moleskine. Have a plan. CES is too big to go row by row. Your days will be long. Having things written down will save your phone’s battery.
- Practice your elevator pitch with a few vendors. Explain what you do. Try it with your friends. Just be honest, let people know what you are looking to do and/or who you want to meet. Avoid making it sound like you have an army of engineers. Just be honest.
- At Show
- Wear a sports coat. I’m a big fan of the sports coat with jeans and a button-down shirt. Even if you want to wear a tie, use the sports coat as your toolbox. Everything you need for the show should fit in its pockets. Check your pockets to make sure your notebook will fit so you don’t have to hold it the whole time.
- Also, disable the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections on your mobile phone. Kill all unnecessary apps to maximize your phone’s battery life.
- Travel light and leave your bag, laptop or iPad in your hotel room.
- I carry two pens, business cards, Mophie, travel-sized deodorant, floss and mints at the show. I even downsize my wallet for the show to keep the weight down. I start at breakfast and end after midnight without having to drop anything off.
- Don’t forget your Moleskine with the plan.
- Business Card managemen
- Write on the business cards with follow up items.
- Have two pockets for business cards: one for “recycling” and one for follow-ups.
- If someone “doesn’t have a business card,” ask to take a photo of their badge. You can also write their email address on your business card and put that one into your “keep” pocket.
- How to approach the big companies
- Get names of the people you are trying to meet.
- Find the reception desk and look for the friendliest admin there.
- “Hello, I’m Jake Sigal from Livio. I am looking to meet John Smith, your program manager. I don’t have an appointment. Is John available?”
- If not, ask, “Who would be the best person for me to speak with about [business development, API access, distribution, etc.]?”
- When you do get in front of the big guys, repeat the basic elevator pitch. Remember to smile and start off with, “Hi, I’m Jake Sigal with Livio. Thanks for the time. How’s your show going so far?” Then get into what you’re trying to do and be specific. Limit your discussion to one specific item. Don’t drift.
- If you’re talking to a program manager or a product manager, you may want to ask for a demo to get them talking and make them comfortable.
- End of Day
- Send out your emails every day and file all of your key business card info into your CRM or address book. I use Highrise and highly recommend it for a startup. It’s cheap, and it can scale. Doing this will take about an hour each night, but it’s absolutely worth it.
- b. At a minimum, write more notes on the back of the business cards because you will probably forget the details of your appointments after a couple of days when everything mixes together. You can also use the voice recorder app on your iPhone to take notes. I don’t recommend using Evernote or anything that requires an Internet connection at the show. It could fail to save, and will most certainly kill your battery faster.
I’d wish you good luck, but you probably don’t need it. Hustle Hard!
Here’s another article with great tips and an infographic for successful networking at conferences.
About the Author:
Jake Sigal mashed-up music and tech to make Livio Radio, which quickly established Livio as a leader in the car Internet radio industry. It also made Jake an accredited young entrepreneur. Through partnerships with venture capital firms and angel investors, he raised millions to fund the Livio Radio brand born under his own roof. When he isn’t inventing cool tech products, you can find Jake fist pumping in his office to electro, house and dubstep, or battling Baldini in foosball. Jake is married and has a cat cool enough to be on the box art for the Livio Radio featuring Pandora. Jake also loves riding his fixed-gear bike, letting loose at national electronic music festivals, and playing ice hockey for Team Livio.