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My experience: what a startup needs to know before it goes to TechCrunch. Artem Afian


It is a column about what was happening at the recent Disrupt Berlin 2018 conference that brings together startups from around the world. Who visits it and for what purpose?

Artem Afian attended one of the largest technology conferences Disrupt Berlin 2018 in the capital of Germany. He was in the team of the Ukrainian legal tech startup PatentBot that helps to register trademarks via the Internet.

Not for cold contracts

The usefulness of the conference organized by TechCrunch is beyond doubt. There are investors there. But, of course, it is necessary to agree with them in advance as it goes with all other conferences.

It is rather rare occasion when people approach your stand on purpose or find out about you at the exhibition. It works only if they have heard about you before. The exhibition staff followed us to our stand and told us they knew about our product and that they used PatentBot. We were very pleased! And many investors we communicated with were aware of opportunities our girl bot provides.

I would say that the information that has been distributed in advance works well. It involves networking skills, in this case, but TechCrunch as a place of cold contacts is debatable. But it is an attractive venue to establish business contacts and get acquainted with investors.

I expected a lot more people visiting the exhibition. The pitching panel was of great delight for me, I should say. It was obvious that all people had been preparing for that.

There was a noticeable difference with the Ukrainian conferences, where the speakers are not sufficiently prepared, they rely solely on their own charisma and recognition.

It was different there. Of course, my command of German language is rather poor to fully assess the quality of the material presented, but the content was very good. It was evident that participants wanted to add value to their presentation.

Therefore, the pitching panel was almost always full. Perhaps this is an approach in the German accuracy style. Organizers and participants scrupulousness manifested itself in the timing as well – at 09:00 a.m. the conference was already at its full swing.

It also assisted in our sales — there were a lot of people wishing to register a trademark with PatentBot. We walked right up to other stands, checked whether they had their trademark registered and communicated with other participants. And they were eager to talk to us.

It was interesting to get feedback, we watched how users reacted, what did they like in our dialogues, how they reacted to gifs, responded to new services. Therefore, this conference meant also entering the field of business development for me.

Some startups encountered a problem that their brand name had already been in use and they were faced with the need to conduct re-branding. They left our stand in a thoughtful mood.

Positioning your startup in your responsibility

There were some pretty disappointing moments. The organization of startup logistics was carried out at a rather poor level. Generally speaking, no-one cares about your startup positioning. Participants get their place, a small table, and a stand.

Moreover, the part of premises startups are located in is poorly visible, we couldn’t see nearby participants, we didn’t know where to put our banner, it was only us to deal with all those things. It was easy to get lost among other kinds of startups.

Therefore, you should always stand out and care about the way you are presented. And it’s better to find out in advance who will stand next to you to come up with collaboration options.

Too many platforms and people walking without a specific purpose

I noticed that most startups at the exhibition were sending a rather vague message to the market. They talked about a new era, about something new, but very few talked about their value for a particular consumer. We also behaved the same way to some extent, because our banner was installed under PatentBot slogans.

But, communicating with other visitors, when we just said that our project had been implemented for easier and cheaper online trademarks registration, it was the turning point. That is, in just one sentence we explained our value to the consumer.

I cannot say whether it is a common trend or not, but I was surprised by a huge quantity of platforms. A lot of new startups take on an obviously unbearable burden to connect someone, for example, a supplier and a buyer. Many people think that it is very easy, but taking into account the number of startups and the difference between them, it seems that it is rather a domain of major platforms and it’s not an easy task for startups to become a platform.

Because to act as a communicator, moderator of relations at Disrupt Berlin 2018 is a function that requires very serious investments and deep consideration and very few people are ready for experiments.

I should note that, as in the case with all other conferences, there were a huge number of people being unaware of the purpose of their visiting. People just come to hang around, to chat.

It’s a little discouraging when you come with your special KPI and your business ideas, and all this easy going “startup idleness” distracts, and sometimes even annoys. We wanted some drive, some real business. Kind of slow distraction taking place at the conference may appear a little discordant with what should be conducted for those who are really engaged in business.

Artem Afian, a Managing Partner of Juscutum Law Firm.