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How To Raise Capital At Large Tech or Networking Events

I recently returned from an intense week in Dublin for Web Summit, where 2,000+ startups and 30,000+ attendees whip themselves into a frenzy of pitching, hustling and deal-making activity.

web summit dublin 2015

I had a unique perspective on the event since I was wearing three hats: I was there as an observer (to see if it’s something we want to sponsor or participate in); I was there pitching our Foundersuite platform to partners and customers; and I was there as an angel (and thus got the coveted red “Investor” badge).

Pretty much everyone there is trying to raise capital. Numerous posters are hung around the event with this provocative message:

  “40 startups that exhibited at Web Summit 2014 have raised over $1 billion in funding in less than a year.” More details.

Granted, most of that amount was raised from just a few outliers (such as FanDuel, which scooped up $275m). Further, my sense is that most of startups who paid for their 1-meter booth flew home none the richer.

Still, it’s an impressive number.

To improve your odds of joining that club, here are seven fundraising hacks that apply to most any big tech startup event:

1. Go where the money is. Investors rarely venture into the “startup alleys” as they are literally mobbed the moment hungry founders see an investor badge. Instead, many investors clustered offsite at the Investor Summit held at the Four Seasons. The lobby, lounge, and bar were certainly prime hunting grounds.

Similarly, a day prior to the main Web Summit was a side event called Angel Summit, held at Mansion House. This was casual and lightly attended, and I was able to have a short, friendly conversation with Dave Mcclure and a dozen others without having to elbow my way in. Access to the event itself was restricted, but immediately following the talks, there was a happy hour across the street at 37 Dawson. Like a watering hole on the African Savannah, the entire bar was filled with 50 angel investors liquoring up. A small handful of startup founders— maybe 5 or 10— worked the crowd. Contrast that with an alley of 200 startup founders ready to pounce on the lone angel on his way to the loo.

2. Go where the money is (part deux). In the Startup Village– the main demo pit– there was a balcony ringing the floor, called “Investor Lounge.”  It was a nice place to step back from the fray, grab a coffee and charge my iPhone. To access it, you needed to flash your investor badge (which many investors would either remove or flip around to avoid being mobbed). The hack here is simply that every investor who enters also exits, so “marking” the folks coming down the stairs was an effective way to identify the elusive investor. (Yes, I’m realizing how aggressive this all sounds, but raising capital takes a serious level of hustle and chutzpah.)

3. ”Farm” online: A less-aggressive technique is to scrape all the investors speaking or scheduled to attend, and run a custom Twitter or Facebook ad mentioning the event, your pitch, and your booth’s location. I don’t know if this actually works, but it’s probably worth a shot– even if just to plant a seed of recognition or familiarity in case that investor walks by your demo booth.

4. Line up meetings in advance: Using the same list of expected attendees, it’s probably worth the time to reach out to all *relevant* investors (emphasis on relevant— not a mass spam) with a personalized, friendly email noting that you’ll be at the event and would love to buy them a beer or breakfast. Your hit rate is likely to be low, but even lining up 4 or 5 meetings would be worth the effort.

5. Volunteer. In the upstairs investor lounge, I saw a volunteer perfectly play the role of both host and pitch man. He helped an investor locate a charging outlet, then made small talk, then expertly shifted the discussion into what he was doing (building an app, natch), concluding in the exchange of business cards.

6. Work the nights: As mentioned with the Angel Summit happy hour, I believe the best opportunities to connect with investors are when the day is done and the drinks start to flow. If you’ve followed the tips above, you have a visual record of all the investors, and can spot them on site. Work the numerous after hours parties, the more specialized the better (I would guess very few investors attended the official pub crawls, whereas other events, like the “speakeasy” put on by Powers Whiskey, was rich with money men and women).

7. Don’t bother unless you have sexy traction. Not quite a “hack” per se, but worth mentioning, IMO. The noise level is so exceedingly high at these events, that I strongly believe if you don’t have seriously exciting metrics / customer adoption / M-O-M growth, then stay home and save your money.

Raising money is never easy and these massive tech events can be chaotic. But when you get several hundred investors physically present in the same area, you can turn the odds in your favor.

Happy Hunting!