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Top 10 Tradeshow Mistakes Stanford YC Founders Make

by Larry Chiang on August 16, 2017

Larry Chiang fabricated a cool degree called a J.B.A.  This Jedi in Business Administration kneels at the altar of Mark McCormack, a street smart business legend that mentored Larry Chiang. Neither he nor his mentor went to Harvard Business School but made a name making fun of HBS. After Chiang’s hilarious HLS keynote, Harvard’s Harbus wrote: “What They Don’t Teach You at Stanford Business School”. Better than a credit bureau dispute penned from downtown Oak Brook, Illinois, this entrepreneurship article, “Top 10 Tradeshow Mistakes Stanford YC Founders WILL Make” will pay for that free Y Combinator tuition because the YouTube videos are all free and so was Startup School, held on October 11, 2014 at De Anza Community College.

Larry Chiangby Larry Chiang

Let me grab your attention with an oxymoron that is “#csMajorCMO“. Because you’re graduating from an engineering school with five of the Top 10 entrepreneurship classes nationwide and 99% of football players that graduate, perhaps you’re too comfy with oxyMORON. If you were lucky enough to get approved to take #ENGR145, I’ve got a slew of genius stuff to show you that is going to blow your hair back. I’m going to peel back layers of genius crap both Stanford and YC have been reticent to distribute and promote because of political correctness.

tl: DR

Engineers make for a great tech founder pitching. Travis, the UCLA cs Major did well at the tech conference, ‘SxSW’

Photo credit Irina Tagintseva at sxsw 2011 Photo credit Irina Tagintseva at sxsw 2011This is UCLA cs Major #CSMajorCMO’ing south by Southwest

It is politically incorrect to ask a tech founder to sell like a car salesperson. It’s unpopular to demand that a classically trained engineer sell better than a car salesman. So, let me open up some wounds that cause startup death: “You’re. Not. Doing. A. Good. Job. Selling. At. Tradeshows.

As Stanford engineers, you are going to make sloppy business mistakes. Many of you have never held a job. What they used to teach at Stanford Eng they sorta taught at De Anza for #StartupSchool {Yup #dttdsBHM is lec 3; #cs183b which ranks as #9 best entrepreneurship class all time). But YC is sloppy about explaining DTTDS (do thing that don’t scale), so let me tease you a tradeshow primer.

26 total. The top 10 Mistakes are included for the $1111.11 fee. 26 cliche mistakes that will put your startup in a “startup death spiral”

Larry Chiang (@LarryChiang)
Top 26 #Tradeshow Mistakes YC Startups Make
[part of my #cs183yC curation that forked from #cs183b and #cs183C $2k…
26/ Doing a sales booth is a mistake*
25 / *This sales booth mistake spiders into a slew of mistakes. Let us set aside these mistakes and explore some immediately actionable items
24/ It’s a tradeshow mistake when you don’t use the convention hotel like it’s a really, really large tradeshow booth.

Let me explain, most YC founders save money and get a Airbnb about 5 miles from the tradeshow. Remember that CS student that lived off-campus? Well, no one is going to see you if you Uber into The Convention Center late and leave early.

It is a mistake to save money on housing.
It is a mistake to sleep off campus.
It is a mistake to not get “Home Field Advantage On the Road” #HTGHFAOTR is “how to get Home Field Advantage On the Road”

Let me expand on how exactly to get a hotel room at the conference hotel…, you want to “Tip, Bribe, Comp and Tip” the conference Hotel staff. Think of the Westin Convention Center at Copley Square as your #Distributed Team. But instead of paying ETH or BTC, you’re tipping American 🇺🇸fiat.
– control the meeting rooms
– control the bellhops
– control the shoeshine guy
– control the business center
– control the hotel bar
– Control the bellhop
– Control the bell captain
– Control the front desk
– Control the sales team that sells banquet rooms and meeting rooms
By control, I mean manipulate yourself and be at their mercy. No hotel staff member has ever cared that I was a dual admit to both community colleges in Urbana and Champaign. No hotel staff member cares how many sororities I was house sweetheart at.
They only care about whether you care about them.
22/ Sound costly!?
It’s a mistake to spend money hoping for ROI.
It’s a mistake to NOT get your full Return on Investment before the conference.
It does not take money to make money. It takes a protocol. What’s an example business recipe you ask!?
When a staff employee provides excellent service, I will cold call 3 GMs of other Four Seasons properties to tell them of the service I received at their sister property. When a staff employee provides excellent service, I will cold call 3 GMs of other Four Seasons properties to tell them of the service I received at their sister property.
21/ It’s a mistake to forget to do a pre-Conference networking party.
Google, “anchor plus satellite”.
20/ It’s a mistake to get mad at the labor union that controls the city’s convention Hall.
Let the other 98% of conference attendees scream at union.
19/ It’s a mistake to not seek conference problems to solve.
Solve a conference problem. Conferences suck. Problems are everywhere.
18/ It’s a mistake to not hire temp employees at the tradeShow’s city.
Tactic to win at TradeShow on the road: Hire local help. For example, NAPBS met in Austin Texas for the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.
Hiring hobos to do wifi is going local but too loco. A startup really hired homeless people.
17/ Tradeshow no-no: No marketing Hail Mary’s.
Betting it all on billboard ads at AUS airport: bad idea.
Betting 60-70% of your marketing budget for a cool hip party, bad idea. It’s typically a strategy founder that wants to attempt hail Mary’s. Winning at a tradeshow is just doing common sense things in a method, manner, sequence and depth that few can grind out
16- it’s a mistake to omit doing an 11-minute party.
Pro tip🙏: Do an 11 minute party. This is where #dttdsBHM “doing things that don’t scale BUT HAS MOMENTUM” starts to dovetail Paul Graham’s teachings into my other mentor.
The #dttdsBHM hashtag feeds into #EUTWMPPM (& solves lec 6; #ENGR245 ‘startup death spiral’
Pro tip: execute protocol #EUTWMPPM
15/ It’s a mistake to outsource sales, selling and marketing. As a YC founder, it’s on you to sell and promote at a conference.
startup-death-spiral-because-the-tech-founders-refused-to-sell-at-a-midwestern-conference14/ Conferences are won or lost before the conference even begins.
It’s a mistake to attend a conference and hope for luck. You’re a YC founder. You should be engineering serendipity. You should be making growth hacking 8.0 work by following the github of sales protocols.
13/ Pop Up
A slush fund of even $300 can be a big, big deal. Ask Ryan Shea about what he did at a top 20 tech conference.
12/ No YC rock piles.
It’s a mistake to fly to Chicago Rosemont hotel (airport hotel) for a conference ONLY TO HANG OUT WITH YC ALUMS from a different year.
It’s a mistake to go to McCormick Place only to hang out with the two cofounders you went with.
Networking alone.
Networking is best when you do networking like you’re James Bond.
Validation doesn’t get you started. Starting helps you get started.
Justin Kan said, “always take your beating”. He means ‘go get customers and interact with sales prospects.
11/ It’s a mistake to have your innovation cross the chasm from the left.
What I mean is, you don’t connect your innovation to something else that’s innovative. Correct method is to draw attention by giving away free food
10/ Lets send one VP
It is a mistake to send one vp.
It’s an even bigger mistake to send a replacement to that vp with a junior person completely not prepared to win
This “stand-in” is a ‘mail it in confer eve attendee’
-9- Get a tradeShow war room.
It’s a mistake to not collect leads in one big room.
(8) It’s a mistake to not speak at the conference.
There is a specific protocol for “going from crasher to VIP”. What I mean is that you’re buying a badge in an attempt to network in a new industry. I am saying that there are a sequence of steps where you speak.
– speak by interviewing a book author.
– speak by doing an afterparty that includes an informational keynote.
– speak by agreeing to be a backup speaker
– speak by doing :28 to 38 second videos prior to conference
[7] It’s a mistake to not blog.
Winning a conference means you blog
Winning at sales means you mentor your prospects via the “minimum viable blog post”
(6) Sell out an Eventbrite.
It’s a mistake to not host at the conference.
It’s a mistake to use anything other than eventbrite to host.
You want to find a small venue within the conference and doing a party within a party. I’m stressing that you should win the marketing game within a game. There is always a cute area inside the conference hotel that can turn into a pop up party that you promote on eventbrite using the conference hashtag.
5/ If your party doesn’t get covered in the WSJ, did it even happen!?
It’s a mistake to not take pictures. Heck, I’d take pictures of not only my UnOfficial Official AfterParty, I’d take pics of everything and then watermark it.
/4/ Tradeshow Booth Mistake = There is no safety in numbers.
Malls are dying. So, why is 2/3rds of your marketing budget going into a booth?!? The symbiotic and geographical booth spot won’t get you the ROI you’re looking for.
Contrast the flea market environ at X convention center versus the mezzanine of @FSHotelHouston. Contrast the Refugee Camp that is Minneapolis Convention Center versus the luxury of my booth at  #821sMarquetteAve. Moscone Center’s shoebox sized Expo Space or #125ThirdStreet.
3/ Tradeshow Booth Mistake 1050 of 1,111+
Proper use of the technology of paper as it specifically pertains to closing deals at sales booths.
I see all y’all scanning badges.
I see y’all with iPads collecting email addies.
I see you with RFID and I wanna punch myself in the dick because your pain is my pain
Looooook…., I realize that Consensus 2018 at the Midtown Hilton is a conFab (conference fabulous) of high, high-tech execs that are smartphone and smartbadge astute. I understand that amongst crypto-token-executive-set, they will be VERY tech savvy. But basic human psychology still rules = pen to paper fires off brain functions.
Pen to paper fires off brain functions that increase the likelihood of learning. Will you lose pens?! Yes. Will you lose clipboards?! Yes. Will some whale Get signature momentum by signing your purchase order… YES.
GOOGLE WHAT a “po” is. It’s the content PG left off of Lec 3; #cs183b
/2/ Trade show Booth Mistake: it’s a huge mistake to commit to doing 100% of your booth 100% of the time.
It won’t work.
Instead, give away 20-30% of your booth to some startup in the community. Think Booth-Within-a-Booth. What’s so COUNTERINTUITIVE is how much attrition happens to sales booths.
The booth lights and video are running but no one is home. Literally.
/1/ Trade show Booth Mistake: it’s a huge mistake to pound the expo pavement and crank numbers. Your conference effort should be to win the conference.
– Did you make an impact.
– Does your YC startup Do street smart things that don’t scale BUT HAVE MOMENTUM
– Were your 3 co-founders absentee booth promoters?!
– Did your startup at sxsw solve real world conference problems that brand activated your brand?
– Does your YC startup have a plan to win a conference where the general consensus is that Ivy League founders are flakey snowflakes that don’t talk on their iPhone 8!?! Super majority consensus is that if you’re an enterprise purchasing manager, Stanford sophomores are flakey. And to not risk your career buying technology from a Palo Alto undergrad.
– Will your YC startup embrace theHustle all y’all learned at De Anza Community College (where the lead off speaker was Stanford Engineering grad who IMPLORED you to
– execute Stanford Engineering #ENGR145 distribution hacks
– Does your YC startup spend time selling or just hoping that marketing will take off on its own!?
– Did your YC print out that Jessica Livingston article in the WSJ on sales
– I’m super happy for your dual MBA /JD from being a dual HLS/GSB-HBS/SLS. All YC kids are wired like that. Do you have what it takes to set aside your academic identity and try to practice distribution.
Goodness, I sound like my yoga mentor Giselle. Because acing tradshows is not a perfection. Being legendary at tradeshows is a practice with tasks that seem massively counterintuive.
The one idea that will get you more distribution than burning $35k of Roelof Botha’s $6mm:
-A- Did your YC startup gift away a scholarship to attend #MWC17 [Mobile World Congress] to a minority female!?!
-B- Did your startup do a dApp first app?
Mistake to do a dApp first app if you’re not arbitraging food. Here’s the breakdown. No one needs another App let alone a dApp. No one even really gets what a dApp (Distributed App). So generate dApp downloads by doing a “donut wall“.
You take a donut wall. And parlay the fact that donuts crossed the innovation chasm back in 4,000 BC when a Chinese person fried dough and tossed in Szechuan sugar. And then fried it again next in the same pork wonton juiced beef fat oil.
Donuts to dApp,
people will download
your half-baked Blockstack App
Tuesday dinners, for-bode!
Booths are for sapps.
#LeadGen a big boat load.
I laid out so many maps.
Rabbit holes at 2855*, I’m told,
Use food to distribute your dApp.


-C- It is a mistake to not have a furry animal helping you at your conference booth


Sales leads

/D/ Its a mistake to use an iPad to collect leads

Use paper to do lead generation. No one wants to download an app to then later beam business card information

e/ It’s a mistake to not send me a grand right now. Think of it as a tip for helping you already

Alternatively, you can send me a gift card for Amazon or Whole Foods

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