On Running Successful Events with Few People and Less Money

Event

Originally posted on: The Founder Project

The Founder Project hosted their first demo day at the Notman House here in Montreal earlier this month. With 7 startups vying for a year of hosting services from softlayer, an entry to the startup program of Fasken Martineau, office space at the Notman house, and a chance to pitch at FounderFuel’s demo day on July 11th.

Each team had 6 minutes to pitch. But it wasn’t exactly a pitch event. The judging took into account the pitch and how much progress the startup made since April 1, 2013 (the deadline for applications).

These are the teams that won:

First place: Outpost, is “the centerpoint of the sharing economy.”  Outpost aggregates non-commercial websites that facilitate travel. It’s a sharing economy amalgamation site. Check it out for yourself: outpost.travel

Second place: Needle, is out to fill a void, where employers can scope out high quality creative talent and give creative talent a platform to meet employers. Check it: needlehr.com

Third place: Plotly, allows you to create the most beautiful graphs on the net in the easiest possible way. They’re here: plot.ly

***

The pitches were great and prime example of what Montreal based student-startups are capable of. But what blew me away the most, was how successful the event was. I kept looking around the room, trying to piece together in my mind why the event was so successful.

You see, the event was free. There was no $$ incentive to attend.  The event had free registration on Eventbrite…you could easily commit the click “attending,” and not really attend, sin.

And there was little to no marketing for the event. The showdown wasn’t even advertised on their website.

Despite this, the event was jam packed. All the seats were occupied, and many people were standing up in the back. Each attendee in the room was feeling every bit of the 36 degrees celsius plus humidity, and they all endured the “burning heat” till the last second of the seventh pitch and stayed longer after that, just to chat.

This is a picture of the room that was tweeted within minutes of starting: TwitPicJuly2013

The event achieved what it set out to do: showcased high quality student enterprises, celebrated the victorious ones, and gave the attendees an opportunity to mingle and network. At the end of the day different V.C.’s gave some hearty and happy comments to The Founder Project team.

So what exactly did the Founder Project do to host such a successful event with limited resources?

I sat in on a meeting two days before the event and chatted with Ilan and Yasmina after the event to understand the method to their madness.

(1) Concentrate your planning

  • T.F.P team started planning the event 2 weeks in advance. Arguably this, prioritized the most important tasks and avoided the sort of worry that comes with planning too far in advance.
  • They did a task-by-task run through two days before the event.
  • Keep room for creativity. Two days before the event they were still brainstorming ways to make the event better. The idea to put up a large poster for attendees to sign and the floorplan of the event room were all last minute light bulbs.

(2) Find free space and cut costs ruthlessly

  • The Notman house (a sponsor of T.F.P) provided space for the event for free. Of course, if you’re planning an event there are a number of ways to get free space. If you’re a student at a university classrooms in the evenings and weekends are easily accessible free of cost. Church basements, executive boardrooms, and friend’s houses can require some hustle but are also cheap.
  • Seek out discounts. The event cost $400: for chairs, beer, and food. T.F.P had a team member that had already been sponsored by Labat that gave them a discount on beer. One way to save money on alcohol is to opt for wholesale options and/or just ask the manager: “I am hosting an event for 100 people and was wondering if you could help me save money on liquor costs.”

(3) Have one person that coordinates everything, delegate wildly

  • For volunteer events, I speak from first hand experience that things can get quite messy if you don’t have one person that’s keeping track of everything.
  • The showdown had the entire team of T.F.P. help plan the event. But, Yasmina, was coordinating everything. She was delegating and following up to ensure that everything was in line. This is key, pick someone that will be able to delegate and isn’t afraid to follow up.

(4) Strategize your marketing when you’re budget is limited

  • T.F.P made many posts on Facebook (831 fans) and loads of tweets on Twitter (431 followers) to pushing the event.
  • Of course, it’s hard to know how many attendees actually convert from social media promotion. And if you want to guarantee attendees and/or have limited social media followership you should kick it old school. Exert your energies to word of mouth and personal invitations. Which was the second part of their marketing strategy. They sent off personal invitations to mentors/investors and reached out to all applicants who had been part of the process.
  • No matter how big or small your event is, reach out to press. Every team member of T.F.P was asked to reach out to press contacts. On the day of the event they had: Techvibes present, and we were covered by CBC/Radio-Canada the following day.

(5) Keep your attendees happy

  • Free, cold beer, and food.

***

The success of the event points to two things:

  1. The necessity and growing community for startups in Montreal.

  2. The possibilities that are achievable when you let some eager and entrepreneurial minded young people plan an event.

Photo from: Unsplash

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