StartupFest 2016: What Heat, Sloths, and More Taught Us About Building a Company

StartupFest 2016: What Heat, Sloths, and More Taught Us About Building a Company

This year’s Startup Festival in Montreal was one of the biggest (and hottest at 47*C with the humidex) year’s yet. With a $200K investment prize on the table and speakers including Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and the Oprah of tech journalism, Kara Swisher - it’s not shocking that startups literally came from all over the world to attend the event.

I was lucky enough to attend and scored a ton of awesome insight while I was there. Here are some of my favorite lessons and takeaways from the event!

Stay Hydrated. Physically and Mentally.

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I love the heat. Don’t get wrong. I’m about as sunshine, good vibes, beach bum and summer loving as they come, but even I’m here to say that this year’s StartupFest was HOT. With temperatures reaching over a hundred degrees fahrenheit with the humidex, proper H2O consumption at StartupFest was key.

When it comes to attending industry events, whether in the heat of summer or the cold of winter, it’s super important to stay hydrated and I don’t mean just physically. Stay hydrated mentally. Drink up all of the knowledge, insight and experience around you. Get inspired by the entrepreneurs in the room who’ve been there and done that. Learn from those who are currently in your shoes and figuring this crazy startup world out as they go.

Animals Bring Communities Together

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Imagine my surprise when I was checking out Tent Village at StartupFest and stumbled upon a startup whose mascot is a sloth! For those unaware, I love sloths and will one day go full on Kristen Bell at the sight of my first sloth. While I repeated this over and over to the Shuflix team at StartupFest, it dawned on me how genius it was of them to use such a pop culturally loved creature as their mascot.

People love animals. Animals convert. Even Alexis Ohanian, keynote speaker at the event (and by far my favorite talk), said the reason cats are so popular on the internet, is that unlike dogs, people can’t bring their cats out in public. We need a platform to find our fellow cat people and find our tribes, and as a result, cats pretty much took over the internet. Communities come together over animals. Leverage a cute furry creature in your startup marketing and you’re golden.

Oh and to the various startups who brought the dogs to StartupFest? I hope you got the new users you deserve 😉

You're Never Too Young To Pitch.

Ok so one of the biggest advantages of going to StartupFest, if you’re a founder, is to pitch your company to both investors and the media. As well as, of course, hundreds of other companies, service providers and let’s not forget the grandmother judges of StartupFest. People of all ages, and I mean all ages, were there to share their idea for a chance to win a $200K investment prize, score a little media love, or get incredibly valuable feedback.

One of my favorite pitches came from 5 year old Anna Puopolo, host of Anna’s Show and founder of Kid Viewed. Anna became the youngest founder to ever pitch at StartupFest and received 15K views on her Facebook channel that week alone.

Anna is adorable proof that you can never be too young or old to pitch your idea.

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Get Users. Then Launch.

As an agency, the famous product launch has been our bread and butter for years. For awhile, product launches and funding announcements were gold. Every time. Of course, then startups started launching everywhere. Everyone and their dog were quitting their jobs to start a company. And while the dogs may have had an advantage (who doesn’t want to write a story about a company owned by a dog?) every day, more and more hardworking, dedicated startup founders were getting overshadowed by the unicorns of their industry.

It became quite clear to us recently, after seeing amazing new products fail to generate attention at launch, that something was up. The resonating theme at StartupFest confirmed it. A launch is nothing without users. As Globe and Mail tech reporter Sean Silcoff stressed, traction, validation, and a hook is needed. Simply launching an app isn’t cool. Launching an app and scoring 1M users? That’s cool.

Which brings me to my next point.

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Users Wont Magically Fall From The Sky.

One of my favorite talks at StartupFest this year was by Jesse Leimgruber, the CEO at NeoReach. Jesse shared 75 free ways (yes, FREE) to get users and he did this in 38 minutes. Of course, I was the nerd with my Macbook in my lap, furiously typing every single tip and trick into a Google Doc as to not lose even a drop of awesome insight. Until the launch comes back to life, user acquisition is the single best way to get new startups the users they need to attract the media’s attention and Jesse’s tips were golden.

They also rang true with a comment Gobble’s CEO Ooshma Garg made earlier that day. Simply launching a company or a product doesn’t mean the customers will come. Jesse’s 75 tips such as using Reddit or SlideShare to attract users, showed just that. It takes A LOT of work, a lot of channels, and a lot of energy to get quality users for your startup.

But ask any startup that has succeeded and I know they’ll tell you it was totally worth it.

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Audience Engagement = Work.

Well, you’ve got to keep that community and audience. You have to nurture them and love them hard. Another one of my favorite talks was from Kate Gardiner who compared audience engagement to that of a relationship or marriage. Intimacy takes work and if you want to do it right, and truly make it last, you have to give it your all. Alex Ohanian would tell you community and finding your tribe is everything. Even if that tribe is for cat people.

So next time you’re questioning why you do what you do, or why you’re spending all that time talking to your customers, getting to know your audience and making friends with the influencers in your industry - remember what it took to get you there. And don’t give up!

Were you at StartupFest? Who was your favorite speaker or what was your best takeaway? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @crystalcrichard!

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