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5 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Web Summit


By David J. Blumberg

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Dublin to attend and speak at this year’s Web Summit and the F.ounders event. I always look forward to events like this because I truly enjoy meeting and learning from entrepreneurs, technology leaders and industry experts. Now that the events have closed, I’d like to share a few takeaways for entrepreneurs who are thinking of attending Web Summit or events like it in the future:

1. You can find smart entrepreneurs anywhere – The numbers don’t lie. A recent report listed 142 unicorns, with 88 of them based in the U.S. While that represents a significant concentration, and does Silicon Valley proud, it also shows there are real opportunities to be successful elsewhere. Our philosophy at Blumberg Capital has always been to find and fund the right team, addressing the right problem using the right technology with the right timing. Geographic location for the HQ or engineering core isn’t always determinative, and I was thrilled to see entrepreneurs from all over the world well represented at Web Summit.

One roundtable in particular at F.ounders, addressed this topic and overwhelmingly those participating agreed it isn’t necessary to be in HQed in Silicon Valley or to have all your engineers there in order to achieve hyper growth.

That said, we must give Northern California it’s due.  The concentration of hyper-growth experienced business leadership talent, venture capital funding sources and strategic partners is unrivaled.

As testimony to that power vortex, the Vice Chairman of NASDAQ, Bruce Aust, recently moved from NYC and has opened a major entrepreneurial center (a block away from our new office in the start-up epicenter of SF) with an expanded team to help promote and encourage successful companies in the IPO process.

It’s also part of our Blumberg Capital value proposition to companies originating outside of this area – that we will help you connect with the right customers, partners, industry players to hire the talent, obtain the resources, funding and exposure on your entrepreneurial journey upwards and onwards.

2. Rise above the noise – Web Summit is huge. So huge in fact that it is easy to get lost amongst crowds swarming past the startup booths or even if you’re selected to participate in The Pitch you only have 6 minutes to explain why you’re the best, and we judges only have 3 minutes to ask questions. So hone your presentation to be crisp, clear and compelling. Prove your strengths; don’t leave the judges guessing.

Since only a tiny fraction of the startups at Web Summit are finalists in the pitch competitions, it is all the more imperative for you to always have a clear outcome and goal in mind for attending Web Summit or any large conference. Be sure to have a game plan for how you will stand out to the key people you want to meet. Remember you don’t have to be the biggest or have the largest budget to get attention; it’s about being focused, strategic, creative and leveraging who you know to get the right people to take notice. Smiling helps.

3. Technological change is accelerating more than ever before – An exciting takeaway from Web Summit and F.ounders is seeing the number of new platforms, formats and technologies being developed in “stealth” or otherwise not yet in the mainstream.

Understandably, people generally predict the future based on what they see and know. And this is often why they get it wrong. There is a lot of non-visible, non-obvious innovation that will have enormous impact that isn’t adequately appreciated or valued because it is still around the corner, unseen or unknown.

Attending the events last week was a different type of opportunity to get a peak into how some problems are being solved today that we may not have even known we had. Remember, several studies, including one from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University, predict that 40% of today’s leading businesses, won’t survive the next 10 years and we can attribute this to future disruption to their business models. Strategic, operational agility in the midst of rapid change is key.

4. It’s lonely at the top – This shouldn’t be news to most of you, but attending F.ounders this year, the single most common theme was that CEOs feel isolated. Many CEOs think they can’t be vulnerable in front of their team members or their board – or even their co-founder(s)! The lucky ones find a co-founder, VC or independent director on the board who will listen, without forcing action in a particular direction. If you don’t have that, I suggest that CEOs really look to one another as confidants.  As a VC, I personally know a large number of founders and CEOs and one major piece of advice I offer to them is to seek out mentor/peer CEOs, someone who has gone through something similar or maybe who is even going through it at the same time. They can be your best sounding board.

5. Connections, connections, connections – One of my favorite parts about attending Web Summit and F.ounders is my role and skill 😉 as a master networker.  Of course it’s all about meeting people and listening to them. I mean really listening. Don’t just shake their hand and get their card. Make time to inquire about their family, their hobbies, their passions and their business goals. Be proactive, positive, probing and practical. Establishing a real connection and being thoughtful about how you can help one another is a game changer.  An efficient and effective technique I use is called, “Card Karma”, and it especially works well in a small group setting such as a conference meal table or breakout group. First, each participant passes around business cards or takes notes on their phone or tablet about the other participants as they introduce themselves. Then each participant in turn, explains why they’re at this conference and one or two specific business goals or tactical needs. Meanwhile, each participant in the group should take notes and write down ideas and potential introductions to help achieve those goals. As the conference proceeds, people naturally tend to begin helping one another offering introductions and the karma flows; it’s a virtual positive upwards spiral of mutual assistance. Try it next time you’re in a networking situation. I think it will be positively received and rewarded.

So what’s next? This week I’m headed to the marvelous NOAH Conference in London where I plan to continue learning, connecting and sharing. Connect with me via Twitter @davidblumberg or with the firm @blumbergcapital.

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn.

David J. Blumberg is the founder and managing partner of Blumberg Capital. Follow him on Twitter at @davidblumberg.

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