Just got back from a few days in Barcelona having attended the Mobile World Congress 2009 (formerly known as 3GSM). It’s a pretty hectic place with some 55’000 visitors ranging from operators, vendors and start-ups. This year we had two portfolio companies attending, Xtract and Aito both from Finland. It was great fun spending some time with them especially since they both managed to attract significant interest from potential customers.

From a start-up perspective, I am usually a bit sceptical to these large, general exhibitions but here are some things that I have seen work for companies attending:

  • Start with defining an objective and goals for attending. Are you there to meet investors, customers, partners, competitors and/or the press? What should be achieved for it to be worthwhile spending the time and money?
  • Identify the people you want to meet and book meetings in advance. I cannot stress this one strong enough. Although people may not be willing to commit themselves to set meetings beforehand, at least agree on that you should meet and make sure you have their contact details.
  • In addition to track down the people you really want to talk to, be open and talk to as many people as possible. Your friends and colleagues you can talk to at home.
  • Only have a booth if you have plenty of meetings booked in advance. Otherwise there is a risk that you’re tied to your booth rather than being out hunting down interesting people to meet. Sure, there will be people attenting your booth but are they really the ones you want to talk to? You are a small company so the odds of you attracting the right people to your booth are smaller than the other way around. And only have a booth if you have attented the exhibition before so you know where it should be placed, what it should look like etc.
  • Try and associate yourself with someone more well-known; it could be a customer, partner or some other companies from your country.
  • Have someone well-connected singing your praises, a third-party saying you’re great is usually stronger than you saying so yourself.