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Web Summit: how to stand out amongst 1,000 start-ups? By better knowing yourself as a company. Work

Web Summit looks a bit like a hive. Busy. Crowded. Buzzing. 60,000 start-upers, visitors, service providers and investors frantically walking the alleys to look for a contact, an opportunity, a client, a partnership or fresh money. And they don't have much time. Most people I talked to were impressed by the noise out there: "Oh my god, this is so noisy!" is something that I kept hearing about the WS. And when it's very noisy, it is difficult to get heard. Moreover understood. Beyond the image of the noise, in the literal and the figurative sense, this is very difficult for a startup to stand out amongst thousands other start-ups. How can you achieve that?

Some of them use little tricks on the day of the show. They wear costumes. Set up a funny demo. Show their product. Give away goodies. Put a large sign. Organise a party. Manage to have a selfie with a President or a digital Guru. This can work, marginally though. You definetely have to try, but it's clearly not enough.

Still, many startups get almost unnoticed. Those exhibiting at Web Summit or in other shows have about three lines on the board to express what they do + their logo. Having passed in front of almost all of them during the three days, I can tell that at least 50% have a hard time just clearly explaining what they do in a few words. Be clear and brief is tough. Be clear, brief and different is even tougher. How many market places sound almost similar, with only subtle positioning differences? How many blockchain or AI project dealing with "almost" the same things? And the more technical the project, the more difficult this is to explain its essence. Which means that many companies don't attract as much interest as they could, lose networking opportunities and don't get all the value from trade shows like this.

To be able to really stand out, it is already too late when you are just a few days from the show. This is a more fundamental work that you need to accomplish way before. A work on yourself as a company.

It start with working in depth on your product and your use cases. Great product bringing unique value don't get unnoticed. Clear use cases immediately make sense. You need to know your market and your potential customers, which takes time. Knowing this, you are able to differentiate your solution from the crowd. This is serious work to be done, particularly on customer needs, segmentation, targeting and competitive analysis. The more you will clearly differentiate your self, the easier it will be to tell us in three lines or 30 seconds what you do.

Working on your values, mission and vision can also help. It might sound ike a communication exercise that big companies do to look better. Just cosmetics. But for a small companies it will make you better define who you are, what you do and what you really bring to the table. Which means that you will convey a message that will be more easily understood by partners, investors and employees.

Pitching investors at a Web Summit is a great opportunity given to many startups. But I still see too many of them jumping straight to make some fancy slides without enough prior thinking. As a startup, you had to be opportunistic and build upon scarce resources, which means your winding path might look a bit tortuous for outsiders that are looking at your company. You really have to sit down, make sense of all this and think about clarifying your strategy before writing a pitch deck. It will take longer, but will help you be more relevant and more efficient to take objections.

We will adressed all these topics during our day of workshops in London on December 8th, dedicated to the Agile Entrepreneur's Toolkit.

The day was not designed to address issues related to an event like the Web Summit, but I realize that it would help tremedously startup founders to maximize the value from such events.

A specificity of this day is to mix pure business approaches with soft skills such as CEO mindfulness or emotional intelligence. Mindfulness and meditation can also be powerful to help better prepare for frantic events like this, and improve your preparation away from heavy décibels and daily routine.

To conclude, it seems that the old "Know thyself" from Socrates could also apply to startups. These strange and still not well identified entrepreneurial objects that we call early stage startups would gain a great deal in knowing themselves - their purpose, the value they bring, why they are here for, who they serve - in order to get noticed, understood and finally stand out from their peers.

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