As an entrepreneur, my time is limited and divided between many tasks. Making the time to attend conferences, let alone choosing which conferences to attend is a daunting task. My good friend Dina Moskowitz, the founder of SaaSMax, told me about the Small Business Web Summit and their organization where she is also a board member. I knew this was one conference I couldn’t miss primarily for two reasons.
First, our missions were aligned, since the Small Business Web Organization and Summit’s mission is to help small businesses with technology. At Diggen we believe access to data shouldn’t be complicated, nor expensive. We are building a platform allowing any size business the ability to source and integrate marketing data, so businesses can better understand their audience and leverage the data to improve their marketing initiatives.
Second, the right people were attending. If you’re speaking to the wrong audience, it doesn’t matter how great your mission statement sounds. Before attending any conference, it’s good to know who else will be flying in. Conferences are the ideal way to connect with many individuals you would normally spend weeks trying to reach. When doing my conference due diligence, I discovered many of the companies on my target list were attending, but also the right person to connect and discuss opportunities. It was a blend of technology startups and large software companies, but the people were the Founders, CEOs, Heads of Partnerships, Alliances, and Product.
So I booked my trip to the Bay Area and off I went!
Evening Before The Summit
I arrived earlier than expected and was excited to make the pre-conference dinner scheduled for attendees. It was held at the Tied House in Mountain View and I was very pleased with the evening.
It was a long table with about 15 people and it immediately felt like a group of coworkers getting together after work. My end of the table was Josh Sanderson from Lightspeed Capital, Alex Fong from Microsoft, and Sunir Shah from Olark. Josh and I instantly hit it off and connected over our GE background. Apparently he was involved in the proposal to acquire GE Information Service at the exact time I was a program manager there.
After eating my dinner, drinking some cider, and chatting with this side of the table, I moved over to the other side to meet more attendees. Ironically, I recognized Mike Montano from ReviewBuzz, since we were on the same flight from San Diego and we were also in the same Uber riding sharing from the airport.
After an hour, Sunir moved over to this side of the table and I got a chance to talk in more detail with him. He asked me very specific questions about my business and seemed fascinated with the overall challenges of SaaS companies to grow. In addition, Sunir is a board member of the Summit and he also MC most of the Summit. We discussed running an event and creative approaches to increase ticket sales since I am on the board of Startup San Diego and we run San Diego Startup Week coming up in June.
Summit Day 1
The conference was hosted at the Google Quad Campus. Armies of dedicated engineers trotted all around and I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a surreal science fiction film. I’m familiar with the Googleplex main campus since they were a partner at the last company and I visited every so often. However, it was amazing to visit yet another Google campus just a mile away.
I attended the track format sessions in the afternoon with Anand Kulkarni from Lead Genius and Chris Campbell from Review Tracker, and Jon Ferrara from Nimble as speakers. All were informative and entertaining presentations, which were also relevant to my business. When I connected with Anand and Chris afterward at happy hour, we chatted about our mutual background in local search. They were familiar with my former company Localeze. It really is a small world in the data industry!
I finally got to connect in person with Lou Salfi and Hannah Shain from Cloud Elements. After many phone conversations, it was a pleasure to put faces to the names and voices. Cloud Elements is a company I found researching potential partners to integrate as a key component of our platform, so I’m excited to integrate in the future as part of our offering.
I ended day 1 with meeting Cody Jones from Zapier. Zapier is another integration for Diggen, since we make it easier for Zapier’s customers to source marketing data into their ecosystem. Cody is just establishing the business development initiatives at Zapier and we are excited to watch their fast pace growth!
The night ended with another brewery event at Steins Beer Garden in Mountain View sponsored by Microsoft. It’s nice to see the micro brewery scene booming in other California cities! San Diego still holds the title of the most microbreweries, so let me know if you come visit and need a tour guide.
The two people that stood out in my research in deciding to attend the Summit were Richard Gilbert from Infusionsoft and Pamela O’Hara from Batchbooks. Not only are they board members of the Summit and focused on software for small business, but I was also interested in sharing Diggen’s embedded service for CRM platforms and get their thoughts.
Summit Day 2
The beginning of the day was focused on speakers, which were statistically and number driven. Started with Dawn Poulos from Mattermark. I follow the founder Danielle Morrill online, so it was nice to hear a bit of their story. Dina Moskowitz from SaaSMAX had a panel next to discuss the missed opportunity and value of building a reseller program to grow your software business. SaaSMAX is a growth engine for SaaS companies and their resellers, so it was an interesting discussion to identify a viable growth channel.
Last speaker before lunch was Tomasz Tunguz from Redpoint and I also follow him online, since we have similar backgrounds as mechanical engineers and entrepreneurs. I was the first person to welcome him when he walked in, so I got the opportunity to chat with him. Always great to talk with a former founder and current investor in your space.
Rarely do you attend a conference and you look forward to the food. However, the Google campus will spoil you and yet another reason employees are hooked. Being gluten free, I’ve been spoiled with the health conscious options in San Diego, so I want to take a moment to thank Christina Hug from The Makers Nation. She also manages the Summit and it was thoughtful of her to request from the Google Chefs gluten free options for meals.
Both days in the afternoon were structured as separate group conversations to have interactive sessions around a specific topic. It was called “Birds of a Feather” and it was a new format being tested by the Summit. Personally, I liked the idea and I hope it continues to develop. I also greatly appreciate when organizers listen to their customer’s feedback from previous events and adapt to continually improve the value.
Later I attended a growth session with Vasil Azarov from StartupSocials since we had talked many times before based on our passion for helping startup founders to grow their business. He was interviewing Zach Onisko from Hired and my friend Neal Bloom is launching the San Diego business for Hired.
The last session was from Bob Ogdon from Swiftpage and Sam Laber from Datanyze. I was entertained listening to Bob since I remember the history of Act! And using the shrink wrap software years ago. It’s rare for a company to continue to innovate, especially with the transition to the cloud. I had already chatted with Sam and their goals at Datanyze, so it was nice to check out his presentation about marketing technology and analytics supporting their growth success.
The Summit ended in a happy hour outside with plenty of drinks. In fact I was literally the only person left and it was entertaining to observe random people walk by. They would walk back, check out the table, and then load up their arms with bottles of wine and beer. The employment incentives from Google will hinder innovation for the rest of us.
From the facility to the amenities, the attendees, and food, the organizers did an absolutely amazing job! What I enjoyed most, was it wasn’t a typical mass appeal event, but much more targeted. I felt that I was able to harness the full value of connecting with others at a conference by making genuine business relationships that will ultimately focus in on helping each other grow. I felt more like a group of friends in the same industry getting together and welcoming the opportunity to figure out whether we could collaborate. I was surprised to learn the conference is 7 years old and I can’t wait to be part of it again next year. Or possibly attend the east coast version when visiting my hometown!