Partner Akihiko Okamoto and Investor Jonathan M. Hayashi discuss how to best land a deal at a conference.

The Biggest and Best Tech Conferences Around the World and How to Network Them

The Biggest and Best Tech Conferences Around the World and How to Network Them

A tech conference is a place of infinite possibility. It’s where a lot of businesses get their start, where founders meet investors, where big ideas come together, and where the future in technological trends are made.

In fact, twice a year, we host IVS, one of the most well-known and largest tech conferences in Japan.

Our partner, Akihiko Okamoto, and our investor, Jonathan M. Hayashi have attended tech conferences all over the world and in this conversation, they share insight into how each are different, how IVS compares, and which one you should attend.

IVS2021 NASU

IVS2021 NASU

What Japanese and international tech conferences you have attended so far?

Akihiko Okamoto: TechCrunch Disrupt, [email protected], Goldman Sachs PICC, Web Summit, Slush Asia & Tokyo, a16z event, Finovate, Finsum, ICC, BDash Camp, Geeks On a Plane by 500 startups, Band of Angels, Angelist. I’ve been to quite a few of them, but these are the ones I recalled quickly at the moment.

Jonathan M. Hayashi: Techcrunch Disrupt, Money 20/20, Slush, Boao Forum, CES, MeetTaipei, and Finsum.

Conferences require a good deal of coordination and making sure attendees have lots to takeaway. Do you have any that made a lasting impression?

AO: In terms of quality, Goldman Sachs PICC and a16z summit were great. In addition to that the participants were selected, it was very attractive that we were able to set up 1-on-1 meetings through the application. In general, booth-based conferences are attractive because you can network with many people at random, but in Goldman Sachs PICC and a16z summit, it was great to be able to pinpoint who you want to meet and network with.

  • GS PICC (Goldman Sachs Private Internet Company Conference) This is a startup event held by Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s most prestigious investment banks. Various startup executives are invited to attend sessions to learn about the latest trends. The content is rarely disclosed and the participants are selected.
  • a16z summit An invitation-only event held annually for the tech industry. The limited number of attendees makes networking in-depth. The event is held by a prestigious VC firm and attracts many industry figures.

JMH: Techcrunch Disrupt was pretty good. There was an event app that allowed schedule checking and attendee matchmaking. It was very efficient. Also, I was very excited because the speakers were world-class CEOs and partners of top-notch ventures and VCs.

As for events in Japan, Slush was quite fun. Perhaps because of the large number of foreigners (and the club-like background music and dim lighting), the participants didn’t get shy and we could see that they are talking to the people around them one after another. I felt that they are taking a break while going to see the panels.

  • TechCrunch Disrupt With an 11-year history, TechCrunch disrupt is an event focused on entrepreneurs and their investors. Regardless of the pandemic, it is always using the latest technology to improve attendee satisfaction. With speakers such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, it is one of the most sought after events in the world.
  • Slush Slush is an international startup conference that started in Finland in 2008. It has been held regularly in Tokyo since Slush Asia, the predecessor to Slush Tokyo, took place in 2015. Operated by a young team, Slush Tokyo 2019 has 6,000 attendees from 65 countries around the world.
TechCrunch Disrupt 2022 is going to be offline

TechCrunch Disrupt 2022 is going to be offline

AO: I have been involved with Slush’s operations team. They are trying to bring in the overseas trend that “Entrepreneurs are rockstars! So cool!”, which makes participants feel excited.

Slush 2021 in Finland

Slush 2021 in Finland

A lot of international conferences now utilize apps for keeping their attendees informed. We’ve heard Web Summit had two apps, one for the event itself and another was an AR app for locating booths! What was your experience with these apps?

JMH: The app for Hong Kong Fintech Week, which I attended recently, also has very high quality! I was able to watch the live streaming panel sessions in the app and it ran smoothly.

AO: They’re really great! By the way, neither GS nor a16z had streaming available in the app until 2019. Some of the advanced conferences have started to use apps to increase attendee satisfaction, and that’s something we’d like to learn from [for IVS].

In terms of conference format and side events, what are the differences between Japan and other countries?

JMH: I don’t think there are lots of “camp style” conferences in other countries [like IVS Nasu] where hotels and meals are all arranged. [If anything] they only provide lunch. Nowadays, some conferences from Japan are in camp-style. I believe IVS was the first one to start doing this [camp-style conferences].

AO: In terms of camp-type conferences in other countries, GS PICC and a16z Summit [I attended] were so-called camp-type conferences. They had welcome dinner parties for the participants. [In the GS PICC] in Las Vegas, musicals such as Cirque du Soleil were also invited. On the other hand, Slush was held in its hometown Finland. They rented the entire club for parties and there were parties held separately by startups and sponsors nearby, but Slush itself was not a camp-type conference. Conferences are organized flexibly based on the location, the attributes of participants, and the trend of the world.

IVS2021 NASU was packed with morning activities, including river fishing, hot springs, and JetPitch (pitch while riding a roller coaster)

IVS2021 NASU was packed with morning activities, including river fishing, hot springs, and JetPitch (pitch while riding a roller coaster)

How does the audience differ depending on the conference format and who is invited? IVS has a lot of programs for CEOs and venture capitalists, but what have you found at other tech conferences?

AO: I believe that the group of attendees changes depending on the purpose and theme of the event, whether it is invitation-only or open to the public. In particular, invitation-only events like PICCs are often targeting C-suites and investors.

How many investment deals do a conference actually lead to? Have conferences made deals happen?

Jonathan: At TechCrunch Disrupt, which is open to the public, I received about 200 business cards in three days! All of them were VCs or startups. (Editor’s note: I attended CES 2014–2015 and also made over two hundred contacts in three days.)

Are there over 200 booths? That sounds like it would take a long time to get around!

JMH: About 100 companies sent me their information for me to consider, but I only invested in one of them.

AO: If you make a list of people and startups you want to meet, and you are able to efficiently set up 1-on-1 meetings, it often helps you proceed to the next steps, such as investment deals.

One of the pavilions at TechCrunch Disrupt

How about other Tech conferences other than TechCrunch? How was the event design, the culture of the attendees, and the networking?

JMH: I have attended Slush, which led to an investment deal. If you’re networking to understand companies and their services, the most efficient way was to go around the booths. You can see the posters on the banner stands before talking to them and reading brochures placed in the booths. Since there is someone in charge, you can talk to them immediately if you are interested. Also, many companies are ready to show demos right there in their booths.

As for networking to get to know each other, the buffet party is the best. Acquaintances introduce you to their acquaintances, and after you chat [with them] for a while, you can walk around and talk to other people.

AO: I still think that conferences need to put a lot of effort into [creating] efficient networking. Such as a system to use apps for efficient matching, meeting booths for running 1-on-1 [conversations] smoothly, and having coordinators on site.

One of the pavilions at TechCrunch Disrupt

One of the pavilions at TechCrunch Disrupt

What would you suggest for investors who attend a tech conference for the first time?

JMH: I would recommend knowing in advance what kind of startups will have booths and deciding which ones to visit. If you don’t plan ahead and visit the booths two to three times, you may end up wasting your time and not being able to talk to the startups you are interested in.

AO: Other than what Jonathan just said, I think it is important to be aware of, on a daily basis, what you want to be as an investor. Entrepreneurs are often busy on the day of the event. It is great to clarify the value you can provide so that you can be someone they want to talk to.

How do you think some of these learnings can apply to IVS?

AO: Just like many excellent conferences around the world, we are always looking for ways to improve. “IVS2021 NASU” has given a lot of startups the opportunity to network and make connections. We are planning to focus more on this approach. We’re always improving and providing the most innovative way for people to have 1 on 1 time and network.

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