As a startup, it’s common to convince yourself that attending events is necessary for networking and meeting investors. While that always feels like a perfectly good reason, if you’re not there to pitch on stage in front of serious investors and potentially walk away with great feedback or some money, then I think it’s a waste of time and you’re much better off spending it with your team and customers. In fact, meeting investors in a conference setup is usually very limiting, here’s why:
1. Most investors attend events as speakers. They’re not primarily there to network or meet startups, because they know that a good startup will eventually be referred to them by someone they trust.
2. They are busy either networking with other investors or writing emails to the startups they are or want to be working with, and a lot of those emails are in this format: “Hey, I just saw a startup that does exactly what you do, but they have a great UI; check them out.”
3. Humans (normal humans) can only have one conversation at a time, and with the founder to investor ratio at conferences being 50:1 or worse, even the most engaged investor would want to spend as little time as possible talking to any single startup.
4. If you’re doing a great job and talking to as many of them as possible, exhaustion will set in and the whole thing will become self-defeating. You’ll want to be focused and awake when you pitch your startup, because you’ll get only one chance at making a good first impression that is hopefully memorable enough for the investor to be thinking about you at bedtime that night.
5. You are one card in a big stack of cards that may or may not be memorable after one or two long days of walking, talking, and eating.
The ecosystem is small, and it’s almost the same people at every event. You’d probably need to go to just two of them to get a chance to meet 90% of investors in MENA. Beyond that, you’ll just be seeing the same faces over and over again, and they’ll see you, and if you’re not moving up from the hallways to the stage, speaking on a panel, or giving a keynote at some point, then to them, you’re just a desperate entrepreneur who can’t get the necessary funding to keep you busy building a great company.
In short, conferences are the worst setting to meet investors. The best time and place, however, is a one-on-one meeting anywhere through a reference. The best way to get to an investor is through a referral because people trust their networks to do the initial filtering. The best reference in my opinion is a reputable fellow founder. It may sound counterintuitive, but whatever you do, don’t get another VC to refer you, unless they’re invested in you. The second best approach is to just directly reach out to an investor with 3-4 lines explaining who you are, what you do, and what you’ve achieved so far. The ecosystem being small also means there aren’t that many good startups, so if you're good, a smart investor will see it.