Picture this: You, a hungry developer, giving a presentation to a rapt audience of 700 professionals in suits at the world’s largest mobile conference. The only catch is, you are wearing a hoodie and jeans, and they think you’ve arrived at the wrong conference.
That was me just a few years ago — and I wasn’t wearing the hoodie to show off my Silicon Valley fashion sense. Truth be told, it was my only choice. My airline had lost my suitcase the night before.
This fond memory inspired me to pass along some of my Mobile World Congress wisdom to all the startup folks that may be planning a trip to MWC this year. Having attended the show for 15 years, I have picked up a good lesson or two over the years, which I want to share with the wider community. Here are eight:
1. Money and time: First things first, let’s be clear: Mobile World Congress, held from 22–25 February 2016 in Barcelona, is not cheap. Book your flight early; plane tickets are expensive this time of year, especially in the weeks running up to the start of the show. Hotel rooms are generally booked a year in advance, so if you haven’t already reserved a bed, you’ll want to get on Airbnb as soon as you can. (I’ve even seen people buddying up and sharing Airbnb apartments — that’s how popular MWC can get!) And of course, admission to MWC isn’t free, so make sure you book your tickets. The biggest cost, however, may not be money, but rather time. If you arrive on Sunday and leave at the end of the conference on Thursday, that is essentially an entire week that you have committed to the conference. If you could use that week more productively at home, then my advice is simple: Stay at home!
2. Why are you going? So, yes, it will cost you a lot of time and money to attend. That means you need to ask yourself what you can get out of the conference. Be concrete with your objectives. Are you hoping to score an introduction to South America’s largest mobile operator? Or perhaps a conversation with Germany’s main network?
Let me offer a concrete example of how I used MWC: During my years at Dropbox and Uber, my job was to drive widespread distribution for my companies’ products by striking deals with global players. For that reason, I found MWC saved me a lot of travel time. I knew that all of the world’s biggest mobile operators and handset makers would be gathered there, all in one place, for one precious week. It’s not an exaggeration to say that some of the introductory meetings I had at MWC would seed a year’s worth of deals, as I hustled the rest of the year to bring them to completion!
So yes, the networking is intense. If you’re going, be committed and use your whole day to meet people, from breakfast in the morning until the parties at night. Some of the best places to hang out and meet people are at hotel bars like the W Hotel’s lobby or top floor bars. Of course, don’t forget to have fun in the meantime.
MWC is also powerful for visibility through the press and through partnership announcements. Moreover, you can use the show to get an idea of the pain points that are plaguing the industry at that time. If you can understand these pain points and work out how your product solves them, you can establish “product market fit” very quickly, and all in the proximity of industry giants who have deep pockets.
Finally, a lot of people use the event to meet potential candidates to round out their teams — so if you’re hiring (or want to get hired), MWC can be very useful to that too.
3. Planning meetings and networking opportunities: Once you have decided what you want to get out of the show, you need to make a plan. Even if you have a goal, it’s pointless to simply wander around Barcelona or the conference halls hoping you’ll run into the people you want to meet. Last year, 94,000 attendees and 2,199 exhibitors showed up, so brace yourself and pave the foundation for success. A productive trip is often decided even before you step off the plane in Barcelona!
Unless you already have a strong brand and visibility, it can be hard to set up meetings with industry leaders. Of course, you are not the only entrepreneur who wants to buy them a coffee! Use Linkedin, get friends and contacts to broker introductions and use MWC’s own networking tools to reach out to people.
Make sure you get a complete list of all the parties and evening events. To offer some examples, Hotel Omm is a popular venue for events, while the epic Qualcomm party is a must (though you’ll need to get tickets for that one). Also email here to get free tickets for the official party [email protected]
4. Can you get a free pass? Look through the conference agenda to find the speakers you are interested in hearing, and decide what kind of pass you want to buy. If any of the speeches appeal to you, consider buying the appropriate conference pass. Note that many of the biggest companies give out free passes to partners and guests beforehand, so do some research and ask around to see if you can get a free pass.
5. Magazine: When you’re at the show, make sure to pick up the daily magazine published by the conference organizers. This magazine includes all of the day’s key announcements and news. It is a great way to gather updated contacts of key industry people too. You need to be on top of the announcements as they are made, because they will be discussed at the meetings you set up. If you’re just too busy, make sure to download the magazine afterwards to see what actually happened while you were there. It makes sense to read it on the plane back home (…if you have the energy left!).
6. Mobile at Mobile World Congress: A simple but important point: Make sure you have data roaming with your mobile operator (or buy a local SIM card). Otherwise, you will get hit by a phone bill more expensive than your hotel stay! The show offers reasonable Wi-Fi coverage, but don’t rely on it. Also bring an extra phone battery like Mophie to carry with you during the show. You will run out of juice otherwise.
7. Enter the Awards: If you haven’t done so this year, make sure to apply for the GSMA Global Mobile Awards next time around. Of course, the best result is a win, but even if you’re nominated for something like best app or service, you will gain an amazing amount of visibility among the biggest players in the industry. You can also buy a ticket to attend the awards dinner.
8. Attire and transportation: Remember to dress warmly, so that even if the airline loses your luggage, you’re all set. Spain may be colder than you think in late February. As for transportation, the best way to get around is to simply use the metro. Taxi lines are simply long, though in the evenings, taxis are easier to come by. No Uber for transportation, sorry. Finally, basic common sense, don’t leave laptops, smartphones around, don’t wear your badge outside the venue, keep your bags on you, etc.
In conclusion, let me say that I love MWC. It’s one of the best ways to get results for your young company. At Dropbox, we kickstarted our non-organic growth campaign at MWC in 2011, which turned out to be a key catalyst for our next big period of growth, which subsequently brought in hundreds of millions of new users.
It can be that for you too. If you have any questions, get in touch at@Larsfnielsen.