Conquering Mobile World Congress 2015
When we first touched down in Barcelona two weeks ago it was hard to believe I was really there. Just three days before I got a late night call from one of our co-founders with a simple question: Want to go to Spain? At first I thought she was joking - or maybe referring to a far off conference in the summer.
No, she was talking about Mobile World Congress 2015 (MWC), arguably the most relevant and compelling gathering of mobile ecosystem leaders from across the globe. It happens every year - more than 90,000 people congregate in Barcelona at the Grand Fira conference center for four days to meet business partners, make new strategic relationships, survey mobile competition, unveil new products, and showcase the power of mobile as a defining part of innovation.
My journey to MWC began moments after I hung up the phone that fateful Thursday night. It was time to prepare. For most companies, MCW takes serveral months of preperation, but not at Branch. After our recent Series A we saw a great opportunity to build relationships, evangelize Branch, make a notable presence, and to learn about the mobile ecosystem.
Who said you couldn’t pull off an incredibly successful MWC trip in three days? 4 days, 30 miles walking, 100’s of partner meetings, 20 cafe con leches, dozens of cocktail hours, and 18 hour crunches later, this is my story: Conquering MWC.
The Adventure Begins…with an App
One of the most difficult parts of building relationships is the time it takes to manually enter contact information and to properly follow up. Business cards are great but leave you with no lasting memory of the person and what they have to offer. Most people ask for specific requests - they want the link to that PDF you were talking about, or they want to be engaged with your technology in a specific way. The thing that doesn’t change, however, is remembering to log their details, connect, and follow up.
With this insight in mind, I started wondering if there were any apps that did this specific task with high resolution. What business productivity tools would allow me to easily connect with those I met at MWC and place them straight into my CRM so that I could easily manage my relationship with them moving forward? Even more, was there a way that I could streamline when and how I followed up with these individuals?
At the heart of this issue was the fact that it takes a lot of time to follow up between manually entering business card information and typing out hundreds of personalized emails. In my experience, by the time I get around to drafting follow up emails, I’ve already forgotten the context of how I met the person, the nuances of our relationship, and if I needed to include any important details. There had to be an easier way to shoot the person an email and connect.
Our “eureka” moment about this business problem hit Derrick Staten and I as we sat on the runway at SFO on our way to Spain. Derrick is a gifted iOS developer with experience building awesome apps, so his solution came naturally… why don’t we build an iOS app specifically for us to help solve this problem?
Over the course of our grueling 12-hour flight to Paris we worked together to build an incredible app that solved all of these problems and tied in to our Branch backend. We also dropped Branch links into our app so that when we connected with people we met at MWC we could better understand how our tech might better serve them.
The app, in its simplest form, takes the mundane - manually writing an email days after you meet somebody - and turns it into a fun and instananeous process. When we landed later in Barcelona, we tested our prototype and were amazed at the business need this simple app provided.
It begs the question: should more app developers hit the skies for their next big idea?
El Cafe, La Fuma, y Las Ramblas
Building an app over the Atlantic was not enough to satiate our thirst for adventure as we took to the streets in Barcelona. First, we found our home for the week in the Gothic district with Luisa, our Airbnb host and one of the most welcoming Spaniards I’ve ever met. Then it was time to explore.
When I was in high school I had lived in Santander and experienced Spain in a way that few 16 year old’s ever do. The things I loved about Barcelona still enamored me as we walked the streets - tortilla de Espana, churros con chocolate, crowded alleyways, signs of la siesta, las ramblas, families out and about at 11 in the evening, and the many plazas with outdoor places to sit, relax, take in the lights and have a glass of wine. Spain is a beautiful country and Barcelona brought back feelings of home I hadn’t felt since living along the northern coast.
Grinding out the Days
These feelings were quickly swapped for ones of a more intense flavor as we dove into the grind that is MWC.
For those who aren’t familiar with Mobile World Congress, it’s a four-day sprint where attendees and partners in the mobile hardware, software, applications and everything in between, gather to talk business, showcase their products, and meet as many people as possible. It’s incredibly demanding, both physcially and mentally, but it provides a deep dive into the mobile landscape that no other single event really can.
This aspect of our adventure started at 6 AM Monday morning as we grabbed a quick coffee and started the multi-mile walk and subway travel to the Grand Fira, a goliath conference complex with over eight independent conference buildings, each the size of football stadium.
The days were grueling. Every minute was spent taking in the mobile landscape, searching for interesting partnerships, and talking to everyone and anyone. I’m a fundamental believer in people so every conversation took time. Cultivating relationships isn’t easy… it takes time, attention to detail, and the willingness to give people your full self for a period of time. It isn’t enough to say “hello” and talk business. If you want to hook people and keep them engaged you have to look at the conversation as a two way road - one that usually begins with deep listening and learning. This was the process for my partner and I, as we spent the first part of every new conversation asking questions, trying to understand the person and company at hand, and then, only after listening intently for a few minutes, trying to find a way that Branch might fit with their business.
That might be one of the most obvious lessons in the business – selling isn’t about convincing people, it’s about listening.
These conversations made up the bulk of our trip. When we weren’t finding new people to meet we were back at our Airbnb resting or preparing for the next day. Unfortunately, we didn’t find enough time to explore all that Barcelona has to offer in terms of culture - but we’ll be back.
Killer Tips on How to Win MWC
The best part of MWC 2015 was the firsthand experience of joining the conference last minute. By now, you’re probably wondering 1.) if we were successful in our endeavors, and 2.) what we took away from the trip.
Well, the conversations throughout the week we attended MWC taught us a lot about sales, Branch, mobile, technology and ourselves. The value of listening wasn’t the only lesson. Here’s a list of the top takeaways that are easy to consider when planning your MWC visit:
- Plan Ahead: It goes without saying, but planning in three days is incredibly complicated and made things stressful. Next year if we decide to go to MWC we will definitely plan at least 1 - 2 months ahead of schedule.
Hotel: Location and accommodations both matter. This year we stayed in an Airbnb in the Gothic District near Career d’Boquer (Princessa and Montcada) — this was a central location and was actually perfect. We highly recommend something in this neighborhood for anwyone looking to double down on both the Fira events and the post-day cocktail hours and parties held in the heart of Barcelona. While Airbnb was perfect for our last minute stay, it also had many downsides: 1) not very clean, 2) bad perception for guests or outside parties - couldn’t have meetings there, which was huge bummer, 3) illicit activities that made us uncomfortable (hahaha), and 4) exact residence felt somewhat unsafe. Generally, the Airbnb made our stay much more complicated and less efficient than it could have been. Staying in a hotel would remove this friction and allow people to focus more on what they are there for: MWC.
Number of Attendees: Generally speaking, it would have been nice to have 4-6 people in total. At least two more would have made it much easier to:
1) Scour the floor for good possible leads.
2) Set up pre-planned productive meetings.
Booths are expensive and not really necessary: We found that big booths in the App World section (Hall 8) were actually very expensive (> $50,000 each) and tied down members to a specific location. We believe that Branch could be more effective if you’re not tied down to a booth and can go from convo to convo. Alternatively, if we do a booth we still need to make sure we have scouts on the floor meeting new leads. A small booth could easily be managed by two people.
Set Meetings: Your team should do everything possible to block off time on the calendar with the most important partners and send your best people to those meetings. Even though we did a good job explaining our tech, it would have been even better if we had sent people who were able to make executive level decisions about how we might work together. Since the conference contains many larger players, and far fewer app developers, for companies looking to engage in mobile software and app development, the focus of this conference should be more geared towards Business Development and Strategic Relations. Look to develop a specific and tailored objective, agenda, message, and knowledge of how you would work with the intended partner (replacing or working with specific technologies). The more specific, the better!
Volume Matters: There is no way to know in advance how good the quality of a potential lead might be. The only way to be successful is to hit as many people as possible! We found that it was most effective to focus our attention together, as a team, in the beginning, and “divide and conquer” once the primary list of potential partners had been depleted. This strategy may work well or not well depending on your goals and the resources you have available.
Similarly, in the future, I think it’s best to consider having a team that constantly hits the floor to do just this: meet anyone and everyone. Meanwhile, another team can focus more of their attention on specialized meetings and strategic prospecting. This feeds back into why a team of four would be very important.
Know Your Competition: It’s not just enough to know who they are, but also what they are doing and how you will respond to them. The reality is that most competitors use Mobile World Congress to talk to one another and actually scout the competitive landscape. Make sure you know who your “primary competitors” are before and prepare a list of questions you might get asked. Beyond this, make sure your boots on the ground are prepared! Make a list of the the things your company does not want to discuss — especially proprietary technology, future visions, or strategic partnerships.
Develop Consistent Messaging: At Branch, we explain our technology and company in many flavors (perhaps too many), but the ultimate story we distribute is consistent. This is incredibly important for your employees and for your business partners. Consistent messaging makes it clear who you are, what you do, and how you might serve them. It also makes it easy for your employees to remember how to explain your culture, brand, technology, and future.
Develop Training Docs & PRACTICE: This should go without saying. Develop killer training docs to prepare all those who are attending under you company umbrella. Don’t stop with the “travelling basics,” dive deeper into why your company is attending, who you are looking to meet, what type of strategic partnerships you hope to gain, and your pitching plan. The more you do to formalize your thoughts beforehand, the less you leave to error.
T-Shirt Handouts: T-shirts and other swag are essential for startups to help spread their brand and delight potential future customres. However, we recommend keeping the swag handouts to a minimum at MWC. First off, there are over 90,000 people in attendance. There is simply no way you can cover all your bases. You will run out of whatever materials you bring, so choose wisely. More importantly, MWC is a bit more formal than Hackathons or other events. It was very difficult to hand out T-shirts and give away free swag (aka build good relations and spread our brand) when you are also operating out on the fly - and usually out of bags and backpacks. Keep swag - if any - for a dedicated booth or meetup.
Meetups Should be Official: Not only should meetups, or compant events, be planned well in advance, but they should be conducted through official channels: i.e. the 4YFN, MWC, or other event sponsors, or conducted at a restaurant so it has a dedicated location. If at a restaurant, make sure to specify that you’ll have a presence and work with the owners/operators to reserve space and put up signage. We think flyers alone, without a presence and dedicated plan, don’t work. This all may sound obvious, but for young companies working on the fly, it might seem tempting to plan an ad hoc happy hour. The reality is that at MWC people block their calendars well in advance. Stay away from on the fly meetings - plan ahead!
Parties with Personal Invites: There are many parties during MWC to attend and we found the most effective ones were those where we knew at least 1+ of the planners or attendees who was willing to introduce us to other attendees. A good example was at the Picasso Museum tour our first night where a good friend from Relay Ventures introduced us to two of his friends. From there we were able to be introduced to many more. Comparatively, at other parties we attended without a friend or sponsor contact, we found it difficult to meet and qualify opportunities in the same way.
On-The-Ground Assistance: For us, our on the ground support was Lida, an awesome Branch employee back at home, who pulled in the clutch when things got crazy in Barcelona. Everyone going to MWC needs their Lida. It’s just too crazy of an event not to have a dedicated staff member to support those closing deals at the Gran Fira. . This may sound ridiculous, but between travel, 10 mile walks, 18 hour days, it just helps to have someone there.
When we finally sank into our seats Thursday morning at 6 AM on an outbound flight to San Francisco, it felt like an eternity had passed by. Derrick and I collapsed, sleeping half the flight. It all seemed like a dream…
In less than 72 hours we had cultivated over 100 business relationships, made an internal business app, hosted a meetup, won a startup pitch, and attended over a dozen after-hours parties. We operated on what felt like 10 total hours of sleep, drank five coffees a day, logged all our learnings and left feeling like we had done everything possible to make the most of our time in Barcelona.
This is probably the true metric of success: feeling like you’ve driven as hard as you can and have nothing else to give. Winning at MWC means leaving it all on the Fira floor. Times like this remind me of an important mantra we live by here at Branch…