A startup founder's tips to success on a budget at industry eventsNews / OnlineBy Viewpoints | December 5, 2014Share This article was originally published on Throughout the year travel leaders from across the globe gather at industry events to hear expert panels and speeches, innovative product pitches, and network for sales and business development opportunities.NB: This is a viewpoint by David Chait, CEO and co-founder of group travel startup Travefy.As an entrepreneur with an early-stage group travel planner, Travefy, I recognize the value and opportunity conferences like those provided by PhoCusWright, EyeForTravel, and GBTA offer to travel professionals.But as a startup CEO on a strict budget, I also struggle with ensuring a positive return on investment for tickets that can cost thousands of dollars plus travel expenses.Always willing to explore new opportunities, I attended my first PhoCusWright conference in Los Angeles in November, and easily found my ROI in the connections made, new partnerships forged, and deals now in our pipeline.Based on my experiences there and at other conferences, here are some travel industry conference tips so that startups on a budget can make sure to get their money’s worth! Set goals early. As simple as this may seem, the best chance of success at any conference is to know your objective and plan exclusively around reaching it.You can effectively attend to hear speeches and learn about industry trends, pitch investment, make sales, or increase distribution partnerships among other objectives. With so much going on and so many people, know your reason for attending and build your schedule around that purpose. Find a way to STAND OUT from regular attendees! With thousands of travel leaders and professionals at these conferences, it’s very easy to blend in with the crowd, which can make scheduling meetings more difficult. So, find something that makes you different! Are you presenting? Are you part of a special interest group?In fact, many of these conferences have free ways you can get yourself onto the agenda and shine. For example, as a young startup you could apply to the pitch competition at Concur’s DevCon, to the Class of 35 (35 up and coming travel leaders under 35) at PhoCusWright, or network your way onto startup panels at other conferences. Beat the scheduling rush. For most conference attendees, networking and setting meetings is the number 1 priority. With limited conference time and everyone looking to do the same thing, it’s important to think competitively about scheduling and set those meetings early.Luckily, at most conferences all attendees have early access to one another via a conference app where you can send messages and schedule times to connect. This gives you time to not only grab those precious openings, but also space out your outreach (since some apps limit your number of outbound messages daily). Be prepared. Although your scheduled meetings might be as casual as a coffee near the conference center, be prepared to handle any type of meeting situation. Your time is limited and your first impression is crucial, so you must be ready for anything from a product demo, to a business pitch, or a simple, quick chat. Also don’t forget to print out leave behinds like a product overview and business cards.You should also always know what you want to get out of a meeting and you should never be afraid to ask for it. Whether it’s an investment, partnership, or even a next meeting, you can’t get it if they don’t know you want it. Don’t miss after-hours events! While the content of most industry conferences run during the day, much of the networking really happens after hours.Whether it’s official on-site corporate sponsored happy hours or informal groups heading out, treat these as essential networking opportunities. Nighttime activities are a destination for everyone from young startup employees to top CEOs. Moreover with food and drinks flowing, everyone is equally accessible (nothing breaks the ice better than a drink!). Forget about the actual conference – videos are posted online! Although an obvious time tension exists between the amazing speakers at these conferences and the potentially game-changing meeting opportunities, don’t worry about missing any conference speakers themselves.At almost every travel industry conference, speakers are recorded and videos are accessible to attendees (and sometimes the general public). Don’t forget the follow-through after the conference. Following any conference, the biggest mistake any young company can make is to not appropriately follow-up. After any industry trade show, a vital first task is to reach back out to everyone you’ve connected with to share any follow-up materials (if appropriate) or even to simply say “Thanks” for connecting.Also, remember that attendees meet hundreds of companies and people, so in all of your notes provide a refresher on who you are and what your company does (videos or an attached presentation are a big plus).This second touch points helps to keep you on the radar of everyone you’ve met and ensures they have both your contact information and company overview materials. Moreover, this gives you a base-point in the future to reach back out. (A follow-up email 6-months later now has personal context). And of course, have fun! Travel industry conferences present a unique opportunity to meet people across the industry, socialize, and build real bonds. With these tips, hopefully you can make the most of your next conference experience and put that expensive ticket to work.NB: This is a viewpoint by David Chait, CEO and co-founder of group travel startup Travefy.NB2: Conference image courtesy Shutterstock.