It’s been over a week now since RISE – the biggest startup conference in Asia with 12,000 startup folks – has ended. I am starting to get back into my usual daily schedule and have managed to work through almost all of the backlog that had been piling up since the start of RISE.
Exhibiting at RISE
Swapit was selected as BETA startup this year. This means, one of the three days of RISE, we had a booth at the exhibition floor. Having done RISE last year gave us some insight in what to expect. So we prepared a bit for our exhibition day on day 1. It was a pretty simple set up as the RISE folks took care of banner printing and we only needed to bring our own name cards, flyers, and laptop to play our awesome Swapit intro video.
The morning on Day 1 started a bit slow, but it definitely picked up pace at around 10-11am. Suddenly a lot of people came by our booth and even two of us were trying to keep all interested parties … well, interested; and informed of course. There was a good number of people who came by and were interested to talk to us. This includes potential users, partners and especially investors. It was great to see so much interest in Swapit. That was good we now have a lot more contacts, which we still need to work through.
Free Mints & Candy – A Failure
We also wanted to attract some more people who wouldn’t come directly to our booth. For that we needed to get them involved somehow, get to talk to them and engage. So we thought it would make sense to give out something to they would need during the conference. In fact, when talking to Casey Lau – the co-host of RISE and co-founder of StartupsHK – quite a while before RISE, he pointed me into that direction. Thanks a lot for that, by the way. We ended getting some mints, candy, gum and other sweets — all in green color (or at least green packaging), which we could hand out. Let’s face it, we all talk a lot during these kinds of events and some refreshment is often needed. Sometimes we also need a sugar shot!
So we had a good amount of different kinds of sweets and our intern Jonathan went around and handed them out. Now, I don’t know what exactly the hold back was, apparently not many people were interested in our free snacks. We had a small box at our exhibition booth, which was used by some folks. However, the main purpose of walking around and offering attendees some sweets, did not work out. We still took the most of it back to the office. Well, we got some sweets in the office now. Feel free to come by if you’re interested 🙂
So in short, giving mints and candy away didn’t work out for us. Perhaps we need to be more standing out from the crowd? Perhaps we need to be more forthcoming? Perhaps we just need a lovely lady to hand them out? I really don’t know what it would take to make this work. We’ll probably try something else next year.
The main PITCH competition was open for all RISE startups to apply to. Out of 600 startups at RISE, 200 applied and 60 were accepted into the quarter finals. Swapit was one of those 60 startups. So I went on stage and gave my best pitch to date – I believe. It was a tough sell, because in my group were great startups like Soundbrenner who made it all the way to the PITCH final the year before. So we didn’t make into the semi-finals, but we were able to tell our story to a great audience. Some of those have actually downloaded Swapit right on the spot. If you’re interested, this was my 4 minute pitch:
In the end a taxi app in India won the PITCH competition. I haven’t seen their pitch, but it must have been damn good if it wins – despite steep, sexy, heavyweight competition like Uber, Grab and DiDi in the region.
As we made it through the BREAKTHROUGH qualifier at the Hive Studios the week before RISE, we were set to pitch again at the main BREAKTHROUGH event on Day 3 of RISE. BREAKTHROUGH was just for local Hong Kong startups, so it was great and very mixed crowd. There was a morning session and an afternoon session. Luckily I was in the morning session, because come afternoon my brain is usually fried from all the talking all day. The winner of the morning session was not Swapit, which of course was a disappointment. This time, I only had 3 minutes to pitch and 2 minutes Q&A, and I believe it was even better than the PITCH pitch two days before. The winner of our morning session and in the end the overall BREAKTHROUGH MedExo – robotics arm that counters the tremor in arms of people who suffer from the Parkinsons disease. It was pretty hard to compete with such a purposeful and life-saving product.
Events and Sessions
On day 2 and 3 we didn’t have our booth and therefore, we had time to roam around the floors, listen to some great speeches and visit some work shops. In particular, we were invite to attend the Facebook FbStart workshop. Because Swapit is already part of FbStart it was interesting to talk to the people behind it and see what kind of new products they offer through their program. In particular, I found the Facebook AccountKit very interesting. It was just recently released at Facebook’s own f8 developer conference and offers a unified SDK for account creation. As I mentioned before, it’s not that easy to get your app approved on the Apple App Store and that new AccountKit SDK from Facebook helps us taking some more hurdles, Apple is eagerly asking us to pass.
The night summit is always a collection of events after the conference floor closes. There were happy hours in 35 bars all across Hong Kong’s Central & SOHO district, but also smaller open bar events (thanks a lot Brinc and Akamai), which you usually had to reserve a ticket for. More often than not, you get to talk to random people at these night events. It’s great to get a sample of some people’s startup journey, get in though some investors in a more casual setting, and so on. I remember on day 1, I didn’t feel my feet anymore at around noon time, but come night summit they suddenly worked again!
There were also a bunch of other great events after the conference, like the startup ferry organized by the AliveNotDead folks or the OutBlaze/Animoca startup yacht on the last day. All of those were great opportunities to talk to some interesting new friends.
I guess, what most people ask before attending these kinds of events: Was it worth it?
Well, last year we did TechInAsia, Echelon, HK ICT Expo, HKTDC Entrepreneur Day, RISE and some other events. After looking at their results, we decided to only focus on RISE this year. All the events organized by the HKTDC are quite useless. All they care about is selling their booth space and that’s it. The attendees that go to those events, don’t even want to be there. They’re sent by their employers and you can feel that. Echelon and TechInAsia were both better, but they’re both held in Singapore. That means, besides paying for our booth (or how they call it: booth is free, but you got to buy a ticket …) you also need to cover accommodation and travel. Because you have to travel, another 2 days are gone for arrival and departure. For what you get out of it, we decided to skip those this year.
Yes, RISE is expensive. Our BETA booth costs US$ 1,950, which includes 4 tickets. Yes, you get listed on their website and in the RISE app as BETA startup, you can compete in PITCH and get Office Hours and Mentor Hours with investors and industry veterans. But in the end, $2k is a lot of money for small startups. Through our good friends at WHub we got a sweet 25% discount and could lower that cost to $1,450. Thanks a lot!
As an FbStart startup, we also got 2 free tickets for two of our team members. I myself also volunteered as a PubCrawl captain, which should have gotten us a ticket, and we made it to the BREAKTHROUGH final, which also got us a RISE ticket. So we were actually set with free tickets for the events. Now, out of those 4 tickets we got with our booth package, I managed to sell 3 to other folks who really wanted to go, but didn’t have a ticket yet. So in the end, we recovered $1,200 out of those $1,450 we paid for the booth pack. At a final price of $250 for the whole event for us, this was well worth attending.
Given the fact of getting a lot of new contacts and refreshing existing ones, even the $1,950 would have been worth it. So in short: Yes. Attending RISE has paid off.
Have you tried the Swapit app yet? You can get it here: http://get.swapit.la