The CEO’s Guide to Winning at SaaStr: Food Lines, Braindates & QR Codes

Aug 16, 2023 | LinkedIn Tips, Personal branding, Social CEO

I attended both SaaStock and SaaStr Europa a couple of months ago, and am planning to attend SaaStr in San Francisco in September. A few things surprised me about the conferences ― I tried to use my usual tricks for meeting people at events, but they didn’t work! 

I interviewed a few people to get ideas about how to get the most out of the next SaaStr as well as the other events coming up this fall. Here are the tips:

#1 Best Way to Meet New People: Food Lines

Typically, I make a practice of introducing myself to the people who are sitting next to me in any session, as well as those in front of or behind me. SaaStr was using covid spacing, so in many sessions, even though the events were well-attended, there was no one near enough to chat with.

In SaaStock and SaaStr, the situation was also impacted by the way the conferences overlap sessions. People were constantly coming and going, which meant that there wasn’t an interval of free time before and after each session for chatting with the people nearby.

What to do? Most of the experienced SaaStr folks offered the same advice: Instead of meeting people in sessions, choose a long food line, and introduce yourself to the people in front of and behind you. Silly me ― I was choosing short food lines, so I could get back to the sessions. Next time, I’ll find the long lines.

#2 Best Way to Maximize Time: Braindates

SaaStr, like most conferences, runs multiple tracks of speaker sessions. The speakers are excellent, as is the content. But what first-time attendees often don’t know is that they will replay the best sessions in their podcast. You don’t need to listen live.

Instead, spend most of your day in Braindates. Everyone I talked to said that Braindates were the best part of the conference. What’s a Braindate? It’s a conference session proposed, hosted, and run by other attendees.

Braindates come in three varieties: one-to-one meetings, small groups of 5-7, and larger sessions of up to 20 people. The one-to-ones are ideal for pitching investors. I talked to CEOs who spent the entire conference in Braindates ― talking to as many as 10 investors each day.

The larger sessions are good if you want to learn about a particular topic. But I found the greatest value in the small groups, where you get to meet everyone in the group, and each person shares their expertise as you discuss the topic. I met fascinating people in the groups.

There were hundreds of Braindates to choose from. If you want to create your own, you should be able to propose topics soon. But they are very picky about the content. I proposed four, and three were rejected. Lydia Sugarman, CEO of Venntive, who has been going to the SaaStr events for years, suggested sticking closely to the core focus of the event. Look at sessions and Braindates (and their podcast) from previous years for ideas.

Lydia suggests attending a few that are outside your lane, but sound intriguing. She says she has met the most interesting people in Braindates that were on random topics.

#3 Best Time to Start Planning: Early

I also heard from several CEOs, marketers, and sales execs that you should start planning strategically several months before the event. Look at the sponsor/exhibitor list and identify the companies that are a good fit for you. (Since many SaaS companies sell to other SaaS, there will probably be a lot of them!)

Reach out ahead of time on LinkedIn or by email, introduce yourself, ask if they are going to the event, and get a conversation started. Make plans to connect at their booth. (That’s the easiest place for them, and you are most likely to find them there.)

You can also do a post on LinkedIn asking who else is going to SaaStr ― but you’ll get better results if you send individual messages.


#4 Best Way to Connect at Conferences: Use LinkedIn QR Codes

My business cards were several years old, with the address of the office we closed during covid. I had new cards printed and brought them to the events, but I only gave away one! Instead of business cards, everyone was using LinkedIn QR codes to connect. That’s really cool! If you haven’t done this before, check out our video on how to use your QR code.


Putting It into Practice

These four strategies are useful not only at SaaStr, but will pay off for all the upcoming conferences. Here’s my plan for the fall events:

  • Research sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers to identify people I want to talk with and reach out to them before the event.
  • Identify other companies that are likely to be attending and reach out before the event to see if we can schedule a meeting.
  • Research good topics for Braindates and propose my own as soon as possible.
  • Invest in reviewing the Braindate topics others propose and sign up for the ones that look most interesting. (I plan to spend 90% of the SaaStr conference in Braindates.)
  • Find the longest food lines and go meet people.
  • Wear comfortable shoes! I’ll be on my feet for three days straight.

I’ll see you at the conferences!

Who else should read this? Please share!

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