Startups, why you should run more (lean) events — and how to do it on a budget

When you think about putting on an event you probably cringe.

You cringe at the thought of having to organize it, paying for the venue, catering, and AV staff. You probably feel a bit of anxiety with the prospect of putting in all the effort and having only a few people turn up or having very little to show for it if people do turn up.

Well, if you think that events are only to drive short term sales then you are probably going to be disappointed and that anxiety you feel will only grow each event you must put on.

Instead of thinking about events in the short term, entrepreneurs are better off structuring them for the mid to long term and bearing the following in mind.

Thought leadership

We put on events at SyndicateRoom that aim to educate the audience on a theme that is in some way tied into early stage investing or entrepreneurship. We ask speakers who are recognized in that field to come and share their experience whether it be professionally or academically.

While SyndicateRoom itself may not be an expert in that niche, by bringing those experts on board and hosting the event we are often viewed as thought leaders in that space.

Call it a halo effect if you will, for each event we put on those that attend leave believing that they have learned something about the topic and that we are associated in a positive way with that topic.

Social media, emails, even phone calls have nothing on speaking in person to your customers and potential customers. An event gives you a great platform for getting this direct feedback on what you are doing and also gives you a platform to test new ideas with people and see, not just read, how they respond.

I love to run ideas on products we are considering building by people at these events. You can get a great sense of what people actually want you to build versus things they are only half interested in. And, the best part about it is that you have an amazing reason to keep these conversations short if needed.

If someone is giving you great feedback you can keep the conversation going but, if someone is wasting your time, simply say you need to chat with a few more and it’s understand, you are obviously at an event and need to spend time with everyone there.

Do take notes when you get a chance so that you don’t forget what people are saying and talking about.

Always thank those for coming to the event and sharing their opinions. A simple thank you in person can go a long way in goodwill generation for future communications online.

How to run a (lean) event on a budget


While we have recently started paying for venues for our larger event we continue to host our 100–200 person events at locations that have been offered to us free of charge.

University lecture halls make great venues when you have key note speakers and many will offer it for free if you work with one of their organizations (student group, research, lab, other).

Other locations we’ve used have been supplied by large professional organizations including lawyers, accountants, and investment companies.

Depending on what industry you are in you’ll be able to think of someone (other than a competitor) that could benefit from being in contact with the audience you are bringing to the event.

Work that out and then approach that group. Often, they may even provide catering.


Getting speakers for an event is easy, getting great speakers for an event is difficult. An introduction is the key to securing a great speaker so start with your own network.

Does anyone in your network know an expert in the field?

If not, use LinkedIn to find the ideal person or people that you’d like to speak and try the cold approach.

For the cold approach, I use Hunter Walk to try and find the person I’m going to contacts email address. If their email address is found, send an email.

If not, a LinkedIn message will suffice. Keep your message short, humble, and let them know they don’t have to stick around for the full event if they have other things do to.

The point is to reduce the potential barriers to them agreeing so don’t make it a complex affair.


We try and give all speakers a bottle of wine or something similar as a thank you. They are giving up their time to be there and even though they’d likely do it for free, this nice gesture will mean a lot.


If the venue is not providing catering for free or at a discount you should look to young food / drink companies.

Startup food and drink companies are more than likely to supply you at cost or free depending on how big the event is. They get exposure and experience helping you out and it is mutually beneficial.

The best is to find one whose audience closely resembles yours.

Don’t forget that the venue may also be looking to increase their brand awareness so give them a few minutes of time on stage to talk about their company as they are doing you a favor.


Attention spans are getting shorter so try not to go over an hour and a quarter in speaking time.

Shorter, insightful talks are much better than long drawn out ones so we even try to keep our keynotes to 25 mins max. You should also factor in buffer periods into the agenda.

Time is required to transition from one speaker to the next and if you are hosting the event in the evening, after work, you should factor in that some people will be late. Assisting your audience in the transfer from the networking area into where the talks will be given will likely take longer than you expect.

A 5-minute buffer for the start time and a minute or two buffers between speakers should give you a good understanding of just when you are likely to end.

Constantly improving your events and trying to run them even leaner is a great goal especially for a startup.

If you’ve any suggestions from experience on how to run a lean event please do share so that we can all benefit from your knowledge.

On – 03 Jul, 2017 By tom britton

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