Earning Startup Street Cred: 3 Essentials For The Tradeshow

Last week I covered Part I of Earning Startup Street Cred: The Sales Road Trip. Today, I’m talking tradeshows.

The idea is to go to a tradeshow, collect leads and get sales. Most startups, especially B2B, end up going to multiple tradeshows every year. One day your customers will be throwing their money at you, but today, you’re a startup and you’re begging for 5 minutes of a prospect’s time.

Without further ado, the 3 essentials for the startup tradeshow:

1. The Booth

You can always tell at a tradeshow which companies are startups and which aren’t.  Exhibit A:


Inconvenient truth: Tradeshow booths are very expensive. Does your booth like more like a science fair project than an apple store? Congrats, you’re a startup! The fancy, more established companies have coordinated outfits, actual brochures and neat giveaways. You’ve got Bristol board and brochures printed out from a home inkjet printer – street cred is skyrocketing.

Budget tip: Kinko’s can be your best friend when you run out of brochures

2. The Rental Equipment

TradeShowIdealCandidateYou will learn that tradeshows make money every way possible, including by renting equipment to your desperate startup. As crazy as this sounds, in many cases it’s almost as expensive to rent the equipment as it is to buy it. Most companies either ship or rent electronics like monitors or flat screen TVs. Some companies even choose to buy monitors, use them for 3 days and then return them. Classic startup trick. Thanks for supporting the entrepreneurial community BestBuy!

Budget tip: Internet at a tradeshow is crazy expensive, check out WiFiRents.

3. The Swag


Established companies usually give out some pretty cool stuff. I’ve seen USB car chargers, beer, stuffed animals… great, but super expensive. What did we have? A kid’s basketball net. You would be shocked (we were shocked) how many people would line up to try to sink a basket! Then we would give swag only to those who got it in (or tried really, really hard). This allowed us to stretch our valuable supply of T-shirts while collecting leads, regardless of whether or not someone got a T-shirt.

Budget tip: Find creative ways to stretch your swag budget, everyone has pens.


The true difference between a startup vs the big guy at a tradeshow is the enthusiasm. We would stand for 10 hours sometimes, being “on” the entire time and loving it. In comparison, the big companies would take shifts, have other people put up their booths, sit down and look at their phones the entire time, ultimately leaving without leads. Enthusiasm sells.

The tradeshow is a great way for a startup to have fun and make sales. It worked for us at our last company. Have some great stories? Tips? Let us know!

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Somen Mondal

CEO at Ideal
Somen is the Co-Founder & CEO of Ideal. Prior to Ideal, Somen served as Co-Founder & CEO of Field ID until it was successfully acquired by Master Lock LLC (a subsidiary of NYSE:FBHS) in December 2012. Somen’s leadership has helped earn Field ID a spot on the Profit Hot 50 and Deloitte Fast 50 Companies-to-Watch lists. In 2012, Somen was named winner of the Ontario Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the “Emerging Entrepreneur” category.