Boston TechJam: The Insider’s Guide
Last year, our fabulously talented Marketing Director, Rhiannon Chiacchiaro, went to Boston TechJam as an attendee. She was so impressed by the community and opportunity she saw that she made it her goal to get us a booth there the next year. As you might have guessed, she succeeded in her goal, and last Thursday, all of Deep Core Data found ourselves rubbing elbows with CarbonBlack and Sigfox, along with many other tech vendors in City Hall Plaza.
Because this was our first TechJam, we’d like to share some of our experiences, and a few tips and tricks for other small businesses who might like to join us next year.
CarbonBlack Software, our left hand neighbors, had some pretty neat swag, including can coozies that worked like slap bracelets
It took a while for the registration link to come up (I think it was about two months out or so, which seemed a little late for an event of that size), but it was very easy to sign up to exhibit once the link was available.
Word to the wise: Make sure to register EVERYONE on the team ahead of time. Even if you’re the point of contact, you aren’t automatically signed up so you have to register yourself.
We got a great deal because we’re a small business. Our booth and a year membership to MassTLC was only $1,000. Very worth it if you’re interested in getting involved in that scene.
Before the Event
There were email updates about once a week. Make sure to read them and respond because they often contain action items and important information. Also follow up if you don’t get confirmation on anything, because one of my emails ended up getting lost in the inbox and it made it look like I hadn’t submitted something on time when I did.
The staff is very accommodating and will do their best to get you what you need. Make sure to reach out to them early, because the few weeks leading up to the event get really busy.
There are a few extra costs associated with optional add-ons. This year, it was $75 to get a food vendor license. This applied to anything you cooked or sold in quantities greater than 4 oz. each. For example, we were able to give out tiny, individually wrapped candies with no problem but would have had to pay to hand out water bottles. Also, there is power available, but if you are going to have a huge electricity draw, there is a $100 fee to get an extra power supply.
There will be a webinar a few days before the event. It is mandatory, but I would recommend listening in even if it wasn’t. It’s your best chance to talk to the organizers in real time and get the logistical details regarding parking, unloading, and where everything is happening. Also, you can ask all the questions you’ve had stirring in the back of your head.
Our right hand neighbors, SigFox, used their logo as a target for a fun Nerf gun shooting gallery
Use social media to garner attention, especially Twitter. The organizers sent out a few emails to us with sample tweets and blog posts that we could share around. Take advantage of these, especially if you’re pressed for time. Use the hashtag, share photos of prep, tell people your booth location as soon as you find it out.
Planning Your Booth
Figure out your activity or “gimmick” early, and for the love of all that is good, don’t pick Cornhole. Everyone has Cornhole and Giant Jenga. Find something that you can tie in thematically to your business if possible. For example, we had a claw machine game that was called Mining for Data Diamonds. Last year, Talent Retriever (whose branding features paw prints and puppies) partnered with a local shelter and brought in some dogs that were up for adoption.
The booth looked nice at first, but by the end of TechJam, it was total chaos.
You need banners. Get a standing banner and table banner at a minimum (and make sure to bring sandbags or something to weigh down the base of the standing banner). Many companies also have branded tablecloths and backdrops as well.
Bring too many supplies. That means rope, ties, scissors, duct tape, extra swag, backup activities, money, phone chargers, and anything else you might need should things not go exactly to plan (hint: they won’t).
Order everything early. I tried to make or buy at least 3 things a week for the entire 6 weeks leading up to the event. It is much better to have boxes piled high in your office than to freak out the day before the event because things aren’t ready.
Pick your swag carefully. It’s very likely that you already have some stuff lying around to give out, but if you are looking to order something new, try something appropriate to your business (we gave out USBs for example). Try to avoid the following items; these things are everywhere and are probably overused at this point:
Beer coozies – I came home with over a dozen last year. Who drinks that much beer? Maybe good if you have a lot of BBQs, but most will go straight in the trash.
Boring pens – Our pens have flashlights and styluses (stylii?) on them, but if you just get the cheap, $0.99 click pens, they’ll be lost in a day.
Tote bags – I literally have a bag full of bags because of how many people gave them out. They seem like an awesome and useful idea, but the market is pretty saturated.
Fidget Spinners – They’re all the rage right now, but will definitely be outdated come next year’s event.
Frisbees – Both plastic and foldable are high in supply at TechJam, but they’re either hard to carry around or easily broken/forgotten about.
Portable power banks – Super useful but also super prevalent. You don’t need to add more to the mix at this point.
Company T-shirts – Nobody will wear them because they make you look like a walking advertisement for someone else’s franchise.
In contrast, here are things we’d love to see more of:
Rubber ducks – Black Duck Software currently has the market cornered on these precious little buddies, and we want to see more non-generic and thematic duckies floating around.
Useful peripherals – This is a tech event after all, and it would be great to have more USB mice, actually working headphones, flash drives (even if that means you’re our swag competitor), and phone/tablet covers.
Adult sippy cups – You know those new cups that have screw-on tops and straws in them that are taking the world by storm? Yeah, they’re awesome.
Quality tumblers – Not the crappy plastic things that break if you hold your drink too tightly, but the good lasting metal or thick plastic ones that are actually useful.
Retro toys – WPI gave out Rubik’s Cube stress “balls,” which were cute and tied into their activity (a Rubik’s Cube time challenge). While stress balls in general are a bit overused, you can find small toys and whatnot that reflect your brand well and bring up a bit of nostalgia.
Food – Seriously, feed people. It’s a huge draw, even if people don’t tend to keep the wrappers. But make it good if you’re going to bother paying the food license fee.
It’s a chance at free money! All you have to do is give us your soul – I mean business card
If you’re going to try and gather leads, make sure that you have a way of collecting contact information. You aren’t likely to get many takers for a simple “Sign up for our mailing list” sheet. Do a giveaway or drawing that incentivizes people to leave a business card.
Print out contact slips so people without business cards can still give you their information.
Get business cards for everyone who will be at the booth. It makes it a lot easier to keep in touch throughout and after the event.
If you are hiring, let people know that. This is a huge recruiting event, and if you have signs listing available positions, it helps people know where to wander.
Try not to have activities or videos or other attractions that have very loud sounds. It’s already a busy place and either your stuff will be drowned out or you’ll make things very unpleasant for your neighbors.
Position strategically. The venue is set up into different villages that have different adjectives describing them (“Be Innovative,” “Be Bold,” etc). Find the one that describes your mission best and request space there. First come, first served, so get those requests in quickly.
At the Event
Make sure you have multiple people staffing the booth and give everyone ample opportunity to eat, get a drink, and walk around. Give everyone business cards when they’re out and about.
On that vein, make sure to eat and hydrate. The event will go by quickly and you don’t want to end up trying to cram food into your face at 11 PM when you’re exhausted (not like that’s first hand experience or anything <_<).
TechJam has a big party atmosphere and there will be drinking. It’s OK to have a beer at your booth, but make sure not to overdo it. Nothing looks worse than someone trying to explain their company and falling all over themselves.
Make sure your booth crew is well-versed on talking points and conversation starters. Often, and especially in smaller companies, the people going aren’t just the marketing and sales team, so they can use a little help with messaging. We wrote up a quick FAQ explaining who we are, what our mission is, why we’re at TechJam, and so on.
Dress comfortably. This is an outdoor summer event and has a much more relaxed atmosphere than other trade shows or expos. Don’t worry about suits and ties for this one, unless it’s explicitly part of your aesthetic.
Be prepared for weather. It could be 90 degrees and blistering sun or 70 degrees and thunderstorming. Check ahead of time and bring sunscreen or umbrellas as necessary.
Keep the social media hype going. Tweet and Instagram about your booth and encourage people to come on over. People look at the feeds during the event, so if there’s something that you can use to draw people in, share it publicly.
Have energy. The event is full of young people, and they are going to be zipping around, looking for swag and employment opportunities. If you’re getting run down and just sitting at the table or playing on your phone, go out and take a break. Eat some Vice Cream or visit the food trucks. Check out the bands for a bit. Play Cornhole (we won’t judge).
If someone expresses interest in your company for whatever reason, make sure to get their card and jot down a brief note of what was said and how to follow up with them. It will be much easier on your brain later.
After the Event
Make sure to keep hold of all those business cards and contact slips. Don’t pack them in a box that is going to be forgotten for a week.
Follow up on leads ASAP. Make sure to mention how you met, what the content of your conversation was, and how to continue talking. If you can, get the person who did the actual talking to send the follow-up.
Look for recaps and articles the next day and see if you have any photos or mentions in them. Share those on social media as well.
Don’t just accept resumes if you’re not even going to try to help people out. Think of the children (OK, young adults, but still)!
Debrief with your team. Ask them who they spoke to and if they had any fruitful conversations. Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the above following up strategy.
Unpack as soon as you can (the next morning if possible). You’ll be tired, but it’s much better than just wandering around leftover boxes and swag for weeks.
Take a quick inventory of your leftover swag, info cards, food, etc. Make notes about adjusting your ordering for next year if need be.