Sent on November 4th, 2022.

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There are so many events to attend. But you’re supposed to be building the product at the same time.

I remember a founder interaction from a few years ago. The company had just raised a pre-seed of 300K, and immediately, the founders were planning to take the whole team to GDC. They were so happy to go there. Since this was early 2020, GDC got canceled because of COVID. These founders needed to focus on the startup reality instead of going to GDC.

I was recently reading an article from entrepreneur and investor Mark Suster called “Be Careful not to Become a Conference Addict,” where he writes:

In the same way you wouldn’t spend all of your day in front of your computer at the expense of customer interaction, there has to be a limit to attending conference. I’ve heard all of the excuses from these CEOs. ‘How else could I get so much BD done? I work hard on my flights and in my hotel room? I have a really productive head of products cranking out code.’

Bullshit.

When you’re not in your office on a regular basis you’re not showing leadership. You’re not setting the agenda. You’re not establishing culture, inspiring people or resolving conflicts. When you’re on the road all the time, you’re not as productive. You reach diminishing marginal returns of the next person you met in relation to all that you’re sacrificing by not being in the office working.

Here are a few things to consider if you plan to attend the next Reboot trip, Pocket Gamer Connects trip, or GDC long-haul trip, with nine days in the most expensive city in the world.

Can it be done over a video call

In the age of video calls, no amount of conference attendance will make you a more attractive investment target. There are dozens of great Slack groups where you can talk with other founders and connect with new folks.

Were founders worse off during COVID? Yes and no. Yes, they had less face-to-face time working together as a team, especially if they were practicing social distancing. But the world did continue to move on. People met new people, hired people, raised funding, and sold companies over Google Meets.

Time and money commitment

If the conference is in your hometown or a few hours’ drive away, the time commitment will likely be one day, with minimal expenses. GDC is a different ball game. For most people attending, it’s going to be quite expensive.

I calculated what it costs to attend GDC 2023, to stay from Sunday to Friday, so five nights, flying in from Europe, i.e., from London.

What a massive cost. I didn’t even include conference tickets. It’s like one month’s salary in a startup. What if you’re sending more people than one to the conference? Some might want to go and watch the talks, paying over $1,500 for a ticket. That doesn’t make any sense for a startup.

Then there’s the time loss. Time is the most valuable resource that a startup has. Mark Suster points out in his article, “When you’re not in your office on a regular basis, you’re not showing leadership.” Think about that when you plan your next Gamescom trip.

Opportunity cost

You want to go to GDC, and others on the team would also like to go. First, it’s two people going, then it’s three, and suddenly it’s a group of six people going.

It might be that a trip to GDC makes sense. You’ve raised financing, so it’s good to attend a conference to meet people, learn, and network. Let’s bring the team along. It’s good for bonding and getting to know each other.

Once you’ve achieved revenues and the company is becoming huge, it’s time to evaluate if you’d organize offsites for the whole company in an overseas location. Not when you’ve raised your early-stage financing, and all the startup troubles are still ahead.

Set priorities

Don’t attend conferences to absorb the startup atmosphere or to bump into people serendipitously.

At Next Games, we had a weekly task of picking the company’s top ten priorities. We’d meet on Friday, discuss priorities and then suggest and vote on the top priorities for the company for the following week.

Attending a game conference only came up if a deal was being worked on with known parties who were serious about working with us. The priority wasn’t “Attend GDC,” it was “Sign Company X,” and the signing was to happen at a meeting room at GDC.

Set an example

Sure, everybody likes to travel. Leaving your hometown, where you are grinding on your startup, and traveling to a games conference in an exotic city like Dubrovnik, San Francisco, or Lisbon sounds hugely tempting.

Think again about what you are doing. You are creating a dangerous perk for your people called conference travel.

Final thoughts

If you genuinely must go, and you’ve booked mission-critical meetings with VCs or potential clients, send only one person! And make it a well-thought process, and use my Investor spreadsheet as an example to connect and book meetings well before the event happens.

And if you have to attend a conference, limit it to once or twice a year and make an effort to get more communication going over video calls. The games industry achieved so much during COVID without travel. We can keep that going and save our precious time and money.

(Photo by Alireza Shojaei on Unsplash)