3 Things I Learned at Web Summit

Sarah Danner
Sarah Danner

Sarah Danner is a BBA Candidate at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Her background in entertainment and tech led her to the startup world where she is seamlessly bridging the gap between television viewers, advertisers, and productions.

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I recently attended Web Summit—a mecca for all things tech—in Dublin, Ireland with my startup as a member of a select group of startups known as The Alpha Class. With over 40,000 attendees, 1,000 startups, 22 summit stages, and countless opportunities to meet with incredible innovators, I went in with my eyes and ears open and my digital voice recorder loaded with fresh batteries. By the time I left, I gained incredible insight into the global startup landscape and carved a path for moving forward.

With talk of the complete disruption of established industries, and the changing funding landscape, there were plenty of takeaways for a freshly minted entrepreneur like me, but here are three big ones that I don’t hear people talking about too often.

1.  Take advice…wisely

Opinions. Everybody’s got at least one. When it comes to your startup seek advice from those who have more experience than you not only in areas where you lack expertise, but in areas where you think you’re most comfortable. You never know who will say something that makes everything click for you. However, be wary of what you do with that advice. Try not to react, but respond. If someone’s insight seems to shatter all of your plans, don’t be too quick to scrap your project and call it a day. Instead, take your time, think things over and move forward strategically. The same goes for someone who sings your praises – don’t react by letting it go to your head. Keep calm and move forward. Tuck your new knowledge and insight away in your brain and keep your eyes open. Think critically about it. Where does this person get their information? How reliable are they? How much weight should I put on what they say?

In many ways, entrepreneurship is like being a new parent. Everyone wants to share their way of doing things (solicited or not), and some will even go so far as to tell you why your way is completely wrong. Some of that advice is good and some may not really apply to your situation. No matter which side of that fence the person offering up expertise is on, be gracious and thank them for their thoughts and go on your merry way.

2.  When it comes to creating relationships, you reap what you sow

If there’s one thing that’s constantly pushed in business school, it’s networking. “Get out there and meet people!” they say. “You never know what your relationships will bring!”

If you’re an entrepreneur, that sentiment could not be more true.

Everyone from venture capitalists and media professionals, to incubators and executives at multinational corporations constantly pushed the power of relationship building. When you approach someone, realize that they’re people too. When you’re working in the startup world, very few of your interactions will be strictly transactional, so don’t treat people you meet like there’s only one thing they could possibly offer you. If you take the time to get to know someone, the help you’re likely to receive will be much greater.

Before you reach out to someone, do your homework. Find out if this person would even be interested in a venture like yours and simply ask for advice. Start building a relationship before you ever plan to ask for anything. Many people said that they will know a company for six-months to a full year before investing or getting involved in any way. Yes, this seems like a long time in startup time but the point is to take a step back and focus on creating meaningful interactions. These people want to be wooed a bit before you start trying to take advantage of their resources. Show them why they would want to help you and often, they will do just that and then some.

3.  Own your shortcomings

The third, and probably most important thing I learned is to understand what you are and are not good at and which things are and are not working in your favor. Of course this is helpful in gathering information and asking for help, but there is a lot more value in fully understanding your shortcomings than you might think. When meeting with someone, it is often obvious when you’re trying to hide or overcompensate for your weaknesses. Instead, point them out and talk about what you’re doing to overcome them. The strategy often speaks volumes about not only you, but your team. Being self aware and understanding what you and your company are up against is key to finding success in the crowded startup space. After all, no company is without its own obstacles to overcome, so identify the ways in which you can surmount the ones you face and own it.

Be sure to check out some of the photos I took at the event and thanks for reading!

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