How To Rock a Tech Conference With $0 and No Prep Time

30 May 2024

A last-minute tech conference invite

I speak to a lot of companies about the interesting challenges they are facing. I try to share some of the interesting stories and takeaways, especially if they can help other founders and GTM teams.

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from the founder of Anywaypay (they’re basically building Linktree for payment options) and they presented me with an interesting challenge. They had just gotten a last-minute booth at an upcoming AI conference in New York and they weren’t sure what to do.

“That’s great!” I said. “What’s the issue?”

The founder explained that there were actually several issues…

"Well, first of all - we don’t have an AI-centric product… and we only have until the end of the day to create marketing assets for our booth… And we don’t have any swag to giveaway… And we don’t think they have the right equipment there to allow us to demo the product in a compelling way… So what do you think we can we do??”

Now, this founder is a smart guy. He knew this would be a challenge, but he also knew that many people from the local tech ecosystem would be there, so he didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to have a booth on the conference floor. He wanted my help to come up with a quick, creative plan.

Defining a conference success metric

The first thing we did together was define what a “successful” conference would look like. More often than not, founders and tech executives blindly attend conferences without giving much thought to what they want to get out of them. Without clear goals, it’s impossible to come up with a plan for achieving them. And BTW, for whoever out there needs to hear it - no, the number of free socks, t-shirts, and AirPod cases you collect is not a legit success metric.

Here’s how we thought about it: This company is an early-stage startup with a B2C app. For many of their users, the adoption of the app was a “here and now”, quick decision. People usually resonate with the problem they’re solving and then onboard quickly with the free mobile app. So we decided that in the context of the tech conference showroom, a good way to measure success would to look at the number of people engaging at their booth. The more people they could attract, the more people they could talk to and convince to try Anywaypay. If they walked around the room and tried to pitch people on Anywaypay however, we thought folks might find it off-putting and out of context. After all, they’re not an AI tool and this was an AI-centric conference. So we needed to figure out a way to get people to come to the booth and naturally talk to the founding team.

A creative place to promote our product

The plan sounded good in our heads and on paper, but it was easier said than done. We still needed to come up with a way to achieve the desired results.

Making tactical matters more complicated was the fact that all the promotional real estate in the conference hall was taken. Even if we could get a small piece of it on short notice, we had no time to produce an asset that would stand out in a crowd.

We needed a cheap, creative, unique way to grab people’s attention and attract them to our booth. We needed a setting that wasn’t already saturated with other company marketing materials and we needed to make sure our materials were cheap and quick to produce.

With these constraints firmly in place, I proposed the only solution I could think of:

The bathroom, of course.

I reasoned that the bathroom was the one place where everyone at the conference would visit at least once throughout the day. I assumed that no one else at the conference was using that space to advertise their product. If we could take advantage of this opportunity to grab people’s attention at a time and in a place where they least expected it - we had a shot at making the kind of impression we were aiming for.

So we went ahead and printed a couple of simple flyers on regular printer paper. They included company branding, a QR code to download the app, and some edgy wording that seemed bathroom-worthy:

Someone owes you money? Don’t get pissed. Just get Anywaypay.

Don’t piss away your cash. Get Anywaypay and keep track of who owes you.

When the founder got to the conference hall the next day, he snuck into the bathrooms and hung up the signs above the urinals:


Once the conference hall began to fill with participants, it didn’t take long to see a positive return on our investment. Our bathroom signage made people chuckle (the team visited the bathroom a few extra times to check). And most importantly, people came over to the booth to say hello and give the team a high-five for the clever marketing campaign (I hope they all washed their hands first… 🙂). And many of those booth visitors installed the app and shared it with their friends and colleagues.

Our effort was a success, and it didn’t end there.

The experiment continued to bear fruits even after the conference was over. The team received a number of complimentary messages and someone even posted about it on Reddit!

What we learned

This experiment turned out well. But the main reason for sharing this is to highlight some of the key learnings that might be useful for other startups and marketing teams. So here’s a quick summary of what we learned from this experience that might be applicable to you:

  • Setting “extreme” constraints can force you to come up with creative solutions
  • Conferences can be effective promotional environments, but only if you define your success metrics clearly and then make a plan for hitting them
  • Good marketing gets people’s attention. And getting people’s attention is easier when you’re not trying to shout over other competing marketing materials
  • Good ideas speak for themselves. They don’t necessarily need a lot of time or money to work well

Hopefully, you found this helpful!