Ben Cull - Payments Engineer and Microsoft Development Professional

Lessons from the "Lobster Hat" guys in Startup Alley at XeroCon

This was our first XeroCon, and boy was it a doozy! But now the feet are rested, the hats are on the shelf and it’s time to reflect on our investment to exhibit in the Startup Alley at XeroCon Brisbane 2018.

Was it worth it?

Let’s not bury the headline. The short answer is a definitive yes!

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First ever conference stand!

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It was before the event even ended that we decided we were going to come back next year. Not only did we collect a much larger number of leads than we thought we would, we loved the relationships we were able to start with the Xero staff, App Partners and Accounting Partners. After all was said and done, this was the number one take away from the conference. Getting to know People.

Be Prepared

We were lucky enough to have the sage guidance of Heather Smith a prominent leader in the Xero community. She blew our minds with the sheer number of tips, tricks and most importantly connections she had. She sat us down and told us who’s who and what’s what, but our main takeaway from Heather was to be prepared.

  • Think about the top three things you do well
  • What makes you different from your competitors? (who are probably at XeroCon too!)
  • How will you stand out?
  • How will you follow up your new connections?

There was some great emphasis on the follow up. Every man and their dog will be chasing attendees after the conference, so carefully plan your emails, calls and bring along some useful swag to be remembered by.

Pinch Stubby Cooler Figure: Stubby cooler design for XeroCon 2018 - Brisbane

We brought 300 stubby coolers as swag for the event and managed to give away 240. If we tried harder we could have left empty handed, especially since on the first night, beers were flowing naked as the day they were bottled. People were supremely grateful when we snuck up on them with a free stubby cooler.

We landed on 300 as it was about 10% of the total attendance. In future we’d probably do the same, but be a bit more adventurous with our giveaways, wandering the crowds until our swag was all gone.

Show me the booth!

Before the event started, I was very unsure about the space we were given as the only image I had was an abstract blueprint.

Startup Alley Blueprint Figure: The startup alley booth blueprint provided by event staff

At all the conferences I’ve attended previously, exhibitors were sat behind a counter that you could approach to see what they had going on. In the blueprint, the counter was attached to the back wall and it made me feel a bit exposed. How was I supposed to demo my product effectively? Would we have enough room for the two of us? How much room is there between each stand?

Unfortunately, none of these questions were sufficiently answered before the conference, but luckily my fears were unfounded. The counters being along the back wall really made it feel more welcoming for myself and attendees. We could have a nice conversation, easily interact with passers by, and if we needed to demo, there was just enough room to bring the attendee in closer for a better look on our laptops.

Startup Alley Stands Figure: The startup alley stands in reality. Plus this goofy guy not watching the camera :)

There was only barely enough room for everyone when times were busy, but it wasn’t ever uncomfortable. One thing to note here is the artwork. Everyone needed to provide a logo header, but the backwall artwork was optional. Some people opted to mount a TV in place of the artwork. To be honest, whilst this worked pretty well for exhibitors with larger stands, in the startup alley it felt a little cramped and bland. I would opt for backwall artwork again in future.

Just for good measure here’s an example of the standard sized stands.

Standard Stand Figure: An example of the standard sized stands

Let’s talk dollars

OK, let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s break down what everything cost so you can decide if this is the right thing for you.

The Startup Alley booth cost $5,000 (ex GST).

A Standard booth cost $15,000 (ex GST).

These are big numbers for a startup, and came at the cost of a few other events we were planning on doing.

If there are any Xero people reading, this is where you should pay attention, becuase it was one of the more unpleasant aspects of the conference.

The booth is advertised at 5k. I didn’t realise this would be ex GST, so add another 500. Once you’ve secured your place by paying the full amount, you’re greeted with the exhibitors manual.

In this wonderful manual you’ll discover that nearly everything else costs money. Remember that back wall artwork? ~$300.00. Want any kind of media like a TV? Starts from ~$500.00. Even down to a second stool to sit on. $55. Ridiculous.

My expectations were that we’d have the basics covered by the exhibition cost, and that extras (like TVs, more power, etc…) would cost more. I felt very nickel and dimed by this part and it’s such a shame since literally everything else was wonderful.

Add in the stubby coolers, parking, branded t-shirts, wrap party tickets and logistics of staying and getting around Brisbane, and let’s just say, budget for a little more than you expect to spend.

Keep in mind that you can only attend the startup alley once, so we’re already saving up for next years bill.

The Wrap Party

The wrap party was truly awesome. Located at Cloudland, the venue was transformed into an enormous (Bris)Vegas themed wonderland, complete with show girls, gladiators, a casino and more shimmering glitter than I’ve seen in a while.

One of the main things that was driven home to us during the wrap party was our creative use of headwear. Walking past the queue to get into the venue, all we heard was “HEY PINCHY!”. All throughout the night we couldn’t walk 5 metres without someone asking, “Hey, what’s with the hat?”. After a quick description that our company is called Pinch and the logo is a lobster claw, they’d reply, “awesome, you guys are marketing geniuses!”, before being swiftly interupted by the next curious person. And so the cycle continued!

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Suiting up for the wrap party #xerocon

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For the record guys, we’re not marketing geniuses at all, I was bored one day and thought it might be fun to wear a funny hat for a little while. It was an accident I swear! But it does lead me to a good point:

Make your opportunities

If we’ve learned one thing it’s that you have to put in the effort to make connections and be involved, don’t just exhibit and wait for everyone to come to you. I managed to visit all of our competitors in the payments area and they were all lovely people (was great to meet you guys!), and there are potential opportunities that have stemmed from conversations there. Next time, I’ll make a bigger effort to connect with all app partners, not just at the event but before hand as well.

We’re also now trying to get more involved with community meetups and advisors in general. If being known is half the battle, we can do that all year and then give people a personal demo / signup experience to get them going on the spot, rather than relying on follow up.

Finally, the Practice Ignition guys manged to put on a party with 1000+ people! If we can get one going with just a tenth of that number I’d be super stoked. But none of these thing will happen automatically, you’ve got to put the effort in!

XeroCon Figure: Xero Store at XeroCon 2018 - Brisbane

The Results

Here’s the ROI. We managed to speak to and collect the contact details of 114 amazing people. This is HUGE for us and we can’t wait to start working with so many people in the Xero community.

On top of that we feel we now have a better relationship with Xero and to be honest a better opinion of the company as a whole.

If you haven’t heard of Pinch Payments before, we’re a payments startup from Brissy, helping Xero customers get paid automatically. Check us out at or feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn (Ben Cull) if you have any questions about the event!

Photos by Andrew Hobbs Photography

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