One of the most common questions I get from founders I invest in is: How do I get more speaking gigs?
Founders get obsessed with speaking gigs because they have drawn a false conclusion that speaking gigs lead to success. They see the same successful people speaking at all these events, say, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and Naval Ravikant from AngelList, and they assume the speaking gigs are part of their success.
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In truth, they are being selected because they are already successful, and they use speaking gigs to get their message out and promote their products. In Marc’s case that product is a fund which has three customers: founders who get the money, LPs who give the money, and GPs who spend the money.
Marc is looking for all three all the time, which is why he went from angel investor a couple of years ago to one of the top seven venture firms today (at least in terms of profile; on returns time will tell). Speaking gigs, of which he does many, are his way to line up those assets. Every time he speaks, he increases the likelihood of getting more of those founders, LPs, and GPs.
Naval needs to get startups to post profiles to AngelList, syndicate leaders to run SPVs to fund them, and accredited investors to back them. Every time he speaks he gets a couple more of each.
This is the proper way to look at speaking gigs: how do they service my machine?
Now, most speaking gigs are worthless in terms of moving the needle on your business. They are a complete waste of your time. When a founder sends me their monthly update and it’s filled with their speaking gigs I get worried that the product is suffering.
[ Note: Someone remind me to write a blog post about why investor updates from founders are so critical — and what they should contain. ]
Some speaking gigs can change your fate and others can help you get your flywheel going. You can find your next investor, employee, partner, or company because they heard you speak and — as we all know — “you were brilliant!”
So you need to address these issues when looking at a speaking gig:
a) how much will this cost (in time and dollars)?
b) what could I do with that time (the opportunity cost)?
c) what’s the expected return of this speaking gig?
The way I do this is very simple: the cost of my time as a founder = $1m per year / $20,000 per week. The cost of going to an event might be $5,000 in travel as well, so call it $25,000 in costs.
$5,000 per day is probably what a founder’s time is worth.
Additionally, you have to ask, what could I do with that time? So, here we go, you’ve been invited to speak at some TEDxOBSCURECITY and you’re all excited. “I’ve been asked to speak at TED!!!”
No, you’ve been asked to speak at the regional TED which in no way relates to “real TED.” The audience at the regional TED will be .1% as influential and important as “real TED.”
As one high-profile dude told me, “saying you spoke at TED because you spoke at a regional TED is like saying you were in the Olympics because you participated in the Special Olympics.”
Offensive? Yes. Did anyone disagree when he made this joke? No.
So, you’re going to give up three days of your life, worth $15,000. $15,000 is a lot of money, but you REALLY want to be a TED speaker — it’s on your bucket list!
But, what could you do instead? That’s the question. Well, you could reach out to and set up six client meetings for your SaaS product. Since you know that you close 20% of those deals, you’re convinced you’ll get at least one client — maybe two if you’re hot!
Let’s say your LTV for a customer is $150,000 ($5,000 per month for 30 months), so this speaking gig is going to cost you $165,000. $315,000 if you get two clients.
If this is a regional TED event you’ll get no press, no customers, and no employees out of it. You’ll also not add $60,000 to your ARR, which will cost you millions in valuation at the next round!
If you have $100,000 a month in reoccurring revenue your startup is worth $12-24m ($1.2m per year x 10-20 multiple of revenue). If you add $5,000 per month to that number you go up $60,000 a year — or another $600k-$1.2m to your valuation. Hit two clients and it’s $1.2-2.4m to your valuation.
You own 30% of your company so, congratulations schmuck, your bucket list “fake TED” experience has now cost you — personally — 30% of that $1-2m increase in valuation.
Would you pay $300-600k to speak at that regional TED?
Now, if you speak at a conference that gets you a dozen client meetings over three days and you know you are going to close at least two of them eventually, well, the math work in the opposite: you should spend all your time going to those events!
Now do you understand why you have to think all this through?
Your time is really valuable.
PS – In the case where you will get great joy out of attending an event, or you are looking to get inspired because you’re burnt out, that’s totally valid as well. However, let’s call that what it is: a vacation!
PPS – We just finished week six of the LAUNCH Incubator and the seven startups are amazing. I’m certain that they will all go on to have successful AngelList raises, and you can invest in them as a member of my syndicate — provided you are an accredited investor — starting on March 2nd. In fact, I think a couple of these startups are going to get venture capital investment. I’m actually going to bring the seven startups to see two of my favorite VCs before the event to practice their pitches. You should read my post on how to be an angel investor from last week.