As some of you know, Stewart Townsend and I worked for several months to get a Tech Mission to San Francisco off the grounds for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies. We made a number of mistakes which resulted in having to cancel it two weeks ago. I like to share our learnings in case it may help anyone trying to get a trade mission off the grounds. Secondly, it will be a good reminder for us when we plan the next one for 2019. We have plenty of times get that right.
1. Underestimating the time required
You need to allow a minimum of six months if you are planning for the first time. We started talking about it at our reunion, but did not get started until February. And then we had to build relationships and work out what needs doing.
2. Nail the key sponsor
We moved everything in parallel, i.e. participants, sponsors and partners. When it came to the crunch time of whether to go ahead or not, we still did not have the key sponsor nailed. This was a big mistake on our part. Ideally you want the key sponsor to underwrite the expenses, in case there are unforeseen circumstances.
3. Collect the money upfront
We did not collect application fees which included an admin fees and key conference discounted fees upon approval of the applications. We waited for sufficient number of applications before deciding to invoice. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to invoice, a number of applicants dropped out and there was no time to find replacements afterwards.
4. Don’t ignore School holidays
The 2-week Easter break was a killer where applicants, sponsors and partners all went quiet. This was a crucial part of our build up and it pretty much ruined the preparations.
5. Don’t overestimate the power of your network
Given the extensive networks of Stewart’s and mine, we expected reaching out to them would be sufficient to fill the 20 applications slots. We soon found out that this was not the case. We also made another mistake by first trying to focus on Greater Manchester and the North West, and when this did not work out, expanding to North and Scotland. At the end, we went national but then it was simply too late.
6. It’s all data silly
We didn’t have a strong list of SaaS companies to reach out. This was eventually built over few days, but then we could not give enough time for the applicants to make a sound decision. Due to time limitations, we only approach the CEO. This was a disaster and needs to be fixed before we restart for 2019.
7. Building partner relationships
We quickly build a programme as both Stewart and I have been to San Francisco before and some of our friends are based there. So this was not a big problem for us, but it nevertheless took time. We now have partnerships to make 2019 visits successful.
Having cancelled the programme we are ambitious to not just organise one, but organise up to 3 tech missions in 2019. In the meantime, Stewart and I would like to thank all those who came forward to help us. Thank you. You know who you are.