13+ Conferences for B2B Startup Founders Seeking Growth in 2017

It’s sometimes hard for B2B startup founders to see the forest for the trees. They get consumed by a business problem and can’t seem to find the solution.

Conferences are a great way to take a step back. Interacting with other founders, specialists and experienced entrepreneurs can lead to fresh insights, new opportunities and a renewed mindset to accelerate growth.

Sometimes, seeing what’s out there is all you need to find a solution.

To help founders find the best conference for their needs, I put together a list of the best events in B2B:

General Conferences for B2B Startup Founders

  • SaaStr Annual – February 6-8, 2018 / San Francisco
    Founded by entrepreneur and investor Jason Lemkin a little over 4 years ago, SaaStr Annual brings together more than 10,000 SaaS Founders, VCs and Executives. It’s a great event to network, make deals, and discuss software as a service (SaaS), fundraising, enterprise sales, customer success and metrics.
  • Dreamforce – November 6-9, 2017 / San Francisco
    Dreamforce is Salesforce’s annual event. It was one of the first B2B conferences and it’s, by far, the largest B2B event with 170,000 participants, 2,700 sessions and lots of corporate money. It’s a good place to learn, but a better place to make deals.
  • SaaStock – September 18–20, 2018 / Dublin, Ireland
    The European SaaStr. It covers a lot of the same topics as SaaStr (Sales, Customer Success, Growth and Funding) with a lot of the same speakers, but it’s a great opportunity to network with European founders and investors.
  • Revenue Summit – March 7-8, 2018 / San Francisco
    Organized by SalesHacker, Revenue Summit focuses on sales, marketing and the intersection between both disciplines. With a strong emphasis on sales processes, account management and technology, it’s a good opportunity to go a bit deeper into B2B sales.
  • Marketing Nation Summit – April 29-May 2, 2018 / San Francisco
    Marketo’s 4-day conference covers all things marketing with a strong focus on B2B. It’s an interesting alternative to Dreamforce especially if your startup sells to marketing departments.
  • Business of Software – September 18-20, 2018 / Boston
    A single-track conference kept small on purpose, the Business of Software conference focuses on creating quality networking opportunities and teaching participants how to build better software, be better entrepreneurs and grow more successful businesses.
  • Inbound – September 25-28, 2017 / Boston
    Hubspot’s conference has long attracted thousands of marketing and sales professionals. It’s a great place to network with now more than 19,000 attendees and learn about B2B content marketing, marketing automation and account-based selling from some of the leading authorities in B2B.
  • B2B Rocks – September 28, 2017 / Sydney, Australia
    Interesting newcomer. B2B Rocks organizes events in Paris, France and Sydney, Australia. It brings together different crowds with a strong focus on local experts. At the event, you’ll learn actionable tactics to grow your B2B SaaS.
  • Hyper-Growth – September 25, 2017 / Boston
    Another new event in 2017, Hyper-Growth is Drift.com’s conference. The event is held on the first day of the Inbound conference (also in Boston). It attracts a similar crowd, but Hyper-Growth focuses more on marketing and customer-centricity than the Inbound conference.

B2B Conferences Around Pain Points

Many B2B startups have created their own conferences around their customers’ pain points. If you share these challenges, or wish to dive deeper into expertises like customer success or content marketing, other great conferences are available for you:

Customer Success

B2B Content Marketing

Industry Events for B2B Startup Founders

Events and conferences are shortcuts to communities and target markets. To speed up product-market validation or increase your growth rate, you can attend your target market’s events or visit your customers’ watering hole.

Whether it’s the HR Technology Expo if you’re targeting HR professionals or the DIA 2018 Global Annual Meeting if your market is pharmaceuticals, networking with your target market is always a great way to create new opportunities.

No matter your goal, conferences are all about networking opportunities. By asking yourself, what kind of people will this event attract and seeing how that fits within your strategy, you’ll make sure to always have return on investment when you attend an event.

53 VC Firms and Angel Investors to Fund Your B2B Startup

If you want money, ask for advice, and if you want advice, ask for money. – Unknown

When raising money for your B2B startup, it’s important to realize that, beyond terms, investors don’t all bring the same value to your business.

Some investors will be very involved while others will not. Some will open gates for you, help recruit top employees, show you the ropes and remain solid partners all throughout the life of your startup. And again, some will not.

In B2B, the best investors understand how B2B and B2C startups differ, they have connections in your industry and know what it takes to win in B2B. Those investors can significantly improve your odds of success.

To help you find the right partners, I’ve put together a list of Angel investors and partners at leading VC firms actively investing in B2B SaaS. This is a list I wish I had when we raising money at Psykler.

Angel Investors Investing in B2B Startups

Name Location B2B Investments
Alex Khein London, UK Automatic, Talkdesk, MediaCore
Andy Yang Toronto, Canada TribeHR, Kera, Fuse Powered
Auren Hoffman San Francisco Aardvark, Flowtown, Rapleaf
David Cancel Greater Boston Area Rapportive, Help Scout, Appcues
David Hauser Las Vegas Intercom, Buffer, Unbounce
David O. Sacks San Francisco Palantir Technologies, Yammer, PayPal
Dharmesh Shah Greater Boston Area Hubspot, Appcues, Buffer
Francois Gaouette Montreal, Canada Taleo, Airborne Mobile, Amilia
Francois Gilbert Quebec, Canada Taleo, Coveo
James Geshwiler Greater Boston Area Influitive, TimeTrade
Jean-François Gagné Montreal, Canada Element AI, Planora
Jerry Neumann New York City Taleo, Simple, DataHero
Jim Moran Greater Boston Area Paydiant, MixRank, Edocs
John Landry Greater Boston Area Unica, docTrackr, Jingle Networks
Magdalena Yesil San Francisco Salesforce.com, 3Ware, Securify
Mitch Kapor Oakland Optimizely, Twilio, Asana
Rasool Rayani Victoria, Canada Unbounce, MediaCore, Versly
Robert Shaw New York City Box, Streem, Revolve Robotics
Roham Gharegozlou San Francisco Intercom, ToutApp, Zozi
Ty Danco Greater Boston Area Crashlytics, CardMunch, Incentive Targeting
Victor Belfor San Francisco Influitive, MixRank, CodingTechnologies

Venture Capitalists Investing in B2B Startups

Name Location B2B Investments
Adam Rothenberg New York City Kustomer, Fundera, CrowdAI
Ajay Agarwal Palo Alto Optimizely, Kiva Systems, Symphony Commerce
Brian Christopher Yee San Francisco Box, Appirio, AuditFile
Brian Jacobs San Francisco SuccessFactors, Yammer, Veeva
Bruce Cleveland San Francisco Marketo, Totango, Amplero
Byron Deeter San Francisco Twilio, Involver, Bizo
Chip Hazard Greater Boston Area Mattermark, Crashlytics, MongoDB
Christoph Janz Stuttgart, Germany Zendesk, Geckoboard, Typeform
David Nault Montreal, Canada Lightspeed, Unsplash, Chronogolf
David Skok Greater Boston Area Hubspot, TribeHR, AppIQ
Devdutt Yellurkar Palo Alto Zendesk, Wave, Rethink Robotics
Eric Vishria San Francisco Amplitude, Contentful, Confluent
Ethan Kurzweil San Francisco SendGrid, Twilio, Skybox Imaging
Jason Green San Francisco Salesforce.com, SuccessFactors, Box
Jason M. Lemkin Palo Alto Talkdesk, SalesLoft, Pipedrive
Jean-Francois Marcoux Montreal, Canada Salesfloor, IMMUNIO, mnubo
Kevin Spain Palo Alto Veeva Systems, Zettics, VigLink
Manu Kumar Palo Alto Twilio, Indextank, Boomerang
Mark MacLeod Toronto, Canada Freshbooks, Context.io, Engagio
Mark Suster Los Angeles Burstly, Gravity, Invoca
Mike Cegelski Montreal, Canada Taleo, iBwave, Beltron
Mike Volpi San Francisco Zuora, Confluent, Optimizely
Neeraj Agrawal Greater Boston Area Amplitude, Optimizely, Yesware
Peter Fenton San Francisco Zuora, Zendesk, Optimizely
Rob de Heus Almere Stad, Netherlands Box, BlazeMeter, Streem
Scott Sandell San Francisco Workday, Tableau, Coursera
Simon Chong Toronto, Canada FreshBooks, Influitive, ScribbleLive
Stacey Bishop Palo Alto Hubspot, ExactTarget, Box
Tae Hea Nahm San Francisco Marketo, Engagio, Talkdesk
Thomas Korte San Francisco Heroku, Buffer, Periscope Data
Tomasz Tunguz San Francisco Dremio, Expensify, Looker
Vas Natarajan San Francisco Atlassian, Lightspeed, Qualtrics

I expect this list to grow and evolve over time. If you see any mistakes or have suggestions to make, just tweet at @leanb2b.

Why B2B Startups Should Target SMBs First, Not Big Enterprises

Through Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want, I get to talk with a lot of smart and ambitious founders.

They’ve either begun by building a MVP or by doing customer discovery within their relevant network, and because their end-game is enterprise, the opportunity only seems to make sense to large organizations or they’re hoping to gain legitimacy with key lighthouse customers, they decide to go enterprise-first.

Although large companies like Taleo and Vontu have been built enterprise first, my advice to founders is always to start smaller by targeting small and medium businesses.

Here’s why:

  1. The learning cost is higher: In the enterprise, there’s more steps just to be able to have meaningful discussions: you need to get through the door, understand the buyer groups, the decision-making process, the industry and build a relevant network.
  2. You front-load risk: Investors–especially in B2B–don’t typically want to fund customer development. It’s likely that everything you do prior to landing your first few customers will be pre-funding, on your own dime.
  3. You need a longer runway: The longer the sales cycle, the longer it will take to land your first customers, and the more cash you’ll need to tough it out. To survive, you want to reduce the time it takes to get early sales as much as possible.
  4. It’s harder to gain momentum: As a B2B founder, your chance of success is related to the proximity you’re able to have with your early adopters and your ability to react/adapt to their feedback. It’s much harder to get fast feedback loops going in the enterprise where stakeholder groups are larger.
  5. You’ll likely have to build too much: As Atlassian Head of Design Karen Cross said, in enterprise, it’s often about designing for the 100%. Without understanding the whole product, you won’t get customers to truly buy in.

Going enterprise-first is just riskier; it takes longer to build a base of revenue and get the metrics you need to raise funding. In most cases, it’s enterprise or bust.

At the time when I joined Psykler, they had a working product, several mid-to-large businesses in the pipeline, and the basis for a customer development panel. We had 10 months of runway and were committed to enterprise-first–as the software needed large sales teams to truly be valuable.

Screenshot of the Psykler Complex Sales Dashboard

The Psykler Complex Sales Dashboard

We had to retain our early customers, reach product-market fit and raise capital just to survive.

As fast as we thought we could get there, we needed a significant acceleration event to succeed.

In the end, it didn’t happen and we ran out of cash.

To go enterprise-first, you need sufficient runway to reach product-market fit, get early sales and raise money. If you don’t, your startup is probably already dead… and you just don’t know it.

Selling to small businesses is a great way to start a business. You can go up-market anytime the business has been validated.

How Much Time Do You Need to Get to Product-Market Fit in B2B?

This is a post about a missing part in Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want. I stumbled on this concept a little after book publication and would have loved to include it to explain Product-Market Fit.

I’ve never seen a (B2B) company get to anything much under 18 months.Steve Wood, B2B Serial Entrepreneur

Imagine you start a B2B business tomorrow, get to Product-Market fit within the first 3 months, and like an Instagram, a WhatsApp or a Pinterest, business growth explodes in just 12 months. Amazing, no?

But what if it doesn’t?

In paid SaaS apps / B2B businesses, it takes time to interview customers, build a MVP, validate a need and get to Product-Market fit. And usually, it’s a lot more time than the founders ever imagined…

Finding Product-Market fit is harder than I thought.Ben Yoskovitz, Lean Analytics Co-Author

Until you reach Product-Market fit, your startup is in limbo. It’s hard to raise capital, everyone commits to a leap of faith. That’s why TTPMF, or the Time it takes to reach Product-Market Fit, is such a key concept.

Introduced in 2013 by entrepreneur Andrew Chen, TTPMF is what decides if your business succeeds or fails.

In his words, if your plan for TTPMF exceeds your funding runway, you’re dead. If your TTPMF is more than 1-2 years, your startup will implode: fatigue sets in, the window of opportunity shifts, investors get disengaged, team and employees start getting excited about other companies… you run out of money and energy. Not good.

Getting to Product-Market fit takes longer than expected, but must be less than 2 years. That’s why it’s important to be lean and aware of every option you have to speed up product-market validation. Even in the early days when it feels like you have months and months of runway ahead of you.

Here are some of the tactics covered on this blog to speed up Product-Market validation:

In Minimize your Time to Product-Market Fit, Andrew Chen suggests copying the fundamentals of an existing business at Product-Market fit and changing 20%. It’s another strategy worth considering to decrease your TTPMF.

The ideal time to enter a market is at the Chasm, when the market need has been validated and the opportunity has been partially de-risked.

Having been at the receiving end of business copy when I was working at LANDR Audio, I can tell you that it sucks losing leads to imitators, but it’s part of the game.

When survival is on the line, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Whether you decide to copy a business at Product-Market fit or build your own, you’ll want to shorten your TTPMF.

Pivots happen. Worst-case scenarios come to reality, so you’ll need to plan for the worst and give yourself reasonable time to pull through. It will be difficult, but stick it out. As SaaStr founder and B2B entrepreneur Jason Lemkin says, you’ll fail in SaaS if you don’t commit to spending 24 months to achieve initial traction.

What Makes a Great Value Proposition in B2B Customer Development

A great value proposition is compelling, quantifiable, provable, referencable and easily explainable. Although your value proposition might not be all of this when you start, it’s one thing you should always be refining.

There are two types of benefits that can usually be attributed to a value proposition:

  1. Soft benefits can’t be quantified. They’re harder to sell because customers must have experienced the pain before to realize how important it really is. Examples of soft benefits are ‘increasing employee happiness,’ ‘improving the user experience’ or ‘providing better service.’ If an entrepreneur can quantify a soft benefit, it can be turned into a hard benefit.
  2. Hard benefits can be quantified and lead to a clear ROI. They are the easiest to sell because there’s a built-in way to calculate the value (it’s predictable). Examples of hard benefits are ‘increased conversion,’ ‘increased sales’ and ‘cost reduction.’ Hard benefits are the most attractive to B2B buyers.

In B2B customer development, you want to start with a broad definition of the problem, a problem widespread enough to attract several early adopters. It has to be a problem prospects are already passionate about, something on their radar (You can use value proposition hypotheses to explore opportunities).

A broadly defined problem has a higher likelihood of getting people excited. Prospects will build their own perceptions of the problem and invent the product in their minds.

Your value proposition should tell them: “We’re obsessed with this problem too,” and communicate the urgency of the problem.

You can use the elevator pitch format from Crossing the Chasm to get started:

For (target customers) who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative). Our product is a (new product category) that provides (key problem-solving capability). Unlike (the product alternative), our product (describe the key product features).

To get a great value proposition, you need to test it out into the wild. Making revisions as you contact prospects is the only way to make it truly connect with prospects.