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Sneaking into Twilio's Signal Conference

Colin Heilbut

September 25, 2020

Two years ago, I was working for a speech recognition startup as their first salesperson. This was a role in which I wore a variety of hats—doing everything from competitive analysis to cold calling for deals. While researching a potential lead one afternoon, I noticed that their website had a banner flashing, “Come see us at the Signal Conference in 2018!”

It was the first time I’d ever heard of Signal, Twilio’s annual developer conference, but it seemed like a great event to attend, especially since many people at Signal would be processing large volumes of business-related audio calls—which was, incidentally, exactly what our startup specialized in transcribing. I saw a glimmer of opportunity.

On a lark, I told my CEO that the conference might be worth checking out. But because we were a boot-strapped startup, we didn’t have a budget allocated for conference tickets, and I wasn’t sure how I could justify the expense. What I did know was that working at the periphery of conferences had been a good source of deals for me in the past. I’d won multiple clients after quite literally pitching people in conference hotel elevators, and my largest deal ever came from making small talk at the registration line of another industry event.

So rather than sitting at the office and twiddling my thumbs, I decided to just show up at the venue where Signal was being held to gauge the usefulness of the event for our business. After I started talking to a few people standing outside the conference, I quickly realized that it was the perfect event for our startup. I also had a hunch that it would be more useful to go inside and check out the startup booths. With some faith in my track record, I decided to take a stab at getting into the actual building.

From my backpack I pulled out an old lanyard from another technology conference I’d attended. It looked nothing like the Signal one, but wearing it still made me look more official. After putting it on, I called up a good friend and told him I needed a couple minutes of his time. I started feigning a really intense business conversation with him while proceeding to walk purposely towards the entrance, where security was scanning badges. By keeping my head down, walking quickly and looking like I belonged at the event, I was able to bypass the checkpoint and walk straight up the elevator and into the venue.

Once I was in, I breathed a sigh of relief. As the initial surge of adrenaline died down, my first stop was—of course—the complimentary snacks from Twilio. I felt like I had earned them at that point! Next, I began working the room, talking to various vendors and attendees and collecting a few dozen business cards. Unfortunately, no one really stood out as a particularly good fit for our services, which was more than a little disheartening. Right as I was about to leave, I happened to notice a large booth in the center of the room with the logo of a very prominent Silicon Valley competitor.

Just for fun, I decided to walk over to see what they had to say. I didn’t immediately indicate the company I was representing, as I wasn’t sure they’d be keen to pitch a competitor. But I figured they’d at least be friendly enough to chat with me. Turns out that the founder and CEO was the one working the booth—a little unusual for a well-established company, but great luck for me. After he answered some of my technical questions, I explained that I was from a small British competitor that focused on on-prem, high security deployments, whereas they were the market leader in the cloud speech processing space.

As it turns out, the founder had a lot of business that he had to turn away because he didn’t have the time to develop an on-prem solution, even though he had Fortune 500 clients lined up asking for his help. He asked to connect to my executive team, and I happily made the introduction. Over the course of many months of negotiations, our companies eventually developed a major lasting partnership—more than justifying the cost of the event. My boss happily paid for my Signal badges every year since then.

My days of sneaking into Signal are now long behind me. Since joining Courier, I've found myself on the other side of the table – working closely with Twilio instead of narrowly escaping their security guards. This year, I'll even have my own (virtual) booth at Signal where, just maybe, some eager salesperson will pitch us on a great and lasting partnership.

If you're interested in learning more about Courier at Signal, check out the upcoming events we have planned!

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