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How to Answer 3 Tricky Conference Questions


If young startups can expect one thing at an industry conference, it’s a grilling about their product features. And when that happens, you better answer carefully.

Your listener doesn’t want to listen to another buzzword filled marketing spiel. But they will never remember your product if all you do is provide answers like a static FAQ page. So the key to a successful conference pitch lies in balancing these two extremes – answering their questions and promoting your startup.

You already know how to promote your startup while answering questions – that’s the job of every piece of marketing collateral you possess. The tricky part comes when questions deviate from the standard customer script.

Here are 4 of the more nuanced questions you’ll get at a conference, along with best practices for answering them.

1. “So your product is basically X for Y?”

The X for Y startup framework (for example, providing bunnies on demand would be ‘Uber for bunnies’) is a quick and easy way to convey what your company does to a jaded consumer public. Spokespeople shy away from this characterization because it oversimplifies their offering, gives free press to someone else and may inaccurately represent the brand. That’s probably why you don’t see it in official company promotions.

But if a customer draws that conclusion on their own, so be it. At that point you might as well build on the existing conviction. Accept the comparison while drawing distinguishing lines, and do it in a way that both satisfies the asker and leaves a positive aftertaste.

At Mailtime we receive this characterization often. With consumers it’s ‘a Whatsapp skin for Gmail’, or with investors it’s “the ease of mobile messaging married with email’s open platform’. They’re not far off the mark, because officially, ‘Mailtime makes email as quick and easy as texting’.

2. Why can’t ‘big company X’ copy what you’re doing and steal all your users?

A favorite among investors, this one forces careful thought the first few times you hear it. It’s harder to convince someone asking this that the big company won’t copy you, but if you have compelling reasons why that won’t happen, go ahead and try.

Otherwise, stick with the standard response. “If big company X copied us, it would validate our solution. Meanwhile, they don’t understand the market like we do. Their solution would differ from ours in these key ways, which stem for our differing opinions on the nature of the product. Our solution is laser focused on the unique needs of this niche, whereas theirs is characteristic of a generic solution.”

If that doesn’t sway them, there’s always the old adage “Tech companies never build what they can buy”

3.The question you should always be answering- “Why did you make this?”

Most founders start a company because they see an opportunity to make something of value. It starts with a strong idea, without much of a product behind it. That hasn’t changed much by the time you cobble together an MVP for some conference.So at this point, is is best to tie your answers back to Why.

The most compelling Why is a story. Stories stick in a customer’s head better than a hollow feature demonstration. So share your journey, emphasize with their pain points, and let them know you understand.

Sharing works better than selling. When talking to users about our product, asking them if they’ve ever been frustrated with mobile emails always elicits a better response than ‘mobile emails suck, don’t they? Here, download our app’.

Showing authentic care when asking questions will help you get better feedback, and convey how strongly you feel about this solution. And isn’t that why you came to the conference in the first place?

The story of why your product exists might be the only thing that your audience will remember about it, after a long weekend of networking with hundreds of other people. Perhaps even more so than what it does. That’s why the why is so important.

At MailTime, we come from a history of mobile communication excellence, with the 5 million user voice messaging app TalkBox. As great as it was, we realized that it was a closed system – users could only communicate with other users of the app. We decided to reinvent the one true open system – email – using the best practices learned from mobile messengers, and that’s how Mailtime came to be.

Ever encountered one of these questions before? Any other tricky ones we missed? Tweet us!

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