Is INBOUND the right conference for startups to attend?

11 September 2018
12 min read

So I’m currently somewhere in between Frankfurt and Leipzig on an Inter-City Express (ICE) train on my way home from the 2018 edition of INBOUND. I’m fighting falling asleep on this train so I can get my biological clock back into European time as soon as possible, so I figured it was an opportune time to write a blog article ;-). And with that, I wanted to take a moment to talk to you guys about INBOUND.

Wait, wtf is INBOUND? I thought people only said that when TIE fighters are approaching the rebels in Star Wars?


Well, you’re not wrong. INBOUND is certainly that as well, but it is also so much more. In a nutshell, INBOUND represents two things:

  1. It alludes to the term Inbound Marketing. Which is a distinct style of marketing that centers around having all of your digital channels providing answers and information pertaining to the problems your product or service sells, thus helping you get found by prospects who are actively pursuing something you offer. This style of marketing was really made popular in the late 2000’s by HubSpot Co-Founders Dharmesh Shah & Brian Halligan, they literally wrote the book on Inbound Marketing.
  2. It is the name of the conference that was the result of this marketing movement gaining such a devout following. Literally, all the fans, followers, evangelists, and interested parties alike gather annually in Boston (right over the river from where HubSpot is based) to learn all about the latest happenings and trends with INBOUND, and to network with other like-minded folks.
Pretty awesome to have the SpinLab Startup Community so well represented at INBOUND

Pretty awesome to have the SpinLab Startup Community so well represented at INBOUND

If you’ve met me in any sort of professional context, you know that I used to work at HubSpot, so I’m an Inbound Marketing Fanatic. In my personal and professional opinion, I really don’t see why companies in 2018, ESPECIALLY STARTUPS, are still wasting time, energy, and effort planning outbound marketing campaigns. (Just for the sake of quickly re-capping, outbound marketing is everything you’ve seen to date: radio ads, tv ads, cold emailing, telephone marketing, etc).

I really don’t see why companies in 2018, ESPECIALLY STARTUPS, are still wasting time, energy, and effort planning outbound marketing campaigns.

That being said, the answer to the title of this article is a resounding YES! But here’s some context that is specific to startups.

Quick note, while INBOUND can be considered the love child of HubSpot, INBOUND is certainly not all about HubSpot, and it has evolved into its own brand. While HubSpot is certainly present and abound, it is not an event where you will have HubSpot sales and products shoved down your throat the entire time, not at all.

7 great reasons why INBOUND is a great conference for startups

1. This method of marketing really is the future.

Outbound marketing is getting harder and harder to execute and measure. Another distinct disadvantage of outbound marketing for startups, is that it is also getting more and more expensive. We all know budgets are very important for startups in the beginning, so throwing away money in the early phases on dated techniques is not the way to go. SPAM filters are getting smarter, algorithms are getting better at showing people ads they actually want to see (in theory), and the user has a lot more control nowadays about how they take in data online. Small, early-phase startups with limited resources and budgets are, for the most part, not going to able to have an impact with traditional outbound marketing techniques.

Secondly, outbound marketing is starting to become borderline illegal if you’re an entity in the EU, or if you deal with clients in the EU. Remember The Great Demise of Marketers in 2018 -> May 25th, 2018? AKA The day GDPR officially went into effect in the European Union? Yep, European Nations stepped up their privacy game this year, and really cracked down on people who were exploiting data. I’m no lawyer, and I’m not looking to get into legal intricacies of the GDPR, but in a nutshell companies doing business in the EU need to be careful with how they are treating data, or they could receive heavy fines as punishment. Do I hate the GDPR? Yes, I do with a passion, but not for the reasons you may think. It brought me a ton of extra work that had to be done, whilst juggling my normal work-rodeo, so yes personally it brought on some extra annoyances for me, but as a whole, I believe in, and fully support, the GDPR.

But as a whole, I believe in, and fully support, the GDPR.

I mean that truthfully, because if your company follows a pure inbound marketing strategy, GDPR probably didn’t change too much of what you do everyday, because you only collect data from people who want to be actively giving their data to you. Sure, you probably had to update a bunch of legal jargon and privacy policies on the site, but compared to people who have been doing marketing the wrong way, you were way ahead of the power curve. Furthermore I am tired of seeing people trying to “cheat” marketing. Don’t insult your customers’ intelligence. Good marketing takes time, building trust takes time, there are no hacks around this, and if you believe that you can hack customer trust, then you rightfully deserve any penalty the GDPR may bestow upon you one day.

Back on theme, INBOUND is a gathering of people from all industries, all backgrounds, from around the entire world, who are passionate about it, and it’s a great place to trade ideas on the topics, and figure out how to implement the methodology into your startup. It doesn’t matter if you’re a business or a tech head, you’ll find someone who speaks your language, both literally and figuratively. It’s the perfect place to get on the INBOUND bandwagon, and if you’re already on it, it’s the perfect place to expand your knowledge on the topic.

2. INBOUND is big, but not too big.

I have mixed feelings about conferences, sometimes I feel like they are extremely enlightening, and sometimes I feel like they are just too massive that they don’t really yield any real benefit. INBOUND 2018 was about 24000 attendees from around the globe in total, definitely a respectable number, but when you compare that to Web Summit 2017, Europe’s biggest (possibly the world’s biggest as well) annual tech conference in Lisbon, (as of writing this, the 2018 edition of Web Summit has not yet happened) which yields on average 90,000 yearly attendees, there is a clear disparity there. Furthermore, many companies that have participated in our startup accelerator program have expressed that gaining anything out of the bigger conferences are the world is extremely difficult.

I’m not bashing or hating on the Web Summit by any means. The sessions I attended at the Web Summit in 2017 were worthwhile and insightful, and they always have an impressive speaker lineup, but for my own personal tastes, it was too much. You waited in massive lines for EVERYTHING. Want a cup of coffee? Goodbye 15 minutes. Want to talk to that startup at that booth? Goodbye 20 minutes. Need the toilet? Goodbye 30 minutes. Hungry for lunch in the middle of the lunch rush? Well, you’re just out of luck. This amount of chaos really detracts the overall value of the conference for me, and I’m certain there are a lot of people there who feel the same way. So hey, if you dig bigger is better, by all means hit up some of the giants of the conference world and have at it. If a medium-sized conference with a central theme, and modest lines is more your thing, then INBOUND won’t disappoint here.

3. The INBOUND mobile app is perfection

A weird thing to be on this list, but the INBOUND app that comes out every year is a true marvel of modern times. As a startup founder, you could learn a lot from it, for example:

  1. Proper UX Design. For any startups out there doing anything with a mobile app, the INBOUND app can provide more valuable lessons than any lecture in a university hall. It is intuitive, it is responsive, it is all encompassing, it is fast, and it is beautiful all at the same time. Above all, it gives all of the information it needs to give, very reliably and seamlessly.
  2. It’s a powerful marketing tool. The INBOUND marketing team really nails this, the app really flourishes at fostering a sense of community both within the app with an activity stream and a direct messaging feature, it also directly incorporates all relevant social media happenings right in the app.
The INBOUND app interface

An overlooked detail perhaps, but from a technical and marketing standpoint, there are fewer apps out there that have performed better.

4. Boston is AWESOME for startups!

Akamai, Trip Advisor, HubSpot, Constant Contact, Sapient -> all big names of companies founded right in the Boston area. Combine that with the plethora of world famous universities, research facilities, and hospitals, and you’re in the modern day Athens of the western world.

HubSpot also has a fantastic Growth for Startups program.

This is a dedicated program that HubSpot runs exclusively for startups, which offers trainings on inbound marketing, and can offer startups massive discounts in the early phases when they choose to work with paid versions of HubSpot’s SaaS offerings. We’re naturally a partner program of this initiative, so it was great to be there to meet other founders looking to implement HubSpot and Inbound Marketing into their everyday lives.

Startup HQ at INBOUND 2018

Startup HQ at INBOUND 2018

From left to right, Caragh Kennedy (Our HubSpot Account Manager & Growth @ HubSpot for Startups Head), Daniel Patiño of Digifianz, & Bright Halligan, HubSpot CEO

From left to right, Caragh Kennedy (Our HubSpot Account Manager & Growth @ HubSpot for Startups Head), Daniel Patiño of Digifianz, & Bright Halligan, HubSpot CEO

As if that wasn’t enough reasons, INBOUND is the perfect reason for new founders to come to one of the oldest and most historic cities in the United States, and in between your sessions make some plans to go get inspired in the cities. The current startup scene there is alive and very well, and you can certainly find someone to chat up a storm with. Look up the founders online before you go and try to set up some appointments, or you can even check in the INBOUND app, if they’re a local Boston company it is highly likely that they will going to the conference themselves!

5. It’s a great place to do active recruiting

This one was a new one for me, but I actually met 3 startup founders this time around, all of which had said they came to INBOUND specifically to recruit! That’s something I did not expect, but apparently they have had great success with it in the past. They all said that the quality of interviews they had on spot at INBOUND, where much higher than that using traditional methods. So hey, if you wanna meet some of the smartest marketers and tech heads around the world gathered in one area, why not come and launch your own recruiting campaign here?

6. It’s a great place to get new processes integrated into your startup

One of my favorite things to do at INBOUND is simply walk around the main conference floor ground to see what is going on in the tech and marketing world. First off, there is a lot of cool stuff going on there like massages, sometimes booze, some fun photo booths, and other activities.

Don't like, you would have taken a picture in this bathtub as well.

Don’t lie, you would have taken a picture in this bathtub as well.

But mainly, this is where all the sponsors of the event setup shop to promote their offerings. Every year I meet a new company here that has developed something amazing, that I never would have even thought to have looked for on my own. A lot of the time these are also startups that have entered their scaling phase, so they’re not too different from you. Most of the time you can even work out some kind of special deals here or partnerships to get the solution integrated into your startup, so it’s definitely worth doing some old school networking on the main floor.

7. It’s just good old plain fun

The conference as a whole is a very relaxed environment, you won’t find anyone in a suit walking around, and all of the sessions are fairly intimate and personal. Boston as a city is not so massive, so when INBOUND is in town the whole gets behind the event and there’s great side events going on all over the city, as well as some great marketing parties. It’s the finest example of work hard / play hard that you can find on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

Another highlight for me is the HubSpot founders are always one of the major keynotes at the event, and every time they present together it is brilliant. They stay humble to their roots as two co-founders coming out of MIT who built their empire from the ground up, but they always remember where they came from, and ultimately, their story is what every startup founder out there is trying to replicate, but in their own fashion. This is something unique to INBOUND, that you won’t find anywhere else, and I think this can really help inspire a lot of new founders out there.

I worked the first three INBOUNDs as a HubSpot employee, and I’ve been to two as a guest, and each time has been remarkable and memorable!

So whatcha waiting for, go get your INBOUND on!

If you’re a new startup founder, and you’re looking to step up your conference game, I can highly recommend INBOUND for you. The topics and speaker lineup will definitely have tons to offer you, in an environment that is relaxed and literally caters perfectly to startups. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

About the author

Shawn Segundo is the marketing manager at the SpinLab. He’s worked extensively with all company sizes from startups to enterprise clients while working as an online marketing consultant in both the United States and the European Union. Follow him on Twitter @shawn2nd

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