Talking startup event strategy - with HEX’s Jeanette Cheah

Jeanette Chea, CEO and co-founder of HEX, on how to get the most out of hosting and attending startup events, inspiring genuine community, and the secret to planning the perfect agenda
April 30, 2024
Giant Leap

Running a major event may not be the first thing on a founder’s mind as they’re focused on growing their business. They can be costly, time consuming and difficult as a form of marketing, and may have you questioning the real return on investment.

HEX’s standout success in running regular community and product-based events, most notably its recent one-day startup festival HEXPO 2023, may convince you of the huge potential of events as a platform for cementing your brand and building stronger relationships with partners and customers. Running HEXPO was a long-held dream for the EdTech founders, who wanted a platform to spotlight the amazing alumni talent, and to connect graduates, corporate Australia and startup friends alike, enabling the sharing of ideas around the future of education and the workforce. 

HEXPO 2023 sold 248 tickets, featured over 20 major speakers and was attended by an impressive list of team members from major companies including Atlassian, Google, ANZ Bank, SEEK and Telstra, and proved to offer a strong ROI for HEX’s goals to amplify their brand and celebrate their community. 

HEX CEO and co-founder Jeanette Cheah shares the strategy behind their flagship event and her hot tips for other startups who might be considering events as part of their marketing mix. 

Jeanette Chea at HEXPO 2023

What’s the point of having startup events anymore? Should we scrap them altogether?

We love live events at HEX, because they let us showcase the human experience that underpins our digital programs and education. When people attend live events, they can attach a face to the brand, and create meaningful relationships with us, other customers or members of the community. It becomes a bit of a flywheel to keep the community engaged, create shared 'lore' and memories – and introduce new products. Because we're a startup that serves students, attending a HEX event is a great way for them to realise that we're not their 'usual' university program – we are way more fun!

We are inspired by companies like Culture Amp who are famous for their live conferences bringing together 'people geeks', Salesforce who consider themselves an 'events company that just happens to sell software', or even Canva with their Canva Creates conference. 

What are the top 3 things every successful event needs?

Interactivity: We've learned that it's easy to overpack an agenda with one-way communication, so we try to create a lot of white space for interactivity and conversation. We also added a Mario Kart battle at lunchtime and a few other challenges to keep people engaged.

This is a WOW Instagrammable moment that delights your audience, makes them feel really special and lucky to be in the room, and allows them to brag about attending your event on social media! As well as the epic speaker lineup we had an IRL battle between a blow-up bear and shark and dialled up the audio visual effects to bring these moments to life. 

At least one GOOD personal conversation: Sometimes, it's not curation of content, it's curation of audience that makes an event great. Getting really tight on the target audience, and giving attendees some conversation prompts or thought bubbles can help them connect to others and really feel 'seen' – like they belong there and your brand is the facilitator of belonging.

There are lots of common mistakes we see at events, and here are a few:

  • Oversaturating events with too many sessions – people need time to digest the content and speak to each other.

  • Taking yourself too seriously, or speakers acting "high and mighty"– events need to blend edu-tainment and speakers who share openly and generously are the best rated. Event organisers need to take accountability for prepping all speakers and making sure their content and style works for the audience.

  • Lack of diversity on stage – it's 2024. Enough said.

  • Awkward or templated Acknowledgements of Country – what a beautiful opportunity to bring some meaningful connection to a professional space.

  • Being too sales-ey - don't disrespect your audience's time.
HEX team member Julia Tai at HEXPO 2023

As a busy founder who somehow still manages to keep on top of all the best events in the startup community, how do you prioritise what to go to? What kind of events are going to give a founder the best ROI on their time?

It's super easy to fill your diary with conferences and events, and I think it comes down to what your current business goals are and how 'events' fit into those as a communications channel.

So, if I'm about to launch something or filling the top of a sales pipeline, I might dial up my attendance. Even better, I lobby for keynote speaking spots or panel spots at events where my customers might be. Sometimes I see events as a great way to catch a lot of ecosystem stakeholders in one go – for example, an 'around the room' at an Alice Anderson Fund event is the equivalent of 15 individual coffees!

Sometimes there's a specific speaker, a specific topic, or a specific attendee I want to meet. Those are strategic choices. And some events are purely for fun, because as an extrovert I value that social connection with peers.

To get the most out of events, I try to take notes for my team to share new knowledge, send myself Slack notes or screencap LinkedIn profiles as reminders of who to follow-up on, and I'm always ready for a photo op (because everything is content).

HEXPO 2024 launches next week: This year’s theme is “HEXPOLYMPICS: Change the Game”. 

To sponsor, speak, or get involved, reach out to or check out the event prospectus.

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