Growth Hacking Tips For Start-Ups: Why Not Give Trade Shows a Go?6 min read

All start-ups are primarily looking for quick wins and growth hacks in digital marketing to turbo charge their sales: blogs, search engine optimisation, e-mailing, advertising, social media, conversion rate optimisation… Here’s our tip: just off the beaten track lies trade shows and conferences, which represent a great opportunity for startups and small businesses.

Early-stage businesses often consider trade shows and conferences as low priority in terms of exhibiting at or sponsoring, mainly for the three reasons mentioned below, but I’ll attempt to prove the contrary.

Reason 1: “In the era of digital communication, trade shows don’t bring business anymore”

Not true. Of course nowadays digital marketing is the sinews of war and any company should come up with a strong strategy. If you don’t have one yet, here is a list of 19 different growth hacking categories.

Digital marketing will probably grow traffic to the website and lead generation with a great level of control over costs and return on investment, although it can still quickly all add up. With trade shows, it’s different. Exhibiting or sponsoring can come at a cost, but the reward is much greater.

Reason 2: “ROI is difficult to quantify after a trade show”

It depends. For businesses selling consumer goods, exhibiting at a fair is just like opening a new shop. They can open the cash register at the end of the day and gauge their return on investment. However, the methodology for B2B events is different, counting how many leads were generated and following conversions over time: 6 months, a year after the show…

If you think it is difficult for you, think of companies in the aeronautic industry: for example Boeing or Airbus exhibiting the planes they will sell in 10 years… Now if you doubt trade shows, put it this way: where else would Boeing or Airbus sell their planes?

Also, ROI is not just about sales but also about achieving ‘non-sales’ goals; increased visibility, networking and brand awareness will bring opportunities, sooner or later.

Depending on your sales cycle, you might have to give up on estimating the ROI. But instead, let’s fix the problem at its root: find the best events, tailored to your goals, products and industry.

Reason 3: “Trade shows are difficult to find, benchmark and book”

Not anymore. Ok.You might not agree off the bat, especially if you’re working for or running a niche business and already feel you know all the trade shows and business events in your city. But what if you want to reach new markets? Do some business abroad?

Even in your zone of comfort, creative event strategies pay off. For example, Ferrari was the first to sell luxury cars at boat shows: a $200,000 car looks affordable compared to $20m yacht. Brilliant growth hack, Ferrari!

Our web application, Tradefest, connects growth-hungry companies with the best business events. You can benchmark and select the events that seem to meet your expectations based on other people’s reviews. Share insights and discuss with other professionals in the network.

Reason 4: “And, obviously, trade shows are too expensive”

Sometimes, but small business can also get incredible deals!

Our application, Tradefest, is designed with this objective in mind. When you find an event you’d like to attend, just let us know by requesting a deal. When lots of start-ups and SMEs join the deal, everyone’s negotiation power increases and thus organizers are more likely to offer discounts and special offers: early-bird, last-minute, booth sharing and group tickets

Attendees love innovation, so trade shows love startups.

Some event organizers even went as far as to offer free booths on Tradefest. For example, the Hors Série Maison by Foire de Paris trade show in Paris offered 4 stands to exhibit in front of 100,000+ attendees for 8 days. What’s the catch? To apply, start-ups had to demonstrate innovation with products that will revolutionise the home this winter. Attendees love innovation, so trade shows love startups.

Find trade shows, conferences and grab exclusive offers on booths on Tradefest.

Which trade shows should a startup attend or exhibit at?

Ready to take the leap? There are two types of trade shows you can take part in: trade shows dedicated to innovation, gathering start-ups and entrepreneurs from all horizons, and industry-specific trade shows trying to bring innovation to their events.

Alternatively, you can also go for smaller events like conferences. The line between tradeshows and conferences is thin: many conferences will have exhibitors, most of them have sponsors and you can even sometimes get a sponsored speaker sessions to extend the reach of your business and the impact you make at the event.

Trade shows focusing on innovation


  • Reach an audience that is interested in startups – people that attend are engaged, informed and not looking to meet people from massive corporations
  • Brand awareness: media love innovation, politicians might even come to take selfies and leach off your coolness


  • The audience is sometimes not very qualitative, not optimised for sales, especially if the trade show is not industry-specific. Also, get ready for a tidal wave of students.
  • Price, if you can’t negotiate a free booth because you’re not seen to be innovative or valuable enough to draw in the crowds.

Example: Vivatech in Paris, CES trade shows in the US

Where to look: Here is a list of all trade shows for startups backed up with insights from professionals. Share your opinion too and vouch for the trade shows you liked and would recommend to others!


Industry-specific trade shows


  • The audience is qualitative. Attendees are looking for solutions you are offering.
  • You can get a good deals as a start-up or SME


  • Your competitors will probably be there too

Where to look: trade shows lists by industry: Digital, Marketing, Travel, Leisure and Tourism, FinTech



  • Price
  • You may get there before the competition
  • The topics being discussed at the conference means the audience is extremely qualitative


  • Audience can be small
  • Attendees are experts and come to a conference to learn from talks and exchange with their peers. Exhibitors are not the main focus so getting footfall can be challenging.

Example: Festival of Marketing, London

Where to look: in this list of events specially filtered to show conferences only.


Trade shows and conferences are maybe not the first growth hacking idea that comes to mind when you’re a small business or a start-up. Not because it’s not a good tactic, but because they are often down near the bottom of the ‘to do list’ and because most people don’t like to go outside their comfort zones. (Yes, trade shows are challenging and take a lot more time to organize than putting an ad on Google! But the payoff from the event can be huge).

Discover Tradefest and book the best events at the right prices.