Blog Article

Lessons From Going Big at Our First Conference

Alex Lee




Jun 26, 2024

Having a booth at a major conference can be a game-changer for your startup. Here are some tips from our experience at AICPA Engage 24, where we got a 20" x 30" booth, speaking slot, got hundreds of leads, made mistakes and learned a ton.

Truewind is AI-powered accounting. We built a digital accountant that does the journal entry work to close the books. Many founders know us for our end-to-end bookkeeping solution. Accounting firms know us for our Month-End Close product.

Getting in front of accounting firms is hard—they’re not on Bookface, Product Hunt, Hacker News, ... The conference route is a good idea for startups selling to finance and accounting groups. Partners of accounting firms, execs of internal finance teams, CIOs (i.e. decision makers and buyers) go to these conferences to find software vendors.

We went to the AICPA Engage conference in Las Vegas. This is the largest accounting conference in the US. 3,500+ accountants spend 3 days in Vegas getting caught up on their CPE credits (continued professional education).


  • This was our first conference as exhibitors—for Truewind and as individuals

  • We decided to go big: we got a 20” x 30” booth (the second largest space)

  • In addition a speaking slot, 13" tall booth structure, swag, artisan swag, and other neat ideas

  • As a result, we got hundreds of sales qualified leads and closed an enterprise deal within 2 weeks of the conference

  • Overall, it was a success. The feedback from prospects was very positive

Things that went well

  1. Going big drew attention - I’ve read posts about cost effective ways to do well at a conference. We decided to go big because we were the new kid on a block filled with familiar faces. Our approach of  making a splash worked, and we ended up having roughly 30 people hanging around our booth at any given time.

  2. Booth design - It’s hard to know exactly how much of our foot traffic was attributed to the booth design, but it definitely made us stand out. The backlit Truewind logo, video wall, and our flashy Las Vegas-themed photo wall drew attention from a distance.

  3. Coffee stand - From an ROI perspective, our coffee stand was the best investment. It was relatively cheap compared to other expenses, yet brought in a ton of people. We had a barista pouring steamed milk in the shape of our logo, and bright Truewind stickers on every coffee cup. The level of detail we invested into our branding really paid off, especially since it created visibility far beyond our booth. For example, when attendees went over to a trash bin to throw something away, our cups and logo were everywhere. Also, make sure you get good snacks—avoid bland/generic stuff.

  4. Swag strategy - For swag, we categorized our items into high, medium, and low-value tiers.

    High-value items: Reserved for people who took the time to meet with us for a demo. We opted for premium products like Stanley Cups and high-end battery block chargers. Over-indexing on high-value swag was the right move; it directly contributed to the large number of demos and deeper engagements we got.

    Medium-value items: These were given out to select individuals who showed genuine interest in our product but might not have had the time for a full demo. Here, we had sunglasses, hats and phone stands.

    Low-value items: Handed out to anyone who stopped by our booth—these items were meant to create initial engagement/brand awareness, and included tote bags and laptop stickers. Also, everyone got artisan coffee and specialty snacks; technically not swag, but they were definitely our most in-demand medium/low-value items.

  5. Building up a crowd - Jia, one of our engineers, gave a demo to a group of five people. Quickly, that small crowd grew to ten, and then fifteen. This happened because when you see a group huddled around something, you want to know what they’re up to. Our learning: We have cool things to show! We'll plan a schedule of talks next time on various topics around our booth.

    Another thing: as a Silver Sponsor, we had 16 tickets but only 10 team members at the event. If you have extra tickets, give them to your customers or partners, invite them to stop by your booth and encourage them to bring other people along as well. Their presence is an easy way to create the impression of a busy and buzzing booth, and attract even more foot traffic.

  6. Teamwork - I'm so proud of the execution from my team. A big reason that things ran so smoothly was because of our preparation, communication and clear role assignments. Having that kind of structure in place was especially important when it came to giving demos, which is an area that not everyone is equally familiar with.

    Beforehand, we’d identified our team members with the most experience and made it clear that they should take the lead on demos. For those with less experience, there was no pressure to present unless they felt ready. Having that delineation of responsibilities ensured that every demo was delivered effectively, maintaining a high standard of engagement with potential leads. With 10 of us there, we had stellar coverage throughout every phase of the conference—especially during peak times.

    Also, in terms of our mindset, we were optimizing for something that was just as important as operational excellence: having lots of fun. We made a point of turning Engage into a mini offsite and team-building activity. This approach ensured that we had enough hands on-deck, and was a great way for us to bond, collaborate under real-world pressure and overcome challenges together.

  7. Following up with leads - Within a week of attending Engage, we published a recap about the conference on our blog. The quick turnaround was intentional; we wanted to leverage the article’s publication to reconnect with leads we met at the conference, as well as older leads that we’d been meaning to touch base with.

    This approach provided a natural and valuable touchpoint, giving us a valid reason to reach out without appearing pushy. Specifically, our event recap served as a perfect conversation starter, allowing us to highlight the impact we made at the conference and keep the dialogue going. You can use data enrichment tools like Clearbit, ZoomInfo, Demandbase, and Apollo to get the contact information you need. We used Persana AI, one of our fellow YC batchmates!

Things we could’ve done better

  1. Dealing with conference WiFi - One of our biggest challenges was relying on the convention's WiFi for running technical demos. High-traffic environments can severely strain the WiFi, leading to unreliable connections. We learned the hard way that using mobile data as a backup is crucial for seamless demo experiences. So, ensure you have a robust mobile data plan or portable hotspot to avoid disruptions.

  2. Bringing toys for swag - We missed an opportunity by not including toys with our swag. Quan, one of our engineers, suggested that toys would be a big hit, especially for attendees looking to bring something back for their kids or grandkids. Sure enough, this was something that several people mentioned when they stopped by our booth, but we didn’t have any to give out. Next time, we're adding toys and more fun/memorable items into our swag lineup.

  3. Advertising our speaking slot - Our speaking slot didn't draw the crowd we hoped for. To be fair, it did generate leads, but the engagement level was way lower compared to our booth. Here, the learning is to promote your speaking session more aggressively and do everything possible to align it with high-traffic times.

  4. Extra demo prep - Although our overall preparation was solid, we realized that there were specific aspects of our demo presentation strategy that could’ve been done better. Specifically, we should have spent more time ensuring that every team member, especially those with less demo experience, had more practice, feedback and opportunities to refine their pitches.

Some other lessons

  1. Know your audience - If you’re thinking about having a booth at a conference, the first step is making sure that the right crowd will be there. For accounting, AICPA Engage is a major event with thousands of industry professionals. By talking to past attendees and exhibitors, we knew the perfect audience would be present: senior decision-makers ready to buy.

  2. Know the booths around you - We didn't score a spot near the entrance; we were actually two or three rows in. Our team knew that would be nearby and that their banner might obstruct the view to our booth. So, we did our homework. After checking's historical layout at Engage, we noticed a pattern: they always had a hanging banner, but their structures from the ground up weren't that high.

    Using that insight, we designed our booth to capitalize on this. We made sure that our Truewind sign was taller than their banner and visible from the moment attendees walked into the exhibit hall. It was a simple tweak, but made a huge difference in drawing attention to our booth.

  3. Make sure your product is ready - You’ll be giving a lot of demos, and need to feel confident in what you’re presenting. If you’re on the fence about this, err on the side of caution—there’s always another event you can attend later on.

  4. Don’t overthink your sponsorship level - We were a Silver Sponsor; the Truewind logos around the conference were great to see but that wasn't what we optimized for. We aimed to have a big presence and the booth experience was a bigger driver of that.


The AICPA Engage conference was our first big GTM investment and it took a lot of meticulous planning from our group to make it happen.

My last parting thought for any founder considering whether to invest in a conference booth:

  • Making a splash isn’t just about the size of the booth or the money spent; though it helps!

  • Have a deep understanding of who you’re targeting and their buying patterns. Make sure the right people are there.

  • Seize every opportunity to stand out (our Las Vegas-themed photowall) and try to attract passersby (our coffee stand).

  • The energy and hustle of your team members does help you stand out. Prospects will respond to that.

  • Ultimately, your booth experience is part of the customer experience. Even though it’s not the product per se, it’s a representation of the company.

Have a good show!

Alex Lee

About the Author

Alex is the Co-founder and CEO of Truewind. He's a 2x startup founder, both companies backed by Y Combinator. He started his career as an aerospace engineer at Boeing. He got his MBA at Columbia and BS in Aerospace Engineering from USC.