Hacking Davos: My first experience as a female founder at the world’s biggest, most exclusive international conference.
This article does not recap World Economic Forum 2019 — the official site gives an awesome update for those who did not have the chance to attend the conference this year. Instead, I’ve included is my very personal takeaway and thoughts, as a woman, I would share with those of you who are planning to attend the forum in the future.
I went to Davos open-minded, not only hoping to meet women (and men) passionate about supporting the women’ empowerment cause and investing in female entrepreneurs, but also looking forward to connecting with curious and sophisticated international entrepreneurs, learning from the world’s brightest minds, and making new friends. It all happened on the first day! The very first evening exceeded my expectations, as I was running out of business cards (I brought over 200!) and exchanging LinkedIn information instead. Here are my guidelines on how to make your first Davos experience truly remarkable:
Stay curious and outgoing, don’t limit yourself to networking in your own industry. Yes, meeting work related people significantly increases the chances of advancing your company. However, it was meeting founders who were focused on something completely unusual for me (ie, building AI technologies for solving world’s most pressing issues) turned out to be the most educational experience for me.
Don’t “overmingle” and never try to meet everyone. Engaging in a fewer more substantial conversations and connecting on a deeper level was very fulfilling and ended up in some awesome follow up meetings. People running around all day just handling out their business cards and looking over your shoulder while talking to you are a big red flag.
Don’t stick to your original schedule and play it by year. There are a lot of cool panels/ private dinners/ parties going on at the same time and it’s not easy to predict which one will be the most interesting one. I altered my entire schedule after meeting a few really great people and simply decided to follow their lead — and never regretted that decision.
Bring warm and comfortable boots — and warm clothes. Most likely you will have to move a lot from one event to the other. As I experienced one of the coldest Davoses with the temperature dropping to zero Fahrenheit at night, it comes as no surprise that the local snow boots store ran out of boots! In fact, the typical Davos dress code is business (or often business casual) attire combined with snow boots .
If you run into a well-known leader you admire — do not hesitate to come over and introduce yourself. From my personal experience, most people are very friendly and open to meeting other participants, making new friends, and learning about new ideas. I had been concerned that I would not be taken very seriously as the average age of the forum attendee is 50 for men, and 40 for women. On the contrary, senior leaders are excited to learn from millennials and often eager to share their experience and even give their personal contact details.
Take notes when you exchange cards — or even better, take photos with all the people you would like to follow up with in addition to taking their cards. I usually pride myself on having perfect memory, but by the end of day four, I could not remember half of the people while looking through my pile of business cards.
Decide what’s really important for you. As a female founder and community builder, I was really thrilled to check out the FQ (Female Quotient) Lounge started by Shelley Zalis to advance equality in the workplace. FQ, in my view, was one of the most popular and nicely organized lounges at Davos with an awesome programming and really great guests. Not only did I meet women to collaborate with in the future, but also I had a chance to connect with seasoned investors passionate about investing in women led businesses. Besides, that was the best way to get healthy snacks. No wonder, the women led lounge attracted a great audience.
Lana Pozhidaeva is the Founder of WE Talks, a NYC-based monthly event series for female entrepreneurs and professionals. “WE” stands for Women’s Empowerment, Encouragement, and Entrepreneurship. WE Talks is one of NYC’s fastest growing professional communities (monthly growth exceeding 50%) with 300+ women attending its latest gatherings.
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