From its first sale to its first round, there are many milestones on a startup’s path to growth. In the technology infrastructure space, one of these milestones is beginning to hold what is commonly referred to as an “Analyst Day.” While certainly not mandatory – Microsoft, for example, used to have them only intermittently – they are common when a startup hits a certain size and velocity. They may be stand alone events, or they may be attached to another, larger event that the company is putting on. In either case, the typical justification for the costs – both literal and opportunity – is that the startup in question has entered a phase of its existence in which analysts have some degree of influence over customers, and it is therefore advisable to have the analysts in to improve the perception of the one time startup.
On paper it’s a simple idea. In practice, analyst days are a complicated set of choices, many dependent on variables that are difficult to quantify. Much depends on the particular product area, its go to market, the analysts in that space and their approach, and so on. As we’ve attended a great many analyst days at RedMonk, and have frequently been asked for input by clients on what works and what doesn’t, here are a few thoughts on how to approach one if your startup either already holds them or is considering doing so.
- Have a Specific Goal:
First, and most importantly, have a goal. Do you, for example, want to make sure that analysts are up to speed on every aspect and feature in your portfolio? Or do you want to foster deeper relationships and connections between your executives and the analysts that cover the market? Understanding the primary goal for your analyst day is important because, as just one example, you likely cannot accomplish both of the first two goals. You can try, for example, to tack a meet and greet cocktail hour or dinner onto a day of presentations, but there’s only so much networking even the most motivated individuals can do in an hour or two. Conversely, if you build down time into the schedule to facilitate informal conversations and impromptu meetings, something has to give from a product presentation perspective. Rather than try and be prescriptive in terms of what your goal should be, then, the best advice is simply to think about what it is, and build your schedule around that.
Years ago, a few of us were lamenting the lack of breaks in an an analyst day’s schedule, and the Analyst Relations (AR) representative we were speaking with said, “So, what, we should go later than 5:30?” Our reply was instead to do less: fewer presentations, more opportunities to talk and connect. When you have presentations all day from 7:30 to 5:30, including over breakfast and lunch, you can expect declining levels of attention as the day goes on. It’s just human nature, made worse by wifi. It’s important to acknowledge here that AR people are frequently put in impossible situations with analyst days. On the one hand, every company executive wants his or her fifteen minutes of fame – or more likely, thirty to sixty minutes or more. On the other, analysts are people, and people can only absorb so many presentations in a day. There is, in other words, a possibly irreconcilable tension between those attending the event and those presenting to the attendees. The former has a maximum capacity for input, and the output of the latter may exceed that capacity. The best advice I can provide for AR in this situation is to try and build top down consensus around a goal, as described above. It’s much easier to push back on overbearing product executives, for example, if you can say “the goal here is larger than a mere product update.”
Take Advantage of In Person Time:
Whatever the overarching goal of an analyst day might be, it’s important to recognize the nature of the opportunity you have. It’s always surprising when companies dedicate not inconsiderable budgets towards an analyst day that brings people in from all over the country and puts them in the same room, then presents at them the same way they would if the analysts were on a conference call. What’s the point of having everyone there in person if you don’t take advantage of that time? The best analyst days we attend have some form of presentations, but also incorporate a meeting heavy schedule with room for smaller, informal breakouts that become more of a discussion. This almost certainly varies by analyst, but the most valuable aspect of any analyst day for me are the opportunities to meet one on one. I can take slides and a general presentation from anywhere; I can’t duplicate the conversational flow and serendipity of an in person meeting nearly so easily. Whatever your higher level goals, then, remember to take advantage of the face to face time, because it’s rare.
Scheduling and Timing:
There are obviously a huge number of considerations when hosting an analyst day. What other events does it conflict with? There’s one, for example, this spring that conflics with five major conferences, which makes attendance difficult to manage. Does the analyst day overlap with winter or spring vacations for parents? Is the location you’re holding the analyst day accessible from a travel perspective? Will the analyst be able to combine your event with other onsite visits? Those are all questions to answer ahead of time, because being surprised by them after the fact can impact the success of your event. Two other recommendations for scheduling and timing. First, try and keep them to one day. Analysts typically carry heavy travel loads, so time away from home is precious. This means that the difference between a single day event and a two day, or even one and a half day, is significant. And on a related note, do not schedule an analyst day on weekends. A vendor who shall go unnamed tried to make their analyst day on Saturday and Sunday before a Monday General Conference. From what we hear – we decided RedMonk would not attend – attendance was sparse, because it’s one thing to have to get on a plane Sunday for a Monday event, but quite another to be in a conference center listening to slides at 8 AM on a Sunday morning.
Travel & Expenses:
One frequent question is whether it’s expected that companies holding analyst days are responsible for paying the travel & expenses of the attending analysts. Some analyst firms specifically prohibit this; RedMonk, for the record, does not, but does disclose when our travel has been paid for. The short answer is that there’s no hard rule about comping travel. Most vendors do, in my experience, and there are differences in that some will cover airfare and hotel, while others are hotel only. The case for comping travel is straightforward. Analysts, whether they’re generalist or specialist, cover many companies, and paying their way to all of the analysts days in question along with all of the other conferences and events they’ll attend in a given year simply doesn’t scale. Which means that (with exceptions) analysts are more likely to attend events where their travel at least is covered. Whether this is important to the success or failure of your analyst day depends, again, on your goal. If you choose to cover T&E, consider setting a budget and letting an analyst manage the travel on their end. Many vendors rely on third party travel agencies, and it’s always a clunky experience even when things go smoothly, and if any changes need to be made the third party becomes a major issue. Two major cloud vendors contrasted these approaches for us recently. The first gave us a travel budget, and we bought our own tickets, rooms, etc and billed to that budget. The second booked us through a third party, and when a flight needed to be changed it involved multiple rounds of emails back and forth from analyst to AR to travel agency and back.
These are just a few suggestions, and an analyst day as mentioned involves a large number of choices which couldn’t be covered here. Hopefully it’s of some utility to people and companies in the position or organizing such events, however. If any of the AR folks or analysts in the audience have additional thoughts or suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments.