An Open Letter to Informa on How to Replace Expo East

My first ever trade show visit was to Expo East in the Fall of 2012. Incidentally, this was the show where Rhythm Superfoods debuted their line of kale chips (not easy to manufacture, BTW). Their aisle was un-navigable most of the show. At the time, New Hope’s trade shows were still growing in annual popularity. Money was flooding ever faster into the CPG space. Corporate venture capital outfits, venture capitalists, and PE firms strolled the Halls of these events, scouting out founders with ‘potential.’ 

This was the era in which Patagonia-vest wearing VCs would walk the floor with their badges flipped over so as not to attract a bunch of “money-grubbing startups.” So annoying to be approached by the peasants while outside the castle walls. 

And this condescending behavior from investors leads me to the real opportunity that Informa has before it as it contemplates how to create another revenue-generating event to replace its Eastern trade show.

Stop depending on investors and large corporate sponsors. When you do this, the entire event begins to cater to their narrow business interests, as does much of the content (or lack thereof). Investors do not want to attend ‘education’ events. They have access to tons of data and internal research staff. They don’t need trade shows to provide a critical context for their work. Investors benefit directly from naive founders NOT having access to the same knowledge they do. This contextual knowledge is a form of knowledge asymmetry they absolutely want to maintain.

Consider creating an industry event that, for the first time, caters primarily to founders of all experience levels. And vet those who can attend. Charge ‘tuition,’ not an unvetted admissions fee. Maybe place them into experience-based tracks.

Then, invite experts and paid speakers who have never graced your stages before. Actually, offer up the best expertise available. Many of the most experienced people will charge you for their time and travel. Otherwise, Informa is left with investors and friends of the sponsors. 

Actual experts could provide a more balanced perspective than founders are currently getting. This is especially true when first-time founders get invited to speak with no track record of any kind other than ‘passion.’

Informa would have to re-staff the administration with people not vetted for their ideological purity but rather for their objective, professional administration of training events and conferences (a very different game than a trade show). New Hope conferences are a vestige of a moralistic organic food movement that has clearly proven the limits of its market potential. Most of the attendees don’t share this ideology anymore anyway. They are there to build businesses and make money. 

So, let’s finally create an industry event that educates and empowers founders rather than one that uses founders as booth bait to draw in a large number of ticket sales. 

These ideas would offer up a wealth of wisdom to new and old founders, amateurs, and professionals. 

No one has done it because no one believes that 5,000 founders would show up to a multi-day event without the promise of a) access to capital or b) access to buyers. The fact that most booths do not appear to be secure either during the show is a fact no one wants even to survey or calculate, let alone publish. 

Selling access is a dead business model in a post-Covid, Linked-In fueled world. It’s honestly medieval in the corruption it feeds and draws into the show environment. It’s also unnecessary to spend $25-40K on trade show expenses to meet buyers or investors. The show just makes this more convenient

I can hear the objections. Training events don’t make money because once you’re trained, you don’t come back. Well, obviously, other layers, including pretexts for networking, need to be part of the value offered. I would include adding public debates, not only because they would be entertaining but also because they would provide a way to place key stakeholder classes’ biases on display.

Founders need knowledge, training, and context. They don’t need loaded advice from each stakeholder class designed to sell their services (now or in the future). 

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]