RSAC SynSaber booth founders

Lessons Learned from our 1st RSAC Booth Adventure

Jori VanAntwerp, CEO SynSaber
Jori VanAntwerp
CEO, SynSaber

Last week, a few members of the SynSaber crew joined tens of thousands (yep) of cybersecurity practitioners, speakers, and vendors at RSAC in San Francisco, CA. For many attendees, this was the first in-person event they had attended since the last RSA Conference in February 2020.

For SynSaber, this conference was particularly meaningful because it marked our seed-stage startup’s very first foray into booth sponsorship.

There were lessons learned, connections made, and many delightful (and some not-so-delightful) surprises along the way.

“Hey <insert name>, are you going to RSAC?”

I’ve worked in cybersecurity for ~15 years and have frequently been the recipient of the “Hey Jori, will you be at RSA?” email or LinkedIn message. I have also been on the vendor side, giving demos at the booth or meeting with partners and prospects somewhere expo-adjacent.

But this was the first time I participated in almost every step of the process — booth placement, sponsorship selection, and outreach promoting our various activities during the week.

Once we had our list of activities and co-sponsorships wrangled, we were excited to start spreading the word and inviting people to our meetups. It was then that I realized I had gone from the “Hey, are you going to RSAC?” email recipient, to the (occasionally obnoxious but really try hard not to be), email sender. 😬

Initially, we struggled to get registrants to our events and meetups, and we heard of similar struggles from other organizations, both big and small. 

Lagging Registrations

Many issues contributed to the initial lag in registrations for both the event as a whole and the bevy of parties and meetups surrounding the conference:

  • Varying comfort levels with travel and in-person events due to the pandemic.
  • Employer restrictions on work-related travel.
  • Hesitancy to commit to scheduled events too far in advance (keeping the dance card open, as they say).
  • General uncertainty.

The last one, “general uncertainty,” is something that we’ve all been getting fairly used to over the past few years. As an individual, I totally understand the hesitancy to commit when there is so much up in the air. After all, the RSA Conference was originally supposed to take place in early February.

But it definitely made planning… interesting, to say the least. 🤯

Thankfully, despite the initial uncertainty and lag in registrations, we had a great turnout at the SynSaber booth and at each activity we participated in.

As an example, at one of the activities that we co-sponsored, registrations went up 54% in the last 3 days before the event took place. That’ll definitely keep you on your toes!

Early Stage Expo: One of RSAC’s best-kept secrets 🤫

As an early-stage startup, SynSaber was able to secure a booth in the Early Stage Expo (ESE) area at RSAC. What the heck is the Early Stage Expo, you ask? Well, as we came to find out, not many people know what the heck the Early Stage Expo is, or where the heck to find it. 

Jori, Caleb, Ron at RSAC
Just some 🤓 excited to talk about OT security

ESE booths are limited to startups that were founded < 5 years ago, with a product in at least the beta stage of development (and some other criteria). This year, there were 35 ESE exhibitors, all in varying funding and product development stages.

They ranged from cloud & data security, to asset discovery & management, governance, risk & compliance, and of course… blockchain and zero trust (more on that later).

I may be slightly biased since we just exhibited there, but I feel like it’s one of the best-kept secrets at RSAC. Unfortunately, part of the reason why it’s a secret is that the space is very hard to find, even for those of us who were actively seeking it out.

The Early Stage Expo was located in the Moscone South building next to the Innovation Sandbox. It was technically on Level 2 according to the website & signage, but the expo was actually up 2 sets of escalators. 

Several of our booth visitors mentioned how difficult it was to find the space, but that they were glad they did because it was a gem. While the main expo floors can feel overwhelming, the ESE area was far less flashy, but the vibe was electrifying.

Despite being difficult to find, the foot traffic at our booth was non-stop across all three days.

ESE Booth Pros 👍

There were many pros to having our first official SynSaber booth in the Early Stage Expo area:

  • Turnkey booth that didn’t require additional purchases for carpeting, signage, or other add-ons.
  • Affordable pricing for early-stage companies with early-stage budgets.
  • Separate location just for startups, so they aren’t competing for attention with the ostentatiousness of the main expo floors.
  • Great foot traffic, with a healthy mix of investors, prospects, and potential partners.
  • Booth visitors were truly engaged and interested in learning about the products and services being offered, vs. shopping for swag.
Ron Fabela and Caleb Mathis at RSAC

ESE Booth Cons 😑 (pun intended)

While the pros definitely outweighed the cons, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the not-so-fabulous parts of having a booth in the ESE area:

  • Small booth / kiosk size – I’d estimate that the booth was 6’x8’. Since it was fairly busy, we tried to staff the booth with 3 team members, which meant we were often stepping over each other. HelpNetSecurity has a good photo gallery of the ESE space in this article:
  • Branding is limited to the RSA-provided signage (no additional banners, pop-ups, or other branding elements are allowed due to the small space).
  • Difficult to find! This was the biggest complaint we heard from people who visited the booth. We’re hoping next year there may be some additional directional signage, or more focus on the space so attendees can seek it out. 🤞

All in all, it was a great experience, and we made a lot of new contacts as a result of our booth sponsorship.

If you didn’t have a chance to check out the Early Stage Expo this year (or couldn’t find it), I highly recommend you seek it out next year.

Bacon with Synack & Friends 🥓

One of our favorite sponsorships that we had an opportunity to participate in was the Synack “Journey by the Bay” Fogo de Chao takeover. We were one of their Innovation Hill (startup area) sponsors, which allotted us a cozy space to have 1:1 meetings with partners and prospects. 

Synack at RSAC in Fogo de Chao
Branding & Bacon Perfection

The Synack team really knocked it out of the park, and everything from the branding, to the registration flow, to the food, was exemplary.

My co-founder & I were grateful to have such a perfect spot to bring our guests.  

What was Different… and What was Exactly the Same

I’ve been to the RSA Conference on numerous occasions, and this year, the general vibe felt very different. Even though some elements were still pretty “razzle-dazzle schmooze” (you know what I’m talking about), there was an undercurrent of genuine appreciation for the connections and reconnections that were being made.

Our industry and our world have gone through a lot over the past few years, and you could tell that we had actually missed each other. And as for what was exactly the same…

Buzzword Bingo!

It’s Buzzword Bingo — everyone’s favorite game! It’s always interesting to see the new or recurring buzzwords that are prevalent on the trade show floor & in conversations overheard at the W or over lunch. The AI zero trust XDR IoT blockchain was off the chain this year. 

Buzzwords aside, there does seem to be an increasing volume of sales & marketing folks who are doing their best to get their messaging across amid an ever-growing sea of expo stimuli. My hope is that we continue to move toward clarity and transparency when it comes to how we describe our offerings as an industry.

I’m sure we’ve been guilty of inadvertently using a buzzword here or there, but as a company (and for me as an individual), we’re always pushing for that goal of clear & concise communication.

RSAC 2022, in the books

Jori + Ron at the SynSaber booth
Photo courtesy of the amazing Danielle Jablanski

Now that we’ve had about a week with RSAC in the rearview mirror, I can honestly say that our startup saw some real value from the booth and our other sponsorships during the conference.

I know it gets a bad rap sometimes, but as with any activity, you get out of the event what you put into it.

Several months of planning went into our booth adventure (with a few extra months thrown in there as a result of the date change). 

Our entire team, whether they were there in person or holding down the fort & keeping everything afloat until we returned, put in massive amounts of effort so things could go as smoothly and successfully as possible.

We do plan on returning next year, most likely in the Early Stage Expo area… but next time, we’ll be sure to bring more flyers (and more comfortable shoes), and fewer t-shirts.

Now on to the next adventure — Black Hat!

~Jori 🤘⚔️