Creating a high quality niche business networking event in Tokyo

Planning a business event in a megalopolis like Tokyo is like planning a military campaign—you’re facing an array of opposing forces and a logistical minefield. There are so many business events going on in this city that motivating your potential audience to commit to yours requires all the strategy you can muster.

I’ve done this successfully for over 10 years in Japan, and I’m here to tell you my strategy for developing compelling and focused events that draw people in and keep them coming back. I’ll use a recent professional networking event I put together around fintech, focusing primarily on the payments industry, as an example.

Purpose-Built Events
Setting up an event like this payments/fintech gathering requires you to put skin in the game—your name and reputation are on the line, and the event’s success or failure will have a knock-on effect for any others that follow.

So what did it take for me to successfully:

  • Gather forty decision-makers from large global companies and hot SMEs/startups in the payments and fintech industries
  • Put on a private networking event in December in Tokyo when the calendar is packed with “end of the year” celebration parties
  • Draw a crowd even when there was no particular incentive beyond the broad theme (no agenda, no speakers, no spectacular catering)?

First, you have to do it without any expectation of direct return, meaning no perceived attempt to sell something. The benefit will be to your reputation and connective abilities. You need to make the right introductions at the right time and be a known quantity, at least in the area your event covers.

You also need the ability to reach out to a core network of people who create heat and warmth when brought together, where the relationships are authentic and ongoing, and the discussions are collaborative and focus on helping each other.

Last but not the least, it requires you to know enough about your connections to bring together the right partners to make the event legitimate and of value so that busy people make the effort to come and pay the price of admission.
Drawing in the right players is key
The reason this professional event focusing on payments/fintech was a success is because we spent a substantial amount of time researching and leveraging an already expansive professional network in Japan. Like big data, “fintech” is a trendy term, especially in these days when virtual payments and the blockchain phenomenon are blowing up the financial industry. A lot of noise is being created because many people want to be part of this trend but have no real value to contribute yet.

We already had influencers in this field in our network, but that was not enough. We cross checked every single interesting individual we could identify and contact. We needed to draw in people with something interesting to add by attending. Aside from a simple post on our feeds, we did no advertising for this event; we reached out to people both individually and through referral.

The synergy thing
The chosen niche of fintech is trendy enough for people to come out of curiosity, specific enough to capture the target attendee’s interest, and appealed to both key experts and savvy business executives.

The co-hosts clearly conveyed this message: a consulting company specializing in IT , a fintech company, and a huge multi-business Japanese conglomerate . They complement each other, and are actually already discussing doing business with each other. Having those brands supporting the event at a centrally located venue with various amenities—an event space, food and drink—virtually ensures that the people we reach via LinkedIn InMail have a pleasant and worthwhile experience, and makes them more responsive to subsequent invites—over half of our InMail blasts now receive a positive reply.

Now it’s your turn
What you’ll need to pull off a successful event:

  1. Knowledge of the local market, experience in multiple industries and some kind of recognizable profile to the people you’ve targeted as potential attendees
  2. Experienced guidance to focus on key activities that ensures your event is successful and profitable
  3. An existing pool of known key attendees and participants; don’t expect decision-makers to come if you don’t know any
  4. A simple but compelling message and purpose that is understandable to those attending; like most business people, you probably have a sixth sense that kicks in when the purpose is just for selling you something
  5. An event that is original in nature and stands out from the rest
  6. Endorsements from the right sources that create excitement and causes attendees to invite people from their own networks
  7. A convenient venue and location that matches the needs of attendees
  8. Planning to craft the event messages, activities, secure speakers/MC, identify and invite target audience, handle venue logistics, respond to enquiries, etc.
  9. Setting the price point—a key element in the success of your appeal

I realize that may all sound a bit intimidating. Let us know if we can help you set up your event.

This Post was written by Jason Ball, a “Fixer” and people Connector, in Tokyo