The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

How to hustle your way into conferences for free — December 27, 2013

How to hustle your way into conferences for free


Conferences can be expensive – especially if your work isn’t covering the ticket. That doesn’t mean you should miss out some of the networking and learning opportunities. In this guide, we will share our favorite hacks to attend conferences for free.


This is the most rewarding and arguably easiest way to get free entry. You get direct experience and useful connections, even at the smaller conferences. Even better: organizers, and other volunteers, can give you behind-the-scenes advice about the best speakers or private events.

The amount of time you spend helping the organizers depends on the cost of the initial ticket and whether they cover additional expenses.

You may miss out on learning opportunities though. As Thursday Bram noted:

“You may have a much harder time attending the parts of the conference you’re interested in because you may not have a lot of freedom in setting your own schedule.”

Many conferences offer online recordings of sessions for those that were unable to attend for those that don’t want to miss anything.

If you’re interested in volunteering and there’s no formal information present on the website, reach out to conference organizers directly (if you can’t find their details, check them out on LinkedIn on Twitter) and pitch them your involvement.

Borrow a badge

Writer Sarah Lacy borrowed a speaker’s badge for the Web 2.0 conference from Marc Andreessen. She wrote about it in Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good, the book she talked about at this Mixergy interview. (More tips from Mixergy here.)

We don’t advocate this technique but it can work. Many badges aren’t checked at smaller conferences, especially on the second day.

[Editor’s note: someone recently told me they even mocked up their own badge using Photoshop, which they used to successfully gain entry to a large annual conference. Obviously this isn’t ethical but it does shine light on the lengths people will go to!]


Usually, I just set up a Google Alert for the name of the conference and the phrase, “free ticket”. I seem to get most of the contests and giveaways that way. (More on 6 Ways to Attend Awesome Conferences for Free.)

This is not a guaranteed-to-work strategy but your odds are increased for smaller events or ones where the organizers are doing a lot of giveaways.

[Editor’s note: we have done ticket giveaways on The Fetch and a lot of these are been on a first-come, first-serve basis. So speediness is your friend here.]

Review for a publication

Sometimes you can get free entry if you agree to review a conference for a high profile blog or publication. It creates a win/win situation, as they get to increase their exposure and credibility. The media get preferred seats, access to the speakers one-on-one and invites to special events.

An alternative is preview the conference in the lead up to it. This is when organizers are looking to do publicity and get the word out there to pump up ticket sales. You can always interview a speaker or write about what this year’s event will hold in exchange for a pass on the day.

Become an affiliate

Many conferences have affiliate programs that will pay you a percentage of the ticket price for each ticket sold via a referral link. Technically, this isn’t a free but it can be a useful way to get reimbursed for the costs.

Offer to help before the conference

Organizers often need help in the lead-up to the conference. This is different from volunteering as it frees you up to attend all sessions and networking opportunities. We recommend contacting an organizer 2-3 months before the conference and ask if you can trade services.


Crowdfunding is when you ask your audience to cover the costs of attendance. Those that do this often promise that they will report on the conference in return for financial support. Alternately, some people host sales to raise funds.

This can be risky. It can be perceived as begging and impact on your credibility. Some conference organizers actively discourage people to raise money this way.


This one is relevant for the entrepreneurs out there… for tech- or startup-related conferences, another way to get into conferences is to demo your product. These can range from competitive pitches like Launch Festival and TechCrunch Disrupt where the winner gets funded, to gender-specific ones like Women 2.0.


Some of the social impact geared conferences, like TED, Skoll World Forum or The Feast, have fellowships that will sponsor your ticket. Make sure you check out the application processes well in advance.

The Fetch Ambassador Program

We also run a local City Ambassador Program, where we send people to report on cool events. It’s a smart way to build your personal portfolio, reach speakers and organizers, and connect with other people in the community. Click here to learn more.

About our contributor // Jade Craven is a blogger and social marketing specialist. Follow her on Twitter @jadecraven.

Image credit: Web Directions South 2012

Event Review: Women 2.0’s PITCH NYC 2012 — December 5, 2012

Event Review: Women 2.0’s PITCH NYC 2012

What better way to welcome me to a post-#sandy NYC than heading straight to Women 2.0’s PITCH Conference. Having attended the event in the Bay Area earlier this year in February, I was excited for what the East Coast edition had in store. And wow, it certainly delivered, two and a bit weeks later and I’m still catching up from all the goodness.

The tone was set early on with the trusted and true Girl Effect video. Over 350 women (and men) sat in awe of a handful of amazing keynotes, some of which, I’ll list the highlights below.


Photo courtesy of Women 2.0’s stream

The cofounder of Cisco, Sandy Lerner, gave a heartfelt account from her early days of working in tech. She spoke about being fired from her company by the same guy who fired Steve Jobs. She mentioned it was a huge mistake that she didn’t spend time networking, building relationships and consensus. She encouraged women to believe in themselves more and build confidence when seeking investment, something she wished they did more of when starting out. They “got taken to the cleaners” when raising their initial round, giving away a third of Cisco for just $2.6M, even when the company was doing over a million in revenue a year.

“Women tend to play fair but it’s not fair game. In that same game, the men will always support each other,” Sandy quipped.

She also had an interesting perspective on the state of tech as we know it today, remarking that “Facebook is a wonderful tool, but it’s not a technology,” and has little IP associated it with.

amanda-sNext up was someone who I personally was looking forward to hearing from: Amanda Steinberg from the DailyWorth. With 400,000 subscribers now under her wing, Amanda started the company using just $25,000 in the first nine months. “As CEOs and founders, we make things way too complicated” … “With email newsletters, you can build $10, $20 or $30 worth of revenue on an email alone. It’s a simple model.”

But she also warned to play in a market that’s big enough and be disciplined with your UI design – make it as simple as possible for users to sign up.

When it came to customer acquisition, Amanda flat out said “People are lying out there in the startup and social media world”.

She recommends looking for tricks from people who have never raised money as it’ll highlight how to grow your company smartly with limited resources.

Her experiences found the following:

  • PR is only good for credibility. It’s not going to drive the traffic that will build your audience
  • Social media is not even within the 5% of where audience growth comes from at the DailyWorth
  • Don’t build ‘tell a friend’ mechanisms. It might work as part of a contest though but needs to be incentivised
  • Google and AdWords don’t really convert well

And the winners:

  • Other email channels are what work best for them
  • User growth through properties with similar audiences – “You can only barter with people who are in your club though”
  • 30-40% people are direct referrals through buzz/WOM
  • Paid advertising (through channels like Help A Reporter Out) is recommended – and you can control it
  • Growth Hacking

Finally, Sandy Jen, the cofounder and CTO at Google-acquired Meebo had some great thoughts on managing your emotional health. When you’re a leader within your company, people look to you as the anchor. They seek stability even though behind the scenes things may be rocky, and you have days when you wonder what you’re doing. Your team will take the emotions you exude to them very seriously so it’s important to keep up your smile – there’s a responsibility to uphold the spirit.

The rest of the day followed with some more solid keynotes, case studies, panel discussions and stand-out pitches. The energy was fantastic and I’d strongly recommend any female founder (as well as diversity-championing teams) to head along to future PITCH events.

About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall.

Interview: SF Local, Emily Castor — July 16, 2012

Interview: SF Local, Emily Castor

Name: Emily Castor
Twitter handle (s): @emilycastor, @lyft
Works: Lyft Community Manager at Zimride, Co-Founder and Host at Collaborative Chats

You recently starting looking after community at Zimride’s new product Lyft – what is Lyft and how is it positioned in the market?

True story! I am pouring all my energy into starting up Lyft these days and having a blast.

Lyft is a new iPhone app for on-demand rides from awesome local drivers. You request a pickup and the nearest driver responds immediately to confirm. You see their name, star rating, personal and vehicle photos, and ETA. They arrive within minutes, scoop you up, and you sit shotgun on the way to your destination. Upon arrival, you see the suggested payment amount for your ride, which you can adjust to reward a great driver. Drivers go through a selective vetting process and background checks to make sure they are cool peeps AND safe behind the wheel.

Real-time ridesharing is obviously a hot space right now and different companies are taking different approaches. What distinguishes Lyft is the experience we offer to our users, both in the app and in the car. Taking a Lyft is like getting a ride from a friend. We see drivers using the service as passengers and passengers becoming drivers. So we’re offering incredibly affordable, convenient on-demand transportation as well as a social experience.

We just finished our first month of beta testing in San Francisco and the lightning pace of growth is keeping us on our toes.

How do ride-share services get past regulatory hurdles?

The current regulatory framework governing ridesharing and passenger transportation in California was crafted years ago, long before mobile and location technologies made a service like Lyft possible. That means the law is a few steps behind this kind of innovation. Fortunately, it still leaves enough space for our drivers to operate legally.

I would love to see policymakers adapt the law to actively encourage ridesharing as a environmentally-friendly, community-based transportation alternative.

Ridesharing reduces road congestion and carbon emissions and brings people closer together. It allows people to defray their costs of car ownership while providing a valuable service to their neighbors. Our task is to educate lawmakers about these benefits while acting in good faith to comply with the law as it is currently written, even though none of the existing boxes were designed with something like Lyft in mind.

You started Collaborative Chats just near the beginning of the year – what are the events like and where can people find out more?

Collaborative Chats has become a wonderful community for a diverse mix of players in the growing “sharing economy” of peer-to-peer marketplaces (think Airbnb, Zimride, TaskRabbit, or Wheelz).

The series attracts folks working at related startups, VCs, journalists, sustainability-minded graduate students, and power users.

Each event is a multi-disciplinary panel discussion with interesting thinkers from the tech world, academia, and government. I engineer the panels to include these different perspectives to break us out of the Silicon Valley echo chamber. Collaborative consumption has gotten pretty trendy; I like to bring in people who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid to ask tough questions.

I post news and video from each Collaborative Chats event at, and you can also find us on Facebook or follow us @CollabChats. We’re taking a summer break right now to cook up some exciting changes for the series – stay tuned!

What was your first job?

I worked as a pizza cook and phone order-taker at Round Table Pizza when I was 15 years old. I loved it. I can still remember the script I said every time I answered the phone and the computer codes for all the different toppings. I got a charge out of connecting with people I’d never met before. I guess I’m still that way!

My first real job when I graduated from college was as a Staff Assistant to Congresswoman Susan Davis on Capitol Hill in D.C.

It was a far cry from pizza, but I learned a lot about what happens in the kitchen of American politics.

You come from a background in public policy and politics – how did you go about pivoting your personal brand, so to speak?

When I first decided I wanted to work at a startup, I was intimidated. I thought no one would take me seriously because I had no professional background in technology. But I was relentlessly passionate about it, and I knew it was what I would love doing most. I began attending startup events, reading tech blogs, and engaging with people on Twitter until I started to understand the ecosystem and get connected.

Then, I was fortunate to stumble into a niche that was a great fit for me: collaborative consumption. The sustainability and community benefits of peer-to-peer marketplaces for sharing assets resonated with the goals I pursued during my years in the public sector. It was a specific enough niche that I was able to get to know a critical mass of the players in the space very quickly, and I became incredibly passionate about it. Passion is always compelling. I also established my credibility by becoming an active power user on a few of the sites and writing about my personal experiences. That made me valuable to the companies involved, who were able to leverage my stories to generate earned media coverage.

The other big pieces of the puzzle for me were extremely active networking, the magic of Twitter, and the exposure I gained by creating and hosting Collaborative Chats. Speaking at events – and giving others a platform to speak – is a great way to build your personal brand.

It all snowballed quickly this spring and led me to the most exciting, fulfilling challenge I have ever tackled – joining the team at Lyft.

How important has your Ivy League education been for your work today?

Going to grad school at Penn was an empowering experience. Succeeding there bolstered my confidence, teaching me I could compete and excel at the highest level. I am sure the prestige of that credential also continues to benefit me among those who use the school’s reputation as a proxy for my abilities when evaluating me. That being said, I am equally proud of my undergrad work at UC San Diego, which is where I really learned to think analytically and to write.

Who other events in our community do you attend and recommend?

I enjoy Women 2.0’s Founder Friday, events at RocketSpace, Chelsea Rustrum’s Sharers of SF Meetup, and various others I find through The Fetch and Startup Digest.

Lately, however, I’ve mostly been working through prime event hours! Duty calls.

What’s your favorite SF neighborhood?

My utterly biased opinion is that NoPa is the best neighborhood in SF. It also happens to be where I live. Its central location, relaxed vibe, proximity to the park, and great coffee shops earn it high marks in my book.

What’s next?

Blowing up Lyft!

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