How a Beer at GROW Changed Our Company for the Better

I first heard about the GROW conference this time last year when I was asked to participate in a pre-conference pitch competition in San Francisco being judged by some of the GROW speakers.

Coincidentally, the day of the pitch competition was the same day we announced our Series A financing for Top Hat (then called Top Hat Monocle). We weren’t looking for new investors and I was feeling pretty confident, so the pitch went well.

The next day I got a note from Sundeep Peechu from Felicis, who was one of the judges. He was interested in what we were doing and saw a strong fit with their core investment theses around mobile, education, and international companies. While we weren’t looking for additional investment, we saw the strategic value in working with Sundeep, Aydin and Renata as we spent more time with them, so we found a way to bring them on board as investors.

Even though the GROW network had already proven valuable before the conference, I was still unsure about attending. We weren’t raising money and I was busy executing and building the team. This wasn’t a sales conference, so we weren’t going to drive leads or business directly from being there.

SEE ALSO: Four Ways GROW Conference Delivers Value to Investors and Entrepreneurs

Could I really afford to take three days off to attend a conference with no clear ROI goals? After several convincing conversations with friends in San Francisco and across Canada who had attended in the past, I reluctantly decided to give it a try.

Walking off the plane, I bumped into Eric Koger from Modcloth, who was speaking the next day. Neither of us knew Vancouver very well, but we decided to check out a nearby sushi place we found on Yelp. After a few hours of sushi and whiskey, Eric and I realized we had a lot in common. He’s become a good friend and mentor to me over the past year and we try and get together whenever we can in San Francisco. The conference was already starting to show some promise.

The next day, I grabbed coffee with Ki Mae Huessner at GigaOm, who had recently written about our financing round. She was beginning to focus more on education tech at GigaOm and we had a great conversation about the space. Ki Mae is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful journalists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know, and another good friend I can thank GROW for. She’s written about our company several times over the past year, and also moderated a panel for us as SXSW.

RELATED: The GROW Conference: A Good Reason to Venture out of Silicon Valley

The last connection I made at GROW certainly had the most significant impact on our business. At a happy hour event, I found myself at the bar beside Mark Organ, founder of Eloqua and Influitive. Anyone who’s met Mark knows how enthusiastic and engaging he can be, and we spent the better part of an hour brainstorming how we could use Influitive to drive word-of-mouth growth for Top Hat (which we have been and are seeing excellent results).

A few months later, I bumped into Mark at another event in Toronto. He was on his way out, but stopped by and asked if I was looking for a great finance and operations person. He knew one of the top guys in the city who was about to become available. The next day, Mark introduced me to Ralf, his first employee at Eloqua, who ran several business units and saw the company through it’s IPO and subsequent acquisition by Oracle.

We brought Ralf on as our CFO earlier this year and it’s been one of the most significant moves we’ve made as a business. He’s set us up to scale significantly, got us making more fact-based decisions and shifted us to a true performance culture. Not to mention, I’ve slept better knowing that Ralf is watching the numbers.

SEE ALSO: What Happens at GROW…

In a fitting epilogue, I’ll be moderating a panel with the CEOs of Shopify and Wave, Tobi and Kirk, about how to hire talent to really scale an organization.

So whether you’re raising money, hiring for your team, pivoting your business model or looking for new customers or partners, I’d say that GROW is the one conference worth attending this year. Come with an open mind, a handful of business cards and some flexibility in your calendar and I can guarantee you’ll make at least one connection that will have a significant impact on your business.

If that’s not enough, register here with the discount code TopHat and you’ll get $100 off!