This year's theme of the conference was "What's NEXT?" and indeed, the impressive group of speakers did not fail to deliver interesting answers to that question.

On November 30 and December 1, Sofia Event Center hosted the 2013 incarnation of the annual StartUP Conference in Bulgaria.

I would like to focus on just a few of the sessions that really caught my attention and in some ways, opened my eyes. During the first day of the conference, by far the most interesting speaker was Marketing Magician Shira Abel, founder of digital marketing agency Hunter & Bard. Shira talked about how startups should think about marketing and her golden advice really made sense to me. Shira emphasized that the most important thing is to build content, and people will naturally be attracted to your startup because of that content. In this sense social media marketing is useless if you do not already have something people want.

Right after Shira came Jordan Schlipf, a seasoned tech & consumer product entrepreneur. Jordan talked on how to partner with and sell to big business, and highlighted the key lessons he had learned from his previous startups. Two special pieces of advice were that “It’s the relationship that matters” in the long run when partnering with big business, and that “Honesty is the best policy” because trust & transparency are what help build great relationships.

Shira Abel @ StartUP NEXT

The last session for the day was a panel discussion on “Startup Education – What’s NEXT?” The panel featured local leaders in education Kamahl Russell, Kiril Mitov and Svetlin Nakov, who really brought a different perspective to the table. Australian educator Russell mentioned that “Only 2% of teachers in Bulgaria are under 30 years old,” which is quite alarming. Overall, the educators were vocal about changes that need to happen in Bulgarian education. Svetlin Nakov, founder of the Software University, believes that “People can only learn by doing”. Kiril Mitov, founder of Robopartans robotics school, says that “Our goal is to inspire students!” and Russel advised administrators to “Give teachers the opportunity to be edupreneurs“.

The second day of the conference was kicked off by Adel Zakout, architect-turned-founder at success stories Despark, OpenBuildings and Clippings. Adel told us his enchanting entrepreneurship story and journey, and some of the lessons he had learned on the way. He talked on startups + funding, and emphasized the key lesson that “The real journey starts after you get the money”.

The best session for the day (in my opinion) was the talk by Filip Dobranić, one of the people behind the innovative Hekovnik Startup School. Filip is a great storyteller and and he wanted us the become storytellers as well. I will leave you with the two best pieces of advice from Filip: “What we want is determined by what we believe. Tell me a story and I will be yours.” & “VCs invest in your story, not in your startup…”

Most of the day was spent in founder stories presentations and discussions. Successful entrepreneurs like Georgi Kadrev, Finn Fitzsimmons, Asparuh Koev and Tunio Zafer told us how they started, the difficulties they faced and the experience they gained. I highly urge you to check out the founder stories videos when you have the time.

The StartUP Conference had many other very interesting sessions and speakers which I could not cover in this article. Follow @StartUPBG to get notified when the videos from the conference are published.