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DEMO: Is a Big Launch Event Worth it for a Small Company?

’ve recently been privy to a number of discussions about whether big launch events are “worth it” (time, money, human capital) for a young tech company. The focus of some of these discussions has been the twenty-year-old DEMO conference, held twice a year in Palm Springs and San Diego. My friend (and I don’t mean that term in the Congressional sense) Robert Scoble has some real opinions with which I agreed until yesterday:

Here are the cons of launching at an event like DEMO:
1)it costs $18,000 to make a presentation if you survive the competition to get in. Then you have to add on the hotel costs, airfare, food, and incidentals. It’s easily $25,000 for two people to spend three days at DEMO in Palm Springs. That’s a big chunk of change for a startup
2) To qualify, your product must be totally new. Although you can be in private beta, you cannot have a proven product that has done mass marketing previous to the conference
3) There are rigid embargo rules for the press. You can’t send your press release about launch until the night before the conference begins. Some bloggers and press don’t like that, and don’t support the conference as a result. And many of the MSM that used to attend are dead or dying
4) You are sharing the stage and the pavilion (trade show) with 50 or so other companies, and it’s difficult to tell some of them apart if they are sharing trends in new technology (solar, or social media, or networking
5) It’s difficult to stand out when you only have six minutes to present a product, a story, and a use case and can’t do anything but give a product demonstration

Here are the pros:
1) DEMO is very well-organized, which means all the technology works at their end. That’s one less reason for your launch to fail. The production values are very high. This is not a conference with crummy audio, bad wi-fi, or projectors with no bulbs
2) The press does come, because like everyone else, they like to stay in a nice resort and party
3) The organizers of the conference run their own publicity machine: between Network World, PC Magazine, CIO, and all the other IDG publications, the trade mags and sites are still there.
4)In between blocks of launch presentations, there are well-organized panels of experts (meaning representatives of large companies and VC firms) who discuss trends. You can meet them and they do talk to the attendees, so if you are looking for strategic partners, you may find some. You may also find channel partners
5) If you are an enterprise product, you may make a sale at DEMO. People do.
6) Investors from China, Japan, and other countries looking at American companies and technologies attend DEMO
7) If you are looking for investment, angels and VCs as well as corporate venture arms, attend DEMO.
8) if your product is good and you know how to present, you will get attention. Zosh, an iPhone app that replaces the fax machine and allows you to digitally sign .pdf files from your phone, stole the first day. Collaborize, a dead-simple decision support tool that I am invested in,  probably came in second.
9) There are social media and main stream media opportunities for follow-up: you end up with a high quality video of your presentation that you can use on your own web site and lots of links outside your own site.
10) There’s an alumni association that holds events and creates a little ecology of former DEMO companies

So after two days, here’s what it comes down to IMHO:

–if you have a purely social media product that could go viral, DEMO is probably not the best way to launch it. instead, do what Scoble suggests, and give it to the early adopters. But that only applies to a small subset of emerging technologies. A product that’s designed for late adopters, solar energy installers, network administrators, hospital administrators, or procurement specialists does not go viral. It needs the support of trade press and channel partners
–If you know how to support a launch with t-shirts that give your product additional visibility when your staff wears them around the resort, a CEO that can make a stage presentation, and enough staff members to man a booth and give product tour,  you should attend DEMO
–If you are targeting the enterprise, or the other launch companies, or if you are looking for partnerships and funding,  it might be worth it to attend DEMO
–If you are from outside Silicon Valley, especially outside the US, and want attention in the US,  your should attend DEMO
–if you are an engineer-driven company that has trouble “finishing” a product, attending DEMO gives you a date to drive toward

And then remember that after DEMO, the real hard work starts.  You have to take all those business cards and follow up.  You have to find all those press people who told you they wanted to use your product when they came by your booth and put it into their hands. You have to deploy the product to the places where DEMO has opened the doors. You need to use the information you derive from talking to potential customers at DEMO to formulate a marketing strategy and a plan to attack your verticals.

And you have to prepare for the void that comes when the publicity dies down. How will you get attention next? That’s the BIG question.  Think past DEMO.  What’s next?

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1 Comments

  • Irina Patterson

    Francine,

    Startups from all over the world can also attend our weekly Thur 8am PST strategy sessions and either 1)listen and learn or 2) pitch their own business for strategic feedback: http://bit.ly/3vVb58

    We guide entrepreneurs in Silicon Valleys best practices so they avoid common mistakes and improve their chances of success.

    This is a part of our Global Initiative 1M1M, One Million by One Million: http://bit.ly/cGiRbs

    At 1M1M we strive to help million entrepreneurs globally reach $1 million in revenue (and beyond) and create the foundation of a robust, well-distributed and sustainable-economic-value creation.

    And once startups validate their businesses under our guidance, we will interview them and showcase them on http://sramanamitra.com Silicon Valley blog on biz strategies. The blog is monitored by a lot of investors, investment bankers, and corporate development groups working on acquisitions. Also, there is a potential to be included in the stories on Forbes.com as a part of acquisition predictions, sector overviews, trend analysis, and other stories written by Sramana Mitra. Not to mention Sramana's personal Silicon Valley introductions for validated businesses.

    And yes, it is OK, to come and pitch after DEMO, it is never too late to refine your strategy.

    And this all at no charge to startups, no tickets to buy, no fees to attend, come every Thursday, at 8 am PST. Feel free to post your questions here.