’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.
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?