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  • 03.22.10

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.

’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:

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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

8)

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?

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.

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