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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.

’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?

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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