I’m in Santa Clara this week, attending the DEMO “Launchpad for Emerging Technologies” event. I attended the DEMO Pavilion this afternoon to check out all the companies launching here. There were a few cool ones but mostly redundant services/sites that already exist within existing networks or services. Being entrepreneurs, I’m sure they whole-heartedly believe their startup is the most badass thing to hit the marketplace…and rightfully so. If they didn’t, they’re wasting everyone’s time. The only one that really struck me as something I would actually use myself, with any depth, was an iTunes addon called TuneUp. It fixes ID3 tags, shows upcoming concert info, allows purchases of music through services other than iTunes itself, etc… It was really cool and definitely my favorite of everything I’ve seen so-far. The girl working the booth was pretty cute too…that never hurts the pitch either. I’ll download it and give it a shot…my opening remark to her was that I don’t use iTunes because I hate the interface and the way it organizes music. By the end of her 2 minute pitch, I was convinced iTunes is usable again if I use it with their add-on. Apple acquisition target? Maybe…
Some things I learned from walking around and listening to pitches and launches today:
- Don’t use the phrase “without further ado” to introduce your product or co-worker during a pitch because everyone else is already using it. Everyone.
- For any on-screen product demos, use a Mac if at all possible. The interface is cleaner, less cluttered and just looks smoother overall. I was at one booth and his PC’s IE window had frozen. He tried to open a second IE window and the machine BSOD’d on him. Good thing it was just me and he wasn’t on-stage…. Also- If it’s a web-based product, turn off auto-complete on the browser unless it’s needed. It will create a distraction from what you actually want to show when all of your test field-data shows up during the demo.
- DO have friends/family critique your pitch. If you can’t explain to them what you do and how you’re going to make money at it, there’s no way you’re going to relay the thought to a room of 500+ potential customers/investors/users or the random stranger that walks up to your booth. I’m guilty of this myself because I already know in-depth what my own products to (because I conceived the idea and built the product) but what I frequently fail to realize is that I need to tell other people how it works and really make them understand why they need it. I walked out of the launch session this morning still wondering what some of the startups there do. I went and spoke with a few of them and are still at a loss on a couple of them. Good luck with that.
- Stay away from phrases like “we plan to” and “we’ll soon be” – they’re too open-ended. Be definitive and decisive about what your product does. If you’re already working on major changes to the product, you launched it too prematurely. That’s not to say that you can’t have improvements in the pipeline, but if you’re already having to justify not having major features at launch, you shouldn’t be launching yet. A false start can be deadly.
- Have pricing and/or the revenue model nailed down. There’s no reason to be wishy-washy on pricing at launch. Don’t undervalue it…find the sweet-spot for the target market and stick with it. Indecisiveness in a business model shows you’re unsure if it’s going to work or not. Even if you’re not sure, don’t let it show.
- Remember my favorite phrase regarding version 1.0 launches: “If you don’t hate version 1.0 at launch, then you waited to long to launch it”. Avoid feature creep and just get the product working and out to market.
- I’m no fan of booth babes but having an attractive woman working a booth doesn’t hurt one bit. She MUST have complete knowledge of the product, what it does, what it doesn’t do, and how it’s going to make money. I’ve attended conventions and conferences in the past where the booth-babes were EVERYWHERE. I’m a big fan of “the ladies”, but at most of the shows where this took place, I would avoid those booths just because I thought it was a trashy sales tactic that those companies chose to employ. Specifically, Hula Networks was notorious for doing this at trade-shows; it’s total crap and I still refuse to buy gear from them because of it. If/when I get to launch a product at a show like this, I’m not saying I won’t bring an attractive employee/friend/co-worker with me to help work the booth, but she MUST know what we’re doing there. As an attendee, it’s annoying to be hearing the pitch from one person (i.e. the ‘babe’) and then have to be handed off to someone else at the booth when I ask my first question about their product. It’s a strange pet-peeve of mine. If you’re working the booth at a show, you should know ALL of the intimate details of the product you’re pitching. Note: the TuneUp girl was very knowledgeable of their product…could have been one of the founders for all I know. In fact, that’s probably the easiest way to sum-up what people working the booth should be like: they should have the knowledge of and passion for the product that the original founders or creators have.
- If giving out show-schwag, be sure it’s something people will actually use. Boingo gave me a bulky luggage tag with blinky-LEDs on it. Seriously? A luggage tag? I doubt this will leave the hotel with me when I check-out (Merry Christmas, housekeeping). On the other hand, Parallels gave me a boxed copy of their software. What’s cool about it is I feel like I got something tangible from the show that’s cool to use. Granted, they could have just as easily (and more cheaply) given me a pre-printed postcard with a code to download their software for free, but, having the box that I can hold in my hand makes it REALLY feel like I got something valuable from them. Giving out tangible schwag may be nearly impossible for some products or services but it’s way more memorable and less likely to get lost in my desk when I get back to the office.
- Having shitty wifi at a conference is something to be expected. Don’t rely on the venue to provide decent wireless. Any don’t, by any means, expect a decent 3G or even Edge connection on AT&T’s network anywhere in the bay area. AT&T sucks, go with Verizon or even Sprint. If you’re doing a product launch and access is critical, bring both. Having reliable connectivity options is well worth the cost of the extra service and gear. If you can’t demo your product, the whole thing was a waste anyway.
- There’s no such thing as dressing too informal during a pitch. One guy had a horrible fashion day (even I was able to tell how tacky his pants were), but his product was good. The pants became a joke that pretty much everyone in the room could laugh at/with him about and they moved on to the product itself.
- Don’t sound like an infomercial. One of the pitches was for a pretty cool portable image/document scanner. It was pitched by two people who sounded PAINFULLY scripted. Maybe it’s just me that gets annoyed by this but it was so obnoxious that I found myself tuning-out since it felt like I was watching a late-night infomercial…and it wasn’t even an entertaining one like Sham-Wow.