Launching a startup at a big event is a great idea. There are many advantages.
- Hard Launch Date: Launching at an event forces you to launch. There are many examples of startups that delay their launch (several times over) because they can. An event means you’ve got to launch. Granted, I’ve seen a lot of startups launch at events, and they’re not really launching … they’re announcing the upcoming possibility of a beta product, sometime in the near future, maybe. That’s not really launching and in my mind, shouldn’t be allowed at events like TechCrunch50 or DEMO.
- Lots of Press: You can’t go wrong with some buzz, and the more the merrier. PR can be a huge boon to a startup, and there’s no better way to kickstart things than with a well-publicized event. Of course, the event buzz will die fast (it almost always does), so you need a plan for maintaining and leveraging that press and buzz going forward.
- Lots of Networking: Put hundreds or thousands of people in a room, all there to live and breathe startups for a few days, and the opportunities are almost endless. You won’t get a similar opportunity, and you’re in the spotlight, so you have to take advantage. I would recommend that every startup have a plan of attack for who they want to speak to, why and how. Don’t just assume you can walk around and meet people randomly, have a strategy in place.
- Getting on Stage: For a lot of people this is a scarier proposition than death. And it is scary. But once you’ve gone on stage in front of hundreds of people to pitch your startup dream, you’ll find it gets infinitely easier. I cringe a bit watching our presentation at DEMO 2008, but the confidence I gained from that is immeasurable.
- Line in the Sand: Launching at an event creates a more marked point in time whereby you can distinctly say, “We’ve launched.” It’s almost like your startup has two lives – Before Launch and After Launch. If you recognize this fact, and don’t get bogged down in obsessing solely about the launch, you’ll be very ready and eager to get past the launch into the real business of making your startup a success.
Launching at a big event is all about focus. It focuses you on a point in time, it focuses your product development (because you can’t keep building forever and ever), it focuses your presentation skills, and brings a lot of things to bear all at once. It can be extremely nerve-wracking but I believe it’s 100% worth it.
Standout Jobs Launched at DEMO 2008
I look back fondly on our DEMO launch at the end of January. It was a great experience for me, my co-founders and the entire team. It still carries weight when we speak to people (be they investors, customers, potential partners, etc.) and cements in our minds a certain amount of success: we rushed, we ran, we screamed, we panicked … and we launched. I don’t hang my hat on that, but it was still worth it.
TechCrunch50 vs. DEMO
This is a crappy debate. I find Robert Scoble’s post about the crappy websites of the DEMO companies particularly embarrassing and pointless. What’s the point of dissing those companies? Without getting into it further, I don’t get it.
DEMO is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. It costs $18,000 to present as a company, and then there’s the cost of travel, marketing materials, etc. Given the TechCrunch50 competition, I really don’t know what DEMO will do; maybe they’ll lower their fees, maybe they won’t. I do know DEMO puts on one heck of a professional show. Is it worth it? That depends on a lot of factors, and I can’t possibly tell you one way or the other in a simple blog post.
And remember, TC50 charges for Demo Pit slots, and they make a lot of money from the conference, so I don’t look at cost as being such a huge differentiator.
How are companies picked to attend TC50 and DEMO?
Is it a truly fair, open and honest selection process? No. It can’t be. Humans run both events, and humans are human. I know the selection process is extremely difficult – both conferences get tons of applications – and have to go through them painstakingly. But over all the arguing and blustering over costs, etc. I don’t think either conference can truly say that they absolutely picked the best companies to present. There are always going to be outside influences that affect decision-making. That’s human nature. I look at the debate and arguing and just throw up my hands; it’s silly and serves no one (well, it does build buzz for people so that’s a good thing – and truth be told might even benefit the startups at both events!) Just don’t assume that one conference has a more fair and open selection process versus the other.
TechCrunch50 has the Advantage
Without a doubt, TC50 has the advantage. TechCrunch (and those involved outside of the TechCrunch people) have built up a huge community; and that community will drive TC50′s success in a big way. The buzz is huge around TC50. It has a ton of experts that people want to see. As exciting as it will be for attendees to see 52 new companies launch, I’m sure many are going to see the experts and meet them as well. TC50 plays to its strengths very well, and has done a good job of making a lot of noise and pulling things together.
What about the startups?
The startups need to stay focused. Launch your company – do it as loud and proud as you can – and leverage the absolute heck out of it, whether you’re at DEMO or TC50. Allen Stern makes the point very clearly, “Stay out of the drama.” I think that will be easier said than done, and I suspect that the folks at DEMO are going to get asked a lot about “DEMO vs. TC50″ … and the TC50 companies less so. It’s a difficult, frustrating and in my mind, pointless situation. I’d like to see both conferences succeed and find their place — and most importantly, truly benefit startups.
I wish all the startups the best of luck. No matter what, presenting at a big event is a great way to launch, and take as much from it as you can. Milk it for all it’s worth and then move on as fast as you can … you’ve got a business to run.