When does the life of a startup really begin? Is it at the moment when you first have the spark of an idea? Is it when the company is incorporated? When you hire your first employee? Raise your first angel financing?
How about 2 weeks before you’re set to launch?
Recently, I announced that my startup, Standout Jobs, is launching at the end of the month at DEMO 08. If you’re not familiar with DEMO it’s a very highly regarded, well organized event around product launches. Many of the companies presenting are startups, but not all of them. About 70 companies are invited to attend and spend 3 days promoting their products and businesses. The most challenging part of the entire event (according to most people) is the 6-minute demo presentation you give on stage. As Seinfeld once said, “People are more afraid of public speaking than dying.”
DEMO runs from January 28th to January 30th. It’s near Palm Springs, California … so I’ll be getting out of the miserable weather and heading for some decent sun.
And so, with just over 2 weeks to go, we’re sprinting to start up. And this isn’t just a one pony race either, we have to sprint on multiple tracks, simultaneously.
We’ve been working on Standout Jobs for just about a year, but in many ways it feels like the company’s life is just beginning. We’re sprinting towards launch and so many things have to come together concurrently — it’s astounding.
At this very moment, here’s what I’m experiencing, along with the entire kick ass Standout Jobs team:
- Launching is NOT a finish line. Yes, this is a sprint. We’re launching no matter what, and doing it in a very public, bold way. But that doesn’t mean the launch of Standout Jobs is a finish line. Far from it. It’s only the beginning. When you’re neck deep in a million things prepping for launch, it feels like a finish line … but what we do after launching at DEMO will be infinitely more important than what we do at DEMO. That doesn’t mean we can afford missteps for the launch, it only means we have to be prepared for what comes after.
- Product development craziness. We’re still actively developing our product. Here’s hoping we’re not doing that two minutes before I get on stage…but at this very moment we’re racing ahead on tweaking functionality, finishing things off, adding polish and testing. We’re at that stage where weekends are a thing of the past, and sleep is for sissies.
- The big bang of buzz. Many of the attendees at DEMO are from the press. They’re there looking for “the next big thing” and interesting stories, innovations and products. Here’s hoping they like what they see! I’m far from the most media savvy person, but what has become crystal clear for me over the last couple of weeks is that you have to be prepared for the press. I guess that’s why there are professional PR folks. So now I’m preparing media target lists, trend stories, anecdotes, strong messaging, Q&A sheets, a press kit, a fact sheet and a press release. DEMO is a great opportunity to generate a lot of buzz, and I plan to take full advantage of that. But the work involved in launching, managing and maintaining a successful and sizable PR campaign is quite new to me.
- There’s more to marketing than making noise. I don’t think you need the fanciest marketing materials in the world to launch a startup, but a business card would be nice. Business card. Check. What about a website? Hhhhm…really, a website? Good point. Better get on that. We have a great designer in-house (who was instrumental in redesigning Instigator Blog) but he doesn’t have time. So a lot of this work involves freelancers. That’s the right way to do it, because marketing materials aren’t core to your product, but that also means finding & managing additional resources outside your office. And since we’re launching at DEMO, timing is everything. If I don’t get the marketing materials in my hands on time, I’m on a plane to Palm Springs no matter what … and writing my contact information on cocktail napkins.
- Practicing the presentation. Six minutes on a stage might not sound that long, but you have a lot to accomplish: get everyone’s attention, sell your vision, explain the problem you’re solving and demo your product. The key to DEMO is that you’re not allowed to fake it. You have to show a working product (or at least a working demo.) You can view many DEMO presentations on the website and see the different approaches people have taken. Some do skits, some go for funny, others are very bold & loud. I find the best presentations are cool, collected and to the point. Low on glitz and pizazz, high on meaningful, earnest details. Hopefully I can project a calm confidence on-stage … show our product, explain its value & benefits and not stumble over myself. Or pass out from panic. So that means practicing the presentation. A lot. A lot a lot. Really, a lot. Actually, I should be practicing right now…
There are lots of ways to launch a startup.
One way is to “launch big” and given our acceptance at DEMO that’s the route we’re taking. And now, as we sprint faster and faster towards launching, the number of races we have to run and win simultaneously is incredible. I’m confident we’ll get there. But it’s still amazing.
“Life beings after start up…”