For the first time in a long time, companies – young and established – have a range of venues to choose for their product launch. There is DEMO, of course, with its 18-year record of catapulting companies to market success. Newcomers, such as SVASE’s Launch: Silicon Valley and TechCrunch 50, try to emulate the DEMO format, and conference events such as SuperNova and Web 2.0 give some visibility to products and companies. And, of course, there’s always the option to roll your own. The challenge for entrepreneurs, though, is trying to decide which fall launch venue is right for them. Chris wrote an excellent piece yesterday on the particulars of DEMO, which gives a great overview of the entire application process. I’ve pondered my own piece on DEMO for a couple of weeks now, but each draft failed to inspire me. It wasn’t until this morning that the light bulb hit, after receiving an IM from Chris: “Why do you work on DEMO?” So if you’ll allow, I’d like to get personal for a moment.
I toiled in the salt mines of PR for nine years, working with every type of company during the boom, from big guns like Sun to tiny startups that didn’t survive. As I worked at Thomas Associates and Ketchum Silicon Valley, I experienced everything one possibly could during tech’s heyday. An industry-shaking, beyond-hype launch with Transmeta; navigating corporate politics at Intuit and Visa; even a stint as a publicist for Linus Torvalds. When my friend Becky Sniffen and I went out on our own in 2001, our first client was DEMO. Chris chose to leave behind a global agency in Ketchum and try her PR luck with a brand-new boutique. It was a huge leap of faith at which I still marvel and, luckily for all of us, it worked in spades. The company we started, MC2 Communications, still handles PR for the DEMO conferences, in fact. That leap spoke volumes about Chris Shipley and her attitude toward the startup world. Chris believes in the power of energy and innovation on every level, so much so that she’s willing to bank her name and reputation on it.
In 2005, I felt I’d learned everything I possibly could about PR and was ready for a change. Honestly, I was about to leave technology behind. I made an amiable break with MC2 and readied myself to launch a writing career. Writer’s Market and a completely revamped resume in hand, I was going to try my luck at writing. The last thing I was contemplating was an even deeper dive into the tech world. And then Chris called.
You know where I am today of course; it turns out that the analyst role fits me like a glove. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in a job and, while some of that is due to my focus on semantic technologies (the very future of technology, I believe), my work on the DEMO conferences is a big part as well.
I’ve attended many tech conferences over the years and think I speak for most when I say they’re a beating. The mad PR pitch rush in the weeks before, the parsing of booth logistics, IT headaches, and packed session scheduling to navigate equals total exhaustion in the end and a feeling that you only accomplished about half of what you set out to. DEMO isn’t like that. The IT and production staff spend weeks beforehand in rehearsals with each demonstrator to ensure no last-minute surprises. We don’t allow extravagant booths – every demonstrator is on an even playing field with the same desk and signage as their neighbor. We don’t release the press list beforehand, so journalists arrive at DEMO eager to uncover gems they haven’t heard of. An only-slightly joking rule of no PowerPoints results in creative and engaging onstage demos. And the single-track setting guarantees attendees a worry-free three days, with no concern at missing that panel everyone was twittering about. In short, it’s the most relaxed, convivial atmosphere you’ll find in the conference world.
Tech conferences are damn hard to do right. And identifying successful companies in an incredibly crowded market is even harder. Chris Shipley has proven for 20+ years that she knows how to do both. She’s far too humble to admit this, but there is a certain cache that comes from being singled out by Chris. I ought to know; hitching my star to Chris, Guidewire Group, and DEMO was without a doubt the smartest career move I ever made. And there are hundreds of former demonstrators who I know would agree. Don’t take my word for it, though. Pick a few and ask them.
In the end, you the entrepreneurs will decide who delivers value and who doesn’t. It’s a tough decision to make, made even more so by the scheduling this Fall. I encourage you to examine your precise goals for launch and then weigh which venue can better deliver on them. For the company ready to talk to the mass market, I think that venue is DEMO.