I’ve had a surprising number of people write me today asking if the TechCrunch 50 Demo Pit is worth it. I’m guessing this means they announced who did and didn’t make the cut to be on the big stage (don’t feel bad, we didn’t either!), and so there are a lot of people out there wondering if they should accept the consolation prize of demoing in the Demo Pit. Like anything, it is what you make of it, but if you go in with the right attitude and expectations, I’d have to say yes. It’s definitely worth it.
The DemoPit won’t make or break your company, it’ll just push you along whatever direction you’re already going. If you’re doing good things, it’ll accelerate that. If you’re not, it’ll reaffirm that. Either way, you’ll get unbeatable, no-punches-pulled feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. In Expensify’s case, we learned a hard lesson: yes our prepaid cards are cool, but the real excitement is around credit card import and expense reporting. That’s a valuable lesson to learn, and worth every penny.
Similarly, everybody who’s anybody in the startup world is there, and that includes VCs. Expensify was in the lucky position of not needing to raise money when we were there, but we were still inundated by investors. As such, when we actually did go out to raise a round, we already had a large set of initial contacts — a crucial starting point to what is essentially an iterative “who do you know” networking process.
TechCrunch 50 doesn’t come with the promise of coverage, from TechCrunch or anyone else. It’ll put you in contact with press and users, but it’s up to you to seal the deal. (In our case, I chalk it up to the tireless efforts of one of our investors and advisors, Travis Kalanick.) Likewise, the real action is up on stage — the Demo Pit is very much a sideshow. The best side show in town, but don’t go in with the expectation that you’re going to be center stage.
If you do decide to go to the demo pit, here are my top 10 suggestions for how to maximize the event:
1) Host locally. Conferences are notorious for having internet isssues, so don’t risk it: just host everything locally right off your demo computer. It’ll go faster, it’ll be more reliable, and you’ll have so much less stress as a result. Just be sure to edit your /etc/hosts file to map your domain (eg, http://www.expensify.com) to localhost (127.0.0.1) so the domain looks right in the address bar!
2) Defend your turf. The table next to me had this huge standing sign that obscured the view of me. I asked them to move it behind their table, and they did. Pretty much everyone there is cool and trying to make things happen; just be cool and ask those around you to return the favor.
3) Get a solid 3-5 minute pitch. We demoed about 100 times (we maintained a counter). Our pitch was good at the start, but it was absolutely rock solid at the end: there’s a very limited set of questions — by the end you learn them all and will have found the perfect answer to each. In fact, I’d say the #1 benefit to TC50 has nothing to do with press, investors, or anything. It’s the opportunity to practice your pitch in front of real people, again and again. This will pay off a thousandfold when you’re out raising money.
4) Work it. People will not come to you unprompted, you need to go get them. The second someone gets eye contact, make an introduction. Not with some clever cheeseball line, just with a “hi”. In my experience, the typical pitch starts like this:
- Me: I’m standing next to my 24″ diameter table with a laptop and a decent-size flatscreen monitor. People are milling about. I’m facing the traffic, smiling and attempting to make eye contact while patiently awaiting my next target.
- Them: Someone is wandering around, glancing at the tables but making no real effort to approach any of them. They are probably there for some other startup and have no real interest in talking with you. But they might glance your way and see you standing there.
- Me: Make eye contact, smile, and say “Hi!” Maybe “Enjoying the conference?” something disarming. Indicate you’re not a used-car salesman.
- Them: They might take pity on you and walk over to where you are, because they’ve got time before the big stage starts again and nowhere else to be.
- Them: “So, what do you do?”
- Me: “We do expense reports… do you do expense reports?”
- Them: (bored and sorta put off by the obvious question) “Um, yes.”
- Me: “Do you love them?”
- Them: “Heh, no I hate them. (they give a story about why they hate them)”
- Me: “Totally understand, everybody hates them. That’s why we do ‘expense reports that don’t suck.’ We do that by importing expenses and receipts from your credit card, submitting PDF expense reports through email, and reimbursing entirely online.” (wait for them to prompt you to continue)
- Them: “Huh… what does that mean?”
- Me: “Let me show you…”
- Third person wanders by, mildly interested
- Me: “One second… Hi there! Do you do expense reports?”
- Third person: “Um, me? Yes, I do, why?”
- Me: “We’re Expensify, and we do expense reports that don’t suck. I was just explaining how we import expenses and receipts straight from your credit card, submit PDF expense reports through email, and reimburse entirely online. Right now we’re creating an expense report…”
- Finish the demo in record time. It’s got to be fast and visually compelling.
- Me: “So, that’s the scoop: import receipts and expenses from your credit card, submit PDF expense reports through email, reimburse entirely online.” (keep repeating the key values)
- Ask them about themselves, their business, their expense reporting habits, etc. Try to figure out if they’re a particularly good partner, customer, investor, news contact, etc.
- They’ll have a series of very basic questions to which you’ll gradually figure out the perfect answers.
- In the time you’ve given the demo, other people might have come by and are standing in the wings. You need to politely push away the first group so you can focus on the second. Accordingly, your partner should reset the demo immediately upon finishing so you’re ready for the next. Even better — when the crowd stacks up, have you and your partner each handle different groups.
- Me, to first group: “Thanks, can I get a business card? Here’s mine. Incidentally, please keep us in mind for your chip! Oh, you don’t know what it’s for? Just put it in this bucket right here (hold it out) to vote for us as the demo pit audience pick; the startup with the most chips gets to present on the big stage at the end. (keep holding it out) Thanks, and please send your friends over! (To second group) Hi there! Are you enjoying the conference?”
- Repeat 100 times.
5) Get a good business card that doesn’t look like a business card. The Expensify business card looks just like a credit card. So much so that every time I hand it out, people are taken aback. It creates a conversation every time. Write a quick summary of your business on the back so when they’re going through the stack of cards at the end, they have some way to remember what you do.
6) Stay “on” at all times. When getting a coffee, position yourself in a vantage point next to the sugar and milk. People need to stop there to fix their coffee; chat them up. Hand out lots of business cards, tell them where your table is, and ask them to stop by. They probably won’t, but increases the odds they’ll recognize you and come over if they happen to walk past.
7) Skip the swag. Don’t bother with putting out fliers, nobody cares and the cleaning people throw them away minutes after they’re put down. I don’t see the value of giving out trinkets. They’re expensive and produce no lasting value.
8 ) 2 people at the booth, no more. More than that and you look both desperate and wasteful with your money. If you have others, have them circulate in the crowd and send people back to you.
9) Keep going to the very end. Toward the end of the day, just plant yourself at the big-stage exits and keep pitching for that almighty demopit chip. Many people might have seen you and liked you but never gotten around to deciding. Furthermore, some really great conversations start with “Why should I give you my chip?”
10) Follow up when it’s over. When done with the conference you’ll have a huge stack of the cards and no idea what to do with them. I’d suggest sending them to Shoeboxed to have them all scanned (even better – buy yourself a NeatCo business card scanner), add them to your mailing list, and then send a “Nice meeting you at TC50, I’ve added you to our mailing list” email.
So there you have it, those are my tips for how to make your DemoPit launch a success. Will it lead to instant riches? Doubtful. Will it create a stack of good contacts? Probably. Will it be a good time? Definitely.
Drop me a line if you have any additional questions. But you’ve got to launch somewhere and you can only do it once: given the option, I think the TC50 is the clear choice. If you have the opportunity, I’d suggest you take it. If you do, please write me and let me know how it goes!
Update: Check out my TechCrunch 50 DemoPit FAQ for more questions and answers about The Pit.
Update 2: Travis is generously offering up his enormous couch for free to two scrappy TC 50 presenters for the duration of the event. Act fast!