So I’ve just flown back from San Francisco after we spent all last week participating in the TechCrunch50 Demopit, where we basically launched the Influencing brand and talking about our platform for the first time outside of its MediaConnect context.
Thought I’d take the time to punch out a few observations and suggestions before I crash out for the night.
Firstly, I’ll quite freely admit we were awful in terms of being prepared for the event. We have our Influence Forum event starting next Sunday and were working on that right up until we left for the airport on Saturday morning. I managed to quickly whip up 100 or so flyers in the morning before we flew out of Sydney but we attended the event without a proper Influencing website, blog or any real supporting material. Nor did we have a big screen to demo on, a banner or any promotional giveaways. It was basically just myself, Donna and a laptop. We knew that was going to limit how much value we got out of the event but we decided to go over based on it being a learning expedition more than anything – get an initial feel for how our story will go down outside of our local market and learn a bit more about these types of events and from that perspective I think the trip was a success.
When you’re as unorganised as we were, you need the event to be hyper-organised and that wasn’t the case with TC50. We had been expecting to be doing Demopit on Tuesday as that was the day we had selected and we hadn’t been informed otherwise. Actually, turned out there was an innocuous-looking mail in my inbox that came in after close of business Friday telling us we were actually on Monday. So because we travelled in via Honolulu I didn’t actually get to read this message until the Sunday night in San Fran about 8 hours before we had to be setting up in Demopit. So I spent the entire night prior writing our press release, stressing and not sleeping. Needless to say trying to do 12 hours of pitching to dozens of people having not slept for about 30 hours wasn’t ideal. And then the fact that we couldn’t actually demo our product because the Wifi was dead for most of the day, pretty much screwed our time in the Demopit. Lesson one – should have chased up our own confirmation of our date of participation well ahead of time, been much better prepared and got ourselves a wireless card.
The Techcrunch folk offered everyone who participated on Monday the chance to come back on the Tuesday or Wednesday. We got offered the Tuesday and I stupidly allowed myself to believe that I’d be able to drag myself out of bed bright and early that morning, but it just wasn’t going to happen on with the amount of sleep I’d managed to get. Lesson two – if you’re flying into one of these events from a faraway place like Australia and you can give yourself the chance to get used to the time difference, do it. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have any choice but to do it the way we did because of our schedule. I was dissapointed we didn’t get a particularly understanding hearing when we asked if we could move our second Demopit day to Wednesday and were basically told to try our luck on the chance that there would be some space. Rather than deal with further ambiguity, I decided to just give up on Demopit for the rest of the event and just do the sessions, which I did get a lot out of. It would also be nice for the Techcrunch organisers to give a bit of consideration to international exhibitors who obviously have less flexibility with their timing.
Anyway, so with those disclosures out of the way, I humbly make the following suggestions. I know of others including Kevin from Spellr.us – who were much better prepared than us – and definitely got more out of it than we did, but I still think the whole experience could have been much better for all – with a few program changes which I’ll throw up for consideration.
Firstly keep in mind there were 130 companies each paying $US3000. That’s around $US400k. TechCrunch or somebody else could easily consider spinning the Demopit out into its own small event sans conference. Or if the Techcrunch folk want to reconsider the format, I would like to see them devote half a day or even just a couple of hours just to Demopit and make it all-in. We got almost all of our worthwhile leads in the hour after the event when there was nothing else on.
Secondly, make that time exclusive to pitching to the VCs, angels and media.
Pretty much every one in Demopit was looking for investor-types and with a jam-packed conference schedule, there weren’t many actively going from booth-to-booth looking for hidden-gems. Same with media. Techcrunch claimed there was about 350 media invited but again we ran into but a handful who were proactively stopping by each booth to check out each company (one who did so was Robert Scoble). About 80 per cent of the people we ended up talking to were fellow Demopit exhibitors, which was fine – there’s always the opportunity to make contacts that can evolve into partnerships – but you were always worried about letting a possible VC/media opportunity slip because you were talking to the wrong person. By the end of our demopit day I’d worked out that I had to make my opening spiel about 10 seconds long and then see if there was any point going into more detail. If you know that everyone coming up to you during the all-in was an investor or media, you wouldn’t need to devote so much energy to name-badge gazing as we found ourselves doing.
Techcrunch could solve their Demopit chip-competition problem by adding this stand-alone Demopit time to the program. Let the investors and media votes for three companies at the end of this session and then the company that gets the most votes on that basis is the one that gets to present. I’d even open this up to more companies – take it back to the techcrunch40 if need be and invite the top 5 to present in the final session. You’d find a lot more companies would be keen to do the demopit if it was a one in five chance rather than a one-off chance. And those companies would have a lot more credibility going into their presentations if they were selected by the VCs.
A side-benefit of this would be that Demopit companies would also be able to spend more time in the sessions. I was very reluctant to watch any sessions on the Monday ‘just-in-case’ I missed an opportunity even though the demopit was near empty when most of the main sessions were on. There was a lot of great content in the sessions I feel will prove really valuable to me, but if you were concentrating on demo-pit you’d have missed it all. If you felt comfortable, knowing you’d already had the chance to pitch to most of the investors and media you’d feel ok with having just one person on the booth while your other delegate did the session.
And I don’t think mixing the exhibitors and Demopit companies helped either. I believe this was done for the first time and from talking to others who had been to last years event they believe it took away from the emphasis the Demopit previously had. We got positioned just across the way from the awesome Animoto who with their big TV screen and very visual product tended to suck anyone coming down our aisle across to their side. Again, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if we’d have got that Demopit-only time but it appears the perspective for a lot of people was that Demopit was very much the last consideration. Which is a shame, because the smaller, unfunded startup that was mostly represented by the Demopit crowd is very much at the core of what this industry and Techcrunch is about, after all.
So in summary if it were organising next year’s Techcrunch, I’d start the event off with a big Demopit cocktail party and make it a highlight of the event. Run it from say 5pm – 8pm before the three days. Allow all of the Demopit companies to showcase their stuff together on that one night and have an invitation-only crowd of VC executives, angels and media/bloggers as the ‘audience’. This would also allow your Arringtons, Calacanis, etc the time to actually get amongst it as well, which would do wonders for the warm-fuzzies of Demopit exhibitors. And generally I reckon it would kickstart the event with a flurry of good vibes, publicity and useful leads.
All said, I’d do the event again, even as badly as we handled it. I came out of it with what I think may be some very important ideas and perhaps a small number of really useful contacts. But open the event with the format I’ve described above and I reckon it would have added a huge amount of value and make it an absolute no-brainer to any startup or web company.