Fighting The DEMO Tax

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and just flat out say it: DEMO is overpriced.

It’s no secret that MechaWorks will be announcing a new product later this year. And, in this economy, paying $18,500 for a staffed stage, and a kiosk in a conference… is just something we don’t think is worth it at MechaWorks.

So, over the next few months, you’ll see how we launch a product, without paying DEMO-sized fees. Our product is something that really was born out of the recession, so we feel that introducing it should take that into account… without losing its impact.

Now, DEMO does offer something new to combat the recession, called Alpha Pitch. It’s more aimed at bootstrapped startups like MechaWorks. But, even at $5,000, I think it’s not a good deal. Factoring in travel, setup, compensation, etc… you’re still looking at $7,500 (or more) to announce there.

Our launch budget is much more in that range, so it is certainly attractive from the get-it-done-over-with-and-talking-to-investors perspective. But, does it provide the impact? I don’t think so. DEMO is an event where tons of companies are announcing new stuff all at once. The tech news wires are flooded (this I know and experience when DEMOs happen).

A startup may have a great technology, but you’re having to compete for a more crowded newswire. You’re having to compete with Series A and even Series B-funded startups. They have money to burn… they have PR people… a bootstrapped startup probably have very few of both of those, if any. Scratch that, they should have very little of both of those things.

My initial round of advice is to find an industry event. Not the largest, but not the smallest. Usually, these mid-range events have far fewer announcements, but the press still regularly attends. In the wireless industry this will be something like CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment Expo. Note, we aren’t going to announce what we’re working on at that show, it’s just a good event.

Okay, you’ve found an event… great. Now, don’t buy a booth. Booth space is expensive. You’ve got the (typically expensive) minimum square footage. Then, you’ve got staff to pay… and transport to the event, and lodge at the event. After that, you’re left with all the taxes… utilities (yes, you have to pay highway robbery rates for electricity and wiring setup), plus you have to get booth furniture (if you’re a startup, you’re burning money renting that, since you can’t buy it and store it).

Instead, pick some advertising option that is actually reasonably priced. Early on, there are lots of advertising options. From banner ads, to official t-shirts and tote bags, to badge inserts. There are tons of ways at a show to turn attendees into walking billboards. This generates buzz in a cost-effective manner… attendees can whip out their iPhones, or check out your web site during/after the show.

Oh, and pretty up your web site. If you’re going to promote a new big thing, your web site should be worked over seriously. It is your most cost-effective advertising, and probably always will be. If you can’t do it yourself, find someone who will on a consulting basis.

Finally, set up appointments long before the show. Start a good two months before. Press love to get exclusives with exciting technology… especially when they’re burning money to go to the show. The earlier the better. If you want to network at the event, email and call companies before the show. Be persistent… in this economy, lots of companies just don’t care if they don’t get back to people. Especially new people they haven’t heard of (like your bootstrapped startup).

Make a list, check it twice, and keep calling until you get your appointments, or they tell you to jump off a cliff. If they don’t care about getting back to you, don’t take it as an insult… just make it in their interest to deal with you (by hammering them until they do touch base with you).

Finally, have everything ready long before the show. Much of our launch work is done months in advance. This gives us time to perfect the pitch, prepare press materials (kits, photos, releases, etc… all should be pre-packaged a month before your event). And, of course, expect to stumble. You’re not Apple, and Apple doesn’t reply to about 75% of press inquiries (that’s our in-house return rate). You’re going to not have the perfect pitch… it doesn’t exist. The best pitch however will rise above those stumbles, and stay persistent towards getting what you’re looking for: industry support, and initial funding.

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