Our launch experience, part 2: DEMO

Around July, we started thinking about how to launch the live service.  We were fortunate that our plans lined up with DEMO.  Of course, they also lined up with TechCrunch50.  I imagine some companies have to think about which one is best for them, but for us it was pretty easy.  TC50 required a company to have no public exposure before their event, which of course made us ineligible.

We did have to think a bit about the cost of DEMO.  I talked to my friends that had demoed there and was ultimately convinced that it was a great place to launch a product, provided you took full advantage of it with the press, PR and other media outlets.

Again though, I wasn’t sure we would even get into DEMO.  80legs was usable by this point, but again – here was a completely non-shiny service, void of any semblance of a bell or whistle.  Sure, any “big data”-nut is going to think what we do is the coolest thing since SSDs, but will anyone else?  We weren’t sure.

Carla from Guidewire was the one that talked to me about our application.  I gave the 5-second spiel, and was excited to hear that she understood it and really liked the idea.  She did wonder about how we could make the demo interesting.  I assured her we could (while making a note to myself: “Figure out how to make demo interesting!”).

A few weeks later…

Guys, I’ve got news.  We’re going live in September.

We got into DEMO?

Yep.  So we’ll be on stage.  Hundreds of people.  Thousands of Internet viewers.

So we have about 8 weeks to get everything stable, fully-tested, and scaled out.. oh and we need to make the web portal look a lot better.


Now, it’s not like we had been slacking off, but July to September was especially scrambly, particularly for our back-end guys.  On the business and marketing end, we wanted to make sure we take full advantage of not only DEMO itself, but the momentum it could generate after the event.

For that, I sought out a PR firm to help with the media.  I asked a bunch of tech/startup friends in Texas about who to go with, and almost all of them recommended Jones-Dilworth, run by the veteran Josh, who had just left Porter Novelli.  If every trusted source you have recommends the same firm, you should probably go with them!

Josh and his team met with us and mapped out a strategy to garner media attention for DEMO and keep momentum going afterward.  They also helped with training our team for handling interviews, which was a big help.  In the week leading up to DEMO, I did at least 1 interview almost every day.  It was pretty awesome talking to and being interviewed by the same folks I had been reading every day for the past few years.

We got into San Diego on Sunday.  The event and crew at DEMO were very nice and professional.  They definitely run a tight shift, but are also super-approachable.  Everyone on staff seemed to know all the details, where to be, etc.

On Monday, all the demoers went through a few introductory items and then we headed off to a happy hour by the bay.  Mingling with other startups, VCs, and press folks is pretty fun.  It’s pretty awesome to be at a party where everyone is doing something interesting or has something engaging to say.  Can’t say the same about most bars I go to :).

Not your usual bar scene

After that was the “CEO & Dealmakers” dinner, which was only attended by 1 member of each company as well as VCs and other such folks.  While the pre-dinner topic, “The Good, Bad and the Ugly of VC” is something I’ve read about ad nauseum, hearing it straight from guys like the president of the NVCA was pretty cool.  I got a chance to thank Matt Marshall and Chris Shipley for giving us the chance to DEMO.  Matt and Chris kind of seem like opposites.  Chris was cracking jokes about Pittsburgh (I went to CMU and she’s from there), but Matt was like “But seriously, what are you demoing?”.

CEO & Dealmakers Dinner

After dinner, I had a cool talk with Flip from Infochimps and Mike Olson from Cloudera about Hadoop and how we might use it for providing post-processing services of crawled data.  Yeah, that’s the kind of after-dinner conversation you have at DEMO :)

The real show started on Tuesday, with the first group of presenters in the morning.  There did seem to be a few network issues, which was unfortunate.  Digsby actually ran an “offline” version of their chat client to demo their new Twitter capabilities.  All the data was cached locally.  Now that’s what I call a backup plan!

After the presentations, the pavilion was open for a few hours.  Our booth traffic was a bit slow.  Although we had a fair number of people come by, it was nothing like Web 2.0, where a constant stream came by.  I think two factors contributed to this: 1) we hadn’t yet presented and 2) we had already talked to almost all the press folks.

Wednesday came along, which meant it was time to demo!  Although people say I always seem uber-calm, I must admit I was just a touch nervous :).  The staff guy pulled me up.  Chris called me out.  I walk out – cameras, lights, hundreds of people before me, time to launch.  “Hi, my name’s Shion Deysarkar and I’m here to show you a revolutionary new service called <dramatic pause> 80legs.”  I wonder if I’ll ever forget the lines?

I actually used a pretty cool semantic 80App written by a technology partner of ours and compared what positive and negative things people are saying about DEMO and TC50.  I thought this would be a fun demo for the audience, given the interesting history between the two shows.  I didn’t actually show who came out on top though – people had to come by the booth to find out!  It turns out that DEMO just eked out, with a 95% to 91% positive rating over TC50.  If you want to learn more about the future of this app, check out these posts.

Side note:  Even though I poked a little fun at the TC crew, I thought they’d like the joke, given their sense of humor and attitude on DEMO.  Most of the audience cracked up at my joke, but a TC writer told me the joke was “lame”.  Oh well, can’t win them all.

The demo went pretty smoothly, which I was pretty happy about.  It was great to have it out of the way though.  About 2 hours after, I could feel my body crashing, as I could finally relax.  I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I went through about 3 Pepsis (why San Diego doesn’t have Coke is beyond me) before dinner to keep the energy levels up.

At the end of the show were the awards.  7 companies received DEMOGod awards, and 2 each received media prizes – 1 company in the consumer category and 1 in the enterprise category.  I’ll admit that I was a bit miffed we didn’t win the enterprise category, but c’est la vie.  Oh, we also got treated to a little dance by the DEMO staff.

Maybe I was wrong about Matt...

Maybe I was wrong about Matt...

DEMO was finally over.  It was a great experience, but I was looking forward to a little relaxation the next day.  I figured we’d sleep in, check out San Diego for a bit, and enjoy the moment.  I couldn’t have been more wrong…

Next-up, part 3: Post-DEMO, or “Now the Real Work Begins”

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