CitySourced, a product of FreedomSpeaks, was honored this past week to present and then place third overall at the TechCrunch50 Conference. This past weekend myself and our two co-founders agreed that the events that transpired were a game changer. Not only was our product going to receive more hype, maybe even funding, but all of us were emotionally different; we had, as one adviser told us, just advanced ten levels in the video game. So, what changed? And what are the three lessons we’d like to share with those who prepare for their first product demo at next year’s TC50?
First, you can never practice enough. We worked until 2:00 am every night for a week prior to our presentation nailing all the details and continuing to refine and update our presentation and product. When we heard that other companies were partying the night before while we were huddled in our crappy hotel room in Cupertino refining our pitch, we said to ourselves that we might have a fighting chance at winning. So, plan on being completely exhausted, and maybe even getting diarrhea (as we did) from the combination of stress and exhaustion.
Concerning our pitch, there are a few industry leaders, like Steve Jobs, who excel at this very well. If you study their style you will realize that it isn’t an secret, the signs are everywhere. First, do not ever go past your allotted time limit. It’s rude to the judges and your audience of potential customers. Second, make sure you are actually showing your product and how it works within the first 30 seconds. Third, it’s helpful to make news by having third party validation during your presentation. A few presenting companies showed signed contracts from customers. For CitySourced, we actually brought the customer, Pete Constant, a city councilman from the City of San Jose, on stage. I recall attending WWDC back in 2007 and Steve Jobs not only announced that Intel was going to be making chips for the Mac, but then he surprised everyone and actually brought Paul Otinelli on stage. Finally, tell a story. You aren’t just doing a product demo, you are telling a story. Your audience may be very intelligent, but they are also like children in that their attention will wane if you drag on and don’t relate to how your product will change their life, or better yet, the world.
We received a lot of favorable feedback on our presentation, which can be found here:
The second lesson we can share is to be humble and calm. It does help to believe in a power greater than oneself and acknowledge them for getting you this far and to ask for the ability to cope. Despite practicing a lot, things will go wrong. I guarantee it. You may flub a word or fail to stay on message during the demo or Q&A. That’s likely not the end of the world. One of the lessons in Silicon Valley I learned over the past two years was that it’s ok to fail, but fail fast. If you find one of your key team members unable to cope with the stress due to failure or a mistake made, take them out of the game until they can recover. Despite their strong value add in getting to this point, if they are too emotional, they of no value to you at the present. In addition, it’s important also to be humble. Make sure you watch other presentations to get a feel of how others present and what the questions judges ask. That was another form of practicing for us. Be sure to visit your fellow peers at their booths. Yes, it is a cutthroat competition, and we are all in it to win it, but we are also a community of entrepreneurs who ultimately need to have each others’ back. In short, as one blog post noted, don’t drink your own Kool-Aide.
The final lesson we can share is remember to market your product. Beyond presentation, your booth serves as a constant reminder for those walking by to learn more. I found several presenting companies not staffing their booth after their presentation. Not good. In addition, it’s important to have really good press relations. I learned through a close source that most companies did not even take advantage of the registered press list given out to presenting companies. Even fewer actually sent a personalized note to every reporter on the list to engage them. We believe this was critical to the favorable press we received following our event.
We were also humbled when Robert Scoble discovered us and actually came by our offices the following day to conduct an on-camera interview. Remember that time is money and if a member of the press spent their time reading about your product and writing to inform their audience, the least you can do is thank them with a personal note, as we did.
For many, presenting at TC50 was our first major product demo at a technology trade show conference and hopefully not our last. We hope the above lessons shared from our experience will be helpful to future presenting companies and that you will look back 10-20 years recalling your first demo with many happy memories. Just because you are a startup and may not have the presentation resources like a Cisco, Apple or Microsoft, doesn’t mean you can’t abide by these simple, free ways that we believe were critical to our success.
Thanks to the TC50 opportunity, our hard work is paying off with our phones ringing off the hook with new leads, plus notable interest from press and investors has been exciting, encouraging, and oh so worth the sprinting we endured leading up to the confernece. In fact, the sprinting is what prepped us to drink from the fire hose, and now that we’ve tasted it we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream of ours a reality. We are very excited about our launch and look forward to sharing with you more exciting news about CitySourced as we aim to make your city a better place to live. Remember: It’s Your City.
ABOUT CITY SOURCED
CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement tool. CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save money and improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. Our platform is called CitySourced, as it empowers everyday citizens to use their smart phones to make their cities a better place. CitySourced is powered by FreedomSpeaks, the leader in interactive civic engagement.