TechCrunch50 – Differentiation in the DemoPit

12 09 2008


Natalie Terashima o.b.o. FiveSprockets)

TC50 DemoPit (photo credit: Natalie Terashima o.b.o. FiveSprockets)

They billed it as the Sundance of tech conferences and they didn’t disappoint.  At least twice during TechCrunch50, I thought to myself, “Wow.  I just witnessed history being made.” (That distinction goes to Swype and tonchidot which, I swear, was straight out of Minority Report.)

But for those tech companies that weren’t showcased on stage like the chosen 50 and instead had to pay to exhibit, it was a much bigger challenge getting their voices heard.  Companies that paid to exhibit were given small round tables and lined up in four columns down a long, narrow concourse dubbed the DemoPit. On any given day, they vied with dozens of other start-ups, as well as established TC50 sponsors, for the attention of the angels, VCs, media and tech mavens that wandered the hall.  

With about 4 square feet of surface, these start-ups had to be strategic in attracting attention and piquing interest.  Some resorted to the standard tactic of placing people around the convention to hand out flyers.  Some even used models in tight, branded dresses to walk around and flirt.  (I’m not sure how this tactic panned out at a conference designed around serious investment in technology)  Yet others thought vertically and literally stacked their demo upright like a skyscraper.  But in the end, everyone’s success really seemed to hinge on 3 things:  an attention-grabbing name and brand, an intriguing tagline and a concise, effective pitch.  Nothing surprising, right? 

What was surprising at TC50 is how many companies struggled on all accounts.  A few observations to consider before naming, tagging and pitching your tech start-up:

  • Pikachu-inspired company names are over.  There was such a glut of cute-sounding, Japani-names with bright, bubbly logos that it became difficult to differentiate them.  Ubuket, Veeple, Toobla…way too many companies vying to be the next Google by using too many vowels.  Not that these aren’t good companies, it’s just that after a while I had trouble associating the content with the name.  The worst offenders put the letter “i” before their name. (Apple’s got that covered)  A great name is able to evoke both content and target audience.  BlueHaze, an online community for live music devotees, did just that for me.  
  • Taglines matter.  If you are fighting for attention in the marketplace, you have got to tell a prospective client what you are all about as quickly as possible.  A great tagline sparks an “A-ha!” moment that captures attention.  I saw dozens of strong companies with mediocre taglines that were either too vague or downright confusing.  One company that totally got it right was Splaht!  Their motto:  “Instantly tell friends ‘This sucks…that doesn’t.'”  Whether you think their tagging platform is a good idea or not, everything you need to know is summed up in those seven words.
  • Keep your pitch short.  In a setting like TechCrunch50, human bandwidth is a premium.  The best companies I spoke with could tell me exactly what their company did in a matter of sentences.  And then after that, they would ask “Are you interested in learning more?”  Not only is this considerate of the time and interest of the listener, it provides them with a powerful filtering tool for their energy and resources.  Rady alum Craig Braun proved a master of this while repping SmartTouch. And, no Craig, I’m not interested in learning more because I am going to get an iPhone, but thanks for asking.



4 responses

12 09 2008

Great to read your comment about SmartTouch! I worked very hard on messaging with them before TC50. Apparently it paid off!

13 09 2008

I agree with all of your points. Three companies that nailed this were Politics4All, BriteClick, and SnapPages. All three were impressive products from the DemoPit and stageworthy.

13 09 2008
Steven Willmott

We were one of the demopit companies (3scale) and it was a great event – even though we’re a B2B company (we do API management – less flashy graphics and cool taglines) the feedback and interest we got was awesome.

Some of my favorite demopit companies were – bluehaze (mentioned above – slick and a cool service), contrust, (really useful services) and a whole bunch of others.

.. and on the guerrilla chip marketing controversy (hey have Jason and Michael posted about that) … really not sure Gazaro should have been disqualified – they had tactics which generated a lot of chips, hard to argue with their marketing plan!

15 09 2008

Forrest – you and everybody else is getting an iPhone! Or, you and another few percent at least. Which makes the ‘other’ 80+ percent of mobile users perfect for SmartTouch. 😉

I’d like to add one marketing challenge which became more clear as we toured the demopit on day 1: How to make the company stand-out visually from the other 70-odd companies in the pit. As I walked around with the perspective of a ‘normal’ conference attendee I was presented with a slew of companies lining two aisles and no way to quickly filter out which ones might fit my interests and therefore and worth stopping by to learn more. After one pass down the isle I was unable to differentiate one table from another.

Key thing is to remember, every attendee walks by ~70 tables consisting of one or two people in front of a computer monitor. Augmenting your company’s table with something representing your unique value proposition goes a long way when an attendee is making a split second decision whether they want to learn more or keep walking. This could be as simple as you say – a TC supplied placard with an effective name brand and logo. Or could go further to include company attire, using a large, high res monitor to display what the company is trying to achieve (shown when not demoing and generally NOT a picture of your home page), banner draped around your table, or…etc etc….. some other way to stand out from the crowd.

P.S. Great job with FiveSprockets.


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