For the fortunate startups selected to present at any of several large tech conferences this summer and fall, the experience is fraught with excitement, opportunity, and pitfalls in equal measure.
Here's a round up of words from the wise, including veteran investor Mark Suster on surviving the hype cycle, analyst Sean Power on navigating traffic spikes, entrepreneur Jason Calacanis on how to demo, and our thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of launching a company or product at a conference.
First of all, be prepared for a high tide of website visitors. "This is an unprecedented influx of attention," writes Power in a recent blog post. "It may be the single biggest traffic spike you'll ever experience. Thousands of visitors will drive by your site, stay for a minute, and leave - never to return. After the bump, you'll feel a tremendous rush of adrenaline, then deep, soul-sucking disillusionment as your traffic dwindles back to its former levels."
So, how to capitalize on the opportunity and make sure those visitors return? Gather lots of data, track and measure users' behavior down to the twitch of a mouse, solicit user feedback, and - most importantly - make sure your servers can handle the traffic.
We also saw a string of blog posts from Calacanis on how to demo, how to run a trade show booth, and other handy conference tips. "After doing 2,500 minutes of demos (40 hours) this year and many more last year... I've learned a lot about what makes for a great demo and what makes for a horrible demo," he wrote in this post. "Since demoing your idea is a key to your success as an entrepreneur, I thought I would share everything I know in a few simple bullet points."
Simply put, Calacanis advises startups to show the product quickly, get the presentation over with in 5 minutes or less, leave audiences wanting more, talk about accomplishments rather than roadmaps, understand the competition, give short answers, and never-but-never use PowerPoint. In part two of his tutorial, he gets into greater detail, such as handling technical issues and choosing the best method for "the setup," or the first 30 seconds of a presentation.
As far as media coverage is concerned, launching during a major tech event can be dicey business. Written last year, these words from former RWW blogger Josh Catone still ring true: "Out of necessity, many of the reviews we wrote of the startups launching at those events were half-assed - we were more concerned with covering as much as possible as we were with writing quality critiques of the startups launching. And that wasn't really our fault: There were just too many startups coming down the pipeline at once."
He continued to note that search traffic and Techmeme placement for two specific conferences were on a downward trend, and concluded, "Neither seem like they'll be any better at acquiring users than any other time you could pick to launch (and might be worse, given the increased levels of startup noise during the events)."
On the not-so-off chance that your startup does not become the buzzed-up darling of this year's tech conference, you must inevitably resort to getting press the old-fashioned way: by emailing your friendly tech blogger/reporter types.
Finally, we come to this insightful post from Suster. "Today I want to talk about Kool Aid. Yours. Don't drink it. I know you're thinking that you have your head on straight but I promise you the experience of finding yourself in this maelstrom will leave any first time entrepreneur spinning. Fame and adoration corrupts first timers. And if you're not careful you might start to believe your own hype."
Suster continues to spin his own tale from the trenches when he launched his first company. The story is replete with funding from Goldman Sachs, press from Time and the Wall Street Journal, and champagne with Bernard Arnault. The trouble was, Suster had sipped his own Kool-Aid. The company had raised too much money, hired too many people, had too many air-castle-construction discussions, and wasted time while reading their own press. His expert advice makes the post worth reading for any startup about to get major attention from press and investors.
And of course, to all those startups about to demo, we salute you.