TechCrunch50 – Differentiation in the DemoPit

September 13, 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 toSwype 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.

One Response to “TechCrunch50 – Differentiation in the DemoPit”

  1. Joseph Says:

    Great post forrestsloan. I think Swype has some pretty amazing algorithms and technology. Two concerns that came to me when looking at the technology are as follows:

    The design is built great for latin based languages. I’d be interested to see how this technology works on non latin based languages. Since the mobile market believes that Asia is the biggest growth opportunity for mobile (China and India especially), how well does this technology fit in with mobile user input for that group?

    The design is also built for visual typing. One key advantage to a traditional keyboard and T9 (also developed by Cliff Kushler), is the ability to touch-type. Users could input data without looking at the screen. This was even demonstrated in the movie The Departed. This form of entry requires users to see where they’re going which make it ver difficult to touch-type.

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