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Why CES Is a Bad Scene For Startups 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the slow-start dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "If you're a small-to-midsize tech company, CES isn't exactly the best place to get noticed. Every January, thousands of developers and startup executives flood Vegas with dreams of a big score. But they're not headed to the poker and blackjack tables in pursuit of that filthy lucre—instead, many of them have dropped thousands of dollars on a booth at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), arguably the highest-profile technology conference of the year. (In addition to the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to reserve a space on the convention-hall floor, that money goes to demo units, flying employees to Vegas, and much, much more.) If they haven't managed to secure a spot in one of the Convention Center's massive halls, they've set up a demonstration area in a suite at some hotel on the Strip. And if they're too under-capitalized or unprepared for a hotel, they're lurking in the Convention Center parking lot. Seriously. It's a little insane. But in a certain way, you can't blame the startups: at some point, someone told them that CES is the best way to get their company noticed, even if it means blowing the equivalent of three employees' yearly salaries. On paper, the get-a-booth strategy makes sense—aside from SXSW, CES hosts possibly the greatest concentration of tech journalists in a relatively small space. What many first-timers don't realize (until it's too late) is that startups have a hard time standing out amidst the chaos: there are too many companies at too many booths attempting to sell (at top volume) too many variations of the same core ideas. If that wasn't bad enough, a fair portion of those companies are trying to draw attention with flashing screens, giveaways, music pumping at top volume, and other gimmicks. (Hey, it's Vegas.) So not only does your Nike FuelBand knockoff need to compete against a hundred other 'smart bracelets' on display, but you somehow need to make yourself visible despite the plus-size Elvis impersonator belting out 'Don't Be Cruel' in front of that chip-vendor's booth a few steps away. That's just the sort of quixotic endeavor that would drive even the most stalwart startup founder to drinking before 9 A.M."
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Why CES Is a Bad Scene For Startups

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  • by mveloso (325617) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:19PM (#45881827)

    Back in the day Macworld used to have a small company area ("ghetto") so the public and press could easily find them. Was it in the south convention center?

    They should do the same thing for any of the big tech trade shows.

    Sometimes startups have to go, because one of their investors forced them to. When they money man insists, you go. The above idea should make it a bit more practical...though a targeted show is probably a much better use of your startup's money.

  • by plover (150551) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:25PM (#45881887) Homepage Journal

    Why do people pay for booths at trade shows?

    Because sometimes they actually work. They attract customers and investors. They put you in front of people who might not otherwise see you.

    They aren't trying to sell to you personally, Mr. alphatel. They are trying to sell to 1% of the people who will walk past their booth. Or maybe they are going after the 0.01% of people walking past their booth who are looking to invest.

    Advertising doesn't have to be on target to 100% of the people out there. It just has to get enough of the message to enough of the right people, at the right time. Trade shows put two out of three of those within the grasp of anyone who can afford to present at one.

  • What cost Failure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:40PM (#45882043)

    Judging from what Scoble has done for (or to) Glass, why would you pay for that exactly?

    Scoble should start a racket where you have to pay him monthly not to publish pictures of him and your product in an illicit shower encounter.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:49PM (#45882133)
    CES is just the physical manifestation of the market in general, which is tough to crack wherever you go. If you think CES is noisy, try hanging out a shingle on the WWW, or hawking your stuff on ebay. The economy is a big casino with not that many big winners.
  • On paper, the get-a-booth strategy makes sense—aside from SXSW, CES hosts possibly the greatest concentration of tech journalists in a relatively small space.

    That's exactly why a startup should be at CES.

    So not only does your Nike FuelBand knockoff need to compete against a hundred other 'smart bracelets' on display

    And thats exactly why if your business model relies on being a copycat product, you should probably rethink your startup. If CES is truly your wakeup call in this regard, well, at least you found out before shipping a product...

    But in a certain way, you can't blame the startups: at some point, someone told them that CES is the best way to get their company noticed, even if it means blowing the equivalent of three employees' yearly salaries.

    The important thing (for any conference) is to realize why you specifically are there, and what you specifically want to get out of it. If you're going just because it's your industry and you think you should be there, then your priorities are messed up and you're wasting your money.

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday January 06, 2014 @07:32PM (#45882873) Journal

    But it's not really about publicity - I know when I've been to the show myself, there's basically loads of people wandering aroudn just trying to get as much free stuff as they can. Possibly only 1% of people you turn up to your booth actually wants to know about your product and most of them won't actually generate any business.

    The reason why? Easy - if I want to know about your product, I'll go Google it, see if your company/product turns up, then maybe call you up if I want/need more information about it.

    Trade shows are a vestige of the pre-Internet age. They formed at a time when getting info on new and upcoming tech was actual work, or involved slogging through phonebook-thick magazines containing up to 80% ads, 15% fluff, and 5% actual useful information.

    Back in the day, you went to COMDEX, NetWorld, and all those shows because that was the only way you were going to learn jack about the products. You also got something the trade pubs and (at the time) embryonic web could not provide you at the time: a working demo of the damned thing. Even on a non-generic level, you didn't go to Novell's Brainshare to take in the party atmosphere of Salt Lake City in Winter - you went so you could learn something, and to test out the new bits before you committed a purchase order to it.

    COMDEX and NetWorld died a long time ago. CES is IMHO an anomaly - a holdover from that era.

    Some hybrid trade shows cropped up (see also VMWorld), but the trade-show aspect is secondary to the goal of testing/teaching/advertising by the primary sponsor (VMWorld also had a neat trick of allowing selected customers to speak directly with various developer teams, so that you could suggest features, bitch about stuff that didn't work so hot, and show off tricks and tips you learned independently of them. In return, they got feedback on potential products they were building in pre-Alpha stage.)

  • Re:MOD parent UP. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <`VortexCortex' ` ... -retrograde.com'> on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:36PM (#45884065) Homepage

    I think the booth babes will disappear when they are no longer profitable and when this fact is clear to the companies that currently hire them.

    You thought wrong. Both women and men like looking at women's hips and breasts. Youth and beauty are signals for fertility. Advertising leverages this innate human response to associate products with desirability. When you've undone millions of years of instinctual evolution and sexual selection pressure, there won't be any "booth babes", because there won't be any damn booths.

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

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