Launching at TC Disrupt vs DEMO

I wrote about attending DEMO and TechCrunch Disrupt conferences over at the Posterbee blog. If you’re interested, read it over there – just copying it below for archiving purposes. And if you plan to attend either of these events with your startup and want more tips and background information then more than happy to help.

We attended two major startup events during Posterbee’s stay in the Valley: DEMO and TechCrunch Disrupt. For the benefit of other startups who consider going to one or the other, here’s a quick review.

We signed up for the startup pitching event for both events with product that was a long way from complete at the time of application. So we were not surprised not to get a stage spot at either event. We knew that by the time the events took place we’d have a lot more to show so we decided to get a demo area at both conferences.

The cost

It was free to apply to either event’s pitching contest. The most surprising thing to me was that with DEMO it would have cost $18500 to actually make the pitch. Not sure this strictly qualifies as winning, so no hard feeling for not getting this honour.

DEMO charged around $4500 for a deal that included two conference passes and a cocktail table in the startup demo area. TC Disrupt charged around $1995 for a comparable package.

What you (don’t) get at the event

You get a cocktail table, your logo printed on a piece of plastic and people passing by – that’s what you’d expect, anyway. But this is where the biggest difference between the conferences comes from.

DEMO has been around for ages and it’s gone a long way from featuring only startups and world-changers. Well-established tech companies have made their way to DEMO to shine the spark of innovation onto their sometimes boring products. (Is the next version of Parallels Desktop really new news?) There was also this company that made a TV-shop style presentation about a photo scanner on the main stage – the pitch included the classic line “and that’s not all you get”. So though there were quite a few bleeding edge startup folks present, the dominating group was guys in khakis and light blue collared shirts who were there to sell. Not really the best people to give feedback to your early-stage startup.

To make reaching the right people even harder DEMO had stuck us and other ten or so startups in the far corner of the DEMO showcase room. To get any visibility at all we bought yellow-and-black boxes to make our table stand out a bit more. At some point I even borrowed a tray from one of the waitresses, filled it with bee-themed candy and business cards and went to lure people to come closer. If we had relied just on our stand we’d probably have had only a handful of conversations and contacts.

What’s also telling is that I emailed our contact right on the first day to ask what can be done to get more people to our area, thinking that at the very least they could throw in a tweet or encourage people to come to the startups area from stage. I’m yet to receive a reply.

How about TC Disrupt then

Much better, luckily. Their Startup Alley is located centrally and is part of the agenda, not an afterthought. They have 50 real startups on two days and they’re nicely mixed with regular exhibitors. Another good thing is that if you win the votes of the audience you can even make it to the main stage to compete in the Startup Battlefield. All in all there are orders of magnitude more people checking out the startups and even more importantly, more of these people are the kind of people you want to talk to. We even had a couple of journalists and bloggers swing by. As a result I got about five times more contacts from one day at TC Disrupt compared to two days of exhibiting at DEMO.

Paying nearly 20 thousand dollars to present at DEMO may pay off for a couple of startups that compete for the pedestal spots, but all in all the event didn’t seem too startup friendly. TC Disrupt wins hands down on cost, value for money and startup-ness of people attending. Looking forward to going back to next ones.

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