A week ago, we wrap-up the largest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It was our first participation and we were so lucky to be part of the 50 rock-star Dutch start-up delegation organised by The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), Techleap.nl, and Handelsroute. We were hosted at the innovative Eureka park in the Netherlands Tech Square. We feel privileged that we were part of a strong organisation that help us deal with all the logistics and hype to let us focus only on our business partners during the show.
Reading numerous papers on the aftermath of the 2020 CES, I understand from some OG’s that CES is not what it used to be. Experts are somewhat disappointed by the lack of innovation of the big Consumer Electronics companies, slow 5G take off, and a relatively poor quality of the start-ups at CES. First, it is a fact that corporates around the work invest relatively less in R&D and let’s be honest are not innovative enough. In an era of cheap money and “financisation” of the economy, it is easier to buy back shares, reduce workforce, and make acquisitions than investing in highly risky product development projects to conquer new markets!
The stock markets are “permanently” bullish as well as the compensations of the officers who are paid in shares. The 5G promises’ take longer to concretise as massive infrastructure needs to take place before start seeing the applicative innovations around it - this will take some years. The last point highlighted by some experts is a bit more concerning to me. They complained about the lack of quality of start-ups at CES.
Basically, start-ups lack a good business plan/model as well as lower “high barriers to entry” to make their customers happy to pay a premium for the product/service. Well, at the first glance I understand this frustration as many start-ups at CES were just adding “Alexa ready or Hey Google!” to existing products/services. This is a new feature as it improves the convenience of the users, but it comes across more as an incremental improvement than a disruptive innovation!
The other point is that developing a disruptive hardware requires lots of funding. But this is not where the money goes. It is easier to raise funds in an application using existing hardware and other Azure platform that will have millions of “free” users hoping one day to finally monetise the service.
The smart money does not like risks, and instead prefers to believe in unlimited multiples of WeWork, Uber, and other mammoths that used to be unicorns. Hardware is “hard” and requires time and money. Lots of “Hardware start-ups” were present with the Netherlands delegation, maybe these experts should have spent more time on the orange square at CES!
For our first time at CES, we have made some mistakes that we hope to correct for next year. We would like to share with you a down to earth list of things that we plan to improve or not forget. We hope you can cherry pick what matters to you.
Before the Trade Show – Preparation
- Start your PR activity at least 5 to 6 months before the event takes place
- Target news media and start contacting the journalists, reporters etc via Twitter and LinkedIn
- Schedule meetings ahead as their planning get full rapidly and they hardly change their schedule during the show
- Book top journalists speed dating events as we understood that companies could generate 20 to 25 articles, usually on the Monday before the start of the show
- When you produce your videos, make two versions. One with subtitles or the Trade Show and one without subtitles to handle to the press
- Apply to all CES Awards as you can. I believe that the main condition is to be selling at the time of the Show. When awarded your product is showcased and create more media momentum
- Study exhibitors list and schedule visit on the interesting ones
- Prepare a good Cheat Sheet, share it with all the attendees of your company and get your team ready!
- Create a very good description under the Logo at your booth. Think of people trying to understand what your start-up does. Even if it’s long of several sentences just make it clear!
- Preferably book hotel at 15 to 20 minutes walking distance maximum as the CES is very tiring. After being locked for days in an Exposition Hall it is good to walk and have some fresh air
- Taxis are not cheap in Las Vegas, paying cash will help you avoid the ridiculous credit card over-charge. Or take Uber or Lyft. Expect some taxis requesting for a tip!
- ATM’s are a rip off, get enough cash beforehand if possible
- Print your documents beforehand as the printing shops are quite expensive next to the Trade Show
- The winter in Las Vegas is cold and the air is dramatically dry (less than 20% humidity as measured by the sensor of our colleague’s start-up). Bring lots of lip moisturizer with you
- Bring along comfy shoes as days are going to be very long standing most of the time
During the Trade Show – The Hustling Approach!
- Ideally be at least 3 people. While two are taking care of the visitors and setting up the booth, one has to be a hustler: grabbing media staff and VIP/Celebrities when visiting the NL Square and/or your booth, taking pictures when VIP’s visit the booth, taking pictures of any big screen when something is said about your start-up. This third person is to take a step back and think what could make the experience of your company better at CES
- Take pictures of people wearing/using the product as much as possible. Take pictures of your visitors in general
- Take time to visit Eureka park (and other buildings of CES) to see the competition and be inspired – look at other stands/presentation for improvement
- Manage business cards on a notebook
- 20% to 30% of visitors will not have business cards – prepare a sign-up form or any smart tool to gather their info quickly
- On the display have only one pager documents – short with few information. Nice booklets are in the drawer and given only to important visitors
- Hide booklets and business cards underneath the stands, give only to business partners, investors and VIP’s. Your business cards might disappear quickly, and you will be suddenly spammed by vendors offers
- Agree upon handover of visitors between teammates to avoid repeating the story
- Identify early who are the “tourists” and do not waste time with them – let them go kindly with a “Thank You message”