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Should you launch at a conference?

Posted by | 2 January, 2012 | Business planning, Data in startups, Software & technology, Strategy

Original post by Joel Spolsky via  Joel on Software

Should you launch at Launch? (Or TechCrunch Disrupt? Or Demo? They’re all pretty similar).

This year I launched two major new products at conferences: Careers 2.0 and Trello, and both times, it was totally worth it.

First, a little background. There are three popular conferences where you can launch new products: LaunchTechCrunch Disrupt, and Demo. They all work the same way:

  • You apply. If you have a half-decent product that is genuinely new, you’re likely to get a spot. That said, hundreds of companies apply for these conferences with unbearably awful products, so there’s always a risk that you’ll get lost in the noise.
  • If you get in, you will have a chance to give a demo on stage for exactly six minutes. There will be some celebrity judges who will give you a few sentences of honest feedback about your startup. (Here’s how our demo went down).
  • Even if you don’t get a slot presenting, you may have a chance to set up at a little table in the conference area where you can show off your product to passers-by.
  • The official promise is that you’ll get exposure to a lot of journalists and VCs, and this will launch your startup on the way to huge success. The truth is, well, complicated, but I’ll get into that in a minute.
  • At the end there is a “winner.” For example at Disrupt the winner (chosen by a panel of utterly uncorruptable, gazillionaire judges) receives a check for $50,000. There are between 30 and 50 startups presenting at each conference, and the politics behind who “wins” are murky enough that you should basically assume that the chance of winning is zero. There’s always going to be a “Netflix for Cabbage” or a “Second Life for Facebook” that the judges fall in love with. So the benefits of winning, which is vanishingly unlikely, should never factor into your decision as to whether to go or not.

So, are these conferences worth it?

Let’s look, individually, at the two big promises of the conferences: exposure to VCs and exposure to the press.

Are VCs at these conferences? Absolutely. Does going to one of these conferences get you funded? It’s complicated.

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