This week’s guest author Drew Austin, is the founder of Augmate, “the first wearable platform that accelerates the development of cloud-based smart eyewear applications.” He is also the Managing Director of Founderdating for New York City.
Honestly, I don’t think hardware startups should go to CES. Most lack the proper funding to attend the conference, let alone exhibit a product. It’s a distraction and waste of time. Launching at CES as a startup is futile unless they have raised enough funding and established media connections that will help their company rise above the very loud chatter. Simply having a presence at CES won’t make or break your company and it will likely be a distraction.
However, if both money and time permit, I think the founder(s) of a hardware startup should attend the CES. Instead of sending just any spokesperson from the company, it’s far more strategic to send in a founder with enough knowledge about the industry to network efficiently and to glean market insights from the exhibits. Here’s why and what you can get out of CES (and other like events).
Learn About Your Competitive Landscape
Although you shouldn’t put too much weight on what you see from the competition, it’s important for founders to be aware of who their competitors are and what they’re prepared to offer customers. Many companies choose to debut their next-generation innovations at CES. As an attendee, you will see your competitor’s new technology first-hand and make your own judgments about whether it will actually move the needle in your market. If you believe your competitor is heading in the right direction, then you can begin strategizing for your own company and meet the challenge head on.
Invest in Networking Opportunities
There are two forms of networking that founders should take advantage of at CES: working the room and building long-term relationships. For the former, prepare a game plan ahead of time so that you don’t risk feeling overwhelmed after you dive in. Working the room can be stressful if you don’t know what you are looking for because you have to make quick decisions. When you’re at a networking event at CES, you should try to speak to as many people as you can. Draw out their agendas quickly and determine a call to action whether that is exchanging contact information or moving on.
The second type of networking is building long-term relationships. Believe it or not, I’ve met many of my closest contacts in tech at late-night events at CES and SXSW. These opportunities tend to be spontaneous, so the less of an agenda you have the better. Like most friendships, business relationships also begin by engaging in conversations about shared interests. The key here is that you don’t always need to talk business to develop a good working relationship. A week long event like CES presents you with multiple opportunities to engage with people on a deeper level. Based on the direction your conversation takes, you may find yourself talking your way into your next business partnership. Hardware is, well, hard and many of the key relationships take a very long time to foster.
Recruit Team Members
One of the most difficult things for any company to do is find new hires that are the right fit—intellectually and culturally—for open positions. At CES, you will have the opportunity to meet people with an array of different skills, from engineers to marketers, who have pre-selected for being excited about hardware. Although you may not be looking to hire during the event, you should make a mental note of people you think could be a great fit for your company and reach out to them after the event.
As a founder, you probably spend much of your time thinking about what your product can evolve into and how your business can expand. Many CES attendees are highly influential in their respective markets, and when you put smart people with shared interests in a room together, exciting things can happen. Besides meeting a potential partner or customer, you may develop a new perspective on the way your industry is evolving. Ideas flow and you’ll return to your team rejuvenated. If you let your guard down, you may find yourself inspired by the creative ideas and brilliant minds around you.
It’s easy to be tempted by CES. But what I’ve learned is that it’s about having realistic expectations for what the conference can do for your company. CES can be an effective way to network, recruit and learn about the market. But I don’t recommend launching there and I do recommend sending a Founder. Founders are the best representative because they are aware of the company’s current needs and are always keeping an eye out for its future ones.