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Pitching at CES: Bawte co-founder shares lessons from Vegas visit

About the author: John Jackovin is the co-founder and CEO of Des Moines startup Bawte.

Though there’s less buzz in the air, Bawte co-founder John Jackovin believes attending CES (above) the final two days of the event is more valuable for startups trying to connect with the exhibitors.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the largest gathering of technology suppliers, buyers and techno-nerds possibly in the world. I attended CES for three full days in hopes of getting new leads for my startup, Bawte.

Bawte is a consumer-facing app that allows our users to tag the products they buy to create a custom product catalog consisting of only the products they own. When Bawte partners with brands, we can offer a much richer and complete experience to our users. The more brands, the better the experience. The better the experience the more users. The more users, the more brands that want to participate. And that iterative cycle continues. So for Bawte, our target market includes consumer electronics companies and being as CES is the largest gathering of technology suppliers … wait I already said that, so you get the idea, it’s a great place to be.

When we arrived at the opening of the show, we were overwhelmed by its size and booths. Some booths had what seemed to be hundreds of people working at once. Many of the really large brands stocked their booths with sales support (think trainers) which is not who we needed to speak to about our product. We needed marketing people. We wasted a lot of time getting herded from one person to the other, only to eventually lead to a dead end. We determined that these brands would never materialize during the show. So we moved to slightly smaller brands that still are household names, but under the $1 billion revenue threshold.

We also realized that as the days passed the activity level at the exhibits slowed. Here is a tip, if you want to talk to people at the booths, do not go on Tuesday, the show’s first day. You are better off going Wednesday through Friday or condensing it down to only Thursday and Friday. Tuesday has too much of a buzz to it. Most people leave Thursday, which is what I did, and from the tweets I monitored it seemed as though people were searching for attendees on Friday. So hit them on Friday when they have had enough of talking about their own products and are much more willing to listen.

That is a unexpectedly good segue into my next observation: people man their booths to sell and inform, not to listen to startups tell their story. Even though our primary goal was to talk to these people, it is important to understand that is not their goal. This is not Match.com for businesses. As much as I wish it were, it’s not and you need to understand and respect that. Perhaps from my conversational writing style you may infer that we knew this going in, the truth is we did not. We had no idea what to expect.

So how did we do? Well, I think if you read any of what I wrote before this sentence it won’t come as a surprise that first day for us was sketchy. It was packed and we had no idea how to approach the people in the booths. This is not your normal TechCrunch Disrupt pitch-a-thon. Remember, these people don’t really anticipate getting pitched.

Days two and three were much more fluid. I found my best approach was to actually discuss their product line, show a genuine interest in their new innovative products and then work into a conversation about Bawte. This “rolling start” concept allowed me to better understand the products and person, which then made it easier to transition into Bawte and what we could do for the brands.

Was it worth it for Bawte? Absolutely.

The contacts we made were well worth the price for me and my partner to attend the show. We each have 15 to 20 solid leads from this show that we would never have been able to get through any conventional means. Now some of the leads we never got to talk to, but we got their cards. Some folks we just got a name or an email. A few times the people we spoke to thought it was such a good idea that they said they would put us in contact with the appropriate person. These are in no way a slam-dunk. We did not close any business. We did not anticipate closing any business. This was a lead generation mission for Bawte. All of this information provides us with a start. And like anyone who has built a company before, all you need is a place to start. From there it is up to you.


Credits: Photos courtesy of John Jackovin.

About the author: John Jackovin has been a technology entrepreneur since the age of 24 when he developed technology for hardware distributors. Ever since, Jackovin and his partner Tom Love have been developing new technology startups. He is currently focused solely on the development of their new company, Bawte.

Find Jackovin on Twitter, @jackovin.

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