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The Road to CES 2018: Lessons Learned from Expert Panel

February 13, 2018

Why spend a week in Las Vegas with 200,000 consumer electronic enthusiasts at the biggest show of the year?

Four CES 2018 attendees recently spoke at the SV Hardware Startup to Scale Meetup to share their experience at this years’ show. All of our panelists would agree that if you’re going to CES, you had better understand your goals and plan well beforehand.

  • Siva Nattama, co-founder and  CEO at CocoonCam, hosted a booth in Eureka Park, to demonstrate the Cocoon Cam Clarity, their latest product. Goal:  PR for the company & meet potential investors.
  • Liz Klinger, co-founder and CEO at Lioness, a women’s sexual health company, leveraged relationships with investors and PRG partners to obtain popup space to demo Artgasm, an art exhibit that uses the Lioness’s biofeedback sensors to create unique art pieces based on the user’s orgasms. Goal: Meet new retail & distribution partners
  • Pénélope Romand-Monnier, Associate and Community Lead, Hardware Club, was responsible for bringing 17 of the Hardware Club’s startup companies to participate at CES 2018. Goal: Tailored plans for each of the 17 participating startups
  • Anand Joshi, AI Strategy Consultant at Tractica, attended CES 2018 to observe the latest in AI and robotics. Goal: Visit as many AI companies as possible

Getting PR Visibility at CES

CES has various pre-show events for exhibitors to get exposure to journalists and media, notably CES Unveiled and Showstopper. Siva, and the Cocoon Cam team attended both these events. The result was that several articles were published about Cocoon Cam before CES 2018. In addition, they found their booth the center of many media tours once the show began.

Pénélope advised that CES planning should include all of your media collateral, and ready by December 1. Journalists plan for CES well before the actual event. You must work on long-term relationships with journalists, as CES is a very crowded place to get media attention. Liz echoed this, suggesting that journalists work with stories on the big companies for 2-3 months ahead. Startups need to fight for time and space.

While attending media events was an effective strategy for Cocoon Cam, Liz cautioned startups to look at the ROI (“return on investment”) from attending events designed for press. She encourages you to ask whether you could get the same press by contacting the journalist yourself.  The press list is available to exhibitors ( or their friends), and you may have a product like Lioness, “that is sort of different for the right sort of journalist.”

Planning your Presence at CES

Going to CES impacts your business in many ways, and the costs can escalate quickly.

Typically a company will sign up for a CES booth by July, the year before CES, while planning will start even earlier. The planning includes not only the booth design and building, but developing the product demonstration. As Anand pointed out, throughout his career he has spent many December holidays debugging CES demos. The energy devoted to CES can also disrupt company activities. Pénélope cautioned about sustaining manufacturing during this time, especially since CES is followed by New Years in Asia, which means holiday shutdowns for manufacturing lines.

Whether to have a booth or a suite depends on your goals, and your budget. The entry level booth at Eureka Park cost $5,000 this year, which is merely the space — no furniture, no labor, no power – no booth!  If you have a product and want to make the most splash, Anand encourages you to get a booth. If budget is a constraint, consider some kind of partnership or a country or company sponsored pavilion. According to Liz, CES is not so keen on female pleasure products, and they were turned down from Eureka Park. They still wanted to have a footprint there with other startups so they did a demonstration at one of the after parties. They showed a pop-up demo of Artgasm, a project where they turn peoples experiences into works of art through data visualization, in an after party at Caesar’s Hangover Suite. They repeated the pop up at another investor’s after party as well. Liz’s other guerilla marketing included using a hired clown.

Pénélope looks at the different use cases of the startups that she brings to decide booth, suite, or walking the floor. If they are still in development, they might attend for 1-2 days, try to figure out their competition, showcase their product, demo their prototype, meet people and get their reaction. If they are about to ship product and are more interested in meeting distributors and retailers, she recommends a booth. Retailers and distributors tend to go around in groups and scout out what products they want next for their shelves. She doesn’t recommend booths for startups looking for investment because investors don’t walk the floor. For PR, she will often set up a suite with several startups so that when journalists come, they are seeing more than one company.  

In preparing 17 startups from the Hardware Club for CES, Pénélope also stressed the importance of bringing the right team. You have to have your pitch ready for all sorts of people who come to your booth, but at the same time, know who you are pitching to, and only pitch to people important to you.

For setting up meetings with retailers, Cocoon Cam worked with a consultant and used their booth space in 2017. They worked with Levin Consulting, a retail specialist. Levin had the space, and Cocoon Cam rented a booth for 60-70 meetings there.

Trends and Takeaways from CES 2018

Observations On the Floor

  • More integration with voice. A lot of movement in the hardware ecosystem. Integration of neurosciences. More intersection between mass market and deep tech sciences.
  • Cameras are becoming a commodity.  Whatever you do after having a camera is what is going to make your product successful, i.e., computer vision, AI — I felt good that we are on the right trend.
  • AI and intelligent hardware are going everywhere–  cars ,TVs, robotics, voice control.
  • Asked about products for older adults: “Over ⅓ of our users are over 45.  We know it’s a huge market for us. One company, one data point. We are doing things to make the experience better for everybody”.
  • AR / VR, automation and robotics, and auto are all trending up

Preparation for CES 2019

For Liz, CES is a zoo and you must have very specific goals that you want to accomplish if you go, and budget accordingly. Similarly, Anand’s advice is simple: plan what you want; execute; and have it make business sense. Planning is also key for Pénélope. You must exert a lot of time and effort throughout the year– it conflicts with holidays– you must sustain your business through planning, so have clear objectives– go for the right reasons.  

Siva’s takeaway from CES 2018 — it’s not just meeting the people there —  it’s not just what you do at the show — it’s the follow up.  In 2017, Cocoon Cam met with 60-70 retailers. They finally closed a deal with Toys ‘R Us in August, just as they were starting to plan for CES 2018. They leave CES 2018 with thousands of contacts with whom they must triage and take action, before they start planning for CES 2019!

 
 

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