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Learn How to Get the Most Out of CES Before Booking Your Trip

Tempted to strut your stuff at a booth next year? Hold that thought. Exhibiting may not be the way to get the biggest bang for your buck.
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Should you go? Is it worth the money? And how would you stand out even if you did make the trek to the annual Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas?

You're reading all of the news this week about the flashy startups debuting at CES and it has you wondering if next year you ought to go big and show your business off to the more than 152,000 attendees. 

Hold that thought. While there is a relatively inexpensive way to exhibit at CES if you're an early-stage startup--booths in the startup-only Eureka Park section go for about $1,000--it may not be the best use of your time. 

I caught up with a few VCs and startups in Vegas this week to talk about how entrepreneurs can get the biggest bang for their buck at CES. Here's what they had to say:

1. Don't launch at CES.

Cheryl Cheng of the Menlo Park VC firm BlueRun Ventures says she almost always advises startups not to launch at CES (or other giant events such as Mobile World Congress or South by Southwest). "There is so much noise," she says. Rising above that noise and getting featured at a press event will cost you some serious cash. And if you do succeed in getting some attention, the show can give you a false sense of success. "Startups tend to equate PR with marketing," she says. "PR does not drive downloads in the long term. That initial success will be very difficult and expensive to maintain."

The one scenario in which Cheng makes an exception is if you can ride the coattails of a partner who has a much bigger brand. If you're working with Samsung, and Samsung wants to mention you in its own announcements, go with it. 

2. Use the show to learn about other industries.

Wearable computing devices are hot at this year's CES. Even so, the founders of Los Angeles-based startup Melon, which makes a headband that monitors the wearer's brain activity, decided they weren't quite ready to join the fray. The company is still early stage; it successfully completed its Kickstarter goal and plans to ship the devices beginning in March. So why are they here? "I'm looking for surprises," says co-founder Laura Michelle Berman. "I want to get out of the wearable tech space and see a broader picture of tech." Seeing what companies are doing with hardware and software in other fields could very well spark ideas for Melon. 

3. Whatever you do, don't be a wallflower.

Now's your chance. Whether or not you launch at CES, you'll rarely be in the vicinity of so many tech-focused people (until next year's show anyway). So "talk to as many people as possible," says Lawrence Richenstein, managing director of New York City-based early-stage investment firm Peak Ventures. It can be tempting to retreat when you're in the 152,000-attendee throng. Fight that urge. Strike up conversations.

4. Be coachable. 

Plenty of VCs show up to Vegas for the show. If you can snag some time with one of them, don't be rigid, Richenstein says. "Listen. No one wants to invest in someone who knows everything--there is no such animal." By all means give your best pitch, but be prepared to learn from the questions you'll receive. And while you're at it, don't be a know-it-all with other attendees either. You might learn a thing or two from them, too.

IMAGE: Moyan Brenn/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 8, 2014

LINDSAY BLAKELY | Staff Writer | Senior Editor, Inc.

Lindsay Blakely is a senior editor at Inc., based in Los Angeles.




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