The worst product demonstration I've ever seen

by David Spark on April 24, 2008

I mentioned the following product demonstration as being “not-so-cool” in my post “Cool and not-so-cool from Web 2.0 Expo 2008.”

I saw the world’s worst product demonstration at the Web 2.0 Expo this year. I have seen hundreds if not thousands of product demonstrations over my thirteen years working as a technology journalist. My saying “I’ve seen the worst one ever” is quite an accomplishment. I don’t want to mention the company’s name because they are young, a year old, and just learning and it wouldn’t provide any value to trash them this early on. I will send a copy of this post to them though so they know, but I wanted to write this post to educate the company in question and others to not make the same mistakes.

My bottom line advice to this story is if you’re going to spend the money to come to a conference to show off your product, no matter what stage it’s in, be prepared to present and explain it.

Here’s the story:

As press, I was invited to a party via email in a suite in a nearby hotel at a convention center. It was early, 4pm.

Mistake: The invitation was for Tuesday at 4pm and at around 2pm on Tuesday they sent a retraction email saying whoops, we made a mistake, it’s actually on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Hope you can still come. Not everybody checks their email on the conference floor (like me) and I’m sure many people showed up on Tuesday to find a locked door and no one there.

Luckily, I didn’t go to the conference on Tuesday so I caught the email and planned to show up on Wednesday.

Mistake: 4pm on Wednesday was exactly the time the keynotes began and they ran until 6pm. They started a party that competed with the keynotes of the conference.

Luckily, I had no interest in attending the keynotes, so I went to the party. I ran into three industry colleagues outside the conference and invited them to come to the party. We arrived, it was a nice small suite, they offered us drinks and some food. Very nice.

Mistake: The presentation wasn’t up and running when we arrived at the party.

Mistake: There was no signage explaining what the company does. In fact, we started making fun of how bad their tag line was. I don’t want to mention what it was, but it in essence said, “We’re never going to finish this.” I’m sure they saw it as “We’re always growing” which would pretty much be the definition of ALL companies.

We wanted to see a demo of the product because they were so nice to invite us and they were being very cordial hosts. So when the computers were finally up and running, we asked for a demo.

Mistake: In an effort to show us an example of their product that pertained to us, the demo presenter asked us what industry were we in. We came to a consensus and just said, “media.” He responded, “I don’t know much about media. I’ll just show you an example in recruiting.” It reminded me of my days watching improv performers in Chicago who would yell out, “We’d like a suggestion from the audience.” Everyone would shout something out, and they’d respond, “OK, we’ll do ______” and it wasn’t any of the suggestions that were yelled out.

Mistake: We watched the demo presenter type…slowly. He didn’t just pull up something canned to show us. And the “recruiting” example he suggested didn’t tell us anything more valuable than had he done one on “media.” Like watching Bob and Ray do their “Slow Talkers of America” routine, I got frustrated and just asked him, “Can you just pull up a finished example?” No point in showing me how you cooked the pie. Just show me the finished pie.

Mistake: The chairman of the company stepped in to try to clarify our confusion when it was obvious the demo presenter was flailing. He didn’t help. In fact, he made the situation worse. He was probably the one who trained the presenter (who I’m guessing is an engineer for the company) how to show off the product. All four of us were massively confused and still couldn’t understand what the product did and why in any situation anyone would want to use it. We generally understood the category, but we were trying to understand the value of this product in particular.

Mistake: They NEVER answered our questions directly. I asked huge softball questions like, “What is it you want me to understand about your product?” and “Why would I use this over this other method?”

Mistake: Never show your frustration that people aren’t understanding your product. The chairman was obviously frustrated that we weren’t “getting it.”

Once we left all three of us (fourth had left) in the hallway started talking about what a horrible presentation that was and how we couldn’t figure out what the product does. The presentation lasted for what seemed like 20 minutes and we still didn’t have a clear understanding what they did.

I repeat my advice from above. If you’re going to spend the money to come to a conference to show off your product, no matter what stage it’s in, be prepared to present and explain it.

Here’s some good advice (on video) from Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher on pitching your company in 60 seconds.

Make sure to watch all my other videos from Web 2.0 Expo plus my post “Cool and not-so-cool from Web 2.0 Expo 2008.″

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Mac April 30, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Maybe YOUR mistake is that you’re not a mind-reader! Ever think of that?

No, I bet you didn’t.

reader April 30, 2008 at 4:30 pm

are readers actually interested in your constant whining and complaining? have you ever started and run a company? i suspect not, as you’d never make such derogatory observations about rick takers who create value.

David Spark April 30, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Thanks anonymous reader for your comment. :)

I believe people are interested in my “whining and complaining” as this is currently the most popular post on my blog. :)

I HAVE started a company. Please check it out at

I completely admire entrepreneurs as I’ve interviewed hundreds of them. Their drive and passion is something to be admired. This was a case of a new company that was simply missing the boat and I was trying to expose the failures and not the company to show what one should not do. They can still succeed, but not if they continue on their current path.

And I don’t exactly know what a “rick taker” is.

William Hall April 30, 2008 at 7:29 pm

I have a brother named rick – generally we refer to “rick takers” as people that go out on dates with him.

i enjoyed your post. it was entertaining and fun.

marty perlmutter says hi.

Michael May 1, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Great post.

I think that was a very fair post. I glad you did not mention the name of the company. There is no need.

If that was my company, and it’s not, I would be glad (after I calm down) that I have that review and that I can learn from that.

It’s a fair post, has great advice, and should help the intended company learn from their obvious mistakes.

Thanks. MT

Wayne Moore August 19, 2008 at 9:37 pm

I think you were fair in your observaions and comments. But I think it would be helpfull to comment on what they should have done to make their presentation a success. Use tough love so to speak and spell it out for them. A kind work on the side can go along way to help out what might be a very good product or service.
That’s my two cents worth.

michelle August 21, 2009 at 5:32 pm

I can easily waste an hour on a halfway interesting blog. I just invested two of em here. Excellent writing style and I love your philosophy on not naming names while still taking the time to educate. That’s class, something a lot of bloggers lack these days. Keep it coming, and we’ll see if I get any work done tonight. :)

David Spark August 22, 2009 at 9:23 am

Wow Michelle. Thanks so much for the nice comments.

As for not naming people, that’s all of a situation of where they are in development. If they’re an early startup, or a young company, then there’s really no reason to trash them publicly. They made a mistake, let them learn from it instead of putting a mark on the Internet for them to have to erase.

Although, in this case I did contact the company and the guy who gave the demo directly and he completely ignored me. I’m sure he was furious. Although my feeling is he should have been thanking me because the next guy won’t be nearly as nice.

As for organizations that screw up that aren’t startups, I have no problem naming names of public companies.

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