The Two Sides of Demo Day You Might Never See

I loved yesterday’s AcceleratorHK demo day and what the six startups have achieved in a short time.

I thought that this would be a good time to talk about the action takes place before and after demo day. As with many things in life, the real story is not where the attention is. There are two sides to any demo day that you might never see if you don’t know what to look for.

The Side Before Demo Day

Before a demo day there are at minimum months of work that most people never see. Some of this work might take place years earlier when the entrepreneurs gained skills and an outlook that led them to the problem they chose. Months spent putting together a team, talking to customers and understanding the market… If the startups participated in a startup program, typically being three months in length, they were probably also guided with workshops, interviewing customers, meeting other entrepreneurs and investors and presentation practice.

Then it all comes down to a few minutes at the front of a room.

Before running the Lean Startup Bootcamp and AcceleratorHK I visited programs around the world. I visited as a mentor, spoke to participants, alumni and people who ran the programs. Most of the time I saw a lot of value generated.  I also saw a few cases of when there were misaligned incentives between the participants and the programs. The worst of these being when startups who were “behind” in their three-month growth sprint were encouraged to put on a good show at the expense of their true direction. I’ll never be involved in a program that does that.

The Side After Demo Day

It’s so easy to look at demo day as the end goal. For any startup presenting at a demo day, their work is just beginning. However, after the presentations and party, it’s easy to walk away thinking that the goal of demo day… is demo day.

Post demo day memories can be short. I remember some of the first demos I saw in New York years ago, before I built my first startup. I saw some great presentations, with speakers and visuals I still remember. Checking my notes a year later I looked up these same startups and what did I find? Some successes but also lots of complete changes of direction, “domain for sale,” and blogs not updated for a year. Change, exhaustion and disappearance are expected parts of a creative process.

Demo day is just the beginning of a long process.

Why do demo days exist?

With the typical startup program lasting only three months, holding a demo day at the end can take away valuable work time.

But we need demo days as a way to stay focused. We need them as a way to learn how to present to an audience. The startups have worked hard and have something to show for it. Demo days are a forum to meet their communities and to talk publicly, often for the first time, about their work.

And we need demo days as a way to celebrate.

But evaluating startups only by their demo day is like evaluating people by what they did on their first birthday.

Keep working, guys! We’re proud of you.

Filed in: startup programs