Last month’s #protoTYPING post was all about getting the Inirv ready for CES. Now up? Jeremy’s sharing what it’s like to travel to CES and exhibit at the neatest show in tech.
I put the box on the scale and watched the numbers on the digital readout rise as it caught up to the weight. Thirty, forty, forty-five pounds. Just under the limit. The American Airlines rep looked up from her computer screen and asked for my ID and boarding pass.
“What’s in the box?”
My sleepless eyes tried to focus on the box and for a moment I couldn’t remember what was in it. I looked down at the duct tape woven quickly but carefully over the top box. The Giant mountain bike logos were visible, but partially covered tape, and for a moment I thought I caught the smell of the adhesive from the tape. My brain finally caught up to the question, and as the response left my lips, I knew there was going to be a longer conversation.
“An oven… I mean stove,” I said blankly.
Clearly caught off guard it took her a beat to recover.
“What kind of stove?” she finally asked.
“A gas stove.”
There are not too many reasons to lug a large appliance on a cross-country flight, but going to a tradeshow might be the most reasonable. Just hours before my arrival at the terminal, the old mountain bike box was cut down to size to fit the Whirlpool stove and acrylic backboard that I was taking to Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, CES. After more than a month of long nights designing and building prototypes of the Inirv React stove safety device, it was time to show it to the world.
“Is there gas in it?” she asked, still wondering how to deal with it.
“No. It’s brand new. I am just taking to a tradeshow for a demonstration,” I answered.
Fortunately, that calmed her down. The baggage claim ticket was stuck on the side of the box, and I watched it slowly crawl on the belt and out through the rubber fringed hatchway. Then it was off to the security line, and my favorite pre-flight treat, Jamba Juice.
CES is one of the biggest tradeshows of the year.
It is held every year in Las Vegas in early January. It has over 2 million square-feet of exhibit space and draws nearly 200,000 attendees from all corners of the globe. New technology from every major electronics company bar Apple is on display, and even though the show is 4 days long, there is no possible way to see everything. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public, and you need to have an industry credential to register. Fortunately, I was able to register as a member of the media and had free access to the show. And since you, dear readers, could not go, I wanted to tell you what it was like to be an exhibitor at the biggest tech show on Earth.
The first challenge was getting to the show and setting up. It was a bit of trick getting around the airport trying to balance the stove on my bag full of tools and spare parts. I was fortunate that my Uber driver had the trunk space to accommodate. Unfortunately, my media credentials did not allow me into the exhibitor area before the show started to setup, so I had to wait until the show opened to get to the booth and setup the demo.
Inirv was setup in “Eureka Village” which is the exhibit hall where all of the startup companies and universities setup. It is one of the most exciting parts of the show as it’s filled with 10’ x 10’ booths boasting new products and the most outside of the box ideas.
Eureka Village has a great vibe. Since all the companies in that area are small and looking to grow fast, there is a lot of nervous yet positive energy in the room. Everyone is looking to make a big splash or make the right connection for a big purchase order or partnership.
The Inirv booth was in the Smart Home section at the end of a line of mostly French companies. Our neighbors were 42 Tea, a French smart tea company and Blue Frog Robotics, a French robot company with a companion robot called Buddy. Over the four days at CES we became friends in the same way you do with someone you sit next to on a long flight. You may have a nice conversation or borrow their pen, but you know you are likely to never meet again.
Exhibiting can get monotonous, as it is a lot of standing and talking. During show hours there is a steady flow of people coming to the booth and asking questions. After the first few hours, you get your pitch lean and precise and you hear yourself saying the same thing over and over. Having a fresh bottle of water handy is essential to keep your throat from drying out. Many of the visitors are tire kickers that just want a free pen, but others are industry insiders that may be great contacts. One of the Inirv inventors, Ranjith, all but lost his voice on the first day. He is a brain surgeon by day, which requires plenty of fine motor control, but not necessarily strong vocal cords. Exhibitors rarely get to leave their booths as you never know when the right connection will stop by. There are food courts in the exhibit hall, so there is no need to leave, but you don’t get to see the sun either. Fortunately, there were four of us supporting the product, so we each had time to get away to see the show for periods of time.
In addition to working the show floor there are also pitches and meetings to go to. There was an open call for Shark Tank, which the two Inirv inventors, Ranjith and Akshita went to while I manned the booth. They also had meetings with a retailer and a major manufacturer that were interested in the device. These pitches and meetings are a great way to get quality face time with potential partners and can be more valuable than the hours spent at the booth.
Despite being in Vegas, there was little time to enjoy the sights. One of the days the prototype broke down and I had to drag it and all of my tools back to my hotel in Henderson. I stopped by a slot machine on the way out of the Venetian, lost $5 in about 60 seconds, and gave up on gambling for the rest of the trip. Another night, my phone was acting up and I spent 3 hours in the glamorous Apple store inside Caesar’s Palace. There were parties and plenty of nightlife for show goers, but as an exhibitor, you need to be sharp and avoid temptation.
At the end of each day, the hall stays open for a few hours for exhibitors and some of the people bust out a beer or some wine to recap the day. In a way it is sort of like fisherman gathering at the pier at the end of a long day at sea. It is a peaceful moment to talk to peers and see if anyone got any good contacts.
CES lasted until Sunday, but I had an early morning flight on Sunday morning, so I missed the last day. I spent my last few hours at the Hooters next to my hotel having a couple of drinks with an old high school friend and packing up my equipment. In the end, the Inirv had a great show. It was well received by show goers and had a great opening week on Kickstarter to boot. It was worth all of the effort.
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Also published on Medium.