I came across an old photo of Wil this am. He was in was our trade show booth 5 years ago at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. It was our first and last time exhibiting (and attending) at that show – or any trade show. I texted him the photo and we started laughing about all the funny things that happened during those long 4 days. The memories came back. Memories like….
1. We were so out of place there. And it wasn’t just because our booth was at the far end of the gigantic McCormick Place, back near the bathrooms and employee lunch room. It was because being an internet based software company at a Restaurant trade show is (in my mind) an archaic, tired, expensive, frustrating, desperate way to try and create awareness. It’s like something from the 70’s. I’m actually embarrassed now that we thought it was a good idea to try it.
2. Since we were grouped near competition, everyone at the other technology companies had game faces on. No one was nice – but maybe that’s just because I am from the south where people are nice. As a new comer to our industry, no one said hello. One guy, who Wil has written about, even posted himself next to our booth and encouraged people who might actually ask us about our software to check out the bigger, funded competitor, with more features. That guy was awful – in every way.
3. Attendees would walk by our booth (and everyone else’s) with their guard up. They looked like they were worried I might kick them in the shins if they got too close to our booth. The ones who did actually make it to us without being intercepted by the terrible guy I mentioned in #1 – usually asked about stuff we did not do (with a mini-scowl on their face) and then walked over to the Nathan’s booth to get a free hot dog.
4. I realized that most of the people attending the show were being paid to be there and really had limited interest in learning about the companies exhibiting. They loved Chick-fil-A handouts and the beer section – but half raised their fists like Fred Sanford used to do when walking by our booth. Maybe it’s because most of the companies were desperately trying to get their attention with contests and free mountain bike giveaways and were clawing and scratching for attention. It’s like walking the gauntlet. Heck, I’d be ready to fight off companies too I guess.
5. I remember flying home while poor Wil stayed and cleaned up our booth with a stomach bug he got on the last day. I didn’t know about the bug until he got back. I actually don’t recall why I left earlier than him – but I still feel bad for it. But I remember longing to be home with my family and thinking how lucky I was that I was an owner in this business and could recommend we never ever do that again. We all agreed.
I should add that, of course we know, trade shows are right from some companies and are how many companies show off their latest and greatest stuff to big time prospects. But for us, a small software company that sells a simple software service over the internet, it was a tad overkill and a very unoriginal way for us to try and create awareness.
After that show I felt the same way I did that one time when Will and I flew to Los Angeles to “demo” Schedulefly to a big corporate restaurant chain. I thought it was a classic example of applying old school techniques to a new school business. Buying a plane ticket, pressing my blue suit from my wedding, and spending tons of time getting big time VP’s and CTO’s schedules together and tons of money on hotel rooms and meals – so I could show someone, in person, a demo of our web based software. I was like, “Ok, thank you for having us here. Now, what’s the wireless password in this conference room so I can go to our website and show this to you?”. Seriously. By the way, the meeting lasted an hour and we were too simple for them. Hilarious. Hollywood was cool though.
Anyway, crazy enough, this morning Wil and I agreed that these trips were still worth it. They were worth it mainly for helping us figure out who we wanted to serve, but also for the laughs. The laughs are the best.
p.s We’ve written before about this, and they are funny. Check them out if your bored.