Launching Chargify in the TechCrunch DemoPit: Lessons Learned

by Michael Klett

Monday was a wild one for the Chargify team – we launched our product in the DemoPit at the TechCrunch50 in San Francisco. We did not win the “Audience Choice” vote (votes are cast through poker chips placed in to DemoPit presenters’ jars), but the day was full of affirmation nonetheless.

Most people simply “got it” when we explained what we are doing. We particularly resonated with developers who have tried to integrate a billing system, and investors/stakeholders who have seen their developers flounder when it comes to smoothly accepting recurring payments.

A particularly great moment for us came when Mr. Michael Arrington himself rode up on his Segway, chatted with our CTO and co-founder David Hauser for a few moments, then dropped his chip in our jar and rode off. I can only guess that someone else tipped him off to what we’re doing, so many thanks to that person. And, my sincere apologies to the person I was talking with at the time. I’m sure I was looking at you and nodding my head, but my attention was definitely co-opted by that Segway and its driver at our booth.

On top of the “Arrington encounter”, Chargify seemed to pique the interest of many others, including a CTO of a hot web service, several VCs, a major blogger, a top journalist, and countless app developers.

Lessons Learned:

We learned a lot in the DemoPit. Feel free to take these lessons to heart the next time you present your product anywhere. Some of these are probably repeats of advice I read on other blogs before attending TechCrunch50 (Expensify and Calacanis had good things to say), but hopefully there’s still value here.

Have a pitch, but be willing to change it

Chargify is brand new, and we have not spent much time pitching it before the DemoPit. I had a demo and a pitch all planned and put together. I gave that pitch to only the first two people, and then it started to morph.

Some web apps make sense after a verbal description. Some don’t become clear until after a demo. Ours happens to be the former. I found that holding off on the touch and feel demo until after the attendee formulated questions was more effective for us.

Midway through the day, I knew exactly where to start the pitch, and where I went after that was usually guided by the attendee.

Tailor your presentation

Don’t be afraid to ask the attendee what they do, as knowing your audience can definitely change the way you describe your product. TechCrunch50 color-codes their badges to identify DemoPit presenters vs. Attendees vs. TC50 presenters. Learn the colors, and take the time to read the company name on the badge.

Then, make sure to read body language. We all have uncanny built-in abilities to read the mood and needs of those we interact with, but we tend to ignore these tips when we have an agenda, like giving a full product pitch. Sometimes the person doesn’t need or want a full pitch – do everyone a favor and pick up on the tells about whether you should take things farther or not.

Be friendly

Say “hello” as people walk past, especially if they look your way. And sometimes, even if they don’t. Almost 90% of the time I said “hello” to someone as they walked past, they paused to look at our sign, at which point they at least allowed me to tell them what we do.

Have cool cards

Our cards are made of wood, and have a burned-in brand of Charlie the bull on the back. If someone even began to approach our table, I reached out to hand them a card. Realizing it was made of wood, they were almost always interested in hearing more.

Listen to feedback

This is a great chance to get critical feedback early in your process. Be very accepting of such offerings, and don’t forget to write them down. I didn’t write them down, but luckily David has a great memory and has already recorded these gems on our internal wiki.

For example, several people noted that the way the “i” in our logo connected to the “f” made it appear as a “u”, as in “Chargufy”. This has already been addressed and fixed on our site.

Have a mobile ambassador

We brought Jonathan Kay, Grasshopper’s “Ambassador of Buzz” with us to roam the floor and promote us and our table. He was able to distribute a ton of cards and give people an intro to Chargify as they walked the room or picked up food. Many people showed up at our table with a card already in hand, saying “your guy said I should come check you out”.

Ask for support

At the DemoPit, you’re vying for everyone’s audience choice poker chip. It does not in any way hurt to ask them directly for their chip, or at least remind them they have it. In fact, on several occasions, we won a chip on-the-spot just for asking.

Parting thoughts:

TechCrunch50 is an exciting event, and you have the chance to become involved, its probably a good idea.

Chargify is looking for developers who are interested in beta testing our new service. Bonus points if you are in a position to immediately begin an integration to accept payments on your site. We got a lot of good leads for this directly from TC50. There will be lots of action on Chargify in the next few weeks, and we’re committed to building a tool to empower entrepreneurs – your feedback is needed!

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