The Secret to Superior Product Demos with Author Chris Matthews

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Summary of Episode

#84: Author Chris Matthews joins the podcast to share his experience in the startup world and how it led him to write his new book Start Telling People. This episode we dive into how to create superior product demos, mistakes you might be making when showcasing your products, and how to bridge the gap to create a better startup culture in your business. 

About the Guest: 

Chris Matthews is the author of Start Telling People, the guide to marketing strategy and brand building for future-defining startups. He has decades of experience as a marketing executive and advisor to early-stage companies across a range of industries, including robotics and artificial intelligence, health technology and wearables, climate and agriculture technology, and premium consumer goods. Originally from Canada, Chris earned his MBA at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, and lives in Redwood City, California.

Podcast Episode Notes

[00:02:25] Pebble to Fitbit, Mayfield Robotics, Europe, startups.


[00:04:39] Hard-working, innovative companies stay hidden for protection.


[00:07:06] Starting businesses: share ideas when beneficial.


[00:11:01] Hardware, software, environment, audience – magic. Marketing and engineering partner to bring products to life. Translating to meet the audience’s needs. 


[00:14:23] Successful launch, preorders rolled in, media coverage.


[00:17:15] Curry: Adorable, consumer-based robot with personality.


[00:21:38] Question: How should non-hardware companies approach product demos?


[00:25:47] Startups need demos that are compelling and accurate.


[00:28:37] Demo review, checklist, questions, book thesis, time constraints.


[00:30:32] Checklists, practicing, script, storyboard – making storyboards.


[00:36:25] Demo prep: check details, lighting, product, backups


[00:39:23] Check for mistakes, analyze, prevent, communicate changes.


[00:42:24] Our robot excelled, their robot struggled.


[00:44:09] Collaboration between engineering and marketing is powerful.


[00:49:53] Podcast episode ends, engage and share.

Ethan Peyton: Hey everybody and welcome to the Startup Savant podcast. I’m your host, Ethan.

And this is a show about the stories, challenges, and triumphs of fast-scaling startups and the founders who run them. We’ve got something a little bit different lined up today. Our guest is Chris Matthews. Chris is a marketing consultant who works with early stage and stealth mode startups.

Chris has been working in and around startup marketing for more than 20 years, and he’s put all of his experience in a new book and that book is called Start Telling People. Some of the ideas in this book seem to have really struck a chord in the industry, and he’s been invited to speak at VC firms, startup events, and was even offered a three-day guest lecture series at UC Berkeley’s Skydeck Incubator. We’ve got a lot to talk about today, and I’m excited Chris was able to make time to chat with me. Remember to like and subscribe if you want to support the team, and let’s get right into it. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Matthews: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Ethan Peyton: I’m super stoked you’re here. Let’s start with your background. Can you give us kind of how you came up in the startups industry and with marketing and how you came from the beginning of your career to here?

Chris Matthews: Sure. The fast track on that is after grad school, I went to specialized bicycles and I led international marketing there for about 10 years. That’s a bigger company, but I was there from a time when they almost went bankrupt. I joined shortly after that and was there during a phase of massive growth. So when they went from about 200 million a year to about a billion over the course of that 10 years.

And while it wasn’t a startup exactly, I learned a lot of pretty essential startup techniques and fundamentals that ended up helping me later because the company was continually reinventing itself. Not just a new model year every year, but lots of new innovation, lots of engineering, prototyping, concepting of driving a whole industry forward. So after 10 years there,

I got invited to join an early stage startup with a friend of mine in the health technology space back when DNA was just getting started at the consumer level. And that then led me to Pebble where I was the brand director and into wearables. And then Pebble got bought by Fitbit and I went from Pebble to Mayfield Robotics, which is where I transitioned into more of the modern robotics AI, computer vision, machine learning topics, and helped that company come out of stealth and launch at CES. A very successful, fun story, great team. And then following that, moved to Europe for a couple years. My wife had an opportunity there that took us there. While I was there, I worked as an advisor to an incubator that was at the local university. So I got to work with student startups through Europe.

And then two years later, we moved back to California and I ended up at another robotic startup, this time in the agriculture technology space with a lot of the same people from Mayfield who had migrated to there, putting robots and AI into greenhouses. That takes us to almost up to now. And then I took a little time off to take a moment to figure out what I’d learned and what was originally gonna be a handful of blog posts quickly became a chapter summary of a book. And six months later, I was holding said book in my hand. And here we are today.

Ethan Peyton: And here we are. So that’s actually something that I want to talk about later is kind of the medium of sharing this information. But that’s for later. Let’s go back here. So your consultancy is called Very Small Robots. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about Very Small Robots and kind of like what exactly that is and the services offered and that sort of thing. But in the description of Very Small Robots is a term stealth mode. You help stealth mode startups. And that’s something that you just mentioned now. So this is something that’s been brought up and talked about a little bit on this show in the past, but what… is a stealth mode startup and why would a startup choose to operate in stealth mode?

Chris Matthews: There’s a range of reasons. Mostly it’s because you have a handful of very talented people working on a very hard new idea and they’re trying to validate that idea before they go to market with it and make sure that it is viable, doesn’t violate laws of physics, and that they can actually commercialize it. And in some cases, that involves proprietary IP and trade secrets that to get patents or to be protectable, have to be at a certain level. 

You know, it can’t just be a napkin sketch sometimes. So these companies quite correctly choose to stay under the radar to avoid competitive threats, to avoid larger companies jumping on that draft and quashing them early. And in some cases, it’s really just to get that idea, a platform that they can launch from that has people understanding it when they first see it. A lot of these companies are building ideas that have never been done before. And it takes a fair bit to get your intended audience to understand this thing you’ve been working on for quite a while.

That then introduces the next problem, which is, okay, if we’ve been a secret, how do we stop being a secret? And that’s where a lot of the work I’ve done over the past 10 years particularly has really anchored around.

Ethan Peyton: So there’s kind of an opposing piece of advice out there that is tell everyone. You know, like if you’ve got an idea, share it with everybody and you’ll kind of put those, I guess, vibes out there and you’ll get the kind of feedback and responses from different people you talk to. And generally the consensus around that advice is like, nobody’s gonna steal your idea, just go do it. Just, you know, tell everyone and be out with it.

And in fact, the name of your book is Start Telling People. But I think that you may have just mentioned that it’s after the stealth mode startup, then you start telling people. So when trying to pick one of those two pieces of advice to follow, whether to be in stealth mode or whether to be out with it, do certain businesses fit one of those models better, or is it more a difference in the founder? Or what makes you choose whether to be stealth in the beginning or whether to be loud in the beginning?

Chris Matthews: The beginning is an interesting term because you started your startup the moment you had an idea for it. And it does come down to like, what’s the benefit of other people knowing? And for some people that is massively helpful early because you need more consumer insights or customer insights or partner insights to…operationalize your idea. And in other cases, your idea is like maybe a little light on details and there’s something you know that you’re gonna go investigate. If telling people doesn’t get you further, then there’s really no point. Like go work on your idea until you’ve got a good story to tell. 

And if telling people is the next, easiest best step to moving your business forward, then yeah, start telling people. But there are cases like, yes, Siri, for example, if you go back in history, that was developed in stealth because they knew that they were going to be up against giant players in the market and they needed a jumpstart out of the gate. When Siri got launched.

It was launched as an app on the iPhone 3, I think. Is that all right? And two months later, like Apple bought it, closed the app down and integrated it into the iPhone 4. And that sort of traction, like at a big event, became fundamental to their success versus showing little bits of their work alongside Microsoft doing the same thing or Google doing the same thing. And they all, when they launched, they were ready to go. So Apple could just grab that, block it in and away you go.

Ethan Peyton: All right, let’s get into the main meat of what you’re here and kind of what this book has put forward. And that’s product demos. So there’s a chapter in the book that’s completely dedicated to product demos, how to do them, why they’re important, all that good stuff, and that’s what we’re gonna talk about. This, it sounds like this topic, this product demos topic is kind of the main focus of a lot of these talks that you’ve been giving at these VC firms and that sort of thing. And we really haven’t talked a whole lot about it on the show. So I think we’ve got a really, really good opportunity to build a really detailed picture of product demos. But I wanna make sure that we’re all starting in the same place. So could you give us your definition of a product demo and tell us when and why a startup should start thinking about product demos?

Chris Matthews: Absolutely. All right. A product demo is a compelling display of your product in action. So tidy little sentence with like three parts that do a lot of hard work there. It’s gotta be compelling. It’s gotta be your product and it’s gotta be in action. And that all of a sudden clears out some of the noise of like, it’s not screenshots, it’s not a spec list. It’s not a demo, like not a video. It’s actually showing your product doing its thing. And after that, then you can get into like, what’s the environment you’re showing in and like how big is your audience, things like that. But a compelling display of your product in action, this is something that I really learned at Mayfield Robotics because robot demos are among the most difficult to pull off. You’ve got hardware, software, environment, audience.

You’ve got lots of different inputs and a huge array of things that can go wrong. Uh, but when you do it right, it’s magic. And one of the things I’ve learned working with engineers is that marketing and engineering are very good partners in these sorts of projects because engineering provides the structure of the framework, the product.

And marketing provides this translation layer of like, how do we tell people about this thing? What words do we use? What visuals do we use? What narrative can we weave around this product to make it come to life? And when someone asks you, what does it do? This is a great example of being very specific about what they just asked you. They didn’t ask you how it worked. They asked you what it does and that’s what does it does for them. And that’s a perfect example of this translation layer that we can run that helps a product meet the audience that it’s intended for on their terms. So…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: At Mayfield, we launched our robot at CES in 2017. Say, just a little context, like a team of about 40 people total. And we had best in show awards and nominations from Wired and Gadget and PC Magazine, and like nearly 2000 news articles about us, all in the scope of about 48 hours. It was massive. And it was because we could do live demos.

Ethan Peyton: That’s a big deal.

Chris Matthews: anywhere, anytime, on the show floor, whenever, at a time when a lot of robots were still pretty nascent, like 2017, not that long ago, but kind of forever ago in robotics world. And we had put in the work to make sure that we could do that. It was a huge amount of practice. It was a huge amount of prepping, a range of engineers, our exec team.

Ethan Peyton: Right.

Chris Matthews: anyone who might be involved in a demo to understand the whole show, right? And thinking of it like theater, as opposed to simply showing your product. And that training led us to being able to do things that at the time other people couldn’t do. So that methodology is what’s outlined in chapter seven of exactly how did we do that and how did we make things that bulletproof, that we could do it under such hard conditions.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so before we get into the kind of how you did that and how other founders and marketing teams should kind of think about how they’re going to build their product demos, let me ask you about the outcomes of your specific demo. You mentioned that, you know, Best in Show or other awards from multiple different, you know, big name outlets and thousands of articles being written about the company.

What did that translate to in terms of business goals or added actual business? Wow, I’m going to stop chewing on this in just a second, I swear. What did that add to when it came down to the actual business? Like you had all the articles written, but what did that do for the company?

Chris Matthews: It did exactly what we planned it to do, which was we were going after consumer robotics and this launch represented the first time that we could take a pre-order from a customer. So not just launch the robot, but turn the website on, turn on the whole brand identity overnight, right? Didn’t exist and all of a sudden it exists. So launching the company and the product at the same time in the chaos of CES and be able to start taking pre-orders. And we did, right? They just started rolling in right away because we had all of this coverage pointing to us as not just novel and new, but really newsworthy. 

And that was a lot of engineering from the standpoint of our PR team and the work that we did to line that up, you know, working with journalists months in advance letting them come in and see the factory and like see what we were working on so they could have a bigger context. And really demos have, they have specific outcomes, right? You don’t do a demo for fun. You do it mostly for one of four things. You’re either trying to close a sale, you’re trying to close a new hire, you’re trying to close around an investment, or you’re trying to get media coverage. And in our case,

The launch itself was about media coverage because that was going to lead to sales. We did our own internal sales, like we were going to B2C. That same demo was the same demo we would use for bringing on new hires and why we were able to attract the talent we did. We had some very notable names come through to see the robot in advance because they had heard through the VC community or through the local tech community.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: that we were working on something pretty special. And that demo was relied upon for all of those situations. But each time you do a demo, we started with understanding what success looked like. So if it was to close a new hire, that contract was ready to sign. We were ready for it to work.

Ethan Peyton: Right. And in the case of CES, you probably had lots of, you know, hey, put your name in for the pre-order right here. Do you recall how many pre-orders you got?

Chris Matthews: Mm-hmm. Totally. Over the course of the following year or so, because there was a long arc to that, it was in the thousands. And so that was good. Now, that story didn’t end the way we all wanted it to, but, and we can go into that now if you want to, but it was a, sure.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, let’s do that. First, tell us what was the product, and then yeah, definitely give us what should have happened and what didn’t happen.

Chris Matthews: Yep. OK. So the product was Curry, the world’s first adorable home robot. And so this robot was consumer-based, going into homes at a time when robotics was still like, the pinnacle of robots was vacuum cleaners for the home. And so this robot was designed to be cute and adorable and have a ton of personality and a lot of animations, a lot of sounds and motions that were very carefully engineered to create a response that was far beyond just tech specs, right? Like we would never be able to sell this robot based on how many megapixels the camera was. That was not the audience, that was not the point, that wasn’t the story. And so…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: …that robot ended up because of all of the choices that we made, ended up hitting the marks on basically being magical to the people it was shown to. It was a robot that didn’t have a screen. The eyes were mechanical, but using a lot of animation principles from animation houses you’ve heard of we were able to create motions and reactions that just made the robot feel more alive, feel like the robot had agency. The favorite example was when the robot was turning left or right, the robot would look left or right first before turning, right? Not because the robot had to do that, but because it shows intent, right? It’s an animation principle of like, I’m going to go that…

Ethan Peyton: Oh cool.

Chris Matthews: …uh, you know, not being, and not being surprised. So.

All that to say the robot itself was successful because it existed, right? It did exactly what we had said it was gonna do. The company was owned by Bosch. So we were actually 100% owned by a multi, multi-billion dollar international conglomerate, which by the way is a nonprofit, but most people don’t know that. Yeah, like.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm. I didn’t know that.

Chris Matthews: Most of what they do goes into the Bosch Foundation, like $80 billion a year or something like that. It’s really impressive. They just don’t make a big deal of that, but irrespective of that.

We were started as their first California startup. They had done some in Europe and they wanted to know what made a startup in California work. And so this was built out of a couple of Bosch employees in their Palo Alto facility spun this out as an idea. And when we were successful, there was a… a non-obvious path forward for Bosch. It’s like they don’t sell direct to consumer. They don’t have a consumer goods division in this kind of way. They don’t have a lot of support that you would need. And so…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: …right on the eve of shipping the robots that we had made, right? To all the pre-orders that we had taken, a difficult decision was made to instead not do this, shut the company down, and donate all the robots to education programs around the world, basically.

Ethan Peyton: That’s a pretty big switch.

Chris Matthews: Mm-hmm. A very big switch. Not a decision that was taken lightly. Certainly not one I was involved in personally. But it just wasn’t what we had all hoped for in terms of what we were building. Because the technology in that robot was amazing. Still is amazing. What we had to do to make a robot work like that and cost as little as it did at the time was nothing short of revolutionary. That team was assembled for that purpose and remains one of the best teams I think I’ve ever seen anywhere. Yeah.

Ethan Peyton: So I’m finding myself asking the question of like, what does the robot do? And I think that, maybe that’s a normal question, but I think that is interesting in the context of this conversation because that’s kind of the whole point of a product demo is just what you said. What does it do and therefore what does it do for me? And so we’re gonna start talking about how to build the product demo for this in just a moment, but if folks out there want to check out the Kuri Robot, I think there’s some stuff on YouTube that we’ll link to it in the show notes over at Startupsavant.com slash podcast so everybody can find it there. But quickly before we jump into how to build a product demo, I wanna ask you that the context of what we’ve been talking about is all hardware, and in this case, robots…

Chris Matthews: Tons. Yeah, there’s a lot.

Ethan Peyton: …but a lot of companies out there aren’t necessarily hardware. They are software or they are, you know, consumer packaged goods or whatever. Just before we start talking about how to build this, how should those folks think about what you’re saying and do they need to make any kind of adjustments to the process of building a demo?

Chris Matthews: From the standpoint of hardware, and particularly a live hardware demo, that’s sort of like the pinnacle of difficulty. So the hardest thing in the world is a robot demo or a car demo or an airplane demo in front of a live audience. And if you can figure out what your hardest moment is, then, and plan for that, everything else is easier.

If you have software, yeah, you have some things that you might not need to deal with, but you still have a lot of the same things, right? The batteries in the robot, as an example, are one thing we had to deal with very carefully for demos. In software, okay, you don’t have a battery. Well, if you’re showing it on a computer, you better make sure that computer’s battery is charged. And so some of the same fundamentals of prep still apply.

And if you are showing something working on a screen, that is still in action, right? It’s still where your thing works, the environment in which it is living. And to be able to show the real thing instead of screenshots or napkin sketches is vastly more compelling, depending on where you are in the development of your startup, right? If you are working on a concept and selling this to an investor, you need to show them where you’re gonna go and how you think you’re gonna get there and what steps you’ve been able to make in that progress. For someone you’re trying to close a sale to, they wanna know what they can buy today. And if you talk about where you’re gonna be, they’ll say, great, call me when you’re ready. And that’s like not doing the demo at all. So there is some context here, but a lot of the fundamentals for software companies still remain the same. And…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: Hardware doesn’t work without software. Like it can be literally on fire and still be a software problem.

Ethan Peyton: Right, right. Yeah, and it sounds like, it sounds like we’re every product, every, you know, one hardware company from a different hardware company compared to a software company, compared to a CPG, you know, it sounds like they all need to control for different variables, but they all need to control for variables. So I think, I think what we’re, I think what we’re finding is that this process…

Chris Matthews: Exactly.

Ethan Peyton: …is going to be very similar for any startup, any product that’s being put out. So let’s jump right into it. Tell us how do you build a great product demo?

Chris Matthews: Well, I’ll start with why, if I can, because startups typically start off with questions of like, when do we start marketing and how do we start marketing? And the when is much less controlled because you’ve been marketing since the moment you tried to hire someone, since the moment you tried to get investment, like you’re telling your story. The how is the part that is very hard to templatize for startups because depending on whether you’re working on something that’s super new, and no one’s ever heard of it, or you’re working on something that’s sort of like a portmanteau of like, it’s like Netflix, but for Hula Hoops kind of thing, or you’re working on like, now we’re new and improved, right? Like we’re the thing you know, but the best version of it in some dimension. And the how in that, in those options are all different, but the one common how is the demo. Like every one of those needs a demo. And the…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: …demo is like really fundamentally answering that question of what does it do and engineering that answer in a way that meets the audience where they are, right? You have to be compelling, you’ve got to be accurate, and you’ve got to be valid, right?

Your engineers need to look at this and say, yeah, that captures the product well, right? Or your CEO, or if it’s just you, then it’s just you. But the valid part is that you’re talking to an audience that actually cares about this and you’re showing this to someone that matters. And the good news is that giving demos is a learnable skill. What’s inherent in that statement is that

Just making the product doesn’t make you good at giving demos. You have to learn this. And it’s the same reason that someone can be very good on camera or someone can be very good, say, giving a podcast, right? You’ve put a lot of work into being very good at podcasts. And that makes you much more equipped to speak into a camera, into a microphone, understanding where you’re going. This is not an innate skill.

You weren’t born with that. And giving demos is very similar. So it is practice. And the practice part starts after you establish what’s your checklist, right? How do you make sure that you’ve got everything ready before you give a demo? What’s your script? And how have you built your script to understand the story arc that you’re gonna follow and what you’re gonna say and what you’re gonna show?

And be very, very explicit about those two things. And then after the demo, your post flight checklist of what did we learn, right? What went wrong that we could have prevented? And can we add that to the pre-flight checklist? And what questions did we get and should we add that to the script? And what can we reset that will help us in the future when the next demo starts? And there’s a fourth component to this that is maybe the most important and references the main thesis of the book I just wrote, which is that marketing is a discipline. It’s not an activity.

There’s lots in the books to get into that, but one of the things about demos is understanding how long does it take between someone asking for a demo and your ability to provide one and understanding that time gap so that you can prep properly, because the moment you start giving demos, you’ll have people say things like, don’t worry, it’s just me. This is off the record. I just need some B-roll. Like, I just wanna show my parents who are in town, whatever. And all of those situations are invitations to mess up a demo, because you’ve already established that you need this much time to prep.

By starting with understanding how much time you need to prep, you avoid the situations where people say, oh, don’t worry, it’s just me, or I just need some B-roll, or like, it’s just for a friend, because those are all invitations to run the demo faster than you said you needed the time to do it. And those are when your failure points start to show up. You can’t run your preflight checklist clearly, you can’t check everything that you need to check, you can’t get everyone on board that you need on board.

It’s better to not do the demo at that point because no demo is better than a failed demo and failed demos kill startups. So treating this with that kind of discipline, right? This is part of marketing, but it’s part of marketing that is much less creative and much more tactical and much more rigid. Nope. You seem to have frozen again.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so let’s maybe give just a little bit of like an outline. So we’ve got, and I think I’ve got it here, we’ve got checklists being like pre-flight checklists and post-flight checklists. I know those are two very different things and we’ll address them separately. You’ve got, obviously, once you kind of figure out everything that you’re going to do, you’ve got the practicing of the thing. But there’s one thing that… that is in the chapter that I read. And that’s kind of like creating the script and thinking about that like a storyboard. And I think once you kind of find out the why of why you’re doing this, what are the goals we want to achieve with this demo and the kind of what are we going to show, I think that storyboard is really a good path to kind of like figure out your flow of how everything’s gonna happen. So can you tell us how to go about making these storyboards?

Chris Matthews: Yep. Storyboards are really effective as a starting point for demo scripts because it treats the visuals and the words separately. It forces you to put them on two different paths. And it’s like making a movie, right? It’s like prepping for a movie. Even though this might not be a movie when you’re done, it forces you into this understanding that we need to be able to not say something we can’t show, right? You always wanna be able to show what you say. And if you have storyboards and you have words that there’s no visual to it, it stops the record, right? It forces you to say, well, can we add a visual to that or do we take the words away? And secondarily, like a movie, it introduces spots where you can put in logical pieces like…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: …your company’s history or your founding story or why you’re different or who you’ve hired, like whatever’s relevant to the demo because in this case, the product is the hero, but there’s supporting actors here that are gonna come in to make the product look even better. And by thinking of it in storyboards first, it can really help you in kind of like Post-It notes, like moving them around, right?

Figure out what’s the right flow to make this a really great story. This is also what marketing people tend to be very good at. And so engineers and marketers in a room together, working on a storyboard really reveals a lot of like what’s important and helps to put spotlights on how to highlight certain things.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, and I think there’s an added benefit of that. If you, you know, like just what you said, if you want to add in the story of the company’s history or something like that, you can maybe put those in a time when there needs, something needs to load or again, you know, going back to like a CPG, if something needs to like bake and we gotta stick it in the oven for six minutes, hey, now you have six minutes to tell a story or to give a tour or.

Chris Matthews: Mm-hmm.

Ethan Peyton: anything like that. So I really, really like this idea of storyboarding because it gives you, it really lays things out on a timeline. Here is what goes where you can, depending on where you’re doing this, you can think spatially as well of like, this is where we’re going to be. I love that. I love the idea of the storyboard. So let’s assume now that, go for it.

Chris Matthews: There’s another thing in there that’s also really helpful is that it gives you insurance policies. And by that, I mean, let’s say you’ve got three or four features of your product you’re gonna show. Your audience doesn’t know what order you’re gonna show those in. In many cases, they won’t care. That’s not the point. And if you normally show them 1, 2, 3, 4, but you go to do the demo and you notice that something isn’t working quite right, and you jump straight to feature 4, and your engineer in the room happens to notice that because you’ve practiced and they’re immediately shelling into the robot to figure out what’s going on and fix it so that you can go back to feature one a minute later. 

Your audience has never seen any of the problem. This reveals the goal of the demo. What is the goal of a demo? The goal of the demo is to make your audience believe they saw a perfect demo. That doesn’t mean you trick them. There’s no trickery involved here, but it is giving you the flexibility of moving around water finding the smoothest path, right? So that if and when you run into stumbles, you’ve got options that you can pull on and you’ve practiced this so many times that it looks just natural.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, it’s a dance. And you’ve got those kind of internal if-then statements, like maybe marketing and engineering get together and marketing says, hey, if I notice something, basically, if I start to tell this story, that means I’m gonna do this thing next. And if it doesn’t go with the flow that we agreed upon, that means something is up. So it’s communication without speaking and…

Chris Matthews: Mm-hmm.

Ethan Peyton: …It seems like really if you practice it, even if it goes wrong, it could still go very right, which is absolutely the point of this. Let’s get to checklists. So storyboards are great. Let’s assume that we’ve got our storyboard in place. Let’s talk about, first let’s talk about that preflight checklist.

Chris Matthews: Exactly. Yep, this is everything that you can check in advance of the demo. So, not just the basics, right? But all of the details. Is the guest parking spot open and reserved? Have you checked HVAC? Have you checked the lighting? Is your product ready if the person you’re giving a demo to says, I wanna shoot a video or shoot photos, do you have supplemental lighting available to pull in and make the product look great? Or a backdrop to use?

All of these things can be checked in advance. In it as well, this is also your first time that you get to check what I call the three demons of demo, right? Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and battery. Those three things generally account for most demo failures one way or another. So not just testing them, but testing their backups and having backups. When we were doing robot demos at CES,

We didn’t rely on the show floor Wi-Fi. We had Wi-Fi in a backpack that was someone near the robot. You wouldn’t know who they were, right? But we controlled the Wi-Fi very carefully to make sure that robot had a good connection. And this is the, you know, it’s also part of the preflight, but it’s just a fundamental. You control how much insurance you bring to your own show.

It’s on you. So that preflight checklist is literally everything you can check in advance, all the way down to like, what are people wearing? Who’s got which role? Do people understand who the understudies for each role are?

Do you have the right snacks? If you’re showing to a journalist, do you have the background on the journalist to know what they’ve written recently and what their normal beat is? All those things. Because when it’s a list and when you check every single one of them off, when you’re doing the demo, those aren’t things you worry about. And that’s super important.

Ethan Peyton: Right. Right, so you don’t have to think in the moment of, hey, this is a problem that we didn’t, we chose not to think for problems, so we ran into a problem, now we have to solve it while we’re in this talk, that’s not what you want, obviously. And I know, I keep bringing it back to like CPG brands and just kind of the level of thinking that needs to go in this, if you’ve got something that needs to bake for seven minutes, well, maybe you’re going to Denver…

Chris Matthews: Right. Mm-hmm. Yep.

Ethan Peyton: …to give this new demo and hey, the air’s a little thinner and maybe it only needs to cook for, you know, four minutes or five or, you know, just everything like that. So I, yeah, the pre-flight checklist, I think is massively, massively important. Let’s jump to the post-flight checklist. This one’s a little bit different. Tell us about that.

Chris Matthews: So this is where you can check to see what, if anything went wrong, regardless of whether your audience saw it or not, what could we have done to prevent that? And this is also when you can check log files, maybe something went wrong and you never even saw it. But this is your chance to do a post-game analysis of what happened and then decide, is there something else we need to add to the preflight checklist that would have prevented that? Because we are human and mistakes happen, but if you make a mistake twice, that’s a choice.

So how do we prevent the same thing happening again? And the other dimension to this that’s maybe even more important is what questions did we get from the audience? Because questions are like feedback, right? It’s a gift. Do we want to add the answer to that question into the script somewhere? Is this an important question other people might care about? And that helps your script evolve in a way that matches the audience you’re meeting.

And the other piece here is if in post-flight, you change anything, you have to figure out a way to communicate that change to everyone involved in the demo. Because like a change to script, a change to pre-flight, a change to post-flight, anything. Everyone should know, because it could have implications to QA, it could have implications to communications or to your website, like who knows? So make sure everyone knows.

Ethan Peyton: All right, do you have any cool stories? Do you have any funny stories of either product demos going wrong and it was saved or something flying off and hitting some CEO in the head? Do you have anything good for us?

Chris Matthews: There are countless times in practice where things went wrong, which is why we practice, right? Like that’s kind of the point. There are definitely times when we had a, like a, say a small technical hiccup, like something needed to reboot for some reason. And in those moments, one of my favorites was to have an early prototype or two on hand.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Chris Matthews: just as more of a display piece, right? But it was an ability to say, you know what? Let me take you back a second. Let me show you where this robot was just two years ago. And you go back to like an old prototype and you’re like talking about what you learned at that stage of that prototype. Meanwhile, your engineers were like furiously fixing whatever that thing was or it’s simply just rebooting itself. But you had this little option, this little alleyway to explore that you could or not, it didn’t really impact the demo, but it bought you time. The other story, and like this one’s, it’s a little tougher because it wasn’t us exactly, but there was one situation where our robot was on stage with another robot and our CEO is up there with their CEO and they’re doing a panel discussion and our robots hitting all the marks, doing everything right, right? Their robot was not. And the contrast between the situation that their CEO was in and that our CEO was in was so obvious to so many people. And it’s like, you felt bad for him, but it was like that, again, it’s just that practice, that discipline of…

Ethan Peyton: Hehehehe

Chris Matthews: …you’ve got to be prepared for the hardest situation you’re going to face and train like that. Like much like your altitude example. If you’re going to be in a situation that’s different than where you normally practice, find a way to simulate that. Cause like your wifi at home is not the same as your wifi at a hotel in like downtown Des Moines. And so you better know what the complications are you’re going to run into. And sometimes that means doing a trip in advance to go test it all. And that’s all you get to do, but you got to do it.

Ethan Peyton: You know, when you said there was two robots on stage, I really thought you were gonna give me the BattleBots story that they just started duking it out. That’d have been pretty cool. Ha ha. All right, so we, ha ha, so we’ve gone deep on chapter seven. We’ve given folks a really good taste of the depth of where this book is going.

Chris Matthews: No. Nope. Not that robot.

Ethan Peyton: What else what else is in the book and what should people expect to gain when they pick it up

Chris Matthews: The book is a book on collaboration between engineering and marketing and why that is such a powerful force when put together. So it begins with this understanding that when we’re building stuff that’s really new and really difficult, those are harder stories to tell. And that partnership of like getting it right and getting it compelling is a really important step in the growth of any company, especially at an early stage. So there’s a chunk in here that focuses on when you’re early, how is marketing different than like if you pick up a normal marketing textbook? What situations do you face that are unique because you’ve not started this yet or you’re just about to start? And how do you think about fundamental concepts like positioning, which is super important.

If you haven’t explained to your audience where you fit in their world, they’re not gonna know. And it makes it very hard to go to market with that. So that’s, positioning is critical for any company, but the way you do positioning for a company that’s never existed before is much different than how a CPG brand would approach positioning for like a new flavor of product. And then that leads to things like your brand’s identity.

And how you build these early parts of what your company is and how you describe yourself. There’s interesting tension points between things like vision and mission for an early stage company and a big company. Because these early startups, part of the value is that flexibility, that nimbleness, that ability to shift and figure out exactly how to be.

And vision and mission statements tend to be these like long-term statements. And so like that short-term flexibility and that long-term thinking are kind of in conflict, but they’re still important. And you still have to find a way through to do that, even if it’s something that you’re going to change. The important part is going through the exercise and getting to consensus on like what it is you are today and then revisiting it as you need to.

And then lastly, that sort of leads into your go to market strategy of like, okay, how do we tell other people? Demos are one functional part of that, but there’s a lot more to explore. The book also covers things like how to build your first marketing team and how to think about that, how to do budgeting when you’re early, how to think about marketing when things get a little tougher, and how to think about transition, right? What you’re building now in the first couple of years isn’t what you need in like five years. And so what’s that pathway gonna look like?

Ethan Peyton: All right, what is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

Chris Matthews: The best one I’ve seen that is applicable in the most number of places is to assume benevolent intent. And this is that idea that you’re working on the same problem. Engineers and marketers may speak different languages in some cases, but you’re fundamentally working on the same problem. So when things get off axis, it’s not usually because someone’s trying to be, you know, a problem.

it’s that their intent doesn’t quite match your expectation. And, or rather their output doesn’t quite match your expectation, but their intent, if you assume it’s benevolent, you can start a conversation from a much better place. That single thing has been very helpful to me in a lot of situations. A second one that I’ll nudge in is that a fast experiment is better than a long discussion.

Ethan Peyton: Can you say more about that?

Chris Matthews: So if you can test something really quickly, that is vastly better than many, many meetings about the topic. And in a situation, particularly startups, where data is either scarce or non-existent,

Don’t assume just because you have no data that you can’t get data, right? You can go run a quick experiment in many, many ways to at least get a little shred of data that makes you slightly more confident in that decision. And the ability to run those experiments quickly can be quick multipliers on how you’re able to get your whole team mobilized in the right direction.

That’s true for marketing, that’s true for engineering.

Ethan Peyton: All right, Chris, there’s been a lot of good stuff here. This has been a ton of fun. I’m super glad you were able to find time in your schedule to come and chat with us. One last question, where can people connect with you online? And where can our listeners find the book?

Chris Matthews: I’m relatively easy to find. You can find me at my personal site is verysmallrobots.com. The book site is starttellingpeople.com. I’m also pretty easy to find on LinkedIn. And the book is available on Amazon, both in print and Kindle formats. And the audio book, which I just finished recording, should be on Audible in the next couple of days. So by the time this goes live, it’ll be on Audible too.

Ethan Peyton: Awesome. Thank you very much for that. Chris Matthews, the book is Start Telling People. We’re going to put links to everything that everyone heard today in the show notes over at StartupSavant.com slash podcast. Chris, thanks for joining us.

Chris Matthews: Thanks for having me and thanks for doing this podcast. It’s a benefit to a lot of people.

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