CES 2019: 10 Perspectives From Startups Who Participated

From CES, you might have read the latest announcements from consumer electronic giants, the push by Google and Amazon with voice, the wave of self-driving tech which makes CES look like a motor show, the French Tech invasion, and various media sharing their list of favorite gadgets.

What is often overlooked is the perspective of the startups on the ground. As investor in over 200 hardware startups (including about two dozen present at CES), HAX has a unique vantage point to understand their perspective.

Here is what they had to say about CES 2019:

1. It might look like a circus, but CES is business.

The show is so huge it might be confusing. In particular, the startup area is crowded with both startups and visitors.

“Eureka Park (the startup area) seemed a bit like a circus but gave a glimpse into the future. It also shows that there is no shortage of entrepreneurs looking to build the next smart thing.” — JP, Microbot Push (robotic button pusher)

The variety and enthusiasm are palpable, to a fault.

“Many products seem to just ‘connect because they can’. A ‘smart’ cat litter tray, egg tray, toothbrush, etc. It really hit home just how important it that what we do genuinely improves the end user’s experience. Just because we can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should.” — Richard, Minut (camera-free home security)

For the prepared — especially those with a product ready to ship — CES is business.

“We scheduled all meetings with existing and potential partners and vendors in advance.” — Alina, Cinemood (portable movie theatre)

“We had the opportunity to meet some of our fans who could see the product before we start shipping this summer. We also lined up meetings with potential partners from Australia and Korea in person. Bonus: We participated in a CES pitch competition and won the ‘Forward Thinker Award’ with a $10K cash prize — amazing first-time experience!” — Kristina, kegg (fertility tracking kegel device)

Sexual wellness and fertility products are also at CES

Some even decided to focus exclusively on meetings.

“We only took meetings. In the past, having a booth mostly seemed to be startup tourists (though it only takes one ‘tourist’ to lead your round or place a huge order...). Meetings are still the most valuable thing we have gotten out of CES over the last few years.” — Dan, Flair (smart vents for HVAC)

For HAX, CES has become less relevant for our startup deal flow, but remains a must-go event to meet all our partners.

B2B (enterprise / industrial / health tech) has become more attractive to HAX than consumer, so CES is less important for sourcing startups to invest in. But the show is still a great place to meet and catch up with retailers, corporates, manufacturers, service providers, and even VCs and LPs … and for spotting celebrities, like Stevie Wonder (he bought several pairs of Nura headphones, who won their second award with their new earphone) and Kanye.” — Ethan, HAX

Come to HAX for the best startups

2. Media coverage is unpredictable, yet better for trendy or evergreen categories.

There are about 4,000 journalists roaming the aisles of CES. There are also over 1,200 startups and many larger companies competing for their attention.

As a result, media coverage is somewhat unpredictable unless you’re showing something new in popular categories.

Baby tech is booming. Being a repeater helped us get mentioned in new articles and get traffic. — Ranjana, RayBaby (non-contact sleep and breathing baby monitor)

Sleep tech remains very attractive for media. It’s understandable since a third of adults are not sleeping enough, with consequences. CNN said that “The gadgets of the future know everything wrong with you right now” with the #1 thing being that we are too tired.” — Nicolas, Moona (pillow thermostat for better sleep)

Or if you take advantage of the “off-time”:

“A lot of meetings and conversations happen at the after-parties, when people are tired from shared exhaustion and stress. One article is coming because I was at a karaoke session with an editor.” — Richard, Minut

3. Get lots of honest feedback in a short time.

How do you know people want your product? Listen to them.

“More than awareness, CES is great for honest feedback from potential consumers, partners, distributors, and investors—and for making sure your ideas and development are on the right track.” — Richard, Minut

Intense feedback helps you test and adjust your display or message in real-time.

“Most baby monitors have cameras, and many visitors liked that we could still track a baby’s health without video. We changed our pitch during the show to highlight the video was optional. Also, we had long doubted the use of the word ‘radar’ but people reacted positively. We saw competitors even used some of our language, which made us realize that we made radar cool” — Ranjana, RayBaby

RayBaby’s monitor uses radar technology and makes video optional

4. Look around to track trends and competitors.

As companies are testing their offering and message, many disclose products and features that are not yet on market, providing useful market intelligence.

“Everyone is announcing something. This helped with sizing the competition, and see their newer features and newer product lines.” — Ranjana, RayBaby

Seeing competitors can help confirm your uniqueness.

“Walking around the show, and seeing what products are being developed and what messaging people are using, helps us to see how we can differentiate ourselves in a crowded space. Except us, every home security system I saw had a camera, which, according to our own research, around 35% of people do not like.” — Richard, Minut

Long-term trends might also validate the need for your product.

“The shift in the car industry to more of a mobility industry could really be felt, but true Level 5 (full autonomy) is still nowhere close. Zümi will help train today’s students toward tomorrow’s needs.” — Hansol, Robolink (first A.I. STEM toy car on Kickstarter)

Zümi helps kids learn to use A.I. and self-driving tech

5. Learn to draw a crowd.

How to get noticed? If animal costumes cramp your style, try showing something shiny or animated.

“We set one of our devices to constantly pulsate a blue glow, which caught the eye of people walking past. People gravitate around visually appealing stands — be it a custom light display, or a robot moving.” — Richard, Minut

Hypervsn by Kino-mo had one of the most catchy displays in 2018

6. Make sure your product speaks for itself.

You have 2 seconds!

“Our display wasn’t clear enough to be self-explanatory. Making the proposition as visually appealing and simple as possible is key. People need to ‘get it’ very fast. It helps to study how large retailers sell their products in stores without staff.” — Richard, Minut

7. Make friends with peers and learn from them.

Beyond an exhausting shouting match, CES is a chance to learn from the experience of others about the business of consumer electronics.

“CES is a great opportunity to find startups with similar challenges and learn from them. We talked with several companies about their go-to-market strategies.” — Nicolas, Moona

And again, after-hours might work best:

“In the evening, people are tired and much more upfront about where they are, and the issues they’ve faced.” — Richard, Minut

9. Learn for next time.

What you learn at CES can guide your future development. Make sure to document your ideas and observations.

“Take note of ideas on the spot or you will forget. Write notes, and take photos of things you like or things that work well: stand designs (most will share how they created their display if you ask), positioning, messaging, partnerships, etc.” — Richard, Minut

10. And finally, enjoy the show!

You might even spot celebrities, like Kanye or Stevie Wonder (he bought several pairs of Nura headphones, who won their second CES award with their new earphone).

Celebs at CES

You’ll be exhausted by the end of it, but we might see you again next year!

SOSV: Inspiration from Acceleration

Insights from The Accelerator VC—including our programs (HAX, IndieBio, RebelBio, Chinaccelerator, MOX, Food-X, dLab) & our startups.

Benjamin Joffe

Written by

Partner @ HAX & SOSV — Investors in 200+ Hardware Startups | Digital Naturalist | Keynote Speaker | Angel Investor | 18 years in Asia | Addicted to airports.

SOSV: Inspiration from Acceleration

Insights from The Accelerator VC—including our programs (HAX, IndieBio, RebelBio, Chinaccelerator, MOX, Food-X, dLab) & our startups.