The Demo: Rules of the Road

The demo as development strategy

In the startup or innovation mindset, the demo is a proud moment. You’ve worked hard on your product, frequently until the very morning of the meeting. This may be because your stuff truly wasn’t ready yet, or because your customer informed you briefly before the demo of several “must have” features that you implemented just for them overnight.

The excitement is for you, not for the customer

But now we get to a difficult point. You need to forget about all that excitement. In a hurry. For you it is a great rush. But NO CUSTOMER EVER wants to feel like you built that stuff just for them! Because remember: the demo is there to prove that your product is real and can be relied on. Code that is still warm from the compiler does not generate that feeling.

The Bob Ross Solution

The temptation for demos is to do an entire product walk-through. An exhaustive display of every screen/panel/whatever of your product. The first problem with this full enumeration is that you simply don’t have time for it. You must focus on the things that are good and that matter.

Behind the trees: demo mist. Our brain fills in the rest of the landscape.

There is no excuse

Demos are frequently hindered by small things. “Normally this would run on HTTPS, but the certificate expired, but this in no way takes away from the substance of the demo.” YES IT DOES. Or “I’m hosting this on my laptop in a VM, on a real server it would of course be a lot faster”. The audience may nod. But they will remember sluggish performance. “The data in here is a bit artificial, but it would do the same on real traffic of course”. Probably true. Customer remembers that you didn’t show the real thing though.

The inevitable error

So this will happen. You click and a full report should appear, but you get an error. You log in and you get three pages of backtrace. On reload it works. You can get away with this exactly once in a demo with the following technique: tell your audience that this proves the demo is for real.

Wrapping up

Cherish the demo. Use it to speed up development. Observe your potential customers, discover what features they are assuming you have, and make sure that next time you actually have them. Focus on the important features (you only have time for those), don’t accidentally hold a whole session on your weaker points. Fix those “minor” issues that actually do take away from the substance of your demo. And finally, use the inevitable error to prove that your demo was real.



DNA, DNS, Startups, Innovation, Food, Physics. @PowerDNS_Bert. Founder of PowerDNS.

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Bert Hubert

Bert Hubert


DNA, DNS, Startups, Innovation, Food, Physics. @PowerDNS_Bert. Founder of PowerDNS.