This is the first article from a series on the story of Moona. Check out the other ones here Moona: Start-up Story Series.
La French Tech
I joined Moona around the time we were selected to take part in the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). My co-founder Coline had taken part in a French start-up contest organized by La French Tech, the French label / movement to promote technology start-ups in France and abroad. Thanks to them, we were part of the official delegation of 28 French start-ups at Eureka Park, the innovative start-up companies’ section of CES. We were thrilled to be given this great opportunity and set out to prepare for this show.
Making it work
We were quite nervous to have such exposure for the company for the first time, to media, investors, industry experts… We needed to show we were up to the task, but we were still at a very early stage of product development. We had already done some work on making a fully working prototype, so we needed to make sure it would work well for the demo, otherwise we would have nothing to show at our booth!
We had to showcase 2 devices: a working prototype, made out of off-the-shelves parts and assembled by hand, to show the final function of the product, and a smaller, cuter “looks-like” prototype which would let people imagine how the final product would look once we’ve manufactured it.
My first mission was to make sure the code running on the device was working as intended so that we could easily demo the functions of the product on our future CES booth. We set up 2 demo prototypes in order to demonstrate both the cooling and heating capabilities. Both had the same code running on it, a big Arduino sketch with functions for:
- setting up the current time (the device had no real-time clock yet) and alarm time
- setting up the set of temperatures the device would target
- handling active temperature regulation during operation
Once the code worked, I helped Coline with the hardware, as we were making sure everything fit as intended, and making the casing a bit more robust in order for it to survive its first international air travel experience…
The CES experience
We landed in Las Vegas on December 31st, 2016. CES was 6 days away, but most of all, it was New Year’s Eve! We had a blast on the first night, watching the fireworks and then counting cards at the casino to make sure we could pay for the trip (just kidding).
Setting up the booth
During these first few days, we settled in an Airbnb apartment just outside of the Strip, and we started preparing for the booth. We wanted to make our booth look like a bedroom, so we went on to buy a bed and a bedside table (!!!), the main objective being to stand out and be memorable among the hundreds of booths. Coline planned everything before the trip and we did a really good job of preparing everything. We knew that most of the attendees would be press, investors, suppliers, and distributors, so we refined and rehearsed our pitch so that when we would meet people on our booth, they would be interested and would remember us after the show.
To help us prepare for the show and have more presence on the booth and the events, we got help from 2 fantastic Entrepreneurship Master’s students at Stanford. Their first task was to set up the booth with us, and once that was done, we went to the CES Unveiled show, which is a pre-show where the press and some companies are invited to reveal innovations that will later be part of the booths at CES. We weren’t part of the show, but we figured that would be a good opportunity for us to start hustling and gain an edge before the big show! So we all wore our Moona® t-shirts and started talking to people with a Press badge who were waiting in the Unveiled queue anyways. We engaged in some really quick but efficient conversations about what we do, distributed some leaflets, and off we went. It was very useful as a few of the people we had met later remembered us and joined us at our booth, and a journalist from Mashable I met there ended up writing an article on Moona a few days later, which helped us gain more traction during the show.
“Come sleep at our booth”
During the show, we constantly tried to get attendees to notice us by interacting directly in the aisles and trying to get them curious enough to go to our booth, but most of the time the set up of the booth itself (with a double bed!) was enough to peek their interest. We always kept at least 2 people on the booth, one to operate the prototype and let people test it on the bed, and the other to invite people into the booth. We had an iPad on which we took email addresses in order to fill our list of leads that we had already started to generate from our website.
People who visited our booth were happy to be able to test the core functions of the product, and some of them were even impressed, which gave us a boost in confidence and made us release part of the pressure we had before the show. It was the first time we were getting that type of exposure.
Coline participated in a startup pitch contest by IBM with innovative projects from around the world, and won it! It brought us more press and a nice big cheque for $120,000 in cloud credits.
We also had the opportunity to meet with people at Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the two crowdfunding platforms we ended up using in order to get our product out there later in 2017, so we built a good relationship with them at that time which turned out very helpful.
Last but not least, we met with the people at HAX, who were also exhibiting their startups at booths. They’re the first hardware startup accelerator program, part of the most active seed fund worldwide, SOSV. We ended up spending a few days in San Francisco after CES to meet them again and pitch our company to them. We were very fortunate that they selected us to be part of their accelerator program in Shenzhen and we would start the program about 2 months later… This really changed the fate of our company and lead us to the next level. I’m giving more details about this in the next article of the series.
Overall, our first CES was a success. During CES, we managed to:
- build early relationships with press, investors, suppliers and distributors
- get 1000+ extra leads, through our booth and the press
- win a startup contest by IBM
- meet with the managers of the HAX accelerator program and later get accepted into the program
- meet with the crowdfunding platforms we would later use to get our product out there
It was a great moment in our company’s early story, where we went to the next level, gaining traction, exposure and validation on the vision.