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A startup’s guide to CES – TechCrunch

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The Consumer Electronics Show, like Burning Man, is a massive event in the middle of the desert. Also like Burning Man it is populated by some of the greatest minds in technology. But, unlike Burning Man, these people are all dressed and only a few of them are on hard psychotropic drugs. Also CES is mostly inside.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve collected over a long career spent staying in awful hotels and wandering around massive conference halls full of things that won’t be released for another year. Hopefully they can be of some use.

Why should you go?

CES is not about innovation. It is about networking with potential buyers. The show is massive and it is popular primarily because it is in Las Vegas, a city so nice they made the movie Casino about it. But the days of you and your brother being dragged out into the corn and beaten to death are gone and what’s left is an adult playground of 24-hour craps and bad drinks.

You are not going to CES to drink and gamble, however. As a startup you are going there to find customers or get press. If you have the hustle and the will you can easily meet hundreds of potential buyers for your technology, including some big names who usually buy massive booths to show off their “innovative” systems. When you go, bypass the armed booth guards who stand at the front directing traffic and go talk to the most bored person at the booth. This is usually some middle manager who was wrangled into telling people about his company’s most boring innovation. Talk to him or her like a human being, offer to take them out for a coffee, do whatever it takes to get a warm lead inside that massive company. Repeat this hundreds of times.

CES costs $300 and the tickets to LV and the hotel will cost far more. Be sure you’re not cash-poor before you go. This isn’t a Hail Mary for your startup, it’s a step along the way.

If you don’t think you can pull off this sort of social engineering I describe, please don’t go to CES, or instead send the most personable member of the team. It’s too big and there are already enough nervous nerds walking around.

You haven’t planned yet?

So you’ve decided to go. Do you have tickets? A hotel? At least an Airbnb? It’s pretty much too late right now to get any of those things in time for January 8th, but you can try.

Further, if you have a friend who lives there, go stay with them. The hotels gouge you during this week. Check out the Excalibur, arguably one of the worst on the strip. Right now, you can stay at this illustrious medieval-themed hotel for $25:

Need a smoke-smelling room abutting a flying buttress topped with an animatronic Merlin around January 9? Fear not, my liege!

The best time to book for CES is a year before CES. The second best time is never.

Maybe you’re going to buy a booth. I wouldn’t, but go ahead and give it a try. I like what my friend Tommy here did. Instead of going through one of the countless staffing agencies in Las Vegas he put out a general call for help and he got plenty of responses. Lots of people would be willing to go to Las Vegas to help out for not much cash.

Do everything in your power to stay as close to the Convention Center or Sands (the hall with all the startups) as possible. It is a living hell trying to get around Las Vegas and you’ll thank me later for every hour in a cab line you save for yourself.

Go to where the action is

If you are trying to get press for your product launch then you came to the wrong place. First, if you’re going to CES to launch then you MUST LAUNCH AT CES. I’ve seen too many idiotic startups who flew in, paid for everything and then told the world they’d launch in like two months or whenever Sven back at the main office in Oslo was done putting the finishing touches on the device driver. If you’re not ready to ship don’t go.

Do not spam journos about your product unless you know them. Your emails will fall into a black hole.

Further, instead of getting a booth at the show I recommend getting a booth at Showstoppers or Digital Experience. The events cost about $8,000 for a booth and are approximately the same. They are held before the main event and they’re where all the journalists go to get free prime rib and ignore you. It’s also where all of the small market journalists and the weird freelancers who wear fishing vests and live in Scranton wander around, so be ready to do a little target acquisition.

Want my advice? Put one person at your booth who can tell your story in two minutes exactly. That person must tell that story as many times as possible and give the odd journalist who will stand there asking dumb questions for an hour the stiff arm whenever someone else comes up. Maximize your message dispersal. Also, if you have product, then have about 20 pieces there ready to give away to Engadget, Gizmodo, The New York Times, The Verge and the like. Don’t give anything to me if I see you. I don’t want that crap in my suitcase.

Now for the ingenious part. Find the most popular food item at the buffets and stand next to it. When a hungry journo comes up to grab a spaghetti taco or whatever, scope out their badge and offer to walk them over to your booth. They’ll harrumph a little but unless they are one of the countless millennial reporters who believe they have to live-blog these events they have nothing else to do that night except get drunk on gin and tonics. Drag them over to your booth and give them the two-minute pitch. They’ll be so busy eating they won’t be able to ask questions. Write down their email address — don’t ask them for a card — and give them yours. Then email the heck out of them for the next few days to remind them about your launch.

Further, never rent a suite and invite journos to come to you. They have enough trouble getting out of bed, let alone getting a cab to your dumb room. If a journo wants to meet, you MUST go to them. Don’t make them come to you.

Manage expectations

Like Burning Man, CES is the worst show on the planet held in one of the most unforgiving habitats known to man. As long as you accept these two points you will be fine. You will not “win” CES. At best, CES will give you a kick in the pants in regard to your competition and actual value to the world. Want to know if you have customer fit? Go to CES and meet your customers. Want to see if journalists care about your idea? Pitch them when they are fat and sassy at CES and feeling powerful. That experience will humble even the biggest ego.

Remember: The world is a cold, uncaring place and this is doubly true at CES.

Be careful with PR people

See that animated GIF above? That’s how I manage my CES email. I scroll through the subject lines, look for people I know, then select all unread and delete them. One of the worst things about CES is that the letters “CES” show up in multiple words and, barring writing a regular expression, it is very difficult to filter them out; 99 percent of your CES emails will go unread.

So should you hire a PR person? Yes and no. If you hire them to just send emails then you might as well burn your money. However, if that PR person can lead you around the show and introduce you to folks who can help you get your story out then it might be worth it. Sadly, there is no way to tell how incompetent a PR person is until you get on the ground with them. I know a few I can recommend. Email me. Otherwise be very careful.

Don’t go

Look, CES sucks. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s too big, everyone there is distracted by potential blackjack winnings, and trying to get noticed or launch at CES is akin to holding a poetry reading in the middle of a rock concert: nobody is paying attention and you actually may annoy more people than you reach. It’s your call whether or not you want to give it a try, but be ready to hustle. Besides, there’s always next year.

Bonus Tip: Buy a humidifier

I learned this trick from Brian Lam, formerly of Gizmodo: when you land go to Walgreens and buy a very cheap humidifier. Put it in your room and leave it on all day. Las Vegas air is very dry and you’re almost guaranteed to get chapped lips and a cough if you don’t have at least one spot where it doesn’t feel like you’re on the surface of Mars.

This was us at CES 2008 or so. We were such sweet summer children.

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USB installer tool removes Windows 11’s Microsoft account requirements (and more)

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Enlarge / The Rufus tool will offer to modify your Windows 11 install media when you create it. The workaround for the Microsoft account requirement is new to the 3.19 beta.

Andrew Cunningham

One of the new “features” coming to the Windows 11 22H2 update is a Microsoft account requirement for all new installs, regardless of whether you are using the Home or Pro version of the operating system. And that’s too bad, because the 22H2 update corrects a few of Windows 11’s original shortcomings while adding some nice quality-of-life improvements.

An easy workaround for this requirement is the Rufus USB formatting tool, which can create USB install media for Windows and all kinds of other operating systems. Rufus has already offered some flags to remove Windows 11’s system requirements checks from the installer, removing the need for clunky Windows Registry edits and other workarounds. But the beta of version 3.19 will also remove the Microsoft account requirement for new installs, making it easy to set up a new Windows PC with a traditional local account.

When setting up Windows 11, make sure not to connect your PC to the Internet before creating your user account. This trick worked to circumvent the Microsoft account requirement in Windows 11 Pro and some of the later versions of Windows 10 but is being removed entirely from Windows 11 22H2. The Rufus tool merely reverts to the pre-22H2 status quo.

If you’re using Rufus to avoid Windows 11’s system requirements, your system will still be “unsupported” once you have Windows 11 up and running. That means putting up with periodic reminder messages about unsupported hardware and the vague threat that Microsoft may eventually stop providing updates and security patches for unsupported systems. On the other hand, Rufus also doesn’t keep Windows 11’s TPM and security features from working once the OS is installed, so if you want to create a single USB installer that will cover both supported and unsupported systems, Rufus makes that possible.

Microsoft provides its own media creation tools for people who want to make USB install drives for Windows 10 or Windows 11, but it obviously doesn’t offer the same circumventions for the company’s requirements.

Listing image by Getty Images

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iFixit and Google launch official Pixel parts store

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iFixit

The iFixit and Google partnership that was announced in April is now live. iFixit says that genuine parts for Google smartphones are now for sale in “the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and European countries where Pixel is available.”

It looks like iFixit is offering screens, batteries, and rear camera assemblies for most models of the Pixel phone, along with smaller odds and ends like adhesive and cooling graphite tape. Despite the official partnership with Google, we wouldn’t call the iFixit Pixel store a comprehensive source of Pixel parts. For the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro—which are currently in production and should have tons of available parts—you can’t buy replacement glass back panels, charging ports, front cameras, or any of the delicate cables you could accidentally rip while you’re taking the phone apart. Just compare the official Pixel 6 Pro parts list, which has only six items, to any of the iPhone part lists, which have about 30 parts, and you can see there are a lot of missing items.

iFixit says it’s just getting started, though, and that it will “continue to add more types of parts to our catalog” for the Pixel 2 and later. For the Pixel 6a, which comes out at the end of July, iFixit is promising “a full selection” of parts “as soon as possible.”

iFixit says Google has continually been improving the reparability of its devices, although the repair site never actually scored the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro. (iFixit’s last full Pixel teardown was on the Pixel 4 XL in 2019.) iFixit also praised Google’s willingness to make software repair tools available online, like an easy-to-use OS flashing tool and a fingerprint reader calibration tool for the Pixel 6. If Google is really concerned about device longevity and reducing e-waste, we would like to see the company match its competitors when it comes to software support, where Google’s three years of major OS updates are still lagging behind Samsung (four years) and Apple (five years).

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Apple outs its invite-only program that rewards VIP forum members 

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Samuel Axon

Apple made its Community+ Program common knowledge this week. Similar to other tech companies like Dell, HP, and Microsoft, Apple has been rewarding the knowledgeable volunteers who frequently contribute to its online support community.

As spotted via iClarified on Wednesday, Apple launched the Apple Community+ Program webpage, which details a program that annually invites a small number of forum members to enjoy special rewards. An Apple rep told Ars Technica that while the webpage is new, the program “has been around for a few years.” It’s likely that since only a small number of people get to participate in the program, there hasn’t been much chatter about it before the page’s launch.

The Community+ members receive “special perks, white-glove experiences, and more,” according to the program’s page, but Apple didn’t specify what that means, and the company declined to provide Ars Technica more details about the rewards.

Apple also didn’t specify the boxes you have to check to get an invite. The Community+ page does say, however, that invitees are “high-level community members” who are “engaged and active in the community,” “share quality content and helpful answers to build their reputation,” and are role models for the forum.

Regular Apple support community members already receive points for participating in activities like asking or answering a question or having one of their answers marked as “helpful” by other community members. Gathering virtual points can lead to virtual rewards, like the ability to have a custom avatar image or access to The Lounge, where you and other high-ranking members can have discussions.

The Community+ Program promises better perks than that. Again, we don’t have specifics, but we can look at similar tech perks programs for ideas.

As noted by The Verge, Microsoft support forum members have been receiving MVP awards for more than 20 years, with over 4,000 reportedly earning the title so far. Perks include early access to Microsoft products and an invite to the annual Global MVP Summit at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

For a couple of years, Dell has been rewarding its most elite community members with invites to online and in-person events and providing new product testings and internal resources. Meanwhile, HP’s Expert program rewards include invites to virtual and live events and the opportunity to speak with HP employees.

It’s good to hear that Apple has also been rewarding its most helpful forum members, who can save hours of time for Apple customers and employees, free of charge. Without a detailed look at those perks, though, it’s unclear just how appreciative Apple is.

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