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First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned
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First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by crazybutable on Mon May 07, 2012 3:03 am

I had a booth for the first time at a Mini Maker Faire and wrote it up on my blog:

I thought you all might be interested. I learned a lot! I don't want to just paste in the blog post, so here is a summary of what I learned from a kit biz perspective (none of this is in the blog post):

1. You probably aren't going to sell as much as you think. Don't bring too much stuff, because you'll be bringing it back out again. I sold exactly one kit to a friend who was going to buy one from me anyway.
2. Try to arrange someone to watch your booth for you, so you can step out and enjoy all the rest of the Faire (I didn't do this and regret it).
3. So. Much. Fun. Everyone you meet is awesome. Seeing people's eyes light up on their faces when I explained that I had a solar powered guitar amplifier.... it was so cool.
4. Make sure you have a good sign and enough business cards for everyone (I had 250 cards printed and I think I handed out about 75 -- estimated attendance at the Faire as a whole was 3000 people over 5 hours, obviously not all of them walked past my booth). I spent over a week getting the design of my sign exactly right, and then made the mistake of putting it up on a cluttered wall so it got lost in the overall feel of the room.
5. Make sure you have food and water, I forgot to get lunch before I came and almost passed out from hunger by the time my wife came back with some food. Even then, I could only get in about 1 bite every 2-3 minutes.
6. If you have any questions, try to find a maker who already had a booth at the faire you are interested in. Adam Wolf from Wayne and Layne answered a ton of questions that I had before the show even started, which was great.
7. Get a Square account! I listened to someone who convinced me I didn't need one, and was that ever a mistake. All day long I heard "Wow, this is great, but I don't have any cash on me."
8. You think your idea is super simple and easy to understand, because you have been working on it for 8 months. In reality, every single aspect and design ramification of your kit is not going to be obvious to the other people you are talking to, so you really need to practice explaining what, exactly, your kit does. Be prepared for some amazingly... basic.... questions.

All in all the whole experience was positive, and I think the key is to think of it more as "show and tell for grownups" and not "I'm going to sell everything I bring to the show!" Any sales are a bonus, especially if you are starting out for the first time.

How about you? What was your first Maker Faire like as an exhibitor?
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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by johngineer on Mon May 07, 2012 10:32 am

+1 on #2 and #5.

I did a (non-biz) booth solo at a mini maker faire and, while I definitely still enjoyed myself, I did feel restricted by not wanting to stray too far from my spot. As such, it was hard to get away for a bite to eat or to just look around a bit. Fortunately, one of the organizers agreed to watch my stuff for a little bit so I could wander around, snap some photos, and get lunch. One thing I'd add explicitly to this list is 'make friends with your neighbors' -- that is, the people in the booths next/near to you. Chances are they are awesome, creative people just like you, and you can help each other out if you need to step away for a moment or get something you forgot in the car, etc.
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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by inventorjack on Sat May 12, 2012 9:54 pm

Great tips and suggestions! Thanks for sharing. I don't expect to have a booth this year, but I will definitely be set up at next year's NYC Maker Faire.

The tip about having a Square account will be helpful. I don't carry much cash around, so it makes sense, now that you mention it, that others probably don't either.
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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by pburgess on Mon May 21, 2012 4:28 pm

Howdy howdy,

Your advice was priceless, so just wanted so say thanks, and add a few suggestions of my own for future posterity:

1. Expect setup chaos. There's a decent chance you'll be assigned a different spot than originally planned, and it might be bigger or smaller, brighter or darker, almost certainly louder, and possibly right next to a cell phone tower or Tesla coil. Roll with it.
2. Beta test your display with neighbors or co-workers or such, NOT close friends who've already seen your project, and not with your planned booth mates. We were blind to the non-obviousness of certain things, and didn't really nail our demos until mid Sunday, when it's much too late. Not a disaster, everybody still had way too much fun, but we could have been so much more effective had I brought in some fresh eyes ahead of time.
3. If your project is designed to enhance something else, create an obvious "before and after" demo. I'd set up a huge, heavy and expensive Adalight display, thinking this would be the main draw...and very few even noticed it was there. On the one hand, that was excellent validation of the tech, that it disappears into the experience. On the other hand, a very simple change could have knocked this one out of the park: have the LED effect toggle every 10 or 15 seconds or so, along with overlaid text, "ADALIGHT ON" and "ADALIGHT OFF".
4. Bring spare parts, power supplies, and a minimal but effective toolkit. Super lucky that we didn't need it...but had disaster struck, NOT having these things would've caused major stress.
5. Due to a series of misunderstandings, I didn't get ANY of my signs printed in time for the event. But I did have a couple of spare LCD monitors around the house, and some junky old laptops. Not optimal, but better than nothing. With some planning, it could actually be a very effective approach, and I might plan for it that way in the future.
6. For a full-size Maker Faire, a thousand business cards was just about perfect. Looks like I have 150 or so left over. Could get by with a LOT less if you're selective about handing them out, but I simply placed them out on the table for the taking (knowing and accepting that a lot would be picked up simply because it's something free on a table, and maybe not actually interested, but the pricing between 250 cards and 1000 is not that huge).

Was great meeting folks there, and putting faces to the names. Thanks to everyone for stopping by, checking out the stuff and introducing themselves. Looking forward to more events!

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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by phenoptix on Thu May 31, 2012 4:09 pm

Thanks for sharing your experiences, I'm heading to my first Maker Faire this weekend, a Mini Maker in the UK and decided not to have a table being a MF noob. There are a couple of other Mini Makers in the UK this year so I might exhibit there and your advice will no doubt come in super handy. Cheers again!

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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by i-make-robots on Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:50 pm

1. In your kit remember to pack a table cloth. Makes your booth look a lot more professional and it's really convenient to hide your gear out of sight.
2. Try going to a smaller event first to practice your pitch. I went to the first Seattle Mini Maker Fair before I went to the somewhat larger Vancouver Mini Maker Fair and it helped me catch a lot of mistakes.
3. QR codes are great. Lots of people wanted to take a photo of my business card on their phones. Once I got a QR code printed out they'd be taken directly to the website, which helped my analytics.
4. If you are selling there's no reason you can't have your website open in a browser to take orders on the spot. I'll be doing this from now on, cash purchases break my accounting & inventory control.
5. I like to push the table back as far as possible and stand in front of it, with the people. It feels less...divisive than having a table separate me from them.
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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by pburgess on Tue May 21, 2013 12:36 am

Resurrecting an old thread with this year's lessons...

  • If your exhibit involves audio, get the biggest/loudest speaker that budget and cargo space allow...reason being that you can always turn the volume down on a too-big speaker, but a too-small speaker has an upper limit. What's ear-splitting in your living room might be a whisper in a cavernous show room, and you may be set up alongside other noisy exhibits that will drown out your audio. (That being said...once you've found the right speaker, turn the volume down to the minimum usable level, in respect to your exhibiting neighbors.) I brought some way-too-small speakers that seemed OK at home, useless in the show hall, then had to run out to a computer store for bigger amplified speakers that were STILL too small. I'll be keeping an eye out for a secondhand guitar speaker for such things in the future.
  • If there's a web component to your exhibit, have a static, offline copy...or even just a screen shot may be sufficient. I wanted to show that a tutorial was available on the Adafruit Learning System. In all likelihood nobody would actually be interacting with it...most would be distracted by the showpiece itself...but having that screen showing the tutorial introduction was nice ("Here's a card. That address will take you to this guide."). Well of course when the crowds got thick the WiFi became useless...then a link was clicked and that part became dead in the water. A simple screen shot ahead of time could have averted all of this! (Also, turn off the screen saver. For whatever reason, it's in the "Personalization" control panel in Windows 7.)
  • Gaffer's tape is expensive. Get a roll anyway. Greatest butt-saver in the history of mankind. Held pieces of our exhibit together, held things to the wall, held pieces of my costume together. Get some. A sampler pack of zip ties is a good thing too.
  • If it looks like free swag on a table, people will pick one up regardless whether they're interested. Last year I had 1,000 business cards printed, and that seemed just about right for a "full-size" Faire -- only a few were left over. The click-through rate was only 11.6% though. This year, I printed 500 cards, handing them out only to those expressing genuine interest. Similar amount of leftovers, and already the click-through rate is looking much better.
  • Some kind of simple uniform helps your audience identify your crew for civvies, you may look like another attendee. I had a couple lab coats around, but was reluctant to bring just seemed like an overdone, cliché motif at Maker Faires...then I realized, waitaminute, that's a GOOD thing, the public would immediately spot us as crew when they needed help. And it worked!
  • If you have some kind of demo fixture, put a lot of thought into "affordances" -- the way an object's appearance conveys its functionality. In my rush to get out the door, I just grabbed the test fixture off my desk: an Arduino breakout shield with a long-shaft potentiometer and a round button, plus a small microphone that I zip-tied to a scrap of colored acrylic so it was easier to see and wouldn't get lost. Many kids interpreted the tall pot as a joystick (somehow, miraculously, it did not break off), the round button as a knob to be turned, and the electret microphone as a button to be pressed! This all could have been fixed SO easily by just putting a large, friendly knob on the potentiometer ("turn me"), using a square button ("I don't turn"), and strapping the mic to an old telephone handset ("talk into me"). Not a disaster, everyone had a good time regardless, but forethought and a few simple changes could have made this a slam-dunk.
  • Wish I'd thought ahead to have some kind of little "achievement badge" sticker for the more attentive kids. They're not expensive to have made. Stickers, that is, not attentive kids.
Last edited by pburgess on Tue May 21, 2013 1:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: First time exhibiting at a Maker Faire, lessons learned

by i-make-robots on Tue May 21, 2013 3:04 am

Our maker faire is in 9 days. I'm getting a lab coat and some stickers ASAP.

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