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Thinking Outside the Box's virtual trade show highlights the service and makes the necessary connections with contributors and clients.

October 11, 2000|KAREN E. KLEIN

In February, was just another "dot-com" start-up desperate to get traffic flowing to its Web site before its product launch at the end of this year. With brand-new electrical- and electronics-engineering software technology and a fixed marketing budget, TheCubicle needed to steer the multibillion-dollar semiconductor industry to its doors--something founder and Chief Executive Martin Shum likens to pulling a 1,500-passenger cruise liner with a two-person rowboat. How does the company introduce itself to strategic partners and potential customers?: TheCubicle threw a party and invited them all. Shum was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

Our first product is a very cool technology called CircuitNet that allows engineers to conceive and design a product online. The problem we have is that the product is unknown among the more than 1,000 semiconductor chip makers and tens of thousands of original equipment manufacturers whose engineers could use it.

We decided that to introduce ourselves to them all at once, in a memorable way, we would create the first-ever virtual trade show for the semiconductor industry and host it at our Web site. We called it the Integrated-Circuit Internet Convention (IC2) and held it from May 22-26.

An online trade show is like a real world trade show, with exhibitors' booths and product content and industry announcements and a pressroom. Instead of being held at an actual exhibit hall, it takes place online. Attendees surf a series of specially created, linked Web pages to view the show.

It seemed like the perfect marketing campaign, creating a reason to introduce ourselves simultaneously to the show's virtual exhibitors--the chip makers we would approach later for product information to populate our database--and the show's attendees--design engineers who would buy our tools. Along with getting our name and company message out to the world, we would provide a valuable service and generate good will with both our partners and our customers.

We conceived an original, content-rich multimedia experience, complete with virtual booths for exhibitors, online seminars and video presentations, chat sessions where engineers could talk with manufacturers, and a virtual pressroom for company news releases. Man, were we excited.

Despite Grand Vision, Some Short-Sighted

The problem was implementation. We had only three months and $100,000 to realize this vision. First, we looked for companies that created online trade shows for a living, but the few events we found were pitiful-looking and small-scale. The average sample virtual booth we saw looked like an electronic business card. We wanted to host a rich, exciting show; so we decided to build it ourselves.

We quickly went out to nail down exhibitors. Since this trade show was a marketing campaign and we were not expecting to make money creating it, we offered to build any interested semiconductor maker a free virtual booth.

We also allowed exhibitors to post news releases, hold chat sessions to tell engineers about new products, and place video seminars in the auditorium. We gave it all away. All these chip makers had to do was say "Yes."

Strangely enough, we found out that even though our program involved no time on the exhibitors' part and required no money from them, many chip makers initially said "No"--probably because they were unfamiliar with our company. We got off to a slow start and in the first month managed to secure only a handful of small-scale exhibitors.

Finally, we called our distribution partner, VEBA Electronics, a major player in the component-distribution industry, and asked them to recruit some of the big players in the industry for us. Within a month, their influence made all the difference with exhibitors. We had all of the major manufacturers involved--companies such as Motorola, Intel and Agilent.

Once we had them, almost nobody else turned us down. We even used VEBA to help us get the word out to attendees since they had direct access to thousands of the engineers we wanted at our show. We created e-mails and print materials for them to give out on our behalf.

With time running out, we finally secured a good turnout. But we had more than 70 exhibitor booths to design and program with computer code--all of which required rich, graphic-intensive content such as PowerPoint presentations, Flash movies and customized company information. We tried not to panic. We hired four consultant programmers, threw them in front of desks and began building virtual booths.

Our consultants were doing double shifts, cranking out booths every hour. All told, they built more than 100 Web pages from scratch, all of them packed with graphics and heavy computer coding.

Some of our consultants thrived on the pressure; others will probably choose never again to work for an Internet start-up. One drove his mobile home up from Orange County and camped out in our parking lot for two weeks he worked on the job almost around the clock.

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