What's Our Demo?

March 25, 2019

What’s the first question you ask when starting a project? Mine is “What’s our demo?”

I learned this question from going to hackathons almost every month. With the limited time of a hackathon the question of “what’s our demo” is frequently asked by your teammates and other attendees. This was most extreme when I participated in Startup Bus- teams were required to pitch themselves every hour. My team that year couldn’t decide what our best demo was, or who our best presenter was. But after we tried having every member present their own way, we agreed that one of us was best at presenting. And we won the whole competition that year!

This demo-oriented mindset has also helped me and teams I’ve been on deliver large and complex projects, because you start talking in specifics. In 2012, I wrote about this in the context of hackathons, but since then I’ve used this mentality every time I start a new project:

Every unsuccesful hack I’ve made failed because we tried to do too much. No, don’t implement that registration system. No, don’t implement a RESTful API. No, don’t build your app with tools you’ve never used before. Your audience won’t care about those things, so don’t spend time on them.

I always focus on what a teammate once described as “the happy path.” What path would someone take to solve their problem? Build that, and the demo is easy.

If you don’t have a demo planned for your current project, why not? Could you schedule it, and give yourself a deadline for coming up with something that is presentable?

What’s the demo for your project?