The conventional wisdom for putting together a successful trade show is losing ground, thanks to a show you probably have either never heard of or haven't ever taken the time to visit: Computex. I was fortunate enough to witness this event, held this week at the Taipei convention center. Yes, Taipei, as in Taiwan. It was a fascinating trip, even though as I write this I am still suffering massive jet lag from traveling halfway around the world.
Conventional trade show wisdom goes something like this: Pick a date and stick to it, so your vendor exhibitors can time their product announcements to the calendar when your event occurs. Make sure you invite loads of press and have plenty of new product announcements. Attract attendees with an educational program of loads of conference sessions. Have a few big-name keynote CEOs to headline each day's activities to generate more buzz. Combine forces with a bunch of different sponsors to have shows-within-your-show to appeal to a wider audience. And hope that the number of attendees is more than last year, to prove that your show has plenty of influence, draw and buzz.
Well, that's the old-school trade show. Computex does none of these things. There isn't an educational program to speak of, and I couldn't find more than a handful of press events. Let's face it: Those methods -- used primarily at US shows -- aren't much more than to bring out regurgitated marcom materials anyway and a chance for vendors to flog their wares yet one more time. And rather than Bill Gates doing YACK (Yet Another Comdex Keynote), we had the GM of TI's DSL business talking about convergence, in a country where DSL and broadband access is doing better than in the United States. There weren't multiple tracks or shows-within-the-show either. It was the floor, and little else, that mattered.
Computex this year was bigger and better than any Stateside show that I have attended in the past several years. It had nothing to do with keynotes, conference sessions, or the number of people walking the show floor. In fact, Computex -- by U.S. standards -- only attracts somewhere around 20,000 attendees, which is about what a smallish trade show draws in the States. For comparison purposes, Comdex last year brought in more than three times that number, according to some estimates. But both shows had the same number of exhibitors (about 1,200), although of course Comdex was spread across more acreage of show floor space than Computex.
The acreage issue is an interesting one. I would much rather wander down an aisle of smallish booths with products jammed in than have to walk past YAAVE (Yet Another Audio-Visual Extravaganza), complete with blaring music, a carnival barker-type hired for the purposes of drawing a crowd in, and a large stage. Computex, by comparison, just had one or two people in the aisle working to attract the attendees walking by. And was far more effective. The organizers also limit booth sizes by a strict program that is based on the overall revenue of the company, making it a much more sane show.
One solution provider and white box builder that I spoke to who has been coming to Computex and Comdex for many years feels that the two offer differing advantages. Comdex is where he meets and checks out his US-based competition. Computex is where he does business, finds his sources and closes deals. "The same people from Computex can be found in the Sands or lurking on the periphery of Comdex," he told me.
The Computex show is usually held in the beginning of June, and that is when it is scheduled for 2004. This year we had the debacle of SARS and wisely the organizers postponed the show to the end of September. It paid off -- they had more exhibitors, up about five percent from last year. And the later date, the first time in the show's 23-year history that it was held in the fall, didn't deter attendees from crowding the very small aisles.
I was a bit nervous about going to Taiwan for Computex. Maybe it was the language barrier: it is hard enough to travel in a country where you don't know the language, let alone understand the alphabet it is written in. But I felt right at home walking around the show floor. All the signage is in English, and there were plenty of products to check out. I'll mention one by Goldensoft Technology (goldensoft.com.tw) that caught my attention: it is a small PCI card that you install in your Windows PC and with a separate partition on your hard disk you can recover your entire system in about 10 seconds. The booth spokespeople were fluent in English too and gave a great demo.
Maybe it is time to acknowledge that the new brain trust of the computing universe has shifted from the San Andreas fault line of California to the other side of the Pacific Rim, and that Taiwan may be where real innovation is happening. After all, most of the world's motherboards, components, and notebooks are made in Taiwan. But Taiwan isn't just about building expansive new fabrication plants due to the low wages and cheap materials and real estate costs. It is about having a capitalistic economic engine that is driven by the onrushing demand for cheap Chinese computers, as mainland citizens ramp up their demands. All of this means that the next round of interesting software will be written in Mandarin, not English.
As an example, I met with the IT manager of Taiwan's McDonalds. The 300-plus stores in Taiwan are all fully wired with high-speed ADSL lines back to headquarters, and all now offer wireless Internet access for a modest hourly fee. This is way ahead of what McDonalds is doing elsewhere, including in the States, or even Starbucks for that matter. (You can expect an article about it shortly in the pages of VARBusiness.) A combination of cheap broadband connectivity and universal coverage across Taiwan, coupled with forward-thinking ISPs and some clever programming have made this possible.
As another example, I was treated to a tour of AU Optronics, which is investing heavily in making LCD panels and LCD TVs. It was a modern and clean office that would fit in quite nicely in Silicon Valley, only it was humming with people and covered an area that no sane CEO would pay for even at today's depressed California real estate prices. The management proudly proclaimed their technology firsts for their plant, something I think they justifiably deserve.
I found Computex -- and the small parts of Taiwan that I visited -- to be an exciting and vibrant place, full of new and interesting products. The booth personnel were knowledgeable about their wares and the sheer number of products crammed into the Taipei convention center was enormous. There was a level of excitement and interest on the part of the attendees that I haven't seen in any U.S.-based show in recent memory.
Computex' roots is the component industry, and yes, there were plenty of vendors hawking see-though PC cases and motherboard fan assemblies and USB hard drives of all shapes and colors. But there were plenty of other products on display as well, including innovative NAS, Internet appliances, and networking products that I spent the most time examining. Put this show on your calendar for next year, both as an exhibitor and as an attendee. You'll find it worth the trip. And start thinking about how you can write some software in Mandarin, too.
Entire contents copyright 2003 by David Strom, Inc.
David Strom, email@example.com, +1 (516) 562-7151
Port Washington NY 11050
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