Demos help us experience the product in a way that's not lines of code or marketing bullet points or concepts.

To help us unpack why demos are an essential craft that needs to be honed in start-ups, we talked to four product legends to get their insights, thoughts, and opinions.

All were kind enough to share their take on The Art of the Demo.

Demos simulate the customer experience

When we asked why they think demos are important, Jens and Somya both spoke of demos as breathing life into projects. Jens believes they make the abstract tangible and provide an opportunity to clearly demonstrate how specific problems are solved. Somya thinks of demos as "windows into the vision", where you distil the idea potential and capture the audience.

Sherif and Mindy agreed. For Sherif, the demo audience simulates the customer, so the presenter has to be very aware of the customer experience during delivery, more than with other modes of presentation. He added that "it’s much more effective to have a meaningful discussion and make prioritisation decisions when you use your demo as a shared language, rather than using a bunch of text and bullet points". Demos simulate reality, whereas bullet points abstract it.

Demos are an opportunity to tell a story

Mindy puts it beautifully when she says that "giving a demo is so much more than showing someone your product. It's about telling a story and doing so in a way that marries customer insights, data, and a product experience to take your audience on the journey." We love this and we wholeheartedly agree.

Demos are a story. A very important part of your product story. They allow you to empathise with customers, understand their challenges and see how to solve their problems. You can't get this effect with a slide deck. Empathy is built when you can put yourself in the shoes of the customer. As Mindy says, "the more effective you can be with creating that empathy and understanding, the more likely you will be to get the support you need to be successful".

Three key demo use cases

1. Transfer knowledge to internal teams

Demos show how a customer problem has been solved and explain the steps taken to arrive at the solution. This is valuable knowledge that can be used to impact other customer problems, and enable marketing and support teams to explain features more clearly to customers.

2. Drive customer sales

Demos are a visual and engaging way for the target audience to understand a feature, a whole product and the experience they will receive. The old adage of 'show don't tell' applies here, because it enables the customer to 'see themselves' using a product, achieving a task, solving a problem. Demos create a connection which (hopefully) leads to sales.

3. Show investors your value

Demos are essential for telling the success story of your product, what it does now, what it can do soon, and where it fits in a customer's life and the market. Investors look for ideas that loudly communicate potential, have a clear purpose and reflect a better reality. Investors want to put their money in a product they can see, not a bullet list of nebulous benefits.

Our experts share their demo stories

Sherif's demo story

Sherif Mansour

Sometimes demos reveal something that has not been noticed before. Sherif recalls when the team building software for mobile showed how they solved a particular customer problem. But only on mobile. The same problem existed for desktop users, but the solution approach had not been discussed with the desktop engineers. Sherif remembers that "the demo highlighted that we were letting our internal team structures influence the customer experience." The demo showed the need for better information sharing and highlighted a creeping silo problem between teams.

Mindy's demo story

Mindy Eiermann

Never underestimate the hunger of a demo audience. Mindy tells us how she was preparing for a huge public product launch and the engineer who was running the demo did a rehearsal with her beforehand. She thought it might be too detailed and make people bored. "Boy, I was wrong" she reflects. "The accountants in the audience were sitting on the edge of their seats that night. They wanted all the detail so that they could understand exactly what impact the new experience would have for them and their firm."

Somya's demo story

Somya Kapoor

During our Seed round raise the product was nascent, but our vision was crisp. While it wasn't quite fake it, till you make it, the demo we shared with Tidal and other investors was expressive enough to convey a rich end to end experience. It communicated the land value prop, the hook for our target audience and even hint at our future potential. Akin to Jens, Somya was able to successfully complete her raise in quick time as the demo was a key part of investor conviction.

Jens's demo story

Jens Schumacher

You can talk it up all you want, but you've got to show people how things work. "In a world where AI has become a buzzword appearing on every marketing website, it was important for Sajari to demonstrate how easy and practical it is to implement a personalised search experience". Through demo storytelling, Sajari could highlight the personalisation and focus on the "benefit to customers". Jens believes their simple but effective demo has closed the majority of customer deals.

Expert tips

There is always a before and after

You can demo anything, even if it’s an API change or a bug fix. Make sure to start with the problem and why it was worth solving and make sure everyone is aligned on why the solution is designed in that way.

- Sherif Mansour

Tell a story that people can relate to

Don't just run through the motion and explain what's happening on screen. Focus your energy on a couple of key highlights that you want the viewer to remember.

- Jens Schumacher

KISS - Keep it simple, please!

Not more than one minute and engage the audience every 30-45 seconds - especially in the zoom world or else you are just another screen they are looking at for hours.

- Somya Kapoor

Know your audience

When demoing to senior stakeholders, spend less time on the nitty-gritty and more time on the customer insights, data, and the story. This will help the audience connect the work. For sales team type demos, focus on the customer benefits and concerns to help guide those conversations.

- Mindy Eiermann

If there is a downside to demos, we haven't found one. Demos take concepts and make them real for your teams, your customers, and the people you want to draw in as investors. Keep them short, purposeful and relevant for your audience, and you can't go wrong.

Big thanks to Charlotte Jiang for helping me draft this post and to all our demo experts featured.