Phone2Action at CES: What It Was Like Being One of the Youngest Exhibitors

Phone2Action at CES

I wanted to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at some point in my life, but I didn’t expect to be exhibiting a product I created at the age of 16. After six months of hard work, that is the situation I found myself in at CES 2018. My partners at Phone2Action – Hugo Burbelo, Liam Rathke, and Gerry Gomez – and I took an idea, refined it, and turned it into a real product: FeedScore. We unveiled it at CES.

FeedScore uses social media data and our own proprietary artificial intelligence program to analyze the sentiment (approval and disapproval) and conversation surrounding any issue, from Trump to Net Neutrality to Pokémon. We had spent months working on the displays we wanted to use at the show, but CES turned everything we thought we knew about business upside down. This wasn’t a Shark Tank pitch – this was real life.

Find out how Phone2Action’s fellowship program is an incubator for civic tech talent. 

CES pushed us harder than we ever had been pushed before and Phone2Action Co-Founder Ximena Hartsock did even more! Three days before departing for Vegas, we totally scrapped and redid one of our displays because it did not hit the mark for Ximena. We learned to go beyond our own bubble and to think critically about how people would view and understand the work we were doing. It was the first of many lessons to come.

We worked furiously over the next few days, even during our flight from DC to Vegas, to make our product ready for the big day. With all our displays completed, we arrived in Vegas, set up, and then listened to Neil Patrick Harris (the Emmy-winning actor) speak, since our booth was right across from the stage. Things were looking up, but disaster wasn’t far behind.

As Harris was speaking, all our screens froze up as Wi-Fi died. As hundreds of people left Harris’s talk, we scrambled to fix our internet connection and watched as opportunities and potential customers simply walked away. From this experience, we learned about the necessity of backups and developed a theme that would carry us throughout the remainder of the week: “Fail Fast, Recover Faster” that Ximena made us recite. It wasn’t long before we were back on our feet, stopping people on the floor to talk about FeedScore like nothing had happened.

Pitching proved to be easier than we expected because we successfully tapped into the art of ‘outrage marketing.’ Two weeks prior, I had had the idea to put an image of Trump on a 60-inch TV and track his approval rating live. As you can imagine, it attracted a few very passionate folks on both sides of the political spectrum. Overall, the Trump display was interesting and provocative enough to get people to stop, so we could engage them with our story and our product.

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We learned many lessons at the booth. Almost all of the people who walked by stopped to chat with us. It was surprisingly easy to get people’s attention, but hard to screen if people were interested in our product or in discussing politics in general. Once we engaged these visitors, we had to prove that a few high school students could be trusted with the business of customers ranging from government agencies to celebrities. Then, we tried to collect business cards. For three generally quiet teens, this was a tall task, but we managed. By midday on the second day of the convention, we had an impressive list of new contacts. From then on, it felt like we were cruising. We had created a valuable product with a unique story, and the reception was overwhelmingly positive.

Another important lesson we learned was about the art of persistence and to know when to ask for help. Initially, we had not used a professional designer for our user interface, but we learned that user experience is key. When we fixed the UX/UI, our technology flourished!

Now that our work has been well received, it’s time to take the technology to the next level. Our summer fellowship with Phone2Action was the beginning of our journey and CES 2018 was the next step in to fully bringing FeedScore to market.

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Interested in learning more about how FeedScore can help with your advocacy campaigns? Shoot us an email here.

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