Like Family – CodeFlügel at CeBIT 2017 in Hanover

Last week, the CeBIT trade show was held in Hanover again. And I’m sure you’ve been dying to know what it looks like from the point of view of an exhibitor. Luckily for you, we had a booth this year, in exhibition hall 11, the hall for start-ups. Even though we aren’t actually a start-up anymore (more on that later) we were pretty comfortable and happy to be there. And, most importantly, we took many new impressions, inputs and stories home with us.

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Let’s start with the basic facts:

  • 131 ha of total exhibition space
  • 000 m² indoor area
  • 26 exhibition halls total (15 used by CeBIT)
  • More than 3000 exhibitors
  • More than 200.000 visitors

So, kind of a big thing, right? And now you can find out all about how we did there in my own personal travel diary.

Sunday – the journey

Since Stefan (hereafter „Moosi“) was already in Salzburg for an appointment, Kathrina (hereafter „Katzi“) and I (hereafter “I”) started our journey from Graz on Sunday morning, (more or less) punctually at 8 am. Thanks to a lot of Tetris experience, the packing did not (yet) pose a problem. Under grey skies and bucketloads of rain (hey, in Austria complaining about the weather is mandatory) we set out on our journey. Once we’d picked up Moosi, however, our basic Tetris skills failed us and we converted to plan B, the cramming principle. When every last thing was packed into the car and Katzi had about 2 centimeters of wriggle room in the backseat, we were ready for take-off once again. Too soon, however, border control hampered our progress and we had to move at snail pace for a bit (editor’s note: insert Katzi’s favorite joke, “What does a snail riding a turtle sound like?” Answer: “Wheeeee!”)

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Between Munich and Würzburg or there about, I have no recollections of our journey. Because I fell asleep. I can only speculate about what happened during that time, but it’s probably better if I don’t.

When I woke up, though I remembered my iPod and hooked it up to the stereo, so we had the greatest hits of six musical decades for company from there on out. From the Beach Boys to the Beatles, Stones, ABBA, Falco, Udo Jürgens, Peter Cornelius and even Britney Spears, there was a little something for everyone, which made Moosi and Katzi very happy (and me as well, of course). The rest of the drive was spent singing (strike shouting) along to all the songs and making fun of the weird German place names (though, as Austrians, we barely have any right to do that).

We arrived in Laatzen (south of Hanover and about 5 minutes from the exhibition center) in record time, moved into our AirBnB and went in search of something to eat. We toasted to a successful week with Ouzo and delicious Greek food and went to bed soon after. We set our alarms and let the snoring commence.

Monday – first impressions

6:30 am, time to get up. Since we hadn’t had time to shop the night before, our breakfast consisted of a granola bar and some coffee, which we had thankfully found at the apartment (the coffee, not the granola bar). We made our way to the exhibition at 8, since we hadn’t been there before and thus didn’t know any better. For the same reason, we went for the first parking lot we saw and were transported towards the exhibition on a one kilometre (not even joking) long moving walkway. As an exhibitor, you can get into the exhibition halls before 9am. However, we had not taken into consideration that a) unlike the others, I only had a regular week pass and that b) the people responsible for deciding whether I could be let in with the others anyway were German.  Spoiler alert: I had to wait outside. So Katzi and Moosi made the way to our booth and I had to be patient alongside all the other unlucky ones. Moosi actually thought it was pretty lucky, because we had left our roll-ups in the car and I could go get them. So I braved the walkway again, walking towards the masses of exhibitors and visitors flowing towards the exhibition center. At exactly 9 o’clock, the doors opened and I could start to look for the others with the three kilometres I had already walked by that point weighing down my legs a little bit. By ten past, I had found my colleagues, had pinned my name tag to my chest and was ready to go.

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Since, up to that point, my experience in sales had been limited to showing our ‘Inspiration’ magazine to my friends and family with the words, “take a look at this, that’s what we do!”, I was a little nervous at first. I spent the first half hour watching and getting into the right headspace. When more and more visitors came and stopped at our booth, I had no choice but to start asking whether they needed any help. 90 % of the time the answer was “Uhm, I’m just looking… but what do you do exactly?” A conversation thus successfully started, business cards were traded and ‘Inspiration’ magazines were given out.

As I already told you, our booth was located inside the Scale 11 start-up hall. Which was great, because there was a lounge with free drinks for the exhibitors, a sitting area and a small recreation area with a pinball and a Pacman machine, which Moosi found pretty cool.

As Monday trundled along, I got better and better at the sales talk and whenever I didn’t know what to say, Katzi and Moosi were there to help. All in all, it was a pretty good first day. We packed our things at 6pm and made our way to the car. We got an invite to the start-up party, but as we were a little tired, we declined and decided to get some groceries instead. Back at our temporary home, Moosi went into full chef mode and presented us with a meal that would make Top Chef contestants jealous. Fed and happy, we went to bed, set our alarms and let the snoring commence once again.

Tuesday – „Outsourcing is in!“

7am, time to get up. Since we now knew what to expect, things went a lot more smoothly that morning. We waited until 8.30 to leave for the exhibition center, so that I didn’t have to wait outside for quite so long and we found the perfect parking lot with only 2 minutes’ walk to our booth. The best part of our morning was our parking attendant, who directed the cars with such grace and lightness of foot that even Fred Astaire could learn a thing or two.

At 9 o’clock, things were starting up again. It seemed to be the designated day for (largely) Indian companies to comb through the start-up hall and offer their outsourcing services to the exhibitors. Thus, our day was mostly spent explaining two things a) that we are not really a start-up (CodeFlügel is now almost 6 years old) and b) that we prefer to do all our development in-house.

My personal highlight of the day, maybe even of the week was one of those outsourcing guys who was so amazed by our presentation that he told Moosi the following, “at first I wanted to sell you something, but what you do is much more interesting and now I want to buy something from you!”. His next comment about our work ethic and philosophy (“You are like a family”) made Moosi and me giggle a little (I mean, we are cousins, what were we supposed to say?).

In the evening, we went out for food again and had a very interesting discussion about block-chain and crypto-currency. We were still taking about that when we went to bed and we haven’t formed a definite opinion yet. Nevertheless, the alarms were set and the snoring commenced as before.

Wednesday – we’re being filmed

7:15 (ish), time to get up. Since we’d done a good bit of shopping on Monday, our breakfast hat become a lot more satisfactory by this point. After that, we were ready for a new day and made our way to the exhibition in good spirits thanks to the Michael Jackson among parking lot attendants. One thing to note here would be that in Germany (maybe only during exhibition time, who knows) the waiting time for pedestrians between green lights is roughly a cigarette length (according to Moosi’s official records), which needed some getting used to.

Speaking of Moosi, he had an important day on Wednesday, since a camera crew came to visit us at our booth. While Katzi and I continued to help visitors, he was being interviewed and did really well at it, too.

What was a little strange, though, was that as the exhibition went on, he kept disappearing from time to time – to where, we didn’t know. He did look around the exhibition and got some market research done, but his continued absence did make us wonder at times. Still musing on where he could be going but not daring to ask, we eventually packed our stuff again and made our way back to our apartment. This time, Katzi and I cooked for Moosi and after we had our dinner, we went straight to bed, set our alarms and snored on, as always.

Thursday – my turn to look around & the SAP party

Maybe about 7:20am, time go get up. It’s Moosi’s birthday! We’d made a secret trip to the store the night before and had got some party accessories. So he was celebrated in style with a makeshift cake filled with berry curd (editor’s note: insert Moosi’s favorite joke, “A duck goes to the milkman. The milkman asks ‘what would you like?’ and the duck says ‘Quaa(r)k!’” – to anyone who speaks German, this joke is hilarious, just take Moosi’s word for it).

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At the exhibition (again motivated by our world-class parking attendant) it was my turn to take a look around the various exhibition halls and to see some new and innovative stuff. What impressed me most were the huge booths some of the larger companies had. Some took up half the hall and were complete with their own catering, stage and corresponding make-up area and even their own cloakrooms. My overwhelming feeling though was that CeBIT didn’t have much on offer for private consumers. The most prevalent topic was d!conomy and especially the halls with the large exhibitors didn’t offer a lot for me personally. “Cyber Security” was a ubiquitous topic, interconnectedness seemed central to every exhibit and “SmartCity” was another often-used buzzword. I’d come looking forward to some cool hardware, but there wasn’t much to see. Except inside hall 17 “Unmanned Systems & Solutions” that had its own ‘drone-zone’ and some cool robots. Augmented and virtual reality offers and presentations were also clustered inside this hall. But there wasn’t very much AR and the exhibitors with VR presentations were all kind of showing very similar things.

I might have gone there with wrong expectations as a private consumer, but I really did end up being a little disappointed. At the Huawai booth, for example, which also encompassed almost half a hall, I was expecting to see smartphones or something along these lines. Instead, you could read the words ‘cloud’, ‘Smart City’ and similar things everywhere. It was definitely targeted more towards larger customers.

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Impressions from CeBIT 2017: putting green with AR putting instructions, possible VR application, booth of Deutsche Telekom, movement transmission from human to robot, a robot reacting to human gestures and speech

In the evening though, there were some parties to go to at the exhibition, which made me perk up again pretty quickly. We started in the Scale11 lounge, where Volkswagen was hosting a start-up party. With free beer, sandwiches and ice cream we were talking, joking and generally having a good time. But the real party soon seemed to be somewhere else, so we decided to go look for it. Outside, we met a group of young party people and Katzi asked them, “where are you coming from?”. Clearly she meant from which party or hall, but one of them confidently answered, “I am from Holland”. So that pretty much cleared that up, but after a little bit of back and forth, they told us that hall 4 was supposed to be rockin’, so we went there.

They hadn’t promised too much, the party at the large SAP booth was indeed in full swing. The only problem was that you needed the right arm band to get in. Moosi, confident as always, walked straight past the security guard at the entrance with the words “I have an arm band”, waving the one we had got at the Volkswagen party. The woman seemed a bit taken aback and suggested that his might in fact be grey and not black like the ones they had been giving out, but she seemed unsure and went to ask a colleague. Or maybe she went to get backup, but luckily, just at that moment a party guest walked by me and tossed me a coveted black arm band in passing and wished me a good time. So I entered the party completely legally with my two ‘guests’ and we took full advantage of everything it had to offer. After savouring (strike: polishing off) a large plate of appetizers and toasting the birthday boy with some sweet Caipirinhas and beers, we left the dancing and partying crowd for our quiet and comfortable apartment. We went to bed, set our alarms and well, you know about the snoring.

Friday – the last day

8am, time to get up for the last exhibition day. A tiny bit hung over, we made our way back (again, shout-out to our motivated grooving parking attendant). My business cards already gone, I handed out the last ‘Inspiration’ magazines and witnessed Katzi’s highlight of the week. On Wednesday, a Russian buyer had visited us with his translator and he’d taken such an interest in our products that he was back again now, telling us that he’d seen the entire exhibition now and had found nothing comparable. That definitely made our day.

After Moosi had disappeared for an hour yet again, we finally found out that he’d already managed to put his name in the highscore list of the “Ghostbusters” pinball machine twice! At about 5pm, the throng of visitors began to thin and we were glad to start packing up our things as well. One last time, we waited at the red lights for a cigarette-length and went back to our apartment. To celebrate our great week, we had some burgers in a real American diner after which we went to bed, set our alarms and, for the last time, let the snoring commence.

Saturday – the conquering heros return

6:30 am, time to get up. When everything was packed again, we left at 8am, eager to get home. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic, so we managed to lower our record time from the drive on Monday further and with our music from six decades, arrived in Graz by the afternoon. The CeBIT 2017 was history, the family was back home.

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My résumé

For me, as a freshman sales person, exhibiting at such a large trade show was an incredible experience. Since it was the first exhibition for all of us, we managed to compile a long list of ‘lessons learned’, which will be useful for when we go back to exhibit for the Hannover Messe 2017 (the largest industrial exhibition worldwide) in April. All in all, there were many interesting things to see. Especially the start-up hall, since it offered such a huge variety and, of course, our very own AR presentation 😉

As a private visitor, though, I wasn’t hugely interested, because the huge innovations and new developments for the private sector were nowhere to be found. I had heard about it having been this way for a while, but had hoped it would be different.

Speaking for our company, we’ll have to see how the contacts we made will develop, but since there has already been a lot of feedback, I’m quite positive there.