March 9, 2014
The Demo

The best part of any interaction with an entrepreneur (whether it be a pitch, an informal meeting, or a massive presentation) is without a doubt the demo.  The demo invokes nostalgia for the days of elementary school show-and-tell… but on steroids. When makers show off their babies, they cast an incredibly addictive energy.  It’s engaging, exciting, mesmerizing… 

Demos come in various tones, approaches, and impacts. Here’s a list of a few particularly influential ones.

    • The Mother of All Demos (1968) - Doug Engelbart worked with Stewart Brand to create most influential and category-defining tech demo of all time.  It’s the first time technologies like the Mouse, Hypertext, office networking, and telepresence are first demoed.  It’s 90 minutes, so it’s a lot to sit through, but its wild. It’s also worth noting that nearly the whole thing is faked or canned in one way or another… it’s showing people much more a vision of what COULD BE possible instead of what was actually possible at that time.  


    • The Xerox Star demo (1982) (… and part ii) - This is the first time people see concepts like a window-based graphical user interface environment using icons and bitmaps, and documents organized visually in the Desktop metaphor.  It’s seminal, and ended up highly influencing both Apple and Microsoft in their initial GUI operating systems. Oddly cool to think that both the windowed-GUI and I were born in the same year.


    • Apple’s Knowledge Navigator (1987) - This is a different flavor of demo, it’s a fictionalized glimpse of the imagined future. All the tech giants of this era (IBM, Microsoft, Apple, etc) have released a few videos like these at one time of another. They are candy for members of Fortune 500 tech marketing departments. Like The Mother of All Demos, it’s faked from a tech perspective, which allows it to be more ambitious in its futurism scope. Fun fact, this is 1987’s view of what 2011 was going to look like. I don’t think they got it all that wrong.

Video was not available for embedding in this post, but you can click on the title to see it on YouTube.

    • Steve Jobs demoing the iPhone for the first time (2007) - It’s crazy to this this demo happened 7 years ago.  It really feels more like just a couple years ago. When I saw how responsive and intuitive a touchscreen device could be, I was floored. I was part of a generation that grew up on touchscreen technologies that left users *begging* for a keyboard. This demo was astonishing, and ended up having a dramatic impact on the future, perhaps even more impactful than the Xerox Star demo.


  • Project Glass demo (2012) - When Google launched Google Glass, they did so by having a team of people wearing Glass jump out of a plane and land on the Moscone Center (the conference center for the launch event) all while wearing glass and live broadcasting their experience.  As far as influential demos go, this one ranks low, but on the grandiose scale, it’s off the charts.



Feel free to add other demos you love in the comments.

Andrew Parker is a General Partner at Spark Capital.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog called The Gong Show.  You can also follow Andrew on Twitter (@andrewparker) by clicking here.