Months ago, I read an article that the White House would be hosting its first ever Demo Day. For those unfamiliar with Demo Days, they are typical of accelerators and organizations that give entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch an audience on their product. For us, startup entrepreneurs, Demo Days are familiar territory. But for the White House? Just the thought of bringing our service to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue seemed like a far away dream. We are DC residents, with a Virginia-based company, so we have visited the White House before, but always wearing the hat of "tourist," never entrepreneur.
Without hesitation, we applied for Zoobean to participate. Apparently, we were one of 2,000 companies under consideration. So last week when the White House called to say we were in, well, it was quite a total thrill! And as it turns out, we were the only company representing the DC area. Others traveled from as far as California, Michigan, and other places around the country.
We set up our spot early in the day. Note our prime real estate; right when guests (like venture capitalists, Administration officials and the like) entered, we were front and center. I later found out that our room is actually referred to as "Booksellers," -- maybe they just knew we belonged where the books are (used to be?).
It was particularly striking to see so many tech companies amidst the vintage photos and older paintings. We were right around the corner from the big marble bust of Abe Lincoln, which was especially neat. By the way, in case you're wondering, we set up several books at our booth. Some titles included, A Big Guy Took My Ball!, Sunday Shopping, Mercy Watson, All the World, Leo: A Ghost Story, I Know A Lot!, Ninja Red Riding Hood, and many more.
When the doors open, the hubbub ensued. Hundreds of fellow entrepreneurs, investors, and Administration officials filled the halls of the White House. We pitched several of them, and it was especially fun to meet people who live in an area that has our Beanstack service. I met one mom who works for the Department of Commerce, and signed up on the spot for summer reading at Montgomery County Public Libraries. One reporter from Yahoo! news texted his wife about Arlington Public Library's Beanstack site. The whirlwind continued when we had the chance to be on live White House television, speaking about our service and words of wisdom to entrepreneurs. Yeah, that's us speaking with the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Megan Smith, and Shark Tank's Daymond John. Daymond wasn't on the show when we pitched on Shark Tank, so it was cool to meet him and tell him about Beanstack. He says he trusts Mark Cuban's investments. Agreed. :)
We went back to our booth for a few minutes, and then someone came and said, "We need you in the green room." Okaaaaaaay. Now, truth be told, we would have loved to have pitched our business directly to President Obama, but it turns out that we were slated to be on the stage while he addressed the day's crowd. Not too bad! We waited in the green room. Seriously, it's green:
We waited, and waited...and waited. Finally, our moment arrived! Felix and I walked out on stage, looking into the crowd in the East Room. We saw one of our earliest investors, Mitch Kapor, press, Valerie Jarrett, and many other people looking back at us. The President's teleprompter was in view, too. I loved watching him deliver the speech, but make so many off the cuff remarks. He spoke about the government's new initiatives and investment in entrepreneurs, along with some inspiring stories from our fellow business owners. Our vantage point was ah-mazing:
The official White House video doesn't show it, but after the President gave his remarks, two important things happened. First, both Felix and I had the opportunity to shake the President's hand and say hello. Second, the entire crowd serenaded the President with Happy Birthday to You, because it was his birthday!
After the President's remarks we returned to our booth, making more connections and reliving those moments during his speech. We are so grateful to have participated in the inaugural White House Demo Day. You truly never know what amazing experiences might be around the corner!