Postcard from the Edge of a Launch

So, let´s say you are a large multi-national software company about to launch your most strategic new product in years. You arrange a huge press event in New York for September, pick a good demo guy (that would be me), and plan dress rehearsal… something to test everything – people, flow, infrastructure, nerves – where are you going to go? Well, as per my previous postcards, India seemed like a good location to tackle all these.

After swearing it would take years for me to set foot for a third time in India, the gods were against me and I grudgingly applied for the visa and dragged myself to the plane. The reasons why India is not my #1 holiday destination became apparent the moment the plane doors were opened – It was just past midnight and it was 33°c outside – the heat pervaded the plane.

The hotel looked OK though, but again skin deep. As I blearily plugged in my PC, the socket crackled alarmingly and that electrical spark indicative of bad wiring flashed alarmingly. The towels were not exactly clean, and then there was that mysterious, somewhat disturbing, clear plastic jug that is ubiquitous in every Indian toilet. And then the lights went out.

To ensure a constant power supply, the following morning 6 huge diesel generator trucks had magically appeared and our backstage area had spawned an interesting and dangerous looking rickety rack of 32 car batteries to “even out the supply” – the rack had its own supervisor. The number of staff in the hotel was staggering – walking in to a tiny, supposedly quite restroom, there was always at least one man lurking around ready to greet you and hand you a paper towel. Two people were dedicated door openers, it took 7 people to plug in a cable on stage. On one occasion I was greeted 7 times walking from my room to the lobby.

But the India rehearsal went well and we started to prepare for the main event at the Nokia Theater on Times Square in New York. The trip started well, a Singapore Airlines flight, with a nice limo picking me up from the airport, to take me to the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. The hotel Web page shows amazing views out towards the Statue of Liberty – with in-room telescopes. I was, however, assigned a “town side” view, for which I did not need a telescope to take in the breath taking view of the dumpsters.

From my arrival, things shifted up a gear as the main event drew ever closer. The transformation of the theater in to an SAP event location was an incredible achievement. Tables were added, screens erected, food prepared, branding was tastefully arranged – meanwhile the demo team were surprisingly calm testing the systems and preparing the demo machines, while the SAP board members practiced on stage.

As the appointed time approached, I become ever more nervous. It wasn’t the complexity of the demo, the number of people present (only about 300, with a live simultaneously translated Web cast) – it was the sheer the responsibility. Thousands of people had spent many man-years programming and preparing for this launch and I wanted to do them and the product justice.

Thanks to the preparation, a rock solid product and excellent support, the 4 demos really shone with only a couple of tiny glitches. Both exhilaration and relief were palpable as I left the stage to tumultuous applause and all that remained was to hold a couple of interviews, have an afternoon nap and participate in the celebration (OK, and then go shopping).

Coming back to Germany, I was in time to join the celebratory party there too. 2,000 developers took over a multi-story car park to celebrate. Speeches were held and a “highlight” video was shown, where I featured quite prominently. As I got up on stage, I was touched by the cheers that went through the crowd – and I realized my fears in New York had been totally justified – had the demo had gone badly, I think I would have been lynched.

I felt proud and honored to have been part of this, it was one of the most nerve racking experiences I have had, but also one of the most rewarding.

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