There are a dozen other, perhaps more important and insightful, posts I’d rather be writing today. But, alas, my friends at TechCrunch put a wall in my path today and I just can’t ignore it, despite counsel from perhaps wiser advisers to do just that.
You see, TechCrunch and Jason Calacanis announced their plans for what is now being called TechCrunch50. Reading the TC50 site was a deja vu experience. The concept, the “rules,” the agenda . . . all out of the DEMO playbook.
You might remember that TechCrunch announced its first startup launch event, what was then called TC20, while sitting in the second row at DEMO 07. At the time I believed, as I still do now, that entrepreneurs need a variety of venues and opportunities to address the market. If TC20, which becameTC40 presumably when the blog’s desire to attract more entrepreneurs outstripped its promise of super-exclusivity, can provide a platform and give wings to entrepreneurs, then good on ’em. That can only benefit the tech ecosystem.
But, as I told VentureBeat’s Chris Morrison this afternoon, I’m baffled by TechCrunch’s decision to put its event literally on top of DEMOfall 08. DEMOfall is Sept 7 – 9, TC50 (the number has grown from the original TC20 concept) is Sept 8 – 10.
I’m not naive. I’m not at all surprised by the competition. A year or so ago, TechCrunch set its sites on DEMO and has been lobbing missiles our way ever since. Why? Honestly, I don’t know. This is a great big market and there is ample opportunity to support the startups in it.
I also understand that it’s much easier to imitate a successful venture than to create a new value proposition. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then consider me well flattered today.
What baffles me, though, is why an organization that purports to encourage startups would create an environment that effectively asks them to scream in a hurricane.
The companies who accept our invitation to participate at DEMO receive a ton of media coverage. DEMO 08 did well over 200 million media impressions . . . and that’s without counting the audience who read about DEMO companies in blogs and other online media and those who continue to flock to DEMO.com to view the videos of their presentations.
The companies that participated at TC40 got lots of attention, too, and certainly I’ll not take anything away from the audience reach of TechCrunch.
By putting TC50 up against DEMO, TechCrunch has created a challenging dilemma for the best startups.
Sure, they’ll have to choose which venue will more appropriately serve their needs — and the should. Here, DEMO stands on its 18-year record. The entire DEMO organization, from me and Carla who screen companies to Jackie DiPerna who helps them prepare for their DEMO experience, to our A/V team that coaches and supports their on-stage demo, to Becky Sniffen and Erica Lee who provide media support, to the DEMO.com crew who continues to cover DEMO alumni companies for years after they’ve presented at DEMO. . . DEMO is all about putting entrepreneurs first to accelerate their go-to-market efforts.
Yes, demonstrators pay a fee, an $18,500 fee, once they have been accepted and invited to present at the conference. And that’s no small hurdle for the very smallest of startups. Consistently, we’ve been told by demonstrating companies that it’s the best marketing money they’ve ever spent, with value far surpassing the dollars paid. But that fee is also a signal to the investors and business development executives and customers who come to DEMO. It says, in effect, these companies are ready to be taken seriously. They understand the value of a market presence and they’ll spend — wisely — to support their product launch and reach their potential customers, the vast majority of whom live no where near Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
But even the price and platform is not the real dilemma for startups. It’s the noise. One of the objectives of DEMO is to help companies stand apart from market noise. Indeed, DEMO was started in an age where young companies got drowned out by the Big Boys at events like Comdex and PC Expo. By bringing selectivity, an even playing field, and a relaxed venue to the table, DEMO allowed companies of all sizes equal air time with media, investors, and customers. And because DEMO focuses on selectivity, companies that are chosen to be a part of the event are even more separated from the prattle that is every media noise.
Now, 120+ companies will be vying for attention in what will be a very busy media week, what with TC50 on the tail of DEMOfall. That has at least one smart PR guy, Porter Novelli/Austin’s Josh Dilworth, to suggest that stealth startups just stay home. I’m not sure that’s good for anyone, frankly, but I can understand the counsel. Why expend any resources, regardless of the entry fee, if you can’t get heard above the noise? And with many of the people attending DEMO and/or TC50 blogging and reporting on the events, that’s a whole lot of noise. (And, frankly, it would be a shame if the media story is about either of the two conferences and not the companies presenting at both.)
At the end of the day, it is what it is. We’re not spoiling for a fight with TechCrunch. Frankly, that just distracts us from our real work: helping extraordinary products and young companies come to market in a relationship that starts at the screening process and lasts for years.
For us, it’s about the entrepreneur. He or she comes first. So, DEMO will do what it has always done: deliver tremendous value to the companies that choose to partner with its events.