Scripting News for 4/3/2008

You only get to lose your virginity once 

First, sorry for the light posting, I’ve had a bad cold for the last 3 days, and have mostly been sleeping and getting caught up on Battlestar Galactica in preparation for the season premiere on Friday. Some call it the SuperBowl of SciFi. I can’t wait.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the blog discussion about the faceoff between Demo and TechCrunch50, trying to figure out what it means.

First, I think what Arrington said about Demo needing to die is way over the top. Can you imagine Pepsi marketing against Coke saying “Coke needs to die.” Or even Apple saying to IBM that they need to die. There’s a reason people don’t go this far in marketing — it puts others in the uncomfortable position of appearing to agree with you if they buy your product. You don’t want anything to stand in the way of that.

Scheduling it on exactly the same days as Demo is too predatory for my taste. Why not win on the merits? Why not let Demo have a chance to morph, to learn from the competition, maybe as a result we’ll have two great conferences.

I haven’t been to a Demo in many years, but I was one of the founding Demoers of the conference, and was once offered the job of running it (I declined because I was running a software company and felt that would conflict with the demoers).

Originally, only a handful of products were demo’d on stage, most of the demos took place in a ballroom. The presenters were seated, and there were two or three chairs for people receiving demos. All the desks were the same, the signage was the same.

It was designed to be a civilized version of Comdex. Instead of walking between the few far-apart booths that had interesting demos, and having zero percent chance of getting a demo from someone who could answer your questions, at Demo you would be guaranteed that the person giving the demo was either the developer, product manager, or CEO of the company. Someone in a position to answer a question.

Stewart Alsop chose the products, I don’t remember if they paid or not (I have an email into Stewart asking) but it wasn’t a lot of money. It was nothing like $18,500.

I’ve started two companies. At either of them, we might have spent $18,500 to get our product in front of the right people. We were spending several times that every month on advertising. Today there aren’t as many places to run ads, and startups raise more money. If I were running Demo and there was a product I really wanted to have and they couldn’t afford the fee, I’d comp them. I hope IDG does that. (I paid expenses for some people to come to BloggerCon because I wanted them there, and they couldn’t afford to come without the stipend.)

However, I can’t imagine that I, as an entrepreneur, would choose to roll out my product at either conference. They’re both shitty deals for entrepreneurs. At TechCrunch50 there are 50 products. At Demo there are 70. Since they’re happening the same week, at best I’m one of 120. I would rather, as Jeremey Toeman advises, roll my product out on a quiet week in the middle of summer when my product is the only new thing shipping. Much better chance of finding new users and maybe getting a review or two. Or pick a venue where not many new products are shipped, like SXSW or Foo Camp (as Twitter and Chumby did, respectively, with good results).

You only get to lose your virginity once, so choose your venue wisely.

Honestly, what both conferences say about the technology industry is that it’s way over-supplied with new product. There’s no way there’s demand for even a fraction of those products. It’s probably not true, esp if the rollouts were spaced out over a few months, but blowing them out all at once only serves the conference promoters. It’s hard to see what’s in it for the entrepreneurs or their investors.

I got a response from Stewart Alsop:

“Calacanis and Arrington are both troublemakers, which as you know could be said about me too. So I can’t too exercised about the debate, other than wish they would get their facts straight. Neither one asked me the question you did below, so thank you for asking!

“Demo has always charged a fee to Demonstrate. It has never charged a separate fee to be on stage. One thing that Chris Shipley has done that is different than the original Demo is that every company is introducing a new product that has not been previously demonstrated. (They define “never” broadly, but you get the idea.) When we started Demo, the idea was that all interesting new products that were current would be demonstrated but only truly new products would be shown on stage in live demos (along with bake-offs and other fun stuff, but no panel sessions).

“So all companies that had a station in the demonstration hall paid a fee to demonstrate, which was really to cover the cost of providing the stations and (most important) the infrastructure for having the demos work, although the internet wasn’t an issue then; it was client server time and we needed to put in a LAN.

“We (Alsop Louie Partners) had portfolio companies at both events (Cake Financial at TechCrunch and both Ribbit’s Amphibian and Redux at Demo 08), so I got to see how both operated. The difference was that TechCrunch was ‘inexpensive,’ which meant that the infrastructure didn’t work well (demonstrators had to be prepared to demo without the internet and the schedule was managed loosely). Demo was on schedule and the infrastructure worked because they had redundant systems.

“On relevance: People still like to get together and do demos to talk about products and design and coding. But it’s much less about client apps and PCs now and much more about web apps and systems. Infrastructure and systems don’t demo well (remember the bake-off between dBase and Access?). So it’s really all about doing demos of Web apps now. It’s an open question if that’s big enough to draw people to a resort or if it’s better in a major city like SF…”

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