The expo war over startups

First, a disclaimer. I’m a judge on TechCrunch 50, but not getting paid by TC50.

Last week while I visited the IFA expo in Berlin, Germany (a huge consumer electronics show) I was traveling with a bunch of journalists. Stephen Wildstrom from BusinessWeek. Harry McCracken (formerly of PC World). Eric Lundquist from eWeek. Larry Magid from CBS News. Nicholas Deleon from CrunchGear.

The talk last week in the evening? Other than politics? Well, it was the upcoming Demo vs. Techcrunch event choices they are having to make. The consensus around the table was that they would probably be going to Demo (not everyone was, but a majority was).

Why is that? Well, there’s a lot of loyalty among this group to the Demo conference. They’ve been going for years. They like Chris Shipley. They like the event. Plus, the old school likes to hang out together, the same way us new school types like to hang out at SF parties and tech events around the world. Look at attendee lists of people on my Upcoming.org’s tech event calendar and you won’t see many of these journalists attending many of the newer parties or going to SXSW.

Another factor? Several mentioned they didn’t like Mike Arrington and Jason Calacanis’ decision to put TC50 on the same dates as Demo. They saw this as an attack on something and someone they like (Demo and Shipley).

But, I did notice that change is in the air. A couple said they are still deciding which one to attend. Why? Because CTIA (a sizeable mobile show) is also in San Francisco that same week. And Office 2.0 is the week before. So, there’s a huge pull to San Francisco that is hurting Demo as well, even if you forget the fight with TC50.

Look at the numbers of people who say they are going to these two events on Upcoming.org (which is the best place to guage where the early adopters/influentials/passionates in the tech community are going). Demo? 71 people have saved the event. Only 6 of my friends say they are going. TC50? 274 people have saved the event. 34 of my friends say they are going. The new school has spoken and they are going to TC50.

That, alone, will cause the kind of PR that new companies will want.

But it goes back to the stick that Mike Arrington has in his hands that Chris Shipley does not have: the Techcrunch blog.

See, if you are in tech PR you do not want to spurn Mike Arrington. Why? Because a typical PR person will help several companies a year to launch. Imagine that you decide to take your companies to Demo. Will they get coverage in TechCrunch? The chances are less and the PR people know it (Arrington has thrown out stories from companies that let other blogs or journalists go out with news first, so they know there’s consequences for not playing Mike’s game).

This fight and the stick in Arrington’s hand is making everyone in the industry pick sides, which gets back to the journalists above. They are feeling uneasy. Uneasy enough to talk about this over beers.

Don’t expect Shipley to give up without a fight, though. She’s already partnered with popular blog ReadWriteWeb to produce several sessions and Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg are hosting an event there too (they host the D Conference).

Finally, this is hardly the only fight over startups going on in the industry. There are a ton of events who need startups to choose them to build their businesses. Here’s a rundown:

Showstoppers. Their big show is at CES, the annual consumer electronics show. They bring hundreds of companies to the world’s top press and bloggers.
Pepcom. They do the Digital Experience series of events at the Consumer Electronics’ show as well as the MobileFocus at the upcoming CTIA show.
Office 2.0. This is where a raft of new services are launched for the new worker.
Under the Radar. A great small show designed for early stage companies to get access to VCs and influentials.

I spent a lot of time last week with the three brothers who put on the Showstoppers series of expos, which has been very successful at getting both old-school big-name tech journalists like Mossberg to show up as well as the new school Engadget and Gizmodo teams.

They gave me some real insights for startups and how to build hype that’ll be up on a video on FastCompanyTV soon, but co-founder Steve Leon said that startups are really being forced to think strategically about which events are best for them to attend. His secret weapon? Be nice and make sure that both press and new companies have the best experience at his shows. He told me that while it’s a competitive business he often guides companies to other shows where they’ll have a better outcome than his own show.

Then there’s the other school of thought, which is that you don’t need to launch at one of these shows at all. Laurent Haug tells me about when we launched CoComment with this simple blog post from a Swiss Chalet. He wasn’t planning on that (he didn’t have his PR team’s approval), but got tens of thousands of signups in the first 24-hours. Or, how we launched Qik from an Apple store without even having a company employee present. Proves you can always launch a new company, even by accident.

Anyway, I’ll be at the Office 2.0 Conference this week and TechCrunch 50 and CTIA next week. See you there and keep the news coming!

49 thoughts on “The expo war over startups

  1. Seth Godin has his own view on launch PR and events:
    The myth of launch PR

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/09/the-myth-of-lau.html

    “Here are some brands that had no launch at all: Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Harry Potter, Google, William Morris, The DaVinci Code, Wikipedia, Snapple, Geico, Linux, Firefox and yes, Microsoft. (All got plenty of PR, but after the launch, sometimes a lot later).”

    Maybe we all should ignore TechCrunch50 (TC52) and DEMO completely.

  2. Seth Godin has his own view on launch PR and events:
    The myth of launch PR

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/09/the-myth-of-lau.html

    “Here are some brands that had no launch at all: Starbucks, Apple, Nike, Harry Potter, Google, William Morris, The DaVinci Code, Wikipedia, Snapple, Geico, Linux, Firefox and yes, Microsoft. (All got plenty of PR, but after the launch, sometimes a lot later).”

    Maybe we all should ignore TechCrunch50 (TC52) and DEMO completely.

  3. Big stick….please…

    Although I have no fear of arrogant, craven Mikey “censor” Arrington, I lost all respect for him when he deleted my comments about having chosen Ashton Kutcher as the celebabe for TechCrunch50.

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/28/ashton-kutcher-is-pretty-excited-to-launch-blah-girls-at-techcrunch50/#comments

    Then when I put “Arrington” + “Censorship” in Google I discovered he has censored dozens of people and companies over the years.

    http://poetslife.blogspot.com/search/label/Michael%20Arrington%20TechCruch%20Censor

    With all that money and his legal degree, what’s Mikey afraid of that he censors company’s and blogger comments on TechCruch? I thought the whole idea was a free and open exchange of ideas and products?

    His narrow mindedness, dictatorial personality, and humorless manner may mean that he has kept numerous good products off the market. Maybe there should be a blog dedicated to how many creative business people he has negatively impacted and how many products he has quietly deep sixed over the years? hmmmm….

    At least another Silicon titan, Jason Calacanis, had the balls to show the process for how he picked the new speaker for Maholo Daily. Arrogant Mikey seems to do so much in secrecy, as in who is chosen to present new products at TechCruch50.

    Here’s an idea, Robert. If you go to TechCrunch50, why not follow Mikey “Howard Hughes” Arrington around with your camera to see what really goes on in his world. THAT would be great video!

  4. Big stick….please…

    Although I have no fear of arrogant, craven Mikey “censor” Arrington, I lost all respect for him when he deleted my comments about having chosen Ashton Kutcher as the celebabe for TechCrunch50.

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/28/ashton-kutcher-is-pretty-excited-to-launch-blah-girls-at-techcrunch50/#comments

    Then when I put “Arrington” + “Censorship” in Google I discovered he has censored dozens of people and companies over the years.

    http://poetslife.blogspot.com/search/label/Michael%20Arrington%20TechCruch%20Censor

    With all that money and his legal degree, what’s Mikey afraid of that he censors company’s and blogger comments on TechCruch? I thought the whole idea was a free and open exchange of ideas and products?

    His narrow mindedness, dictatorial personality, and humorless manner may mean that he has kept numerous good products off the market. Maybe there should be a blog dedicated to how many creative business people he has negatively impacted and how many products he has quietly deep sixed over the years? hmmmm….

    At least another Silicon titan, Jason Calacanis, had the balls to show the process for how he picked the new speaker for Maholo Daily. Arrogant Mikey seems to do so much in secrecy, as in who is chosen to present new products at TechCruch50.

    Here’s an idea, Robert. If you go to TechCrunch50, why not follow Mikey “Howard Hughes” Arrington around with your camera to see what really goes on in his world. THAT would be great video!

  5. Thank you Robert, and Mr Bogus, Robert for bringing resources to my doorstep, and H. Bogus for giving me a little hope.
    Everywhere I look I see sharks swimming in dark waters, and I don’t know who to trust. The TC application process was very pleasant, the interviewer was nice and I was comfortable with the whole thing, even though OY didn’t get picked, I appreciated the transparency, and I will continue to be a TC fan. At Gnomedex DEMO seemed to be the most popular place to launch. I think there is room for both events as long as integrity is maintained, and we get protection from the sharks if only for a little while.

  6. Thank you Robert, and Mr Bogus, Robert for bringing resources to my doorstep, and H. Bogus for giving me a little hope.
    Everywhere I look I see sharks swimming in dark waters, and I don’t know who to trust. The TC application process was very pleasant, the interviewer was nice and I was comfortable with the whole thing, even though OY didn’t get picked, I appreciated the transparency, and I will continue to be a TC fan. At Gnomedex DEMO seemed to be the most popular place to launch. I think there is room for both events as long as integrity is maintained, and we get protection from the sharks if only for a little while.

  7. Maybe this is similar:
    Starz In Their Eyes

    They’ll be making sure you stay amused
    They’ll fill you up with drugs and booze
    Maybe you’ll make the evening news

    And when you’re tripping
    over your dreams
    They’ll keep you down by any means
    and by the end of the night
    you’ll be stifling your screams

    Now why do you wanna go
    and put starz in their eyes?

  8. Maybe this is similar:
    Starz In Their Eyes

    They’ll be making sure you stay amused
    They’ll fill you up with drugs and booze
    Maybe you’ll make the evening news

    And when you’re tripping
    over your dreams
    They’ll keep you down by any means
    and by the end of the night
    you’ll be stifling your screams

    Now why do you wanna go
    and put starz in their eyes?

  9. For every startup the main quest is to reach users or customers.
    Thus the question is what is the best way to get a potential user or customer attention? Launching at TC50 or DEMO? or Conventional PR?

    After the first attention the startups need to sustain the interest. One needs to generate continuously interest.
    Thus the launch and press coverage at a startup event is just a first boost. (like getting Digged or StumbledUpon)

    During 2005 in the UK there was a Channel4 TV show on 3 start up companies: a ventilated bed, a fitness/diet website and a baby shampoo. They reached their potential customers directly by TV, which is still the best media. Thus they had to coverage by media and direct access to their customers.
    Where do these 3 companies stand today? Freshbed seems to do OK. As for the other 2?

    The game in Business isn’t played at launch, but over time.
    (and the world is larger than “The Valley”)

  10. For every startup the main quest is to reach users or customers.
    Thus the question is what is the best way to get a potential user or customer attention? Launching at TC50 or DEMO? or Conventional PR?

    After the first attention the startups need to sustain the interest. One needs to generate continuously interest.
    Thus the launch and press coverage at a startup event is just a first boost. (like getting Digged or StumbledUpon)

    During 2005 in the UK there was a Channel4 TV show on 3 start up companies: a ventilated bed, a fitness/diet website and a baby shampoo. They reached their potential customers directly by TV, which is still the best media. Thus they had to coverage by media and direct access to their customers.
    Where do these 3 companies stand today? Freshbed seems to do OK. As for the other 2?

    The game in Business isn’t played at launch, but over time.
    (and the world is larger than “The Valley”)

  11. Who cares? I maintain that both are a bad deal for both presenters and attendees.

    Each of these conferences costs over $2000 to attend. Which one startups choose to present at hardly matters in the grand scheme of the overall success/failure of the company.

    For attendees, both conferences are populated entirely with VCs and Corp Dev types. The real list for TechCrunch is here – http://www.eventbrite.com/event/103944902 – not on Upcoming.

    I went to TC40 last year as a VC, and the room was absolutely overflowing with my competitors as an investor. Why on earth would I want to go to that? Do you think the company is going to remember you as the 15th person in line to hand them a business card? Give me a tradeshow where I can walk the floor and see how the company interacts with customers, not how they do in a canned 5-minute demo with no ability for me to ask questions.

    (Also, the judges were universally awful in my recollection, slobbering over “cool” concepts that don’t have a prayer of making a dime.)

    A friend of mine’s company was selected to present at TC40 last year. Their launch was absolutely buried–even though people liked the product and they’ve since raised money from well-known investors and grown significantly as a business–because of the 39 other companies clamoring for press attention that day. DEMO has the same dynamic, with slightly twisted economics.

    Show me one business that blew the doors off at one of these conferences and I’ll show you 100 more that didn’t and still got funded and went on to great success. The fact is, going out and getting real customers is going to win every time.

    These conferences serve no one well except the organizers.

  12. Who cares? I maintain that both are a bad deal for both presenters and attendees.

    Each of these conferences costs over $2000 to attend. Which one startups choose to present at hardly matters in the grand scheme of the overall success/failure of the company.

    For attendees, both conferences are populated entirely with VCs and Corp Dev types. The real list for TechCrunch is here – http://www.eventbrite.com/event/103944902 – not on Upcoming.

    I went to TC40 last year as a VC, and the room was absolutely overflowing with my competitors as an investor. Why on earth would I want to go to that? Do you think the company is going to remember you as the 15th person in line to hand them a business card? Give me a tradeshow where I can walk the floor and see how the company interacts with customers, not how they do in a canned 5-minute demo with no ability for me to ask questions.

    (Also, the judges were universally awful in my recollection, slobbering over “cool” concepts that don’t have a prayer of making a dime.)

    A friend of mine’s company was selected to present at TC40 last year. Their launch was absolutely buried–even though people liked the product and they’ve since raised money from well-known investors and grown significantly as a business–because of the 39 other companies clamoring for press attention that day. DEMO has the same dynamic, with slightly twisted economics.

    Show me one business that blew the doors off at one of these conferences and I’ll show you 100 more that didn’t and still got funded and went on to great success. The fact is, going out and getting real customers is going to win every time.

    These conferences serve no one well except the organizers.

  13. > us new school types

    Robert, please! You’re twice as old as Zuckerberg. If you don’t want to be called old school, you can at best be called “middle school” =8-(

    The TechCrunch monopoly needs to be broken, but it won’t be RWW or D, who will do it. SAI and VentureBeat have a better chance, but I things CNet with Dan Farber will lead tech blogging back to serious and usable journalism.

  14. > us new school types

    Robert, please! You’re twice as old as Zuckerberg. If you don’t want to be called old school, you can at best be called “middle school” =8-(

    The TechCrunch monopoly needs to be broken, but it won’t be RWW or D, who will do it. SAI and VentureBeat have a better chance, but I things CNet with Dan Farber will lead tech blogging back to serious and usable journalism.

  15. 1 – using Upcoming as a barometer of anything is just a bad idea. It’s simply not as well-used by anyone as it *could* be, which often leaves it bereft of useful data points. For example, if you were hoping for coverage from USA Today, Time, Newsweek, and Forbes magazines, and you had to pick an event to attend, can you find reporters from those outlets registered with Upcoming? No.

    2 – as we talked about at Gnomedex, while a “good” PR person might pick one show over the other, a “great” marketing person will tell their company/clients to avoid both for fear of dilution. Regardless of whether or not TC “beats” Demo, it’s a lose-lose to the industry, the startups, and the media.

  16. 1 – using Upcoming as a barometer of anything is just a bad idea. It’s simply not as well-used by anyone as it *could* be, which often leaves it bereft of useful data points. For example, if you were hoping for coverage from USA Today, Time, Newsweek, and Forbes magazines, and you had to pick an event to attend, can you find reporters from those outlets registered with Upcoming? No.

    2 – as we talked about at Gnomedex, while a “good” PR person might pick one show over the other, a “great” marketing person will tell their company/clients to avoid both for fear of dilution. Regardless of whether or not TC “beats” Demo, it’s a lose-lose to the industry, the startups, and the media.

  17. I don’t know either side in this but there just seems something distasteful about the way Techcrunch went about this.

    but then I often wonder whether Techcrunch is written to be about startups or just stroke Michael Arrington…

  18. I don’t know either side in this but there just seems something distasteful about the way Techcrunch went about this.

    but then I often wonder whether Techcrunch is written to be about startups or just stroke Michael Arrington…

  19. Eric: I’d expect most people would think Demo would last longer. It has a longer history, a bigger brand name, and all that. But there is change in the wind.

    Regarding fear. I agree with you. I wish they hadn’t gone head-to-head, but I think TC did this for strategic reasons and that those reasons will need two more years to play out before we can really call the winner.

  20. Eric: I’d expect most people would think Demo would last longer. It has a longer history, a bigger brand name, and all that. But there is change in the wind.

    Regarding fear. I agree with you. I wish they hadn’t gone head-to-head, but I think TC did this for strategic reasons and that those reasons will need two more years to play out before we can really call the winner.

  21. Steve: a friend of Qik showed me Qik before they were really ready to launch. That was on a Saturday night. By Sunday they had tons of signups and they were launched without even trying to launch.

  22. Steve: a friend of Qik showed me Qik before they were really ready to launch. That was on a Saturday night. By Sunday they had tons of signups and they were launched without even trying to launch.

  23. Robert-

    (full disclosure: Chris Shipley is an advisor to Defrag)

    The bit in your post about how PR folks are “fearing” Arrington speaks to a phenomenon that’s something beyond distasteful. It takes the whole “journalism v. bloggers” meme and flips it on its head — by showing the worst actions that the blogosphere can offer (if what you imply is actually happening).

    As for the DEMO v. TC50 stuff: I’ve asked tons of folks – and have found that outside of the echo chamber that is the Valley, most folks are picking DEMO. In fact, I did a twitpoll about which one would be around in 4 years, and 100% of respondents picked DEMO.

    I’m not sure what that all means, but I don’t buy into the “DEMO is going down” thinking that’s going around. Chris has been doing this for too long, and is too good.

    At the end of the day, I think a lot of people have been turned off by the “demo must die” stuff that Mike said, along w/ a lot of jason’s “payola” comments. I think they would’ve been better off to say nothing, and just go about building their conference (which obviously has value).

    People would really rather see the industry collaborating around helping startups versus a whole conference started because it wants to “destroy” something else.

    What’s the upshot of it all? I’m actually getting companies approaching me that have decided they’d rather launch at Defrag versus getting “lost in the noise” that will be the endless articles of “demo v. tc50″ that week (which will result in no one getting the launch they want).

    http://www.defragcon.com

  24. Robert-

    (full disclosure: Chris Shipley is an advisor to Defrag)

    The bit in your post about how PR folks are “fearing” Arrington speaks to a phenomenon that’s something beyond distasteful. It takes the whole “journalism v. bloggers” meme and flips it on its head — by showing the worst actions that the blogosphere can offer (if what you imply is actually happening).

    As for the DEMO v. TC50 stuff: I’ve asked tons of folks – and have found that outside of the echo chamber that is the Valley, most folks are picking DEMO. In fact, I did a twitpoll about which one would be around in 4 years, and 100% of respondents picked DEMO.

    I’m not sure what that all means, but I don’t buy into the “DEMO is going down” thinking that’s going around. Chris has been doing this for too long, and is too good.

    At the end of the day, I think a lot of people have been turned off by the “demo must die” stuff that Mike said, along w/ a lot of jason’s “payola” comments. I think they would’ve been better off to say nothing, and just go about building their conference (which obviously has value).

    People would really rather see the industry collaborating around helping startups versus a whole conference started because it wants to “destroy” something else.

    What’s the upshot of it all? I’m actually getting companies approaching me that have decided they’d rather launch at Defrag versus getting “lost in the noise” that will be the endless articles of “demo v. tc50″ that week (which will result in no one getting the launch they want).

    http://www.defragcon.com

  25. Allen: name another place that has more tech professionals looking for events. I can name one: Facebook. But I can’t link to the event calendars in Facebook, so Upcoming wins and wins big time.

  26. Allen: name another place that has more tech professionals looking for events. I can name one: Facebook. But I can’t link to the event calendars in Facebook, so Upcoming wins and wins big time.

  27. I agree with you, even though it would seem there is, moreso than ever, an incredible opportunity for anyone to break their site over normal, organic traffic.

    Kudos to the businesses that throw their lot into TC50 this year though.

  28. I agree with you, even though it would seem there is, moreso than ever, an incredible opportunity for anyone to break their site over normal, organic traffic.

    Kudos to the businesses that throw their lot into TC50 this year though.

  29. Then there’s another approach. Know your target segment and go straight to them. Way more discerning than a bunch of journalists with short attention spans – but then I’m enterprisey (lol).

  30. Then there’s another approach. Know your target segment and go straight to them. Way more discerning than a bunch of journalists with short attention spans – but then I’m enterprisey (lol).

  31. After reading this post, it almost feels like Techcrunch is the Microsoft of blogging. Not the Google of blogging, the Microsoft.

    Thing is: do the best products, with the most loyal followings, really get launched under the wing and coverage of Techcrunch vs. other outlets? I wonder. Maybe there are more success stories coming from elsewhere?

    In other words, is there really that much power behind that big stick?

  32. After reading this post, it almost feels like Techcrunch is the Microsoft of blogging. Not the Google of blogging, the Microsoft.

    Thing is: do the best products, with the most loyal followings, really get launched under the wing and coverage of Techcrunch vs. other outlets? I wonder. Maybe there are more success stories coming from elsewhere?

    In other words, is there really that much power behind that big stick?

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