Running the numbers: why Gist should have launched at TC50

Gist is one of my favorite new companies to launch its product for the first time this week. They decided not to launch at TC50, the big conference this week. That’s cool, they’ve actually had a great week and their servers are being pushed hard. Gist’s CTO Steve Newman bragged that he’s seeing 380,000 Twitter handles come through the service. Very nice. I don’t have 380,000 Twitter handles and I’ve been doing this a lot longer.

I know one PR guy who I won’t name who told me he advises clients to launch somewhere else. That’s probably why OpenTable and Aardvark all launched stuff this week, but not on stage at TC50.

Now in OpenTable and Aardvark’s case, they might not have been chosen because they were already shipping. But Gist hadn’t yet been shipping to the public and I’m pretty sure they could have made a case that they should be on stage. I’m pretty sure that if Gist had launched at TC50 that they would have been in the final five at least and possibly been the winner.

So, what did they turn down by not launching at TC50?

The $50,000 prize.
The free advertising giveaway.

Yeah, but those don’t really matter to a great company. Amazon and Google got where they are by not doing advertising at all, remember? At least in the early years. And the money? Won’t really matter in the long run, although it’s nice to pay six months of some engineer’s salary to help get to the next level.

What were the intangibles?

At one point when I was on stage I asked how many people in the audience (of more than 1,000 people) had more than 200 followers? A lot of hands went up. One guy came up to me afterward and said he had 25,000 followers and had gotten them all organically and that they were all great people, not bots or spammers.

On the video stream more than 30,000 people watched at least part of the first day. Since then MANY MANY more times that number have watched at least one of the sessions.

And every company was covered on TechCrunch. I’ve heard that at least 20 people read that blog. Seriously. How about millions of people? Note that they didn’t cover Gist’s launch this week, while other blogs like Mashable and VentureBeat did.

So, by not being at TC50 they turned down a LOT of free exposure. I think that’s a mistake. It’s an even worse mistake because next week the Demo Conference will be here and lots of mainstream press and VCs and influentials are in that audience.

But, I’m sure some PR team is slapping themselves on the back and congratulating themselves on a good launch. Congratulations.

The thing is, you could have had an extraordinary launch.

OK, let’s say you don’t like TechCrunch. Well, there are lots of other events coming where the audiences are very influential. Next week is the Twitter Conference, which should be named “geeks and celebrities talking about audience building in the modern web world.” Have you seen who will show up there? Wow.

Or look at my link of all sorts of tech events. Remember, even an event with 100 people, if they are of guys who have 25,000 followers, will get you a HUGE amount of coverage! Much bigger than if you just talk to a single blog.

Next month is Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters conference. Yet another opportunity to launch. Or in December come to LeWeb.

OK, now tell me why I’m wrong and why Gist was right to stay off the stage at TC50 or Demo. Operators are standing by to handle the hate mail. :-)

UPDATE: One thing, this advice only holds if you have a company that is going to end up in the final five, the way I believe Gist would be. If you were going to be further down the list than that then maybe the PR people had a point. After all, I can remember the winners at TC50, but I have a hard time remembering anyone else. But in Gist’s case, they would have been one of those you would have talked about anyway so they should have gone and collected the check and gotten the exposure.

I have 3,571 tweets that show that Twitter isn't for lunch anymore

In just the last month I’ve really started using Twitter’s favorite feature. I’ve used it 3,571 times so far in just the past month. What is it? Well, I read thousands of tweets every day and I pick my favorite ones and click “favorite” on them. What does that do? It shares them with everyone on Twitter. You can see a page of all my favorites here. Unfortunately you probably will only be able to see the last few hundred, but a new service called favstar.fm is tracking them all and is showing some details.

For instance, you can see who my favorite Twitter users are here.

But what I’m learning goes well beyond that. It tells me that Twitter isn’t lame anymore. Remember those days when Twitter was for telling all your friends you were having a tuna sandwich at Subway in Half Moon Bay?

I do.

Those days are mere memories anymore.

Today Twitter is used for professional networking. Well, OK, and a few of us still use it to tell you where we’re eating for lunch, but those tweets are easy to skip over.

So, what have I learned by reading hundreds of thousands of tweets in the past month and favoriting 3,571?

1. If it moves in the tech industry it moves on Twitter first. I’m very active on Facebook, Google Reader, FriendFeed, and quite a few other services, and, sorry to those services, but stuff moves on Twitter first. If TechCrunch breaks a story I always see it on Twitter first.

2. More executives and influentials are on Twitter and far more are ACCESSIBLE on Twitter. There are lots on Facebook, almost everyone in the industry is, but very few people on Facebook will give you access to what they are writing and sharing.

3. Facebook is increasingly being seen as “for ‘real friends’ and family” or a rolodex of contacts, while Twitter is for telling us what they are working on. In many cases people just import their tweets into their Facebook accounts. (A practice that really bugs me but I’m not going to be able to stop it).

4. Twitter is a better news reader than Google Reader. And a worse one too. Google Reader is awesome if you really limit the number of feeds you follow (and the number of friends). Unfortunately I don’t follow that advice. Google Reader has become useless to me and VERY SLOW. I sure wish the team would use my account and figure out how to make it rocking fast for friend management. It’s gotten so bad I hate even going in there and use Feedly, except for the fact that the world is moving to mobile and Feedly only plays well on desktops with Firefox loaded.

5. Mobile is why Twitter is winning. I have moved probably 80% of my reading over to iPhone. On Facebook, FriendFeed, and Twitter. And I can tell that my favorite Twitterers have done the same. My favorite app? SimplyTweet. I’ve tried them all. Twitterrific. TweetDeck. Tweetie. And many others and SimplyTweet is the best — by far. It never crashes and hasn’t pissed me off once. All the others have. Reading behavior shifting to mobile has DEEP implications for all sorts of startups. If you don’t have a mobile strategy you will fail in this new world. It will be a lot harder to get adoption than if you have an iPhone app (and a Palm Pre one, an Android one, a Blackberry one, etc).

6. A large percentage of great tweets have a link. It’s very hard to say anything useful in 140 characters. Believe me, I’ve tried to spend most of 2009 saying stuff in 140 character bites. It isn’t satisfying most of the time. Long blogging has its place and those who get lots of retweets use long blogs a lot.

7. You only need to follow about 2,000 people to hit about 85% of the tech conversations out there. Why is that? Because of retweeting. Let’s say I didn’t follow Jeremiah Owyang. Let’s say he got an exclusive interview with Steve Jobs. How many minutes would it be before I heard about it? I’ve found usually about 30 seconds. In fact, within 30 minutes you will be sick and tired of hearing about it. Just tonight we had an example when Seesmic released a cool new desktop client. I wanted out I heard about it so much!

8. If you don’t read tweets for eight hours, don’t worry, all the big stuff you missed will be on TechMeme. When I was the first to talk about Yelp’s augmented reality feature on Twitter and on FriendFeed it was quickly blogged by EVERYONE and was on TechMeme within a few minutes and stayed there for about a day. The same is true of ALL news. I have not found an example yet where something important is discussed on Twitter about a tech company or tech news and doesn’t show up on TechMeme within a few hours. What doesn’t show up? Small stuff like birthdays or launches of obscure technology that only a very small audience will use.

9. Pushing Favorites over to FriendFeed via RSS makes them more searchable. I can find all sorts of stuff over on FriendFeed that I can’t find on Twitter. Why? Twitter’s search sucks and only shows you the last few days of results. Looking for something twittered about months ago? I can find it on my account, but you won’t be able to on just Twitter search. It’s not perfect, though. I wish search engines were better and I wish FriendFeed were better at letting me search just Twitter Favorites.

10. There is an 80/20 rule. The best Twitterers are a LOT better at Tweeting than even those just a few notches down. This is why some people get lots of followers on FriendFeed/Facebook/Twitter while others don’t, even after discounting the power of the suggested user lists on those services.

11. There is a LOT of noise on Twitter. It’s true. But that’s why human curation is going to be more and more important and why services like TweetMeme and others (I need to do a post on those) will be more and more important over time. Also, why when I unfollowed everyone that got a lot of discussion going. People are looking for ways to reduce noise in their lives and people and companies that help do that will get attention.

Anyway, I’ve gotta get back to reading tweets. Anything else you’re learning from reading all these tweets?

Oh, and I love that the Wall Street Journal made a case today that Twitter is worth 2.6 billion. I made the case a couple weeks back after reading so many Tweets that Twitter is worth $5 billion. Yesterday it was announced that Twitter raised another round of funding where investors poured in cash at a billion dollar valuation, which means that the investors can see a case for it being worth 10x that. Now you know why Ron Conway, investor in Twitter, was nice to me the other day at TechCrunch50. :-)