For nearly twenty years, the Demo conference has been considered the place to be for tech startups seeking attention for their new products. Instead of speeches, companies are required to give live demos of brand-new products, basically launching them onstage. Demo organizer Chris Shipley has a reputation for picking products worth flying to a conference to see. But in this economy, Demo has a problem: The show makes money by charging participants $18,500 to get onstage. The rival TechCrunch50 doesn't charge. What does $18,500 buy? Shipley has published a list of conference benefits. Don't bother reading it. Instead of checking off fluffy perks like "an online microsite" and "invitation for one senior executive of your company to attend the invitation-only CEO/Dealmaker's dinner," Shipley should write another post: List all the successful products that were launched at Demo. Because right now my stomach hurts too much to remember them, and I know I'm not alone.
In the war of words being fought between the organizers of the DemoFall and TechCrunch50 startup conferences, AllThingsD reporter Kara Swisher unleashed quite a salvo yesterday: "Being lectured on journalism ethics by Michael Arrington is like getting parenting tips from Britney Spears." Zing! She proceeds to call out the TechCrunch50 organizers attacks on Demo for what they are — "Marketing 101." Walt Mossberg was a bit more diplomatic, offering more subtle jabs like, "It never occurred to me not to come here [Demo]." Here at Valleywag, we maintainthe highest standards of impartiality through our willingness to get kicked out of any and all such events.
It's the echo chamber's busiest week of the year. Chris Shipley kicked off the Demo startup conference on Sunday in San Diego. Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis have amassed an army for
TechCrunch20 TechCrunch40 TechCrunch50. We're curious: Which one are you going to, and why? Tell us in the comments. One prominent tech blogger told Valleywag he's splitting his time between the two shows because he doesn't want to offend either Shipley or Arrington.
Shortly after we ran the item about the writer who accused Jason Calacanis of plagiarizing from his TechCrunch50 conference's main competitor, we got this email from Chris Shipley, who has run the Demo conference for years. Short version: The text from which writer Deb McAlister-Holland claims Calacanis copied exactly 1,893 words may have been in a newsletter sent out prior to 1996. McAlister-Holland claimed her piece "was on the Demo website for three years," but no one's turned up either a copy or McAlister-Holland yet. Long version: Demo's current guide to presenters, below.
Here's the short version of a long story: The TechCrunch50 conference is a relatively new event cohosted by blog entrepreneurs Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis. It presents itself as an Web 2.0 counter to Chris Shipley's firmly established Demo event, which itself was created as an antidote to previous tech shows. Both TechCrunch and Demo unveil new products and companies live onstage. Demo charges companies to participate. TechCrunch does not, and claims Demo is a "payola" scheme. Got all that? Great, now you'll understand why it's a big deal that a lady you've probably never heard of claims that 1,893 words of Calacanis's guide to pitching your company "were directly lifted" from a guide she wrote for Demo ten years ago. Deb McAlister-Holland hasn't yet produced her original article nor responded to attempts to reach her, so I'm skeptical. Chris Shipley says the article predated her 12-year stewardship of Demo, and disavows the charges. Jason Calacanis, plagiarist? Come on, that would require him to give someone else the last word.
Our commenters are revolting. Specifically, over our continuing coverage of Jason Calacanis, who is famous on the Internet for owning two adorable bulldogs. But there's something charming about the sheer clumsiness of Calacanis's relentless hucksterism. Take the live broadcast he conducted to beg Chris Shipley, the producer of tech-startup conference Demo, to come work on Calacanis and Michael Arrington's rival TechCrunch50 conference. "Be part of the winning team! We are the street level team ... blue collar. Everybody needs to support the Jason Nation." J-Dawg, with that headset look, shouldn't you be playing CounterStrike? And on what planet are you and Arrington "blue-collar"? I can only imagine what Arrington said to you when you tried to put him on the speaker — no doubt something as subtle and polite as "Demo needs to die." The video:
TechCrunch and Jason Calacanis (did you know that he runs Mahalo?) have announced their second TechCrunch conference: the TechCrunch50, with 10 more companies than last year. The conference will be held over three days — overlapping Demo's fall event. Demo is the startup-launch Arrington and Calacanis are trying to compete against, their distinction being that all finalists are supposedly chosen by "merit," as they define it. The "merit" is so important that TechCrunch head Michael Arrington mentioned it twice in the 248-word announcement. I can't wait.
Another Demo is coming up this January 28-30. Smart startup founders will save their best pitches not for the bored audience — trust us, they'll all be ignoring you and sending BlackBerry emails. Instead, buttonhole the guys with money to spend, starting with reps from Google, Microsoft and Cisco. Here's who they're sending.
I finally got the story behind Bono's alleged appearance at the Demo tradeshow last year. MindTouch cofounder Aaron Fulkerson recruited the singer from a U2 tribute band — Pavel Sfera from San Diego-area Desire — to walk around the show floor and do his shtick for laughs. Sfera, shown here with telejourno Natali Del Conte, turned out even better than the real thing: He ad-libbed monologues about Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Jesus all over the place. Because of the real Bono's role at Elevation Partners, and oh just maybe an oversized sense of their own importance, Demo attendees believed what they wanted to believe: Saint Paul of Clontarf had come by their show to check out their startup! Fulkerson had to hustle Sfera out of the show after founders began excitedly pitching him. "I've got a cure for hunger," one gushed. It involved Web page markup technology. (Photo by Brian Solis, I think)
Techdirt, the ever-opinionated analysis blog, has weighed in and found Demo's lineup of startups and new products more compelling than last week's TechCrunch40. Why? Mike Masnick doesn't come out and say it, but his implication is clear: Unlike the parade of Web 2.0 one-note-Johnnies drummed up by TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington and entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, most of experienced Demo organizer Chris Shipley's picks were focused on useful improvements to existing technology, not gimmicky new ideas. Arrington and Calacanis launched TechCrunch40 because they felt that it was somehow wrong for conferences to charge startups to present. Nonsense, of course. I think that the fact that Demo charges presenters — reportedly $18,500 apiece — was actually what makes it a stronger event.
We hear there were actually two companies who chose to forgo this week's Demo conference and present at Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington's TechCrunch40 conference instead. The startups in question? Media-sharing service Wixi has confirmed that they will not be presenting at Demo, and we hear that avatar service mEgo is also off the list. (Two flacks for mEgo didn'tt return our call from this morning and sent us straight to voicemail when we followed up a few minutes ago.) Both companies presented onstage during Tuesday afternoon's "Rich media and mashups" section. If Demo followed its usual cancellation policies, these companies would seem to have lost their $18,000 entrance fees. (Representatives for Wixi had no comment on the fee.) We hope these two companies were able to get a worthwhile experience from TechCrunch40. They may not have won the $50,000 grand prize, but they learned something about the value of a contract.
We hear that Chris Shipley and the rest of the Demo conference team are coming down hard on companies who violate their exclusive contract. A tipster "has it on on good authority" that one presenting company has been "yanked off the stage" at tomorrow's fall Demo conference in San Diego, because it demo'd its wares at Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis's competing TechCrunch40 conference last week. No surprise there: The whole point of these startup-demonstration conferences is to show something new, and an already-launched product won't make the cut. But Shipley's crew is being especially tough: We hear that the company isn't gettting its $18,000 entrance fee back either. So who is the culprit? And did they make the main stage, or did they lose out on Demo just for debuting in TechCrunch40's also-ran DemoPit? If you know anything more, fill us in.
Well, that was much too easy. The organizers of the Demo conference, it turns out, have gone back on promises made on the website ("the list is not released prior to the conference") and has put the list of startups appearing at next week's event out in a press release. Bastards! The list is technically embargoed until Monday at 7 a.m., but if so, why'd they put it out on the Net? Well, it turns out that the secret secret is what the companies plan to demonstrate. So here's your chance to send in the real dirt: If you have the inside track on any planned demonstrations, send it in by Sunday. After the jump, the full list of companies.
Embargoes, in the age of instant journalism, are the silliest of PR conventions. In fact, they're counterproductive — especially for publicity-seeking startup conferences like this week's TechCrunch40 and next week's Demo, organized by Chris Shipley (left). And yet not everyone gets this. Blogger Paul Boutin sent TechCrunch40 organizer Jason Calacanis into a rage by committing an act of journalism: Going to the open site of the startup conference last Sunday and copying down, by hand, the names of the 40 startups due to present. What prompted Boutin to do this? Why, the organizers' ham-handed, ridiculous embargo demands.
Through her Demo conference, Chris Shipley strands some of the most important people in tech together in the desert and forces them to pay attention to strange new ideas. It's like Burning Man without the playa dust and with much fancier drinks, or so I'm told. The experience is apparently scarring enough to bond people for life, judging by the palsy-walsy crowd of past Demo participants and guests who crowded into Palo Alto's Zibibbo restaurant Tuesday night to mingle and mix with other "alumni."