Perspective, Pontification and Propoganda about Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital, brought to you by David Hornik of August Capital.

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A damn shame ... politics and personality clash. As a long time DEMO attendee, I thought Chris Shipley did a great job.

Also, I can't agree more that fee structure for "starving" startups should be close to zero or some nominal fee(less than $1k) to cover base costs. This was a deal breaker for one of my seed stage funded companies.

Mike Anderson


Count me in as someone with great admiration for Chris' work on and off the DEMO stage - she brings intelligence, class, and thoughtful analysis to what can often be a snarky business. Whether or not IDG charges startups for their DEMO participation, Chris Shipley has added enormous value to the startup community. Hopefully Guidewire Group will prove to be the next great platform.

And just to chime in on the froth: Back when I was a DEMO demonstrator, I found the $16K charge to be an excellent value when compared to the months of PR retainer we would have wasted on attempts to get the same press meetings. The work that Chris did with us (and others) behind the scenes served as a vital 'media training boot camp.'

I've always been a fan of Chris', but not DEMO's "pay-for-play" program. As a deep pocketed VC $18,500 to launch your company might be pocket change, but as a life-long entrepreneur I can tell you that is a huge number for 99.99% of startups.

Also, the conference payola virus was spreading because of DEMO. John Battelle started charging $12,000 for Web 2.0 presenting companies and STOPPED because of pressure from TechCrunch50. The truth is there fees are massive and unnecessary and they go do to the absurdly deep pocked IDG.

AlwaysOn also charges companies $5,000 to speak at their events (I know they offered Mahalo to be in their "top 100" if we paid them off).

Your companies might be able to afford the fees, but the really great startup companies won't pay these fees based either on circumstances or principle. The fact that we've created a new option is something to be celebrated.

I brought the idea of a fee-free launch style conference to Mike--with a $50,000 grand prize--specifically to "kill" the abusive practice of charging startups $18,500 for six minutes on stage. You're point about free 411 is a nice one, except before TechCrunch50 there was no free 411! Also, the right analogy would be what if there was a free 411 and one that charged $1,000 a call.

Anyway, I do think Chris is great and that she was stuck on the wrong side of a dead business model. I wish her luck and I hope that IDG either closes the DEMO conference or changes the model to free.

Finally, I would encourage entrepreneurs to boycott the DEMO conference until they get rid of the fees. If entrepreneurs stand united against payola we can crack these conferences.

all the best, Jason (aka "the other little guy").

David Hornik

Jason. Thanks for the comment. I'll tell you what I object to the most about your attacks on DEMO and Chris Shipley. It is your tone. Calling the fees for demonstrating companies "payola" is inflammatory and not accurate. Whether you believe it or are simply using the language as part of your marketing strategy for your conference, it is not productive. The definition of payola according to Merriam-Webster online is "undercover or indirect payment (as to a disc jockey) for a commercial favor (as for promoting a particular recording)." The fees presenting companies at DEMO pay are not hidden and they are not for a commercial favor. Chris Shipley and her organization have always taken very seriously the job of reviewing companies and allowing only the most interesting products and companies to present. That is simply not payola. Nor is it "pay-for-play." As a result of the excellent screening by Chris and her team, the companies presenting at DEMO are of a uniformly high quality.

It is conceivable that the current business model at the DEMO conference will morph. That will be fine. But "killing" DEMO is not good for the community of entrepreneurs. There are plenty of great entrepreneurs who feel that presenting at DEMO has not only been a valuable experience but well worth the cost. I am sure that there are plenty of great entrepreneurs who can not afford DEMO and view your conference as an excellent alternative. But there are also plenty that appreciate the DEMO experience and are glad to pay for that experience.

This sort of High-School drama is exactly what went wrong with SV in the late 90's, and why venture never recovered after the bust. Instead of the tech, and competency, driving success; we have a popularity contest.
Until all you children and drama queens are flushed out of tech, things aren't getting any better.

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Also, the conference payola virus was spreading because of DEMO. John Battelle started charging $12,000 for Web 2.0 presenting companies and STOPPED because of pressure from TechCrunch50. The truth is there fees are massive and unnecessary and they go do to the absurdly deep pocked IDG.

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It is, no doubt, a different model than Arrington and Calacanis's conference which makes its money through sponsorships and registration fees, rather than demonstration fees. But that does not make it less ethical. Is it unethical for Sprint to charge for 411 calls merely because 1-800-FREE411 will provide information for free? I don't think so. It's a shame that Chris Shipley has had such strong accusations leveled at her over these last couple years.

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