Posted on September 3, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |
Next week is a big week for the world of technology startups. From September 8 to 10, approximately 50 startups will launch at TechCrunch50. In San Diego, the incumbent startup launch conference, Demo, will run from September 7 to 9.
The timing, of course, is not coincidental. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has Demo on the list of industries, companies and events he thinks need to be killed.
While I’m pleased to report that I will be in Patagonia skiing and smoking Cohiba cigars while the bloodbath ensues, next week is a stressful one for technology fiends who have to make a choice - TechCrunch50 or Demo? That’s a tough one.
But if you’re a startup looking to reach the early adopter/influential/passionate crowd, the choice is clear: TechCrunch50.
That, of course, is the opinion of Robert Scoble. How does he know (besides the fact that he’s a judge for TechCrunch50)?
He’s tapped into the wildly popular Upcoming.org, which reveals that, by far, more people have “saved” the TechCrunch50 event than they have the Demo event.
Since Upcoming.org is apparently the place where all the early adopters/influentials/passionates hang out, “That, alone, will cause the kind of PR that new companies will want.”
But that’s not all. According to Scoble, there’s another consideration for startups choosing a conference: the god-king of the startup world - Michael Arrington.
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).
Advice to startups: if strategic decisions about where and how you launch a business are made because you’re scared a prominent journalist or blogger isn’t going to give you coverage, you need to rethink your strategy (or fire your PR firm).
While I’m not going to argue that press (and blogger) coverage isn’t important to startups (it can be), founders should understand that in the real world, people like Michael Arrington aren’t going to break you for the simple fact that they aren’t likely to make you.
TechCrunch coverage certainly didn’t do much for Edgeio, a startup Arrington co-founded which raised $6.5 million in funding and had most of its assets sold to Looksmart for $280,000.
In looking at the lineup from last year’s TechCrunch40, there are a bunch of companies that are well-known in Silicon Valley and that have raised money (a few have even been acquired), but the vast majority haven’t gone “mainstream” and most probably won’t.
Take Zivity. It won $10,000 at . And for all of TechCrunch’s shilling for the company, its traffic levels tell you all you need to know (as does the fact that Zivity employees and models appear to be generating most of the real activity).
But after $8 million in financing and even a mention in Forbes, it’s pretty clear that Zivity - as a business - isn’t exactly taking off. Just as I predicted based on my knowledge of the online smut industry.
This highlights a simple fact: it’s the product, stupid.
The “perfect” launch at a TechCrunch50 or Demo can only do so much when you’re fighting the market with a poor product and a poor business model.
The reality is that all the press/blogosphere attention in the world can only do so much, just as Scoble himself demonstrated when he pointed out that a product called ActiveWords apparently received less than 50 downloads after a USA Today article.
At the end of the day, founders (and their PR helpers) need not choose between TechCrunch50 or Demo. They need to choose between substance and hype.
Do you have a quality product that appeals to a well-defined target market that you understand? Or do you have a shiny new toy that people who change phones more frequently than they change their undergarments (i.e. “passionates” like Scoble) will leave in the sandbox once a tweet alerts them to tomorrow’s “next big thing”?
Is it most important that you talk to prospective users and customers? Or is it more important to waste time in a “demo pit” talking to people who are really thinking about what they’re going to eat for dinner?
Do you want well-placed press and blogosphere coverage that introduces your product to your target market? Or do you want widespread press and blogosphere coverage that exposes your product to every Tom, Dick and Harry?
In the final analysis, you have to ask yourself: am I launching a product and a business or am I launching vapor?
While I won’t tell founders not to be somewhat strategic when launching, it’s worth observing that successful products and businesses are launched all the time and they stick because there’s something to them. Vapor disappears real quick, on the other hand, so if you want people to notice your vapor, you have to choreograph its release while everyone’s watching.
TechCrunch50 or Demo? Vapor is vapor as far as I’m concerned.
But - for those who really can’t decide, I recommend Demo. It’s not that the conference is any better. It’s that the venue is better.
San Diego is the home of white beaches and bikinis.
And it’s the home of San Diego State University, which offers an undergraduate degree in binge drinking and sex.
San Francisco, on the other hand, is the home of sausage and balloons.
Could the case for Demo not be made any more clear?
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