DEMO/TechCrunch Turns Even Uglier, Startups Are the Losers

Posted on September 7, 2008
Filed Under Valley Drama |

The drama between DEMO and TechCrunch started in earnest in April when TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington declared that “Demo needs to die.”

He scheduled his startup launch conference, TechCrunch50, the same week as DEMO, forcing startups, PR folks, bloggers and attendees to choose between his conference and the conference he admits he wants to kill.

At the time, DEMO’s Chris Shipley tried to take the high road but since then, the drama between the two conferences has only intensified.

Last week, on the eve of both conferences, Michael Arrington and his friends launched another offensive.

Speaking to the ever-useless Sarah Lacy on the tech|ticker, Arrington and his TechCrunch50 partner Jason Calacanis continued lobbing insults at DEMO, claiming that DEMO is unethical and that the fees companies pay to present at DEMO amounts to “payola.”

Notwithstanding the fact that “payola” is a legal term pertaining to the music industry and thus has no application here, it’s hard to find anything unethical about DEMO’s fees. While I personally wouldn’t advise any company to spend $18,500 to present at DEMO, the fact that fees are charged to presenting companies is public knowledge. The fees are not “under the table” payments made to induce inclusion that was otherwise promoted as free; the companies that present at DEMO make a conscious decision to pay and DEMO attendees know that presenting companies aren’t presenting for free.

If Arrington believes that he has a better business model for a startup conference, the market will reward him for it. Personally, I’d point out that in most markets there is room for multiple successful business models. That seems to be the case here as there is clearly no shortage of startups looking (for some reason) to launch at a conference.

Unfortunately, the DEMO/TechCrunch drama has only spread. Yesterday, Robert Scoble decided he couldn’t resist inserting himself into the situation.

Claiming to have “visited each website from the list of Demo finalists,” he commented:

“Boy, do they suck. Really, really suck.”

Frankly, I can’t even spare the time to visit all 72 of the DEMO finalist’s splash pages so I’m a little skeptical about Scoble’s ability to stay focused enough to accomplish this task given that, by all appearances, he has the attention span of a fruit fly.

Putting my skepticism aside, I found Scoble’s comment curious. While it’s certainly possible that all 72 of these websites “suck,” Scoble’s reputation is that of a person who is truly passionate about startups and who is usually more “supportive” than “critical.” Thus, the fact that he would lambaste yet-to-launch startups so harshly just doesn’t seem to jive with the type of commentary he’s known for.

Of course, Scoble is a judge for TechCrunch50 and even though he likes to point out that he isn’t getting paid, doesn’t have a contract with TechCrunch and hasn’t shared a meal with Arrington “in the past few months,” he apparently doesn’t realize that his involvement with TechCrunch50 gives him a vested interest in the conference. Clearly, he’s conflicted.

If he was wise, he would have recognized that nothing he says about TechCrunch50 vis-à-vis DEMO could be construed as being impartial and he would have taken the high road by keeping his mouth shut. Instead, he not surprisingly couldn’t resist getting involved, and in the process threw whatever reputation and credibility he does have into question.

This was all too much for DEMO to take. Chris Shipley responded in a post entitled “Shoddy Reporting, Invective, and Arrogance. Yeah, I Want Some of That” and chewed Scoble for his comments. Clearly she was not happy.

Earlier today, Michael Arrington called for calm. He noted that “some of the press out there is starting to go a little crazy with the drama between TechCrunch50 and the competing DEMO conference.”

Really? That certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Arrington started the drama and fanned the flames, could it?

In perhaps one of the greatest demonstrations of absolute disingenuity the tech blogosphere has ever seen, Arrington implores everyone to focus on what really matters:

Can we please remember what’s important? There are 52 companies launching at TechCrunch50 this week, and they deserve their brief moments in the spotlight. These people have put their hearts and souls into creating whatever it is that their entrepreneurial spirit compelled them to create, and they only get to launch once. We’re putting on one hell of a show for them, and my sincere hope is that we can get all this political garbage out of the way today so that we can focus on what really matters at the event: the startups.

Note to Arrington: as you make your bed, so you must lie on it. If the “political garbage” is overshadowing the startups presenting at TechCrunch50, you have nobody else to blame but yourself because you created it.

While I’m sure that both conferences will go off without a hitch and stakeholders at both will walk away satisfied, as an outside observer I can’t help but feel that both conferences are already damaged goods this year.

I’ve pointed out that neither of these conferences is likely to make or break a startup and while I sympathize with the people who run DEMO because I do believe they’ve fallen victim to Michael Arrington’s ego, the bottom line is that DEMO has been sucked into his game and both conferences come away with black eyes.

The biggest losers in all of this, of course, are the startups themselves.

After all, the startups launching at DEMO and TechCrunch50 are making an investment of some kind, even if it’s not primarily financial in the case of TechCrunch50. Yet they’ve invested in two conferences that are having the equivalent of an elementary school brawl.

Already, more press attention has been given to the conferences themselves than the startups that will be presenting at them and you can be certain that the brawl will be the subject of discussion and gossip amongst attendees of both conferences.

All of this is quite unfortunate for the world of technology startups at large and I’d observe that most startups would probably be better off launching on their own anyway for obvious reasons.

I will conclude by suggesting that those who don’t see just how childish and silly this whole situation is attend conferences in other industries. You just might be surprised to learn that in other industries, the operators of competing conferences actually act like adults.

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3 Responses to “DEMO/TechCrunch Turns Even Uglier, Startups Are the Losers”

  1. TechCrunch50 Finalists: First Impressions : The Drama 2.0 Show on September 8th, 2008 12:16 pm

    […] especially surprised at how many are doing things that have been done for years. For all of the drama, is this the best Michael Arrington could […]

  2. ChopMotors: Buying a Stolen Car Has Never Been So Easy : The Drama 2.0 Show on September 9th, 2008 9:08 am

    […] startups that “suck” launch at DEMO and TechCrunch50, I’m out raising money for a mature Internet company […]

  3. 21st Century Spirituality · Hyperstream of 2008-09-08 on September 11th, 2008 6:15 pm

    […] mushin published a blog post. ~C4Chaos: DEMO/TechCrunch Turns Even Uglier, Startups Are the Losers : The Drama 2.0 Show (via Frien… […]

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