TechCrunch50: Where are the Poor, Hungry Founders Who Don’t Have $18,500?

Posted on September 8, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

Updated: information below about the involvement of Michael Arrington’s business associate, Keith Teare, with a TechCrunch50 startup.

In his attacks on DEMO, Michael Arrington made it clear that he believes DEMO to be unethical because it charges presenting companies $18,500.

The insinuation has always been clear: DEMO is exploiting startups whose founders are typically working with limited funds and who could put $18,500 to work in far more productive ways.

TechCrunch50, on the other hand, because it’s free, gives poor, hungry unknowns the opportunity to launch in front of a huge, well-connected audience without paying a dime. This, of course, is an opportunity DEMO cannot offer because of its price tag.

Arrington’s position sounds very egalitarian but a reader of The Drama 2.0 Show emailed me today and pointed out something I too had noted - there don’t seem to be a whole lot of poor, hungry, young founders presenting at TechCrunch50.

Take - the corporate Twitter clone. Yammer was developed for internal use by a startup named Geni. You might recognize that name because it’s been featured and mentioned on TechCrunch more than a few times and has raised over $10 million in funding at an exorbitant valuation.

Geni’s CEO, who unveiled Yammer, is none other than David Sacks. He’s a former PayPal executive who’s close with Peter Thiel and who invested in Facebook. Poor guy.

But it gets worse. David Sacks has been given a podium by TechCrunch before, including via a guest post and a place on a panel at TechCrunch40.

Is this the type of young, hungry unknown that Arrington had in mind when he conceived of a TechCrunch conference? Certainly I would argue that Sacks is quite capable of launching Yammer on his own without the help of a friend in the blogosphere.

Of course, Yammer is not the only company at TechCrunch50 that can afford a measly $18,500.

Ashton Kutcher of Blah Girls needs no introduction.

Shyrk’s founder Scott Klososky has been the CEO of three startups, one of which he sold part of to Silicon Graphics.

Tweegee has already raised $2.5 million and its CEO, Shay Bloch, was responsible for “building, launching and leading the innovative biggest kids portal in Israel, Tipo (” It too had a .

Hangout Industries has already raised $6.5 million. Its CEO, Pano Athos, “has spent more than 22 years in the technology industry, during which time he founded, launched and led the strategic growth of three tech companies: ClearCross (previously Syntra), EcoNovo and Pantero Corp.”

DotSpots is founded by Farhad Mohit, who is a founder of BizRate, which also launched Shopzilla. The company was sold to EW Scripps for $569 million in 2005.

Ångströ is Dr. Rohit Khare, a technology industry veteran, and Salim Ismail, an angel investor who “has operated seven early-stage companies.”

LiveHit’s founder and CEO is Jeanine LeFlore, who was formerly the VP of Products and Marketing for Piczo, which has raised 8-figures worth of VC funding. Prior to that, she worked for Yahoo and AOL.

Quant the News is founded by Brett Markinson, who “has been a real estate, private equity and markets investor for over 20 years.” He’s listed as a partner at Lagovent Ventures Group, which has conveniently invested in Quant the News. Coincidentally, Quant the News’ other investor is listed as Matt Coffin, who happened to be a member of a TechCrunch50’s panel on angel investors.

Interestingly, Quant the News appears to be Markinson’s second attempt at building an innovative service for investors and during “The Role of the Angel Investor” panel, Coffin mentioned that he invested in Markinson’s first attempt, MarketProbability. Doesn’t look like that has turned out so well but hopefully with the help of TechCrunch50 the second time will be the charm.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, conspicuously missing in action on stage at TechCrunch50 are young, hungry founders with little more than an innovative product and big ambitions.

No Sergeys and Larrys, no Stephens and Chads. Just middle aged men, veterans of the business and “serial entrepreneurs” who have slept with more companies than Madonna has men and women.

I can only assume that the hungry 20-something poster children Silicon Valley loves to promote have been confined to the DemoPit where adult supervision was present.

In any case, one need only look at the pedigrees of the people behind today’s founding companies to realize that TechCrunch50’s egalitarian model is not very egalitarian in practice because the companies chosen to present (some of which make for curious choices) aren’t the type of startups that Arrington pretends TechCrunch50 was partially designed to benefit - those whose bank accounts either didn’t have $18,500 or couldn’t afford $18,500.

Instead, most are startups created (and in many cases already funded) by people who are either part of the Silicon Valley establishment or who are quite familiar with Sand Hill Road and its side streets.

The disappointing products launched today reflect that all too well.

Update September 10, 2008: thanks to a tip from a commenter below, it is worth pointing out that Michael Arrington’s associate Keith Teare is officially involved with one of the TechCrunch50 finalists, Fotonaut. Teare has been described as Arrington’s “longtime associate and mentor” and was the CEO of edgeio, a failed startup he co-founded with Arrington. Valleywag this conflict and notes that Teare supposedly also owns a stake in TechCrunch.

In the final analysis, it’s worth asking: is it merely coincidence that the TechCrunch50 finalists are primarily made up of Valley insiders? Are members of “the network” that much better at creating “good” startups?

Not likely, especially given the fact that many - if not most - of the Valley’s biggest hits were created by first-timers and unknowns. The only conclusion a reasonable person can come to is this: TechCrunch50 appears to be a nepotism-based conference, not a merit-based conference.

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17 Responses to “TechCrunch50: Where are the Poor, Hungry Founders Who Don’t Have $18,500?”

  1. Cyndy Aleo-Carreira on September 8th, 2008 8:43 pm

    Well, sure, but the demo pit isn’t free… how much do those young, hungry wantrepreneurs have to spend to have no WiFi access for their demos? The whole thing makes me tired.

  2. Tory on September 9th, 2008 7:40 am

    It seems to me that if you have a great new idea and you’re that ‘hungry’ character trying to make it big, it wouldn’t be that much of a hardship to get a VC to back you for $18,500 to present at an awesome conference.

  3. Drama 2.0 on September 9th, 2008 8:19 am

    Tory: VCs don’t invest $18,500.

  4. Young Gun on September 9th, 2008 2:41 pm

    I have been watching the whole fiasco via the live stream, and frankly the panels aren’t giving any insights into anything just stroking their egos in front of a crowd. It seems to be a disheartening way to launch a company amidst 1500 people vying for more attention then you.

  5. Garry Tan on September 9th, 2008 7:33 pm

    Counterpoint: A college friend of mine just launched Mixtt. First time entrepreneurs, very gung-ho, but not the profile you’ve just described.

  6. Drama 2.0 on September 9th, 2008 8:11 pm

    Garry: note the caveat:

    …conspicuously missing in action on stage at TechCrunch50 are young, hungry founders with little more than an innovative product and big ambitions.

    While I wish your friend the best of luck, a “social network for your social life” is hardly innovative.

  7. GreatOne on September 9th, 2008 11:29 pm

    Great articles thank you for exposing the fraud.

  8. Antony on September 10th, 2008 11:19 am

    Why is Arrington charging demopit companies after all of the bullshit about how DEMO needs to die because it charges startups to present?

    I hate that fucker. Fucking oportunist!

  9. Josh Flatt on September 10th, 2008 3:40 pm

    This has been going on in corporate America for years — cronism and corruption. Arrington with TC franchise has just brought that to the Valley in a more direct, startup level.

    Why did TC50 becomes TC50+2? Why did the demo pit lose wifi at a freakin Web 2.0 conference?!!! Accidental? Or fear of competitive attention against the poor main stagers.

    And yeah the panelists were tied into many of the companies there. TechCrunch should be called TechCorruption 50 (plus 2 ugly ones).

  10. dave on September 10th, 2008 3:40 pm

    oh, and you missed a *great* one: alongside jean marie at fotonauts is another cofounder who owns 10 percent of techcrunch…now *that* is some close company…

  11. Drama 2.0 on September 10th, 2008 5:26 pm

    Dave: great catch. More proof in the pudding.

  12. on September 11th, 2008 1:01 am

    […] isn’t even a “real” startup. It was an internal tool built by Geni, a company founded by PayPal’s former COO that has already raised 8-figures worth of venture capital […]

  13. Engago Team on September 11th, 2008 7:01 am

    Y-Combinator provides less than $18,500 to have people start a company.

    In any case:
    TC50 (TC52) has shot itself (in his foot?) with Yammer. The above blog post explains it all and will enterprises use and pay for Yammer?
    DEMO presented more interesting companies.

    The business game is played over several years, not just by winning an award ad get a spike in interest and temporary subscriptions.

  14. Stuart Smith on September 11th, 2008 11:41 am

    We may have been the oddball ‘fish out of water’ demo at TC50 with our multi-core software dev platform but we would not have made the trip if we had to pay to be at TC50 or DEMO. We are not a new company (been around since 2004) but we really did finally launch our beta at TC50 so it gave us a deadline to aim for - so far we have put over 40 man years into this project and have scraped by with bringing in services work (military apps) to pay for the dev of our toolset. I really enjoyed the buzz of the event and the efforts of all the finalists and demo pit attendees must be applauded but (and this is an opinion biased on a very, very technical product development cycle like ours) I did not always get the impression that there was a lot of tech or IP in some of the solutions and I don’t know how defensible most of them would be. All in all - well worth the effort and thanks to all.

  15. Drama 2.0 on September 11th, 2008 12:10 pm

    Stuart: thanks for stopping by and congratulations on your launch.

    Quite honestly, you had one of the most interesting products at TechCrunch50 for the simple fact that there is real technology behind it. While I don’t know enough about your product to state whether I think you’ll be successful or not, the bottom line is that I would have expected and hoped that more companies like yours would be invited to TechCrunch50 as there are actually some meat and potatoes behind your product.

    While I’m glad you felt you got something out of TechCrunch50 (that’s really all that matters), if I was in your shoes, I probably would have been disappointed that I was the oddball at a technology event because I actually had some real technology.

    Seems a bit counterintuitive, no?

    In any case, best of luck and keep on doing what you’re doing!

  16. An Interesting Perspective on DEMO vs Techcrunch50 | Internet Startups on September 13th, 2008 6:08 pm

    […] Posted by internet_startups on September 13, 2008 Internet Startup News I came across this blog post today and though it shed some interesting insight into the DEMO vs. Techcrunch50 […]

  17. Yammer, enterprised Twitter, a surprise win at TC50 | Winnie Tong, on living free on September 15th, 2008 11:26 pm

    […] may be): Yammer isn’t even a “real” startup. It was an internal tool built by Geni, a company founded by PayPal’s former COO that has already raised 8-figures worth of venture capital […]

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