In about 10 days I’ll be headed to the DEMO conference in Palm Desert, Calif. It’s one of the premier venues for tech startups to show off their ideas for new products and service in front of a crowd of tech journalists and venture capitalists. As long as I’ve been going to DEMO, Chris Shipley has run it. Word is expected today that Shipley will be stepping down from her post as the conference’s Executive Producer following the DEMOfall show in September.
Taking over, first as co-Executive Producer this year, by himself in 2010, will be VentureBeat CEO Matt Marshall. He’ll be the fourth to take over the show, since Stewart Alsop started it in 1991.
Shipley has run a great show, one that I have always considered a must-go. I quit attending most of the other tech conferences, but have always liked DEMO because its manageable, and because it’s always interesting. Shipley has always picked a great crop of companies and I always leave DEMO feeling optimistic about the future for tech companies and for the general state of innovation.
But Shipley has taken a lot of guff in recent years from the likes of Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington. It was from the floor of the DEMO conference in 2006 that Arrington announced his own rival startup show, the TechCrunch 50. Fees for startup companies to go to DEMO are too high they’ve argued. Companies pay $18,500 to demonstrate their products for six minutes on stage before the crowd, most of whom pay about $3,000 for a ticket. The idea is to attract both attention in the media, and perhaps a round of funding. DEMO alum companies include Palm, Salesforce.com and TiVo.
TC50 doesn’t charge startup companies to exhibit, though I always thought this argument was sort of disingenuous. It seems to me that if a company is ready for the attention of both national and international media and also for the attention of Sand Hill Road’s best and brightest, then the entrance fee shouldn’t be an issue. Most startups who are ready for the kind of attention that DEMO delivers would, to my mind, have sufficient resources to cover the fee. That was one of the reasons I declined an invitation to TC50 last year. The other was the distasteful way that Arrington and Calacanis repeatedly called out Shipley in order to bring attention to themselves. You can argue if you want that TC50 is a better conference though the only TC50 alum I can name are Yammer and Xobni, but what I couldn’t take how mean its founders seemed to be in making their case.
There’s no question that free beats $18,500, and competition is a good thing in any marketplace, but I have to wonder about how much of a competition there’s going to be this year when the environment for startups is so lousy. DEMO hasn’t yet disclosed the names of the companies exhibiting this year, nor the number (last year’s event sported 77 companies presenting over two days) and that I think will say more about the marketplace for startup conferences than anything. There may not be many startups to fight over in the first place. Meanwhile I haven’t heard or read anything about the status of the next TC50, which judging by last year’s proceedings isn’t due again until September. Something tells me that Calacanis and Arrington will have something to say about this development before the day is over.