Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

post TechCrunch 40 thoughts – part one

Posted by shannonclark on September 19, 2007

I have just returned home from the second day of TechCrunch 40, Jason Calacanis’s and TechCrunch’s very good new conference, held a week before DEMO. The conference was great and I had an incredible time. Lots of great conversations, interesting companies on stage, in the demo pit and in random conversations over meals. We are building a new ad network – in the past two days I’ve had great conversations with potential investors, publishers, a few potential advertisers, and many friends who have offered feedback and in quite a few cases offers of relevant introductions when the time is right.

I also managed, as has now become a bit of a typical pattern for me, to order all the food for dinner the last two nights (well tonight only for our table of 11 out of the three+ large tables of TC40 attendees). Had dinner with, among others, MC Hammer.

My attendance at TV40 was the result of helping a friend of a friend. I was asked if I could host a visiting entrepreneur who was exhibiting in the Demo Pit. Not a problem at all and it was my pleasure to do so (I have plenty of space and always enjoy having guests here for a few days). When he arrived he mentioned that he had an extra pass, would I want to use it?

So thus I had a pass. I spent most of Monday, however, as Robert Scoble notes in his flickr “Shannon Clark – holding court” outside the main spaces of the conference.

This post will be on my feedback on the TC40. My next post will have a specific gripe I have with a LOT of the presentations (and more generally with many – perhaps most – startup presentations, and in some cases business models/lack of them).

  1. TechCrunch 40 drew a really good audience. A mix of entrepreneurs, strongly of the non-funded/not much past seed/small first round stages, and investors. There were also a smattering of other professionals (though many of those in attendance were sponsors, or PR professionals there with clients). Perhaps it was because the press were in front or in the press room but the press presence, while strong and good was not overly dominating or intense. Though I did see a great mix of tech press at the conference and I’m starting to see the articles and blog posts already
  2. TechCrunch 40 proves how hard it is to scale a conference past about 500 people – the 750-1000 person conference may be one of the hardest sizes of events to hold comfortably and successfully. The Palace hotel as the spaces were used by TC40 has two main rooms which could handle 400-500 people (at the very most) as laid out (i.e. in classroom format with tables for people to use their laptops).
  3. I do not know the solution – more spaces need to be found which have rooms that seat 1000+ people Ideally in classroom seating – which implies up to 2000 or so people in auditorium seating. (the difference is a table, no table means no power usually but also about twice as many seats. One option at the Palace might be to rearrange the seating so that press had tables up front, then a LOT of auditorium styled seating (so laptops not actively encouraged) with an outer ring of additional tables for people who need laptops open.
  4. This might work as the wifi AND cell coverage (so EVDO coverage as well) at the Palace Hotel was beyond bad. In most cases it was simply not there or functioning. Wifi was spotty but usually okay in the main TC40 space – though I was booted off many times due, I think, to lots of computers/iPhones overloading the wifi routers as configured.
  5. TC40 did a very good job of driving people over the course of the conference to spend time in the demo pit (though perhaps some of this was due to the issues as per above in lack of seats)
  6. The food from the Palace Hotel catering was in most cases very bland. Some good to decent ideas behind the food (“chinese theme” one lunch, “mexican theme” the next lunch) the overall quality of the food was not great. Nothing horrible, just nothing as stellar as the surroundings would have led you to expect. Flavors were bland, service was very aggressive in removing plates from tables – but also and especially in removing food service very quickly (though not as fast in replacing missing plates or forks from the buffets) Overall nothing was very good about the food.
  7. This is the problem with conferences in hotels – the hotel catering can often be very bad and not infrequently, even in hotels with a lot of character and history, use lots of ingredients of relatively low quality. Even the whole, fresh fruits (which were appreciated) were fairly bland flavorwise – I think they were not from CA in most cases. I did not finish some of the wraps today as they were not particularly pleasant to finish (the crab wrap was real crab – a definite plus – I know this, however, because parts of the shell and cartilage was still in my sandwich).
  8. One specific place TC40 somewhat dropped the ball was in having beverages available at all times during the conference – snacks (with drink carts) were available around the planned breaks – but coffee ran out in the mornings and drinks disappeared later in the afternoon. It does take very real money (especially at a higher end hotel such as the Palace) but drinks should have been available at all times – one suggestion would be to have had a beverage station inside of the demo pit which was always open.
  9. The conference bags were very nice – one of the few bags I plan on using on at least a semi-regular basis. That said, the schwag items inside were very random (a cd case from AOL – I can’t remember when I last needed to carry more than a couple of cd’s at any time recently, a soft ball, and much else which was quite random). The hat from Mahalo was nice – no complaints there. Other than the bag, however, nothing that really stood out (at least for me). At a pretty seriously priced conference ($2500/person) I’d expect a bit more uniqueness from the items from the sponsors – and/or items from them that had specific, attendee resticted offers.
  10. The contests/drawings were generous and had I won one of the, I’d certainly have appreciated it (prizes from companies at TC40 included – a roundtrip ticket to Ireland, 10 winners of new nanos, 2 winners of MacBooks, and a 42in TV – which was a case of having been used for a display but not being shipped back.). That said, I actually think that there is somewhat of a disconnect with the audience of a conference such as TC40 and these types of prizes.
  11. As an alternative I would suggest – more prizes like the $50k won by the best of the TC40 companies or the $10k in legal services offered by one of the sponsoring law firms.
  12. I would suggest prizes for not just the best but perhaps the top 3-4 companies who demoed. I’d suggest as well a surprise prize of some form of service or other in-kind offers from the sponsors – for the prize winners – but possibly also for ALL of the companies who demoed on stage. Prizes such as: a server and/or hosting from a hardware sponsor such as Sun, some free legal services – either on a cost basis or perhaps more focused one service from a library of commonly needed services/documents.
  13. In an ideal world these prizes might go not just to the companies on stage but some prize might go to all of the companies who paid to be a part of the demo pit as well.
  14. Speaking of the Demo Pit. I think in general it worked well – companies had enough space but not too much for the stage they were at (i.e. not full booths but room for a computer or to). That said, the companies who were against the wall were at somewhat of a disadvantage to those who had more space around them. But all of the companies suffered from a lack of a simple and easy “cheat sheet” for attendees – especially such a list given out in advance of the conference program book.

So what major suggestions would I make for next year’s TechCrunch conference?

1. Engage sponsors more actively in supporting the companies on stage and in the demo pit. Ideally, make participating in either the demo pit or being selected on stage an amazing and surprising experience which exceeds expectations. The practice presentations probably helped all of the companies on stage (though some clearly had started from a very bad position and only got a bit better), the companies in the Demo Pit had highly variable experiences and displays dependent on their stage, but also their expertise at presenting themselves in a trade show like environment. At a minimum the exercise of getting each company to give a one sentence description of the product they will be demonstrating in the Demo Pit would be a very good experience.

2. Since the conference was being filmed, it likely would not add overly much to display the conference as it happens on stage to a few spaces around the hotel. Specifically I would suggest screens set up: in the Registration/lunch room, in the hallway just outside of the main conference space (by the atrium), in the hallway to the side of the main space (where the sponsors had booths), and a screen set up in the Demo Pit area. Ideally these screens would have audio and video – but even just video would give the entire conference a visual sense of what is happening in the main space. (I’d also suggest running the same feed into the press room – definitely with audio in that case)

3. Consider setting up the lunch/registration space as an overflow room and livestream the events on stage not to a “small” 40+ inch flatscreen as in the hallways, but to a live, projected image. Note, this likely means having at least two cameras running at all times and one or more people mixing the live streams of images.

4. Given the issues with wifi connections have multiple means for the presenters on stage to get online – ideally via an entirely different path than attendees  – hardware connection to a dedicated DSL connection perhaps and/or a dedicated secured wifi, with an EVDO card as a third backup – in short no company on stage should use lack connectivity as an excuse for a busted demo.

5. Seriously consider not letting presenters use their own computers – instead get all presentation materials on dedicated laptops on stage for the presenters to use – virtual machines on a mac laptop could allow every presenter to literally have their own machine to use to present.

6. Make the time for presentations clearer – I head anything from 6 to 8 minutes mentioned at the time for a presentation at different points during the conference. I would suggest perhaps 5 minutes but that might not be enough for some people. For the companies in the Demo Pit – I’d suggest that you require each company to deliver a presentation to TC which would be used by them when they win a slot on stage – I’d make these presentations be required to be 3-4 minutes long – perhaps with a template design which allows the company to enhance the pre-submitted presentation with 1-2 minutes of additional material (and/or always accommodate a presentation which is of the form – intro, live demo, wrapup thanks & contact info – a format which should be encouraged by many)

7. I would definitely encourage all companies presenting demos to have two people on stage – one talking and engaging with the audience and the other driving the demo – many companies tagged off – which can work but in 5-8 minutes does seem a bit short for that

8. ALL presenting companies – both in the Demo Pit and onstage should get a short-course on copyright, attribution, and how to/not to use copyrighted works. Much more on this topic in my next post – I would estimate that over 50% of the presentations I saw on stage, and many of the demos in the demo pit, involved companies misusing copyrighted works in the course of their presentations. The companies whose very products are designed to break copyright laws are a somewhat separate matter and issue (personally I wouldn’t have put at least one of the companies of the 40 on stage for this very reason)

But overall a great conference – congrats to Heather, Mike and Jason – and to their whole team & sponsors for a fantastic conference. I’ll almost certainly be back next year in some capacity (and of course, I’m happy to help in anyway I can)

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