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Scoble’s rant reflects badly on him, not the 72 companies

Image representing Robert Scoble as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

I had dinner with Andy Abramson and Chris Shipley last night, on the eve before DEMOfall officially kicked off.  Andy’s wine dinners are famous in tech circles, and this one was no different.  And, as is Andy’s custom at these events, he asks each of those invited to stand up and say a few words about themselves, and why they’re at the event, and what they hope to achieve.

Chris began by toasting Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis.  The attention that their efforts to discredit DEMO have brought to the conference have apparently resulted in the biggest and most successful DEMOfall ever.  I’m not going to get into the war of words over conference fees, which Jason and Mike sparked a year ago, except to observe that conferences cost money to run.  Likely DEMO and TC50 cost about the same.  The only difference in the business of running these conferences is the revenue model.  Nobody should be deceived. The startups presenting at both conferences spend much more than the entry fees to prepare for and be successful at one of these events.  I’m sure that Jason and Mike are going to run a great event, and I’m glad to hear that the brass knuckle marketing approach they’ve taken in competing with DEMO hasn’t harmed the show.

The guy I am most disappointed with is Robert Scoble.  I’ve met him a few times, and I’ve always appreciated his straight-up honesty, but yesterday’s blanket declaration that all the companies at DEMOfall sucked based on a cursory examination of their websites was wrong. In a little over an hour (check the time stamps on his posts) he says he visited all 72 DEMO company sites.  Counting the time it took him to write the posts, he likely spent less than a minute on each site.

And Roberts criticisms of the sites are not that good, frankly.  He apparently expected every site to be a consumer oriented web site.  Many of these companies, however, are B2B companies.  Plastic Electronics for example, makes flexible transistors — the stuff that digital paper will be made from in the future.  It’s not a consumer sale. Robert writes:

3. Some, like Plastic Electronics, just have a lame Demo logo and a sign that says “world leader in plastic electronics.” Who cares? What do you do? What is plastic electronics?

It would have been easy enough to click on one of the links to find out what they do.  B2B buyers typically do that.  They tend to have longer attention spans than the average consumer. No doubt the message that the company is a leader in it’s field is meaningful to buyers of those components as well.

Robert saves his worst criticism for UbiEst – an Italian company, located in Italy with an Italian language website. In an “ugly american” moment, he writes:

10. I don’t know what this service does, but I know that it won some prize from some conference that doesn’t matter. The site isn’t even in English. Sigh.

The site is, in fact, available in English.  One merely has to press the english language icon on the right hand side.  And if Robert had done that, he might not have looked such a fool by claiming that Mobile World Congress — the Comdex of mobile telephony — was “some conference that doesn’t matter”.

Robert’s post was a drive-by-shooting, plain and simple.  I don’t know why he did it, but it wasn’t fair.

One big misconception that Robert and many people hold is that DEMO is about startups.  It’s true that there are lots of startups here, but really what DEMO is about is launching products.  Anyone can launch at DEMO, and many established companies — like Plastic Electronics and UbiEst — choose to do so.  They have established brands, customers and product lines.  They’re not launching their companies which is the exclusive focus of TC 50 and events like that. It’s not suprising that their websites reflect their existing businesses as well as their new products because DEMO isn’t the “superbowl of startups“, but rather the “superbowl of product launches”.

And that, in my mind, is one of the things that makes DEMO special. Every company at DEMO plays by the same rules, pays the same fees, gets the same exhibit on the show floor, and has to abide by the same press embargo.   By design, DEMO levels the playing field for startups and established companies alike. It doesn’t hand out special awards for “most promising startup”, or ghettoize all the startups in one corner of the show.  You’re there competing against some of the biggest companies in the industry.  When we launched iotum at DEMO2006, we were up against a field of companies that included the likes of Yahoo! — a company with vastly more resources than we had — and we came home with a DEMOgod award.  Winning one of the coveted DEMOgod awards means that in the judges eyes you were best.  PERIOD.

Pound for pound, DEMO was the best conference I have ever attended.  I have never before or since been to  an event with more qualified investors, buyers, and news people concentrated under one roof.

I don’t expect that this week will be any different.

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Robert Scoble September 7, 2008, 1:57 pm

    Fair enough. I aimed most of my ire at the Websites, though. Thought I made that clear enough. We'll revisit this later in the week. By the way, Thomas Hawk shot that picture.

  • Alec September 7, 2008, 3:08 pm

    I'd be careful. There are ordinary people here asking if you're a spectator or an aligned party with TC 50. I'm not sure you're doing yourself any favors by ragging on DEMO.

  • Robert Scoble September 7, 2008, 3:22 pm

    Alec: I haven't had dinner with Mike Arrington in months. I am NOT getting paid by him. I'm not even being compensated for being a judge at the conference. So, if that's "aligned" well, then, I guess we're all "aligned" some way or another. If TC50 sucks, I'll say so and be brutally honest. I don't care about pissing off anyone in this industry, even people who have multi-million-dollar businesses.

  • Alec September 7, 2008, 3:38 pm

    Hey Robert — don't shoot the messenger. I don't personally believe you would do anything like that. It would compromise the brand you've worked so hard to build.

    Just letting you know what's being asked by others.

  • Robert Scoble September 7, 2008, 3:43 pm

    Alec: asked by others where? At the dinner with Shipley? Oh, that's rich.

  • Alec September 7, 2008, 4:13 pm

    nope. Just in and around the show. Your name is coming up. People are following what is happening.

  • Robert Barr September 9, 2008, 4:45 pm

    Robert was right, the sites themselves are pretty weak but I am sure some of these technologies have a future at some point.

    And yes, being a judge does qualify you as being "aligned"

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