Some say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” For others, however, imitation is merely a shortcut to a bank’s merchant window without investing first in creativity, original thought, or shouldering the load of those who popularized a category or event.
All of which brings news that a competitor to Demo has announced its event will overlap DemoFall08, in early September. The competitor is TechCrunch 50, the second incarnation of a show that first appeared on the scene last year after its founders, Jason Calacanis of Tech Crunch and Michael Arrington, used Demo 2007 to announce that they too were hosting a technology showcase. One big difference between the two shows is this: Unlike Demo, Tech Crunch doesn’t charge its featured stage presenters a Demonstrator’s fee..
Let me digress a moment and make a mandatory disclosure: My name is Jim Forbes and I am a retired Demo producer who developed DemoMobile (now known as DemoFall) and helped Chris Shipley, the executive producer of Demo, select companies for and produce the larger Demo shows. I had a stroke moments before I was to have opened Demo in Phoenix and am now retired. I have no fiduciary relationship with Demo or its direct and indirect parent entities: IDG (which owns Network World) and the GuideWire Group, which Chris Shipley co-founded.
In a statement posted on the GuideWire Group’s blog Wednesday, here Demo’s Ms. Shipley questioned the timing of Tech Crunch50, suggesting it would force entrepreneurs to chose one event over the other and suggesting that forcing start-ups to make such a choice wasn’t a good decision. Ms. Shipley also posted that Demo08 generated more than 200 million media impressions for its hand-selected spots and explained how Demo supports its companies in preparing for the event. Ms. Shipley also questioned why TechCrunch50 was copying Demo’s “rulebook and other guidelines.”
Michael Arrington says that he and Jason Calacanis “liked the Demo model but don’t like the ‘payola’ idea of demonstrators paying.”
A call to TechCrunch 50 co-sponsor Jason Calacanis was not returned.
In various blog postings on sites such as ValleyWag last year, other writers have come to acknowledge the benefits of Demo’s high production values as well as the effort its support staff take to train demonstrators. Last year a ValleyWag editor suggested Demo’s demonstrator fee showed audiences that its companies had “skin in the game” and were well prepared for the event.
At 18 years, Demo is the oldest technology showcase. TechCrunch isn’t the first competitor that’s tried to unseat Demo. Three other events have come and gone, and Demo now also faces some competition from the Wall Street Journal’s All ThingsD conference, which is produced by WSJ staffer Walt Mossberg and former WSJ staffer-turned-author Kara Swisher. Another contract staffer involved in AllThingsD previously had been the president of IDG Executive Forums, which produced Demo before it was incorporated into IDG’s Network World business unit.
Both Demo and TechCrunch appear to have the same format: stage presentations by companies with products grouped by category, and panels of VC or business development executives. In its first five years, Demo had a slightly different format that allowed audience members to ask onstage demonstrators questions (a format borrowed from Agenda, which like Demo was also started by industry pundit Stuart Alsop but was produced through much of its life by IDG Executive Forums).
Under Ms. Shipley, Demo has become a “community” with a high number of returning attendees and serial entrepreneurs who have used the show to launch multiple companies. One of the major changes Ms. Shipley has made to increase Demo’s presence and sense of community has been the addition of a video library of Demo presentations that can be viewed at www.Demo.com.
Competition makes for better products. While Demo may be the oldest show, there’s still enough room in the technology industry for new blood. I have no problem with competition, the real issue here is when competition is based on cookie cutter marketing plans that don’t give credit where its due. —Jim Forbes 04/02/2008