The Superbowl of Startups

When I attended Demo I remember being in awe of what I thought of as the Superbowl of Startups.

Here were these companies that prepared months to spend six minutes on stage.

Later I talked with “DemoGods Coaches” like Shel Israel or Nathan Gold. They told me just how much hard work went in behind the scenes. Some teams spent literally months preparing their demos and getting their companies ready for the big day. This year the big day is on Monday.

Each company has spent $18,500 just to get on stage. That part you all know about because of the famous fight that Demo has had with its competitor, TechCrunch 50.

But the Demo Coaches tell me there’s a lot more that goes into it. Many of these companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in time preparing (and hiring coaches like Nathan Gold, who has a few companies in the running down at Demo). They also often bring their entire teams down to both host the booth in the expo hall as well as host meetings in hotel room suites for press and VCs. Lots of deals are done in the back rooms.

This is why I was so harsh to all those sites this morning. This is the Super Bowl. It’s not a little high school recess game. Thousands of people have visited the list already in the past few hours since I posted. It’s at the top of TechMeme. There’s a lot of attention on the list.

Pointing out that these sights suck has gotten me quite a few harsh words in the past few hours. None harsher than Chris Shipley’s post in reply.

My response to her? Because this is the “Superbowl of Startups” Shipley needs to step up the game here.

Here’s a few replies to her post.

First, she didn’t call me before posting her post. So, let’s say she’s right about the fact that I post posts without getting her point of view then she just lowered herself to my level to make a point, which now is weakened significantly because she didn’t practice the higher ethics she says she wants us all to aspire to. More on that in a little while, though, because that really doesn’t have much to do with the Superbowl of Startups, er, Demo.

She wrote: “But seriously, if I cared about startups, I’d be sure there were links in my stories for the convenience of Robert and other bloggers?”

No, that’s not why I said that. Yes, I’m an egotistical baaahhhsssstttaaarrddd, and a lazy one too, but this shows you have contempt for the startups you are trying to help. A link is VERY IMPORTANT. Why? It gets Google juice. For a startup Google juice is probably more important than anything else the conference can do for you. Why? Because until someone links to your site you won’t be found very high on Google, which is where 99% of your customers will come from (not from tech blogs like this one, Shipley’s, or TechCrunch). Having a site like Demo link to you can mean the difference between being on the first page of results vs. being far lower.

Also, a link makes it easier for readers to do. When sites don’t link the things they talk about will see 100x less traffic than if they do link. Yes, readers (and bloggers and journalists even) are lazy. So, throw them a bone. Finally, by not linking you’ll force your readers to manually enter the URLs, which keeps Web sites from getting a good referral (server logs keep track of where visitors come from) so you won’t get as much credit as you’re due.

Anyway, back to what Shipley wrote. Here’s another passage: “When misinformation is propagated out of laziness and inconsideration, that’s hardly informative. It’s not “new school;” it’s No School.”

Um, OK, but did she point out something that I got factually wrong? No. Did she add new information? No. Did she just make it sound like I had gotten something wrong? Yes. Did she succumb to the same sins that she attacked me and Sarah Lacy for? Yes.

So, what did we learn here? Well, we learned that Shipley is disappointed with the coverage she’s getting. That much is clear. But did she take the time, after she had berated us for that coverage, to correct it? No.

And that makes me very sad. Because it’s like Shipley (and her commenters) are stuck in the past where words were printed on dead trees and you can’t argue with them.

This is not a one-way shipment of words. It’s a conversation.

If I say something wrong, or do something you don’t like, you get involved and slap me around for a while and then YOU CORRECT IT. Notice that I’ve linked to Shipley here twice tonight. Over on FriendFeed I passed her post to all of my friends. Same on Twitter. I’ll do the same on Facebook too. That’s a lot of attention that she had, but she didn’t take the time to get her point of view across.

Which brings me back to the “blogging is reporting” meme that she’s trying to get across.

Blogging is NOT reporting. It’s the single voice of a person. When you read me here you are reading me the way I’d talk to you at a cocktail party. You’re hearing my opinions. If I’m doing “reporting” then you’ll know, because of how I source it.

Sorry, I’m not going to call you every time I have an opinion. If you think I should, then you are crazy and don’t understand blogging.

I used to be like Shipley (Tim O’Reilly has voiced the same opinions too). I used to think that you should call me when you write something about me. That’s why I put my phone number on my blog (it’s +1-425-205-1921 — I do answer my phone and that is actually my cell phone that I use every day).

But I was wrong. See, this is a two-way conversation. You write crap about me. Then I can decide to answer you back.

This is unlike any other communication method ever devised by humans. Talk radio? Give me a break. I waited on hold for an hour last night to make a two-minute contribution to KGO Radio. Newspapers? Have you ever gotten a letter to the editor printed? How many weeks did it take? Magazines? I write for one of those and it takes months to get anything into it. TV? When was the last time a normal human being was on TV holding a conversation with someone on demand for as long as it takes? Never. Try getting on CNN sometime and see how easy it is.

But here? You can leave a comment. You can head over to FriendFeed. You can blog. You can Seesmic. YouTube. etc. etc.

Oh, and Shipley says I’m living in the “rarefied air of the echo chamber.” I love that diss. It might have held weight if she had called me and proven that she’s better than me. But, now that she’s shoved the cream pie in my face I’ll point out that none of the hundreds of startups on my show had to pay to get onto my video show. Ever.

Back to the “Superbowl of Startups.” I will relook at each site this week. Unfortunately Demo, for the first time in years, isn’t putting up videos of the demonstrators, so I’ll just be forced to link to other bloggers who are writing about Demo down there and then I’ll have to compare those companies to ones I’ll see face-to-face at TC50. That will probably introduce some bias, but I’ll link to all my work product and other sites and, anyway, if you don’t like what I say you can easily do a Google Blogsearch and find someone else you like better. Luckily there are lots of areas that don’t overlap between Demo and TC50, but where there are overlaps it’ll be interesting to compare the two approaches. I’m sure some will like the Demo approach. Others will like the TC50 approach.

It’s going to be a fun week in the Superbowl of Startups. Let me know by posting a URL here if you’re writing from either of the two conferences.


Scoble Sucks

Whoa, the hate mail has been flowing fast and furious tonight.

Pat Phelan, founder of MaxRoam, says that today my shine came off.

Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic, says that it’s easy to knock startups when I’ve never started one. I’ve never been the top dog, but the store I helped manage in the 1980s was a startup. Fawcette Technical Publications was only eight when I was hired and grew to about 200. Winnov was a startup when I joined in the mid 90s. UserLand was small and launched a new product while I was there. PodTech was a startup and I saw close up how startups work (or don’t work). And I’ve interviewed hundreds of startups.

Timothy Ritchey, who works for RedRomeLogic, said on Twitter “I guess scoble missed that big f’n orange “Watch Demo Now” button on our home page. ass.”

UPDATE: YCombinator has even more “Scoble Sucks” kinds of comments.

Marshall Kirkpatrick (who works for Demo partner Read/Write Web) said on Twitter: “My take: scoble is being an unfair jerk in saying the DEMO companies suck but is right in his critiques of their marketing.”

Dan Hau, who works for TicketStumbler, said on Twitter: “I love how people think Robert Scoble is famous. He’s not – he’s just a talentless, fat, annoying, douche bag.”

Conner McCall said on Twitter: “Reminded me once again why I quit following anything related to Scoble.”

Mel Webster said on Twitter: “Honestly, the best thing that could ever happen was if everyone ignored @scoble. He would quietly go away!”

Finally, Chris Shipley, who now runs the Demo Conference, wrote a very long post saying basically that I suck. I’ll answer that in a future post.

And this is only some of the “Scoble Sucks” kind of stuff I’ve seen tonight. More later…

Startups: your web site sucks

I visited each website from the list of Demo finalists.

Boy, do they suck. Really, really suck.

Does no one understand how to market themselves?

It’s amazing to me that not a single Demo website has learned from the lessons of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Now THAT is a Website that knows how to market! (Interesting that Gary runs a wine store that sells $50 million a year, yet no one looks at his style as a great way to market your service/product yet).

Almost no company on this list is using video. Amazing that in this age of YouTube that statups aren’t understanding how to use video, or are even trying to use it.

But some are far worse. Mapflow’s company’s site only has a password protect up for it. Amazingly bad, especially since there are probably thousands of people who will get that as their first experience with this company.

Some other mistakes?

1. Lots of companies have Demo badges, but don’t welcome Demo visitors. Who cares that you’re going to show off at Demo? We do care about what the news will be. So, include something like “on Tuesday you’ll learn how we’ll solve xxxx problem.”
2. Photrade’s website gave me an error.
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? Or, worse, look at Semantifind. Can’t they at least put up a few words about what problem they will solve and collect an email address? Remember, this is my first impression of these companies. Lame, lame, lame, lame, lame and, no, I won’t be back. Sorry. Usable says “come see us at Demo.” Um, out of all the visitors to your Web site this weekend how many are going to Demo? I’d guess almost none. After all, if you were going to Demo you’d be drinking beer in the bar right now, not checking out the list of startups.
4. Some, like Open a Circle, seem to aim at a problem that doesn’t exist or seem to be too early. They could really help their case by explaining the pain point that they solve.
5. Too many words, like this site at Radiant Logic. I fell asleep as soon as I saw the site. Oh, and lame stock photo too.
6. We’re a “me too” company, like Wild Pockets which looks to me like a copy of Kongregate but Wild Pocket’s doesn’t explain differentiating factor.
7. ToolTogether just gave me a form without explaining a thing about their company. That’s ultra lame. I can’t believe how bad these companies are.
8. Visit this website for Trinity Convergence for 10 seconds. Click close. Now tell me what they do. Buzzwords!!! Convergence? Multimedia? Embedded devices? Mushy marketing and I still don’t know what they do, the value they bring, the pain they solve.
9. Solves problems that don’t exist. This site, TurnTo, wants you to use your friends to solve problems, or find products. Um, Twitter already solved that. Facebook has all my friends. And I’m not going to get them all to join a new service, sorry. Especially one that uses lame stock photography.
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.
11. UGA Digital has probably the worst example of marketing I’ve ever seen. It’s the antithesis of what Gary Vaynerchuk does. Who cares whether your team is in multiple countries? I love companies that claim they have “boundless imagination.” Certainly isn’t demonstrated on their Web site.
12. “Download Unity Solutions info sheet.” Ugh, FAIL!
13. Wait a second, this company wants to make a difference in the world? Why the hell are they spending $18,000 to go to Demo? They could have just donated that much money to some interesting charity and gotten more PR.

Ones that caught my eye?

1. Quantivo. Nice design, gets to the point. Uses video. Makes me want to click into the site.

Um, I visited every single company on the Demo list. Amazingly lame companies. Amazingly lame web sites. Is this it? Am I missing something? How did these companies get $18,000 to go to Demo?

Would you write about any of these companies? Did any of them solve a problem you have? Would any of you fund any of these companies?

My answer? No. No. No. Sorry Demo.