12 thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of TechCrunch50

Launching at TechCrunch50 was awesome. We met a ton of interesting people and it is already a boon for BreakThrough.

I sent the below feedback to Mike Arrington and Jason Calacanis. Jason encouraged me to post for the public, so here it is:

Strengths

1. Fast internet
: if there is one thing a tech conference has to get right, I think it’s internet access. Otherwise it’s like a restaurant with great decor and service but terrible food. TC50 nailed it with fast ethernet and power cables at every seat. Absolutely the right place to spend big.

2. Great organization
: throughout the application, preparation, and presentation, we got clear instructions on what to do and when. It was like a Swiss train. Jason’s presentation prep was especially helpful.

3. Strong panelists
: a good mix of smart and entertaining people asking generally good questions. I want Yossi Vardi to host my next birthday party.

4. Press tags
: it was helpful to see the orange press tags so we knew who to approach. I didn’t see a color for investors; they should have been tagged green instead of the startups.

5. Decor
: banners, tables, music, visuals, and stage were all well designed. If the startups had to design their own signage, it would have looked like a drunken quilt.

Areas of improvement

1. Democratic judging
: I meant to post this before the awards so this couldn’t be seen as a response to how BreakThrough did, so please believe my feedback would be the same even if we won.

As a finalist, I was quite surprised that Jason said the winner was determined by he and Mike alone. I think a great thing about startups is their democratic spirit and judging early-stage ideas is such an art that I think many opinions are needed. I think this is why VCs usually require buy-in from all the partners to close a deal.

I would love to see the judging process become more transparent and democratic. Jason believes the panelists shouldn’t judge because they aren’t at every session and that audience metrics can be gamed, but I think these concerns can be addressed. I am sure some investors would like to listen to all of the pitches and complete judging forms; some watched most of the sessions anyway, and it would be a source of status for them. It would also help the startups get feedback.

I think TC50 can authenticate conference attendees and internet viewers enough that their feedback is fair. The on-site poker chips are a clever example. The winner could be determined by a combination of Jason, Mike, VCs, panelists, and audience. Even if these are gamed somewhat, like any crowdsourced app, I think more involvement is a net benefit for everyone.

It would also be nice to offer mini-awards for more companies; for example, $1,000 for each best-in-session, $5k for two runners-up, and $30k-$50k for the best-in-show.

2. Clearer metrics: Our and other startups didn’t seem to know exactly what presentations were judged on. Was it the strength of the idea, the presentation, product quality, probability of a high VC return? I am guessing it was a combination, but it wasn’t really clear and what is measured will determine how we present. It will also help the audience understand the results.

I don’t really have a strong opinion on which metrics to choose. Since we are mostly early-stage, my guess is we collectively care most about closing funding, so I think investor metrics are a natural way to go: large market, quality product, strong team, clear distribution, competitive advantage, business model.

It may take a little more time to show these, but I think it would be an extra minute or two well spent. I don’t think Sequoia’s billion-dollar potential should be the threshold; I think lower exit, higher-probability ventures like Y Combinator’s are just as valid.

I think it would be great to have panelists quantitatively score presentations like Olympic judges with large cards numbered 1-10. The score could be a simple combination of startup quality (per above) and presentation quality. That would help Jason zero in on judges that especially liked or disliked an idea, even if it didn’t affect the results.

I’d also like to see live, post-presentation scores from attendees and internet viewers via SMS and web. A company like Mozes or Polldaddy would likely be glad to help. Again, it wouldn’t have to affect the results, but it would make the judging more fun, democratic, and useful.

3. More focus on distribution, less on product
: As a product manager by training, I like and understand the conference’s focus on product, but I think the one thing that needs more attention is distribution strategy. Like Marc Andreessen and Reid Hoffman, I think there were a lot of startups with interesting ideas and good products but hinged on unclear or weak distribution strategies.

The web is so saturated that distribution is as or more important than product quality. The #1 feedback I heard about companies – including BreakThrough – was “great idea, but how do you get traction”? If startups don’t have time or license to focus on distribution, they really can’t put their best foot forward.


Ideas

1. Investor booths: I think the startups would love to interact more with the investors present. I have seen VC booths at other conferences and I imagine many would be interested in one, even if they’re sometimes unstaffed or staffed by Associates.

2. Conference services
: two in particular would have been awesome: massage therapists and nap pods. I’m sure many founders were like me and running on little sleep. A quick nap or massage might have really helped people perk up. They could charge the vendors or attendees if they wanted.

3. Poker tournament
: as a way to unwind, I think a Monday night poker tournament would be fun. I know a lot of founders, including Jason, that like poker. Tournament directors at Bay 101 or Garden City could run it and TC50 could give the winner a sponsor prize or lunch with Vinod Khosla. Phil Hellmuth lives in Palo Alto if they want a star emcee.

4. Feedback collection
: TC50 could benefit from collecting on-site and online feedback during and right after the conference.

The whole process was awesome so I intend this feedback as ways to make it even more awesome.

How would you improve TC50 for next year?

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7 thoughts on “12 thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of TechCrunch50

  1. Jason September 18, 2009 / 6:38 pm

    great feedback. In terms of the awards I was thinking we might want to split it up and give the winner $30k and the three runners up $10k each or something like that.

  2. Mike September 18, 2009 / 6:50 pm

    Yeah that sounds like a good idea Jason. Would be great for the runner up startups.

    @Jason

  3. Scott Simko September 18, 2009 / 6:57 pm

    Great list, I particularly agree with clearer metrics, I think it would help the startups focus better. Your point on the distribution model is well taken, some panels focused on that point and others didn’t. However, the panels generally gave good advice, I hope everyone takes time to re-watch their presentation (others presentations) and modify their strategy if necessary.

  4. Anonymous September 18, 2009 / 7:04 pm

    Nice article. This was my third year in a row attending the event. If I could change one thing about TC50, it would be for Arrington to run the show and ditch Calacanis.

    1. He has nothing to do with TechCrunch
    2. He was speaking over Mike the entire time, chiming in with his opinions and asking annoying questions to the startups.
    3. Last year he was so blackout drunk at the W, he didn’t even show up until half way through the second day (classy).
    4. He isn’t nice to anyone attending the event that he doesn’t know personally.
    5. He brought up his own people on stage at the end of the show to say thank you (bravo to Tyler though, he did an amazing job).
    6. Doesn’t show up to the TechCrunch events afterwards (and neither does Mike, but he has good reason:too many people want to talk to him).

    I could keep going on, but I’d rather not waste my time.

    In terms of the startups at the event, I think the biggest failure came with the 50 companies chosen to present on stage. I’ll talk about a few.

    1. Clicker? Come on. This is the kind of company that deserves a TechCrunch post at the most. Boring
    2. Spawn Labs. Did anyone that chose the companies ever hear of OnLive? The future of OnDemand gaming that literally puts that piece of hardware to shame?
    3. CitySourced. Everyone was aweing over this company. There are two major issues there. First, city governments are notoriously slow at EVERYTHING! Do you think they really want a bunch of extra complaints coming in about potholes and graffiti that they will never tend to. Second, if someone takes a picture of a pothole and sends it in, and nothing gets fixed (very likely it won’t), that person will never use the app again.
    4. LifeVest or whatever that chick version of Mint was called. Embarrassing at best.
    5. UDorse. Never going to work, sorry. Talked to many VC friends that said the same and worse.
    6. WuffiBucks
    7. Threadsy. Boring, and no I don’t want Twitter responses coming into my gmail. That’s where I do business, not talk to Scoble.
    8. SeatGeek. Sports tickets are not like airline tickets. That was a Y Combinator type investment and PG hated it, so I think you’re out of luck.
    9. Radiusly. Even Chamillionaire dissed your company, that hurts.
    10. Sprowtt. Never in a million.

  5. 14k September 18, 2009 / 7:41 pm

    In regarding democratic judging; it is call the rule of the game. I know for sure there are other similar new business start-up conferences all over the nation. If you felt the game wasn’t fair, you could walk away. Play the game, follow the rule.

    Take it or leave it. There are other games that suit you.

  6. fake jason September 18, 2009 / 7:48 pm

    Hey Anonymous (if thats your real name), you may not like Jason, but he knows how to put on a show. I wont cast stones here, but both MA and JS had missteps during tc50.

    I recommend that they find another person to mc the event. Mixing the egos of JS and MA is too unpredictable.

  7. fake jason September 18, 2009 / 7:52 pm

    @Jason

    The money is nice, but its more symbolic and secondary to the exposure that comes from the event. So i agree that breaking it up would be a nice touch.

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