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TechCrunch 50: My favorite parts

I had an amazing time this week at TechCrunch 50 for a variety of reasons, and thought I’d post about it here, as both a reminder to future me of good times, as a shout-out to all the great people I reconnected with, and as a post simply pointing out that if you’re working in the realm of Internet Startups, you need to attend conferences like TechCrunch 50. However, more than anything else this’ll be the first of these three things and more of a personal post than any sort of professional analysis of the event.

Crowd Fusion at TechCrunch 50

Crowd Fusion TechCrunch 50 poker chipThe best part of the conference was meeting up and working with the Crowd Fusion team in meatspace. Being part of a virtual company with no offices makes you really appreciate the time that you have face to face with your co-workers at occasions like TechCrunch 50, and it was great to hang with Brian, Craig, and Ryan for the four days I was in San Francisco. If you’re running a virtual company now and you’ve not done it yet, make sure you schedule a meeting at some point where everyone who can gets together. Make it a code jam session for your developers to work face to face with each other and the rest of your staff to get together and discuss feature ideas. There’s no better company set up in terms of cost and flexibility than a virtual company with no offices, but there’s also nothing better than face time with your team members to create some really magical breakthrough moments of understanding and jumping to the next level.

Crowd Fusion at TechCrunch50There were only two downsides to being one of the TechCrunch 50 presenting on the second day:

  1. We didn’t head out to all the first day parties, because we wanted to tweak our presentation and make sure it was as good as it could be. It was and we were very happy with how it went. The response has been incredible, and we’re going to start contacting people who have signed up for our private beta shortly. Make sure you follow our Twitter account for updates and if you haven’t applied for our beta program yet and you’re a developer, you can do so here.
  2. We missed all the presentations that came after our session, because we went out to the floor to man our booth, meet with people interested in what Crowd Fusion is about, and answer questions for anyone curious enough to stop by. Thanks to everyone who did stop by. I loved talking with all of you and I look forward to seeing how you can make use of our platform to build something great. I’ll be catching up with all the presentations that I missed over the weekend. Presenting at a conference like TechCrunch 50 is a complete whirlwind of adrenaline. I think my favorite part of any company is when we get to announce or launch new things. I loved staying up until midnight in the summer of 2006 with the Netscape team, camped out in AOL offices to launch the New Netscape while blasting The Greatest American Hero theme song, I loved watching Jason on stage at All Things D announcing the launch of Mahalo and walking quickly out of the auditorium while calling Mark Jeffrey on the phone and saying “Go. Go. Go. It’s announced. Go live now!”, and I loved the excitement Ryan and I were feeling sitting next to each other in the audience at TechCrunch 50 when Brian and Craig took the stage and Ryan pushed the site and the beta sign-up page live on the penultimate slide.

Reconnecting with old friends

I managed to reconnect with a lot of people that I had not seen since before I left Mahalo. At the very beginning of the conference, a grinning Mark Jeffrey, CTO of Mahalo, sat down next to me and we ended up talking multiple times throughout the day, catching up on what was going on with each other’s lives and ventures. A good chunk of the Mahalo team was there and I was happy to run into all of them over the 2 days of the conference. I was especially happy to hear how nicely Mahalo’s traffic is doing, considering I have stock in the company. ;-) Go, Team Mahalo! I managed to chat with Elliot Cook, Mahalo COO, Lon Harris who used to work for me, but has now replaced me as Editorial Director over at Mahalo, and Mike Rhoads, who also used to work for me and can eat more food than should be possible, which has always impressed me.

I also ran into Sean Percival a few times and he even bought myself and the Crowd Fusion team a round of drinks while we were out at 5A5 Steak Lounge, where I ate the best wagyu steak I’ve had in my entire life. Vegetarians are fools.

I finally met Larry Miller aka ConnectedGeek who was one of Mahalo’s earliest and loudest fans and who has continued to be a great supporter of all that Mahalo is about and doing. He was one of the workers at TechCrunch 50 and was kind enough to hook me and the Crowd Fusion team with Crowd Fusion poker chips (like the one pictured above). Everyone should follow him on Twitter.

We also ate lunch on the first day with Gabe Rivera and Gabe told me that he really liked the point of this post of mine and noted that, for his purposes, unfortunately, it had a shit title. I knew I should have titled it “WordPress tries to distract from weekend of hacks by announcing RSSCloud integration that no one will ever use.” ;-)

Ryan Block was there and Jason and I ganged up on him with some gentle ribbing, telling him that both of our wives were pregnant while Peter already has a kid, and that he’s running behind schedule as he still hasn’t proposed to Veronica yet. Ryan diverted the conversation by asking me about Kristin’s pregnancy and when I told him we weren’t going to name the child C.K. Sample IV if it is a boy, he exclaimed “NO! You have to! You HAVE to!” and went on a mini-rant about how I couldn’t break the line, which was pretty awesome.

Tyler Crowley, who I used to work with at Mahalo, was hard to hook up with because he was working so hard as producer of the show. It was sort of odd to see considering Tyler is such a laid back guy. At Mahalo, he’d always be on his iPhone via his headset while leaning back in his chair at his desk or while leisurely walking out to grab some Starbucks. He was always working hard, but he’s one of those people who can work hard while looking totally relaxed. At TechCrunch 50, this wasn’t the case. Tyler was darting back and forth everywhere. When I first walked up to him during lunch one day, he kind of just looked at me and waved for a second, thinking I was just somebody saying hi, and then he did a double take, jumped up and goes “C.K. Sample! Good to see you!” and gave me a huge hug. We talked approximately for exactly 2 minutes before his hand went to his ear like some sort of secret service agent, his index finger shot up in a “hold on a second” gesture, and then he said, “Sorry, I have to go” and shot off to do some more work. However, the next time I saw him, Tyler paid me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. He introduced me to his girlfriend as “the foundation of Mahalo.” I was very flattered at the praise, told him it was nice of him to say, and then laughed that as a stockholder I’m just glad that the traffic is doing well.

However, of all the people I hadn’t seen in a while, I was happiest to get to reconnect with Roelof Botha, who I’ve always gotten along well with and who is on Mahalo’s board. I never had the chance to talk to him about me leaving Mahalo, and I apologized for leaving the company. He was gracious about it and we talked a bit about my wife’s pregnancy, he recommended a book, and then we discussed why theswop.com is really a bad idea. Basically, if you’re running a startup, you have limited resources and the resources you know, hire, and trust are always going to be of more value than you’ll receive in exchange for their time in an exchange like this. Better to spend money than to waste your talent on other people’s ventures. Of course, if you have no talent on board and you’re really looking to bootstrap an idea, it *might* be useful if someone who doesn’t realize their wasting their talent on this service happens to give up the time of their stars for your duds. As such, I think it might end up being a great place to steal good talent from. I don’t think it’ll be a successful business. Also, I think the name is horrible, because most people who hear about it will type in theswap.com by mistake, which is an entirely different site. In any case, it was great seeing Roelof and I told him that I might come knocking at his door in a couple of years with some ideas I’ve been kicking around.

This is the main draw to any event like this. Connecting and reconnecting with amazingly good people. I had hoped to chat with MG Siegler, as a fellow bearer of a name that is made up of initials, but he was always wrapped in a conversation I didn’t want to intrude on when I spotted him and I had the time to speak. It really was a whirlwind of two days.

The conference and the presenting companies

TechCrunch50I was really impressed by the internet connectivity at this conference. It was the best I’ve ever experienced at a conference of this size and no small feat. The only bits that were really bad about the event were the uncomfortable chairs and the heat in the auditorium. There was a problem with food shortages the first day, but it didn’t affect me and Jason came to the rescue by ordering pizzas.

I was very unimpressed with the way Arrington behaved at the end, walking off stage and not participating in the awards ceremony. He seemed somewhat aggravated throughout the conference. Once when walking past me he glared at me oddly. Odd guy. Probably much more stressed during the event than he normally is, so I’ll cut him some slack.

Of the companies that I saw, I had a few favorites and a few duds. The first session was somewhat painful and the worst of the show. Penn & Teller’s iPhone app was a horrible beginning to the show. Less an announcement of something cool than a “hey I’m a celebrity, celebrate me!” Story Something’s name is horrible, because it continually makes you think that the person who is telling you about it forgot the name. Also, it’s basically like storybook MadLibs, so I’m not overly impressed by the idea and doubt it will be a success. SealTale was laughable. A widget for all your sites that will make money via corporate sponsorship of widgets? Really?

ToonsTunes was cool and has potential. They need to partner up with some big media companies quickly before they get squashed by them though. Clasemovil was interesting, but I doubt they’ll have much success simply because of how political education is. iTwin is a great idea for the un-tech-savvy crowd, but is overpriced. If they don’t lower the price to something closer to $20, they won’t succeed. The CEO kept noting how popular USB flash drives are, but they didn’t become popular until they became cheap.

imo had one of the most entertaining presentations of the show, but an iPhone controller for your games isn’t really the ideal controller (unless it’s an actual iPhone game), so I doubt it will succeed. Clicker was really cool. Spawn Labs was really cool as well, although, again, I think $200 is too high of a price point. Also, when I talked to them at their booth I found out that since it lets you play games as if you were on your console, effectively a SlingPlayer for gaming, it means that all multi-player games are treated as local games, which will often mean split-screen play, rather than full screen.

Toybots struck me as a dud that won’t have much chance of catching on. Udorse has potential because of how they’re focusing in on Facebook, and they did show off the signature pages from two contracts (which Jason touted as a great move, but which I thought was somewhat laughable). 5to1 looks very promising. I didn’t like HealthyWage. I liked Yext but I don’t see it catching on. RedBeacon was awesome and they gave me a cupcake. It’s a good idea, and based on their handing out of cupcakes at TC50, they clearly have some good ideas in terms of marketing, so I’m not surprised that they won. LocalBeacon won’t get traction because it’s charging people who are looking for work. Lame. Mota didn’t seem that amazing to me. theswop.com is a horrible name and ineffectual for the reasons I noted above. refmob was cool. FluidHTML is cool, but I think will end up getting squashed by HTML 5 and the nightmares of trying to keep up with Adobe updates (unless they manage to get acquired by Adobe, which I think may be their only real line of success).

Trollim looked interesting. I like anything that turns work into games. Affective Interfaces looked really cool. Cocodot will be a success, because it’s attacking a huge market and because Shawn Gold is involved. AnyClip was *really* cool and extra bonus points for showing a scene of Jason in a movie cursing and playing basketball. My big question for them that the judges didn’t ask, but which I asked them later, was if they were concerned about Google + YouTube steamrolling them. They kind of said, yeah that could happen, but what are you going to do? while also pointing out that Google is becoming sort of an expert at doing everything and therefore doing everything half-assed (my terminology here), so there will be room to compete and they think they have the strategic advantage because they can offer the studios a cut of their business rather than simply offering licensing fees as Google will do. I thought that was a very smart answer, so I’m bullish on them.

Crowd Fusion, of course, is the sleeper hit of the entire show (and I’m not alone in that opinion).

The best sponsor announcement at the show was Bing’s visual search. Bing is really impressing me.

I know I only managed to talk about about half of the presenters, but those are the ones that stuck out and made an impression (negative or positive) and, as I noted, I didn’t get to see any of the people that went after Crowd Fusion (yet).

UPDATE: I forgot to mention CitySourced, which a lot of people loved. I hate this idea. I’m sure it will do well, but I just don’t like the idea of this app being in the hands of all the hall-monitors out there, who will over-zealously report things. I also don’t like how its strongly anti-graffiti. I’m strongly pro-graffiti as an emergent urban art space, even though I realize graffiti artists are doing something beautiful to“vandalizing” so many ugly-ass buildings that plague my eyes architectural works built and paid for by hard-working companies.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ray Slakinski 9/18/2009, 10:04 am

    I have to disagree with you on one Company. ToyBot does have a chance with its platform — There is a company called Webkinz, which makes ooodles of cash selling stuffed animals that have online virtual worlds where you can play, feed, and teach your new webkin pet, add in some ToyBot tech and now the stuffed animal who use to sit lifeless next to the computer is now “alive” and truly becomes a bridge from the virtual world and and the real world.

    I think Toybot’s biggest hurdle is selling its tech to different toy manufactures, they need to get Webkinz on the phone and make a deal quick, or sell/join the company if they want to see their work see the light of day.

    • C.K. Sample III 9/18/2009, 10:06 am

      Yeah, good point. I just wasn’t overly impressed by their presentation, so I’m skeptical of them getting on the phone with Webkinz and landing a deal.

  • Anonymous 9/18/2009, 10:09 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.

    • C.K. Sample III 9/18/2009, 11:25 pm

      I almost didn’t approve this comment because you left it anonymously. Next time have some balls and put down your name.

      I totally disagree with your take on Calacanis for several reasons, not the least of which being that I count him as one of my friends. However, putting that aside, I do happen to know that the idea for TechCrunch 50 was entirely Jason’s as I was working for him when he came up with it under a different name. He ended up partnering with Arrington largely for the TechCrunch name and the added publicity, but you’re somewhat unfair analysis of Jason overlooks the bare fact that he’s far more experienced in hosting events than Arrington, that he pours quite a bit of the money that goes into TechCrunch 50 himself (I don’t think Arrington could easily afford it without him / without finding another partner to replace him), and his team (including Tyler and Alex) are the people who actually run the event. Arrington brings his blog and their coverage of the event to TechCrunch 50, but from the beginning it’s been Jason’s staff doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the event.

      Also, regarding your #3 point, I’d say Arrington’s stunt of leaving before the awards were given out was just as classy, if not worse. Having worked for Jason for over a three year period, I don’t think your point #4 is accurate. He’s far nicer to strangers than he tends to be with those he’s close to.

      Also, your point #6 is ridiculous. Jason was at every after event I went to and he’s in as high demand, if not in more demand than Arrington, simply because he’s not just a press person; he’s a guy who has successfully made millions in the industry, who is the current CEO and founder of the 108th largest site in the U.S., who sits on multiple boards of other businesses, and who knows a lot of people and can get you connected with who you need to connect with.

      Now Jason aside, I tend to agree with the rest of your comment to a certain extent. However, I think the goal of this conference is to foster and grow a wide gamut of startups. Some are rockstars. Some are a little bit lost and will learn a lot from the event.

  • john haden 9/19/2009, 12:33 am

    read the article nice summary…. have one on my own site…

    TOTAL SHOCKER OF THE ARTICLE………. graffiti. Who knew there was another internet fiend out there w/ a love of graffiti. Gotta check out SuperBlast… artist in Germany that created some skateboard graphics for me. http://superblast.de/

  • sean percival 9/19/2009, 2:27 pm

    Good to cya and catch up. I ended up leaving my credit card at the bar :/

    • C.K. Sample III 9/19/2009, 2:37 pm

      Oooooh, that sucks. Sorry man. Yeah, it was good seeing you too. Make sure you tell your better half that I was disappointed she wasn’t there with you.