Chris Shipley on the merits of DEMO

Executive director of DEMO talks about the value of the longstanding conference for startups

Entrepreneur interview by Bambi Francisco Roizen
February 27, 2009
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Next week, Chris Shipley, co-founder and Chairman of Guidewire Group and executive producer of DEMO, will share the stage with Matt Marshall, founder of VentureBeat, and incoming director of DEMO. The conference, which will be held in Palm Springs, Calif., will showcase 40 "hot" startups, as considered by Shipley and others who've sat in the selection committees to choose the companies that make it to the event. Shipley told me she looks at 2000 annually! So, suffice it to say - DEMO is a conference that remains a gold standard of conferences for emerging companies.

(See which companies will be presenting next week.)

Shipley, as many have read, will be leaving to focus on her own startup Guidewire, an advisory firm to startups. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Shipley for several interviews, including a "Lessons for entrepreneurs" interview; one on how the Internet has changed culture, and importantly what's ahead for Shipley, her company Guidewire, and the upcoming Innovate!Europe conference.

Shipley was also my guest host for four Vator Box segments, in which we analyze and discuss four startups: Kosmix, Diddit, Filtrbox and Digger. But Shipley was also gracious enough to talk about the value of DEMO, in light of the many competing conferences, notably TC50.

In this segment, Shipley and I spoke about the upcoming DEMO conference and specifically we touched on the ongoing and public controversy between TC50 (TechCrunch's conference) and DEMO. In a recent TechCrunch article, titled "DEMO gets desperate," the writer refers to DEMO as "the startup and product-launch conference owned by IDG that competes with our own TechCrunch50 conference," and that DEMO could use some "fresh blood." Clearly, the author took the opportunity to take a swipe at DEMO.

This bad blood between the two conferences seemed to start way back in April 2008, when TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington said this to CNet. "Demo needs to die... It's just anold-school model... It clearly involves pay to play, and what we'reoffering is better."

DEMO has always charged startups to present, and this year it charged $18,500. That's the big beef that TC50 has with DEMO. Why should startups have to pay to present at an event? If they're worth celebrating, then let sponsors pay to be in front of them. But all this is old news. What's new is Shipley's planned departure at the end of this year; how she views DEMO and what's next for her.

What you'll find, from this interview, is someone who has humbly served the startup community. When I asked her how she felt reading articles that called her a "The woman with the Midas Touch," she responded: "I’ve been privileged to work with a lot of great startups to hopefully give them a lift to their flight. I may have good judgment, but they’re the ones that turn themselves into gold, not me."

On the topic of DEMO, she said that many of the companies are more mature than they were in the past. These companies are bringing product to market. Many already have business models. "This is not an era of we'll figure out a business model later," she said.

When I asked her what she thought of the seemingly vocal jabs coming out of TechCrunch and its own conference TC50, she jokingly said: "What's that event?"  

Then she went on, "It’s not the first time someone’s mispositioned DEMO... Fundamentally, we’re a different event than TechCrunch. We’re about companies that are mature enough to take their products to market."

What's the perception of DEMO vs. TechCrunch 50? I asked.

"There’s a role for TechCrunch to showcase entrepreneurs... There are how many thousands of companies coming into the market? If they’re [TechCrunch] lining up behind entrepreneurs, God bless them. That doesn’t mean it has to be a zero sum game," she said, adding, " is another way [to help entrepreneurs."

As for the steep amount to be paid by entrepreneurs, who probably could put those funds toward other uses, Shipley said that “DEMO offers a range of services for that price," including services to launch the product, as well as a well-done production to celebrate them. A price point also acts as a "filter."

Indeed, a price point does help separate the wheat from the chaff in many cases. And, if paying up contributes to a well-produced event, then it's probably worth it. 

Be sure to watch my other interviews with Shipley. They'll be up during the coming weeks. 

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