Last week my friend Mark Pincus noted, via twitter, that I was not at the D conference and wondered if I knew something others did not. I replied back to Mark that I'm not a big fan of attending conferences.
I don't go to TED and never have and don't think I ever will. I don't go to Demo or Techcrunch 50 or any of those kinds of events either.
I spent the weekend in Vegas with a bunch of people who go to the Lobby conference every year, including its organizer David Hornik. David was trying to convince me to come this year, but I told him the idea of a ten hour flight to Hawaii was not attractive to me. I suggested to David if he did it in a place where us east coasters could get to a bit easier, I might consider it.
Travel is a hassle. Its time consuming and gets in the way of doing other more productive things. I'll gladly travel to the west coast or europe to visit our portfolio companies and meet with new investment opportunities.
But the idea of travel to get together with the same old group, the tech biz insider club, doesn't appeal to me at all.
I do like attending events that happen in NYC, like I am doing tomorrow morning. I am speaking at Federated Media's Conversational Marketing Summit. I'll spend the morning there, get some networking in, and be back in my office for our monday meeting in the afternoon. That's how I like to do conferences, short, sweet, and easy.
I think our industry places too much emphasis on conferences in an era where there are amazing tools to congregate online and find like minded people. I am not suggesting that face to face meetings aren't important, they are critical. But schmoozefests at fancy resorts aren't the kinds of face to face meetings I want to do.
And 'by invitation only' or high priced events are particularly bad in my mind. The most interesting people you can meet are the outsiders, the up and comers, and the hackers who can't afford to lay out $4000 to attend an event and are never going to get an invite to an event where you have to know somebody or "be somebody" to get in.
So I avoid those most of all.
Back in the 90s, I was unknown to the powers that be and could not get into TED. I don't forget that and that's why I'll never go to it. I don't want to play that game. If I ever got an invite to Davos or Sun Valley, I'd have a really hard time saying yes. These power parties are not for me.
I've got this blog and the rest of social media where I try hard to be approachable and where I can meet interesting new people. And I take an average of twenty to thirty meetings a week. That seems to work pretty well for me. And I think I'll just keep doing it that way.
Hooray. This is so very refreshing. I’m sure the hospitality industry wouldn’t agree though 🙂 And remember Fred, we try to help business travelers (who prioritize healthy living) by recommending places to stay, swim, run, work out, play and eat…all from an athletic-minded standpoint. We just added a ton of content for San Jose & Silicon Valley — free. We are believers in the “freemium” concept (which I first read about HERE). http://www.athleticmindedtraveler.com
Could not agree more. A lot of the “business development” that people think they are doing at conferences is just really listening to themselves and to others talk about themselves. For the most part, it’s not real work and it’s not really all that useful. And the idea that you have to “be somebody” to be successful is silly and is a mistaken belief that the more exclusive conferences tend to reinforce. But as a way to be social and have fun, these conferences can be very effective though quite costly. In contrast, very targeted vertical industry conferences can be very effective as a way to meet and great with relevant people at all levels of seniority. But the likes of TED and others are mostly just entertainment and social climbing.
what did you think of LeWeb last year? There were some great start-ups in the basement. Enjoyed what you had to share even if you don’t like travelling….
I went to LeWeb because I don’t have a strong network in europe and thought it would be a good way to ramp that up. It was helpful in that way and I came away with some new relationships. But I was also shocked to see how many US-based tech industry insiders were there. It was a bit like a web 2.0 conference in Paris
Interesting perspective. I submitted a speaking proposal for LeWeb a few days ago; and had seen your name on last year’s speaker list. My intent is the same as you indicated yours was; to connect more with the European market, so it’s helpful to hear it’s the “same crowd” I can find on a typical spread of TechCrunch blog comments.Do you envision more “social media conferences,” e.g. hosted on Second Life and other platforms?
I think second life is too immersive of an experience. I like blogs for meeting people and talking about stuff
It’s actually not as immersive as you think — but immersion isn’t such a terrible thing.Continuous partial attention becomes easier with Second Life, it’s like a “holding pen” for links, notes, contacts, ideas, prototypes — it’s one window among many you might have open.Also, SL has been thinned out lately to make it more like the Web and they are redoing the whole viewer for 2010, something that might make older users like me unhappy but is supposed to make it easier for more casual use.
FYI the TechCrunch Europe crowd is quite different! 😉
Conferences do support the status quo, and the disrupters don’t get attention from the entrenched players. Most of what I hear at conferences is old music. I’m pleased that today’s social media channels create a virtual playing field that allow people with shared business interests to be able to discover each other.
So quick question: How do disruptor gain supporters-In my short experience on this earth- disrupting is not a cool thing to do and is something likely to get you shunned.
Exactly, my point
Feels good to see authenticity in the wild; takes wisdom to recognize and honor one’s own mind @fredwilson
I would argue that trade shows also fit into this category of very expensive echo chambers.
Fred,Great blog. If you can build the ideal conference for entrepreneurs, what would it look like; where you host it? Can you recommend conferences for budding entrepreneurs and those who want to get involved with new ventures? How important are in-person compared to virtual conferences? Should leading b-schools and like institutions host monthly conferences around the country since it would seem that you like brief sessions whereby you can meet a wide array of people? Thanks.
Lots of little conferences on specific domains is best for both investors and entrepreneursI like things like defrag and glue, for example
Thanks Fred!I’m not an expo fan (never have been, really) — and of the “high priced” conference type of things, I’ve ever attended, the only one that was really worthwhile was PC Forum (and that was because of Esther).We try to make Defrag (www.defragcon.com) and Glue (www.gluecon.com) special — and I hope that shows.It would, of course, be great to see you there 😉
I’ll come for sure. We take turns going to these things and this year was albert’s turn
Ridiculously fun, cheap, and inclusive: SXSW interactive. Next year I’m going to stay for the music portion too.Partying with many of my Twitter friends in real life, plus making new friends was the best.At the Tumblr party I drank 12 year old scotch all night on Tumblr’s dime. Thanks Union Square Ventures! 😉
I’d love to go to sxsw but it always conflicts with my kids’ spring break. That’s the kind of thing I like. Fun and inclusive. Good for the little guy
You’d have a great time attending SXSW, but stretching out both Interactive and Music would take a lot of time.
Maybe I should just move there for month of march! When my kids are out of the house (a few yrs away) and spring break is a non-issue, I just might do that. I love austin
Similar to the Paris trip last summer, I could see you getting a house and holding court. Bring the kids, they love music as well. I went to UT, so all spring breaks were spent working the festival in some capacity.
And ben lives there now
Try adding movies to that one too – it get’s to be quite a crazy week!I did “crash” a few do’s in 05 during college and met some great startup/early-stagers as well as Yahoo/Goog execs. In fact, I recall playing pool with Eric Case from twitter; doubt he’ll remember me now though! Indeed, sxsw is quite a rush and a great atmosphere! Thanks for a neat post.
Actually you highlight what is sort of unpleasant about these conferences and why people don’t go to them, despite the interesting speakers and content.And that’s the frat boy atmosphere of all-night drinking. If you aren’t a drinker, or at least, not an all-night drinker, and you don’t want to drink with your Twitter friends (the reason they are on Twitter, and not in your real life in person), then these conferences seem like they are filled with a lot of hungover fanboyz.
As a VC your experience is unique. People come to you in order to raid the red bull in your fancy conference room because, well, they need you.As the CEO of a company you really need to be at these events because that is how you find talent, investors, buyers get press for your products. Additionally, these events provide a lot of inspiration…. when you’re sitting there discussing and debating the future of the industry things pop into your head. I take a LOT of notes at these things.Also, keep in mind you’re really old (just kidding!) and have all the contacts you could need. What you need is to find series A companies/seed investments…. that’s not going to be at a $4,000 a ticket event.Rock on, see you tomorrow @ CMS… and all week in NYC!!!from 30,000 feet on Virgin America on Wifi…… oh yeah, does wifi on the fight change your thinking!?!?!?! my five our flight jsut went by really fast. I was working on Mahalo 2.0 (launching Tuesday night at NY TechMeetup) during the whole trip.Can’t wait to see you!
Yes, wifi on planes is a game changer. Too bad I don’t get it nearly enoughSee you this week jason
Agreed Jason – I think the need hit all the events is way down – but the other point is these big conferences have all the CXO level folks you want to do a deal with and/or sell your business too – so the conference are less about entrepreneurial networking but networking with some existing huge huge companies who can make a serious difference in your trajectory.Different for VC for sure
Fred, you are just so awesome. I love it that you refuse to join the club.Some of my friends go to every event they can get a ticket to, and I wonder how they have time to do it all (though they make the same comment about my occasional blogging).I know the digitocracy hardly need another event, but I think you underestimate what it means to young people entering the field to meet all their peers face to face, let alone to meet people like you too. I’m at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference with my wife this weekend — she is in her first, lonely year of research — and I have never seen her so excited about her work. The event has all the bad things about conferences: it’s in Orlando, there are 40,000 people here, no sponsorship opportunity is overlooked. But what makes it different is that everyone talks about what they’re working on in a very scientific way, presenting slide after slide of results data. As I wrote last night, it made me wish software conferences were like that:http://bit.ly/NilBUBy the way, my wife has long been contemptuous of Twitter, that is until the organizers published the hash symbol for the event, whereupon she immediately signed up. When she looked up my updates, it was slightly uncomfortable, like she was overhearing a conversation I’d been having with another woman.
Hashtags are powerful. It took me a long time to grok that
I wish you could blog on this. I don’t get hashtags. They seem stupid, in fact. They are heavily overused, and I submit that people never go back to look at them, ever (like their delicious bookmarks). What does a hashtag do that a search word doesn’t? I’m not getting this, and would like to be convinced.
They are a hack. Twitter can and will do better
Why on earth would you use a url shortener in a blog comment? There’s no limit on the content. The email line breaking issue isn’t a problem.This is a seriously bad thing to do. I’m not clicking on it. I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know if it is going to take me to some .cn hacker website that installs some garbage on my machine or adds some tracker cookie to me like disqus… ew, it makes me feel gross.Maybe I don’t want everywhere I go on the internet to be known to everyone on the internet. I don’t want every comment I write to be someone else’s tool to advertise to me.Why is this happening?
Good point, Web Coward. Sorry ’bout that; I won’t do that again:http://blog.redfin.com/blog…
Sorry for the over criticalness of my reply. It was a good link. Quite a different perspective from typical webby type conferences. Thank you.
Didn’t bother me a bit WC, especially since you were right about the formatting of the link. Thanks for checking in tho, and for the kind words on the blog post!
Refreshing perspective Fred. Nicely done.
I totally agree with your post. In particular I like your point about outsiders, hackers and up and comers. They aren’t invite generally to attend these wall-gardened elite conferences. Thus you end up with the same insider circle kicking around a hotel lobby reading blackberrys and iphones together. I use the web to watch a lot video talks from conferences and that totally works for me.With that said I always attend SF Music Tech Summit set up by Brian Zisk and his wife. The conference is great and has real community DIY feel. I find it packed with a passionate group for technologists and music folks.
There’s always going to be great small conferences for sure. And you’ve found one that works for you. That’s great
I am long time listener, first time caller.I agree with you on Demo, TC, D, etc. — many industry conferences are a waste of time. Hooking the intake up to the exhaust does not help us, and that’s what most conferences do. We don’t need to go to TC50 to learn what arrington thinks about a startup; we can read it on techcrunch.com. Although, it’s a bit funny you mention a federated media conference as something you look forward to, as i think that’s about as “inside the echochamber” as one could possibly get.However, I think your take on TED is off. It’s too bad you harbor a grudge from the 90s. In 1997, I snuck in as a 19-year-old who skipped college to work in Silicon Valley and I was mesmerized — later my friend Tara gave me her TED CD-ROMs and I watched them with great interest as a young guy eager to soak up anything I could learn. Later in life I was able to become a regular attendee (no more sneaking or borrowing CDs), and today I am glad to be part of TED.In short, TED is an *escape* from the echochamber, not part of it. It sounds like you have made up your mind that TED is a “power party,” and I doubt I will convince you otherwise. But I find it to be an almost spiritual experience to recharge my creative batteries. I learn about things I will never read on techcrunch, or any federated media blog for that matter. I learn stuff that has completely changed my worldview, not in my approach to technology investing or business, but in my understanding of the basic elements of humanity and the world around me. I see stuff that is what I call “tombstone quality” — i.e. “Here lies the man who discovered the Higgs particle, also known as the ‘God’ particle, which fundamentally changed our understanding of physics.” I doubt you will learn anything at a Federated Media conference worthy of going one’s tombstone.Yes, TED is expensive, but not really. Most of the cost is actually a charitable donation to the 501(c)(3) that runs it (Sapling Foundation), which funds things like paying for a TED Fellowship so a 20-something researcher of avian flu, Ana Gabela, could come from hawaii and explain to me over dinner what she has learned about building early warning systems for pandemic flu. Imagine the perspective that gave me when the swine flu hit this year. I would never have met her at a VC partners meeting or at a blog advertising conference in NY.So, to each his own — we can both keep doing things our own way. Speaking for myself, I look forward to growing and learning at next year’s TED. Thanks for letting me part of the conversation!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on TED. Everyone tells me its great.But I do hold grudges and that’s one of them
Sounds like we should have a coffee in New York, sometime Fred. In case you hadn’t heard, TED has been under new leadership the past few years. I do think your piece is powerful, and I like much of the rationale you put out here. I’ve been thinking hard about this issue of elitism since taking over we’ve and done all we could to find ways of opening TED to the world…- by putting up the content free on ted.com- by starting a fellows program- by allowing people to organize their own TED events under our new TEDx program http://www.ted.com/tedxSo it’s already shifted from being an experience enjoyed by 1000 people once a year in a closed room, to 300,000 people online every day. We don’t really think of ourselves as mainly a conference, more as “ideas worth spreading”. But we’re on a journey, learning a little more each time, and it’s really, really good for us to hear from those who don’t like what (they think) we stand for.
Good point that TED is more accessible than ever before. Maybe TED should invite a few commenters on this post to make a much bigger point 🙂
So as a graduate of Tel-Aviv University’s special interdisciplinary program for outstanding students with an MA thesis about the origin of [human] literate behavior, driven by passion for ideas all my life, currently a not-yet-funded internet entrepreneur working on a new type of social media, incidentally happening to be in Oxford at the time TEDglobal will take place in July (for my outstanding wife’s studies) – may I be a lucky experimenter in your journey and be admitted (complimentary) to the conference so I can participate in spreading worthwhile ideas, or shall I have to be creative subversive and sneak in like others before me have?..
We’re bringing in 25 amazing people for free. They applied and won TED fellowships. Here they are:http://www.ted.com/pages/vi…I hope you can do that one year. You sound interesting.
It’s a shame you have closed the TedGlobal conference to Techcrunch Europe, Chris. Especially as we went to the first ever TedGlobal a few years ago. We applied for a press pass but were told it was now closed. I hope that’s nothing to do with Michael Arringotn’s famous rift with you guys.
A few “creative subversives” got together down the street from TED for the BIL Conference (http://bilconference.com). It takes the underlying concept of TED – ideas worth spreading – and explores it through the unconference model.Many of the attendees are TEDsters and TED speakers, but most are fans of TED without the resources to get in.
That’s the right idea
This sounds interesting, if not only for the Wyld Stallyns reference 😉
BIL looks cool! I always learn good stuff on Fred’s blog!
Geva, I”d be interested in funding your new type of social media. [email protected]
Let’s have coffee for sure.I love ted talks on the web. That’s how I found sir ken, that’s how I found a bunch of other peopleBut the more you open up ted (and thank god you are doing it), the more reasons I don’t have to come to the confernce itself
ha. nice flip.
Great point. I like what is being done to make TED more accessible. I was fortunate enough to go to TEDxUSC and had an amazing time. I got a bit of the TED experience, at my own school, for free.
This thread is doing a lot of good for TED. I like hearing that I am wrong. Because I am wrong often
I have been to TED for a few years now, and I can tell you that attending in person is a truly unique experience, because of the diversity of the topics, and the audience. Yes, you have an amazing community around your blog, but there is a world out there not reading your blog and I swear to you, you will also find them interesting, engaging and worth meeting.Enjoying TED on the web is giving you access to the talks/topics, which is a fantastic gift IMHO (100 million views according to @tedchris last week at TEDxSF) but living it in person is completely different.So please re-consider, and join us. And do have Joanne come along too.
I don’t think so Jeff. I don’t want to belong to any exclusive clubs. If anyone can come, first come first serve, then I’ll consider it. But not until they rid thing of the culture that pissed me off a dozen years ago
Chris:I just wanted to tell you that those TED videos make their way around my companies all the time. I don’t attend TED and whether I do or not I find the work you do inspirational and compelling. My mother owns one of the largest indie bookstores in America Politics and Prose and I feel you are recreating much of what she’s about.Your work is vital not for the Internet industry, but for the people on the planet. It’s an inspiration to me personally.
I agree. Bur being a media company that reaches millions with these stories would be way more impactful than operating an invite only conference.
I do agree with you on general approach … but I’ll stand up for Ted who has a tagline that speaks from itself: ideas worth spreading. I’ve taken part into the Ted aventure thanks to Tedx programe. And i must say I am glad.People in the audience are probably helping spread the words to theiur own communities.
The problem with the “Free” business model you promote is that it truly doesn’t get the bills paid for anybody who isn’t on the lecture circuit…getting fees promoting the concept of “Free” as you do.For the rest of us, there has to be a means of getting costs covered. For a lot of organizations, especialy various start-ups, blogs, etc. power conferences are a significant form of revenue. They can charge $500-1000 a pop. For example I totally support the idea that 1938 media had recently to have a conference here in NYC for $450 with a lot of the stars but also open to the public. I want Loren Feldman and people like him to be paid for their hard work of putting out commentary, comedy, etc. It is content; he has to be paid for it. Giving away freebies is a good loss leader; it’s not a full-blown business model.Having wealthy friends fund your fellows program merely helps them get mindshare, it isn’t any more democratic as a result.
Loren is a troll. He should go broke for the crap he puts out
Well, I don’t think somebody who channels Lennie Bruce should be labelled “a troll”.This clip for example is pure genius, the “A List Works Harder Than You Do”http://www.1938media.com/fo…And how about a conference with no laptops or Twitter for a change? It took Loren to put that together:http://radar.oreilly.com/20…And Loren’s critique of Shel Israel, while it became mean-spirited at times, was also brilliant.Fortunately, he’s never turned his sites on you, Fred!
Wrong. He hates me and baits me. But I ignore him because he’s a mean spirted jealous guy with no talent
I never saw him put you in his sites but I have tuned in rather late I guess (2 years ago). Yes, he can be mean-spirited. But he is talented and he has some comedy genius there.Tell me one other person in your Digital Beltway town that *satirizes* you guys, Fred. There is no Saturday Night Live of Silicon Valley/Alley. Especially now that Valley Wag is gone. Such satire is much needed.
I loved it when valleywag took shots at me because it was all in good funI don’t think loren is a nice guy
Well, I’m not an insider as you are, Fred, and see these people more as just an audience member. Valley Wag was often really nastily grotequely mean and unfair. I rarely enjoyed it. Whereas Loren just feels more on target to me. But this could be a coastal thing.Did Loren make a puppet of you?
I don’t know. I try to ignore him and mostly do
Prokofy seems to be implying you are paid to give your talks? Is that correct? My impression was that the majority of lectures/presentations you give are at no, or little, cost. I am not finding fault either way, just curious.
So you’ll invite me? Be warned, I am not in the TED “in” crowd. And if yes, you’ll send me a free ticket? I am not yet wealthy or renowned so refusal would indicate elitism, yes? The online videos/content are great but they are a bit like MIT Courseware. I learn something but the real advantage is spending the time in the environment, with the people you are learning with and learning from.To me the most interesting, and least talked about, factor of success is the early part. Where the guy/girl seems uninteresting to outsiders but has the capability and wherewithal to change the world. It is actually more important to invite these people to TED as members of the audience. They are the true instigators of change.
Lot resonates in your post. However, would highlight that TED has evolved considerably over the years and is something that’s pretty special under the current “curator-ship”. It really helps bring focus on people with ideas that one doesn’t traffic in normally in the tech business alone. Not a regular “Conference” at all.
Everyone knows the stories of Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, Google, facebook, etc. When was the last time you heard the story of a successful company that had a turning point at demo, techcrunch, etc…???? NEVER. That’s why these conferences don’t matter and that’s why Fred doesn’t attend them.The choice of companies to present at these conferences is terrible. The few companies that are decent don’t need to be there, they have a good chance to succeed on their own merits. The companies that could benefit are pathetic and almost always somehow connected to the organizers or had an investor/partner/close friend connected to the organizers.If these events were like American Idol (sorry terrible analogy), but if these events actually found real gems that no one ever heard of… talented engineers with truly innovative products, these events would matter and make for good stories…. Imagine if the Google guys took their interesting new search technology to demo. But they didn’t…. because they’re not idiots.Standing on a stage at these conferences is the dumbest way to raise money, sell products or “get the world out”. Considering the time, effort, and expense, I think every start up would be better off networking on their own, building real relationships, and most importantly having happy customers/users.In fact, I bet if you spent 2 full days commenting on Fred’s blog, you would get more value and more exposure than presenting at demo, TC50.
Please do go on holding that grudge, which seemingly isn’t characteristic of you as you are normally sunny in character.And hold it because symbolically, you can then represent many of us who will never, ever in our lives go to TED, either because it’s too expensive or due to other commitments or because we’re just not smart and cool enough. Yet these issues require intellectual engagement and there must be ways to engage without having to go to these power parties as you so aptly called them. It’s fine to have power parties in a free capitalist society, I’m all for that even if I don’t get invited but I want some people to boycott them on principle as you are doing, too.
Well Said, Fred! It’s nice of you to do annual events like Columbia MBA, other events where you get to meet up-comers.Taleb has a good bunch of life tips, #10 is “Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.”http://business.timesonline…
If anyone without your clout said this, it’d be labeled “sour grapes.” Everything you say is true, of course. I just think it is interesting how the speaker of the words, or the blogger in this case, really shapes the audience’s perception of them.
I hope this conversation resonates with others
It’s a great conversation for sure. It’s the “get rich quick” attitude. It’s the marketers who sell the hope that you’ll meet someone famous and they’ll love your idea or they’ll fund it. They are all designed to take work out of the equation. Building something of value is really hard.I apologize in advance for my disdain.I have gone to web social functions all over north america. They are all lacking in workers. There are your social schmoozers. Look Fred, even the people who comment here on your post are doing it. “Hey, I’m adding a comment to Fred’s post, click on my website!” There is so little value in it.Ironically, my anonymity adds credibility to my words. Anonymity makes us focus on the value of the words themselves. I suppose that is the point I am trying to make: There is an extreme loss of value in words. Too much noise.There was a particular topic of interest that came up yesterday and I knew that some of the folks involved used Twitter, so I went to twitter to search for people talking about the issue. I got 10 pages, TEN PAGES, I’m not joking! — of retweets! They were all retweeting some article that was posted to Techcrunch.That’s the problem you need to fund a solution for Fred. The problem of noise on the internet. We gotta clean it up. Conferences are mostly noise too. You go there and most of the sessions aren’t useful. There’s nothing new to learn there that I hadn’t already learned on the web.It’s like everyone just wants to be seen. It’s the “get into wal-mart” problem. If you get your product into walmart, then just by probabilility you’re going to make tons of money. Go to the shampoo aisle for example and you’ll find that the big brands who pay for the most visibility are right there in front.We are paying for the mere increase in probability of being seen. What is the value of that? It’s not. I can’t help but think it is a net negative to the world. Those individuals who happen to fall for the “most probability” solution are losing. Their lives are worse. Coke is not good for the world. It stiffles innovation.Well, look. You’re right man. Of course you are. You’ve identified the problem.What is the solution?
I just love this post. Well done!
I agree with this as well- Andrew Chen has 2 post in his fifty essays aboutA) email being the source of the richest social networkb)the two ways we could concieve of media out there on the internet.I decided somewhere along the way that I disagreed. Your email contains a lot of good stuff-I just can’t see it.So does the rest of the stuff you’ve segemented away from prying eyes (hopefully).And that is the way it should be- but that does not mean it should not be networked.And the rest- should be flushed away.That would make for a productive web in line with the original idea of ARPA and DARPA (as odd as it is to reference that)…except for everyone.
I don’t agree that commenting anonymously is better. How am I ever going to meet you, get you know you, have a face to face convo?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. A lot of people comment with their real world identities and the question would be just as valid. Maybe some day we will have a conversation. I know it is unfair for me to hide in the shadows while you are in the light. This is the risk you take, knowingly.You know, I’ve read your blog for a long time, probably years. I never knew you. I thought you were just some VC like all the other VCs I read on the internet. They just want to take young entrepreneurs ideas from them, or maybe they don’t, how do I know? I’ve never met one in real life, but I read the horror stories. You’ve read them. How do I know if they are telling the truth or you are? How do we know who is honest and who is not? Who among us are like the opportunists at the meetups and (un)conferences?Then I saw your Google Talk on disruption and I realized you are a human being. A real one. You had character and emotions and you held back a lot of passion and I gained a lot of respect for you. You spoke few words that represented much bigger thoughts. It must be hard to be such a public figure. You seem like a good man. A man who is idealistic, yet realistic about what is possible in our complicated world.My point is, before that talk, you too were noise. I don’t mean that in an offensive way. I am sure you understand. You rose above the noise by showing more of yourself.I was just talking to a friend I have only known through the internet. She was talking about how everyone wants to be a professional. She is an attorney in another country. She is young. Wise beyond her years. She said we can’t just deny people the right to be a professional. Everyone, she said, wants to be an artist. “Who am I to say this is good or that is good?” But some of it isn’t good. You can tell because you don’t get that aesthetic response. How do you convey that in a conversation? How do you know if someone is an artist? You can’t deny someone’s right to be an artist — even if you don’t like their art.Similarly, we can’t deny people their voice. The internet gives a voice to everyone who will take the time to understand it. In the real world, we have social filters that limit a person’s … rank, so to speak. Organic chemistry weeds out doctors who are not committed enough to study, or perhaps who are not smart enough to pass if they do. We have to be careful not to let people get into a position where their mistakes can harm others. In a way, we do limit people’s rights through the requirement for diligence, passion, hard work, commitment.As we progress through the ages, things are getting exponentially easier, cheaper, prolific. It used to be that if you were on the internet, you had to be rich or talented enough to figure it out, so being on the internet itself was a filter. You had a certain idea that what you consumed was … worth something, just because you knew that it took the creator a lot of energy, effort, talent to get it on there in the first place.Now all you need is a cell phone and a friend to get you started. Those friends are more and more common every day.But words on the internet, actions on the internet, content on the internet, just like in the real world… that phrase “real world” well… it includes the internet now, doesn’t it? Those words can cause damage too, so we need to protect consumers on the internet. Consumers of information and consumers of knowledge.It has taken me two, probably two years I think of reading your blog to believe that you are not noise. How can we as individuals, either in the analog world, or the digital world, get to know and trust and understand someone quicker? Our ability to “size up” someone in the real world is becoming more difficult and it hasn’t kept pace with the growth rate of knowledge and information.I think it is slowing us down. The human interactions, the need for human trust has become the bottleneck. We don’t trust banks. We don’t trust technology. Humanity itself has become a Market for Lemons. Humans are lemons. The average of us. Is that the conclusion I have come to through this rambling stream of consciousness? I hope it isn’t true.That sounds so cynical. Too cynical. I shouldn’t be this cynical. No one should.I saw a nobel laureate giving a speach a long time ago. She said, “How sad is it that she speaks to so many young people today and they don’t want to bring kids into the world.”I can’t help but look at the industrialized world and see declining birth rates and not believe that it is due to a growing consciousness that the path we are on is not good for our planet. The younger generation of the industrialized world is making a decision to stop. My cousin just had a baby. After that, my aunt confided in me, that she didn’t want any more grand children. Of course she loves her new grand baby, but what about the planet?I’ve turned so dark… I don’t know, perhaps I am hiding in more shadows than I realize.We are going to have to make some sacrifices I suppose. We are sacrificing our children. We aren’t killing them, that’s not what I mean, but I mean we are not having them. We are not having them in larger numbers. It is a signal of hope. It is an acknowledgement that there is too much already.This problem is bigger than the internet. I think it’s just more visible here because we can interact with so many more people so much faster. The signal-to-noise isn’t just on the internet, it’s in the real world too.I have a lot of hope Fred. A lot of passion. I think we can do something. I will keep working hard. This is going to be a hard problem to solve. But I think we can solve it. I think we can listen to great minds like R. Buckminster Fuller who said that through technology and progress, we can provide a great life for everyone alive forever. We can bring the great life we have here to other parts of the world. I think we can.Thank you for being a signal.
Email me. You can do that via the contact me button on the upper right on this blog. I’d like to meet you
Great thoughts and as you develop them I’d strongly suggest you tap into some women’s perspectives as well. Forgive me if — by chance — you happen to be a woman, but I assume not since there are so few female posters here. You raise the question of having babies, the planet, etc.Thought I’d weigh in, since I’ve had babies myself and am trying to make a living in this realm. Fact is, the VC/Startup/Tech world is highly partitioned from the world of procreation. I think it’s in part because the majority are young guys who haven’t had kids yet, or are guys with wives who take care of the kids, while they bring home the bacon. For those of us with ovaries or even <gasp> children, it is VERY difficult to penetrate this world, no matter what you have to bring to the table.I’m a mom of two young girls and working my butt off to break back in. My passion and life’s work is to create and grow businesses into huge game changers, I have a blue chip pedigree and strong track record. I see things others don’t see and get things done that others can’t. But it’s very difficult.Just like everyone else seeking success in this realm, building and maintaining the network is critical, and I’d argue, for women it’s even more so, because we’re not top-of-mind and not included in alot of the conversations. The conference circuit is a partial culprit, and a reasonable proxy for the general difficulty. When you’re at an event, some people may talk to you; but many, not so much. Often, they assume our ideas and experience are small and artisanal, akin to jamming organic jelly or printing t-shirts — and utterly unscalable. Women’s startup organizations and seed funds serve a purpose, but they are few, and they are limited in scope and scale. While a great opportunity for many is to go out for a ‘long slow dinner’ or a few drinks if you’re a married woman, the benefits are frequently outweighed by the bizarre optics (‘who was that guy I saw you out to dinner with? you were talking for so long.’)So for women or anyone out there slogging it like me, some observations:1. if you’re meeting someone for the first time, in person is best. transition it afterwards to virtual.2. if you’re a female and mother, and happen to know of people in your non-professional network who could be useful professionally, don’t waste your time using your personal network to get to them. they will write you off as non-serious, even though you’re from MIT Media Lab, Wharton, Stanford, whatever. Their minds simply are not pliable enough to think of you in a professional light once that first impression was social and had kids involved. you must throw on a suit and meet them at a major conference or through a professional connection, cement your credentials.3. talk to the other women. help each other out; they get it, and are experiencing the same challenges.4. short events are far more efficient than day-long or several day events. imagine having a 2-hr door-to-door commute (each way), and then needing to pay the babysitter OT (an extra $100 for sure). it is insanely expensive.5. if you can’t attend or afford an event, grab the list of speakers from the website and try to reach them directly, on your own schedule based on your own priorities.6. Finally — for the men out there — find and talk to people that are the LEAST like you, especially the women. we’re all drawn to those similar to us, especially in this economic environment, but this corrals us toward group think. highly intelligent ‘opposite folks’ (gender, race, function/discipline, etc.) are more likely to introduce new ideas, take you out the of box and challenge your thinking. also, their networks have little overlap with yours so can open up whole other pockets of people. i suspect this is alot of the goodness that comes out of TED.Hope that helps some people out there….or perhaps your sisters/daughters…
When I read Fred’s post, I thought of Kathy Sierra – whose brains I respect a great deal – and wondered what she would say if she weighed in on this topic.Sierra has written that when she was starting out, she made a point of going to as many conferences as possible, even when it was financially punishing for her (and she was raising a daughter). She felt that the opportunity to meet key individuals in person and face-to-face was *that* important.Thanks to your comment, Tereza, I can better understand both sides of the argument (don’t go/ go to conferences), which pivots around your first point, “1. if you’re meeting someone for the first time, in person is best.”
I’m not sure that’s true Yule. If I bumped into you at a conference without the benefit of having read all of your amazing comments over the years, our convo might be short and sweet. When it happens now, and I am sure it will, it will be long and fruitful
Joys of trying to get a blog up and running as you try to build up for the first time(Do any of your remember getting your feet wet with code for the first time because you didn’t have cash…and this is during a major life switch).We celebrate the Federalist Papers- which were the social media at the time.Those were not published under Alexander Hamilton’s,Jame’s Madison, and John Jay’s real names.They had lives and writings outside of the Federalist Papers. Which is why they were anonymous.I am a multifaceted person. That does not mean all segments are for all people. I can guess a good chunk of people here do not share a lot of my interests. They might share some, but not all. Further, I know that I write sometimes from a fundemntalist community- to track everything I say would not be smart. As result, I rather chunk down into blocks and go from there.Fred- I’ve emailed you about my other interests (you responded in part, and thank you). If you really wanted to meet me, as you claim, I could twitter/email you, and we could meet at the end of my college quarter.I
Email me again please I can’t recall what the context of that request was
Why don’t you just sign your name and not leave a url, if you believe that people comment here purely for the purpose of link-baiting.
You offer some very interesting thoughts Web Coward. I believe that your anonymity is a double-edged sword. Sure it might add a bit of mystery or even intrigue but I don’t think that it differentiates your from the noise that you so eloquently loathe – it might even hurt your cause.I post using my real name because I accept the fact that the Internet is an extension of the real world. It’s different, but it’s definitely connected. To use a pseudonym would only muddy the waters of my message.I take offense to your automatic assertion that openness is somehow connected to peronal interest or self-promotion. I am open because that is my choice, because it’s a defense mechanism against the commoditization of my thoughts.I have a lot of hope and passion as well. But that positive zeal is connected to who I am, to my history, and thus to my name. (Un)fortunately, my individuality and my reputation are all I have; my identity is definitely my greatest asset no matter what material possessions I create and/or obtain.
Great post Fred. I think there’s a lot to be said for the tactile engagement that is often impossible to achieve through conferences. With technology moving at the pace that it is, it’s those folks you describe that are working at the coal face of innovation (who are not yet on the stages of conferences) that often have the highest value experience to share. I enjoy how you lead this community immensely. Many thanks.
Tactile engagement – great phrase
Webex/Skype/Twitter + Less carbon footprint + props to the east coast + more time with Family.All good things. And there is plenty of face time in meetings.I like “un” conferences at this stage in my career because I get more surprises, new people, new ideas. I like BarCamp and Maker Faires (didn’t make it to SF for this one)
Bar camp and maker faire are both great examples of what works better
Very refreshing post and timely for me, as I’m missing TWTRCON in person, but following the Twitter stream as I write this. I’ll echo some of the statements above and say that conferences are great for networking especially for newbies like myself who don’t have existing contacts in the industry. The best way for newbies to go about it though is to find all the free or inexpensive conferences available, or offer to volunteer. At least in the Bay Area, there’s no shortage of opportunities. I’m volunteering at two in exchange for attendance, and have another four lined up that are free or under $25. The ____ Camp movement is great for tech newbies and really speakers to a comment on HN re: your post: “Invitation-only events don’t belong in the technological scene… Nerds are supposed to be on the side of the good guys.” (Found here: http://news.ycombinator.com…
Your point about the “tech biz insider club” is well taken. $4K admissions fee is to make the event exclusive. Funny how a wee bit of digerati fame for many clouds the memory … didn’t many now famous tech companies, entrepreneurs start up precisely because they were shut out from the then “mainstream”? The cycle continues ….
Reading this is refreshing. I sense some humility, some common sense, and some honesty.Conferences can be a lot of fun and they are great for a lot of people to meet and interact. It’s also good to know that not everyone you’d expect goes to them feels pressured to do so.It is important to note that a lot of people (unknowns) would benefit and learn much at any of these conferences, and maybe even add value. Maybe there are insiders like you who can help change the mindset of “power parties” to have events where anyone can attend (more like SXSWi).Greetings from socailnerdia(dot)com (unknown blog for the unknowns)
I think this tweet is related:http://twitter.com/jonstein…It may be overstating the case, and I know some meetings are vital face-to-face, but the screen is where the real work gets done, and I find that time away from it is time away from the factory floor. I’d prefer to eat breakfast and lunch face to face with colleagues, partners, and new contacts, and all other time creating, reviewing, studying, reading, and responding to materials at my keyboard.
I just got back from Where 2.0 and WhereCamp. I tend to travel in academic circles, so O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference offered some good networking with folks outside of academia. But WhereCamp provided much more interesting interactions. I’m sold on the “unconference” format. I do wonder about saturation though. Unconferences are unstructured enough to create conflicts with other unconferences… I mean, you can only go to just so many (un)conferences and if the stuff you’re interested in comes up at an (un)conference that you didn’t go to, you lose out. Regular conference planners do put a lot of effort into avoiding conflicting dates and overlaps in content.
so true and realisitc. So pro!
I pay to attend/bum my way into conferences from time to time, because I appreciate the in-person networking and learning opportunities, and the attendees usually reflect a much broader range of people than I’d otherwise get to meet up with.My favorite meetups, though, are the small, local, cheap/free, get-togethers like happy hours, lunch 2.0s, and open coffees, and if I’m in another city, I usually check if there are any of them going on while I’m there. I don’t know what to think of people who attend every big conference they can… when do they actually work on the stuff they’re talking about?! :)That said, I have a friend who attends D and TED every year, and loves it. They are his learning vacations, and I can respect that. The Lobby is too much of a clubby schmoozefest for me to be interested (or invited), but I attend or hang around Gnomedex every year, because it’s conveniently here in Seattle, the talks are really interesting, and it brings people who I wouldn’t otherwise get to spend in-person time with to my front door. So, if you do want to attend one conference this summer, that’s the one I’d recommend!(and I hope to attend sxsw one of these years, but it never fits into my schedule either)
Amen.One of your best posts in the 4 yrs I’ve been reading.The traditional events you’re talking about don’t reflect the spirit of the web we’re all building.
Your understanding that “the most interesting people are outsiders” is one of your most important business assets. Most businesses don’t want a new idea, they want a new idea that doesn’t violate established policies and procedures. Of course as you know, if it dosn’t violate established wisdom, it ain’t new!
Couldn’t agree more.How would you feel about holding ‘Office Hours’ in NYC? What better way to meet outsiders and up and comers than opening the doors like Josh Koppelman does? ( http://redeye.firstround.co… ).I’ve been organizing free Entrepreneurs Roundtable events in the city for over a year now (Albert was at the previous one: http://eroundtable13.eventb…). Being able to interact with VCs and listening to others’ pitches along with the VCs’ feedback is invaluable to early-stage startups. We hope you can join us as a speaker in one of the upcoming events.
What first round is doing with office hours is totally amazing. I would do it if it didn’t look like I was stealing his brilliant idea
Would you like to be the guest speaker for Entrepreneurs Roundtable in June as an experiment in direct engagement? 100 entrepreneurs around a table in a quiet room with Q&A and 5 startups pitching, a total of 10 minutes each.
Is this an invite-only event?
ER is free and definitely open to everyone.
Where would one go about getting more information and/or signing up for the roundtable?
You can sign up here: http://groups.google.com/gr…
Thanks Murat. Looking forward to joining the group and hopefully attending the next meeting.
Where and when?
How is the week of June 15th or 22nd? Location is 53rd Street and Fifth Ave, I will contact you over email for details.
Please send an email and we’ll make it happen
Great, thanks, I emailed you at your email above, please let me know if you haven’t received it yet. ( murat at centrl dot com )
I also don’t understand how people can attend so many conferences and still get stuff done… oh wait… maybe they don’t.
Hey darren. I loved the piece in the times about the stuff you are doing. Not news to me but so good to see that you are getting noticed
Fred, TED’s under different management since you were unable to get in. We know your work and would be happy to have you. We go out of our way to have “up and coming” people there would aren’t part of the tech intelligentsia, including our TED Fellows program, which brings outstanding young leaders to TED at our expense.We’re also interested in welcoming and spotlighting young companies like the ones you fund. Some choose to launch at TED We’re a lot different than the 90’s in that tech is just a part of what we do.We’re not an invite-only conference. That’s a popular myth. But new people do need to apply, as they do at D and other popular conferences.Just email me, and give us a try, If you’d like.Sincerely,Tom RiellyCommunity DirectorTED Conferences
It’s great that Tom would reach out like this. I went to my first TED this year and didn’t know what to expect, but it was far from being an “ultra-exclusive club for rich snobby successful people.” TED is a community of passionate people who care about doing something great, and attracts an incredibly diverse crowd.It’s the one conference I go to because it’s not for people who want to be “productive.” At most conferences, you explicitly seek to network, meet new business partners, market your company, etc… but there are a select few that exist for the sake of helping others, and TED is one of them.
Why do ppl need to apply?I am having coffee with chris to discuss but I think I’m a lost cause when it comes to TED the conference. I love TED the media company and what it stands for
If the TED of the 90s (the one’s you have a grudge against) helped instill or even cement your ideas about how conversations should happen – and have propelled you into this conversation, then “here, here” to them, and to all those snobs we’ve all encountered in our lives, for being the grain of sand in the pearl that is this daily conversation.BUT – As a personal tenet – I’ve long held that if someone is an asshole to me, and I use that experience and create something wonderful – I still get the credit, and they are still the asshole.So full credit, and alot of thanks, goes to you for this conversation.
I love this comment because its true on many levels
I’ve always wanted to go to TED but I can’t afford the $6,000 fee and I keep getting told by people who’ve gone that TED’s management doesn’t like having bloggers and/or journalists there. I’m very mixed as to Fred’s points here. On one hand he’s right: these things ARE elitist. On the other hand, they are incredible places for a blogger to go because you meet so many fantastic people and most companies can’t afford to pay for execs and PR people to attend these. At Davos, for instance, I got to walk around with Mark Zuckerberg for hours and he didn’t have his PR team around to keep him from spending too much time with me, so I got a great story, and, truth be told, got to know him in a way that most other people don’t.I remember getting invited to FooCamp for the first two years and how much it bummed me out when I wasn’t invited the third year. That caused me to live a “FooCamp life.” Every day I try to create a life around me that’s better than the FooCamp (O’Reilly Publishing’s private by invite only camp, which actually is pretty damn incredible because of the range of geeks that go there). So far I’ve been doing pretty good on that count (even interviewed Fred a couple weeks back for my Building43.com project that will open on June 11).Anyway, elitist events where the price is high, or where bloggers are kept out, do have value for a wide range of people. There’s a reason why events like Demo, TED, PopTech, WEF/Davos, keep attracting thousands of people. Even SXSW, which looks open, is pretty expensive to attend, both in time and travel/hotel/fees, especially for a starving entrepreneur.Oh, one other person told me why he likes going to TED. His company got funded there because he met a famous rich guy, told him about his company, and ended up with a check a few weeks later. It’s hard to argue with that.
All true and great points. But I’m boycotting elitism as much as I can get away with. I don’t like it
i feel like i should chime in since i started all this by calling fred out for not showing up at any conferences:)the TED issue is tough. i have gone for the past 5 or 6 years and i really enjoy it. feels like going back to college for a few days and fred lets admit you went to an exclusive college bc it had better teachers and peers for you to interact with, right? the quality of people and programming at TED is amazing and i do find it inspires new ideas every year.however, TED’s acceptance policies like many other conferences are not transparent. my wife, ali, who is herself a strong, creative entrepreneur has applied for the past two years to TED and been denied without any reason. perhaps TED could be more open about how it selects people to participate but i realize that’s hard and subjective.ultimately, these are cocktail parties and someone is carefully trying to bring together the most interesting mix of people. i think fred is saying that he wants to participate in more egalitarian cocktails parties.i want to remind fred that a few yrs ago he also said he would never invest on the west coast bc he didnt have an advantage vs west coast firms and didnt want to travel. maybe now that he can have his internet on the plane…
I reserve the right to change my mind mark on any and all of this. My only promise to everyone here is I’ll announce it on this blog when and if I do (like I do with the stocks I buy and sell in my own account)Ali is the perfect person for TED. She can have my invite!!!!
I am even more humbled that you came to LeWeb last year then and hope to see you this year again in Paris, the theme is the realtime web, you might have a thing or two to say about that 🙂
Do you agree that’s its too full of the us-based web crowd? I think its not as euro focused as I was hoping it would be
Hi Fred, you probably mean on stage: the US participants are very few in theroom. It is not a european conference, it is a world class conference thathappens to be in Paris, different positioning than what you expected Iguess. We fulfill two goals:-shake the best of europe with the best of silicon valley on stage (onlyeuropean conference with so much silicon valley present) which we hear hugefeedback from european friends about “we bring silicon valley to europe for2 days”-give all of europe with 40 countries in the room during two days to theparticipants, that no other conference in the world bringsfunny you are saying that while being us yourself, no complains fromeuropeans, mostly compliments about that.I would love to have many more europeans on stage but as you know, mostinternet businesses are lead by americans, search, etc. I am just reflectingthat on stage, do you want to hear about a french search engine instead ofGoogle?That is exactly what LeWeb is trying to solve, bring the world leaders inEurope for two days help inspire europeans entrepreneurs who in turn create,except for the exceptions: Vente Privee, Meetic, etc which I hope we willsee more and more of.Loic
I think you are doing a great job loic. But I did feel like I was at a web 2.0 in paris. Not sure that’s a bad thing, but its what it felt like
I agree Fred, except you had 95% non americans in the room and 40 countries, that is very different than web 2.0
Was it really 95pcnt? If so, I’ll try hard to come back this year. It certainly didn’t feel like 95pcnt to me
because you looked at the stage. In the room there were 1700 registered andabout 100 americans, that is about 5%
Got it loic. But I spent a lot of time mingling. I’ll try my hardest to get back this year
excellent, we won’t be able to put you on stage though because people saythere are too many americans (<end of=”” joke=””>) 🙂
Perfect. The less time I spend on the stage, the more people I’ll meet
Honorary European (in Switzerland now, in London from 2000 – 2008) here (Canadian/Asian/African so really global). Though working at a big American company. I’ll be in the audience at leWeb. Hope you come Fred.
Amen to that. It’s like, “you guys go to your conference… I’ll be here building cool shit.”
Well I don’t build anything myself but I do appreciate those that do
I have discussed this very issue with the likes of Paul Kedrosky (who attends a wide variety of events and not just vanity conferences) and can’t understand why the web space hosts so many conferences. Makes no sense to me that people are asked to shell out dollars for flights, hotels, etc. + time + energy + carbon to do something that can be done online.To this end, we ran a survey about small-cap mining conferences (the least webified industry you can think of) and it appears conferences are on their way out for that industry in the coming 3-4 years. Here are the results:http://blog.agoracom.com/20…If small-cap mining investors feel conferences are on their way out, surely the web industry can do better than the endless list of conferences.Regards,George
The carbon/energy consumption issue has been raised a bit in this thread. That’s another reason I hate to travel. The carbon/energy consumption of a flight to the west coast is high
I love your thinking! 🙂 Not flying to conferences also saves money and pollution. Great post.
I am pretty much of the same mind (about not attending conferences), although I enjoy speaking and participating on the panels, because THEN people have something to say to you and vice versa. When I do attend, I like the ones, as you say, with the up-and-comers who cannot afford the more expensive ones. International conferences catch my attention and, on rare occasions, my attendance. I like Federated Media’s business model–sounds like it might have been an interesting session.
Well said, Fred. This is a great post and while I agree with the points made in the comments about TED, I also agree with you that if the content is available on the web, then there might be only an incremental value in traveling and attending it live. Being in the Valley, it almost seems un-cool to not be at every possible conference or event (there are several every week) and yet I have not been able to convince myself of the value in attending. I think there are better/faster/more productive ways of achieving the objectives of sales, business development, recruiting or whatever else people go to conferences for. Its personal though, I think, so to each his own like @angus says.
Curious if you’ve been to Burning Man?
yes – many times!
That is not a conference. That is the woodstock of our generation!And no I have not because its during labor day weekend and we have a family get together at our beach house every year
No, it’s not a conference. It’s like setting the refresh button on your head. 🙂 Maybe you should bring the whole family?
More like “reboot”– or even re-install the whole operating system of head and body, but agreed.Relevant to this discussion, 1 of the best things about BM is that you *do* tend to run into some of the same tech folks you always see in normal life. But you get to know them in a completely different light where their truer human nature shines through. That alone is worth the travel, planning, and raw conditions of this event.
Many things bother me about conferences, mainly that they are like “bait and switch”, proudly advertising the headline speakers you want to meet but I find those same speakers don’t participate in the events them selves, simply speaking and leaving or talking only to the other “power players” out of sight.There is so much opportunity to make the event experience efficient, engaging and transformational by going virtual, sure we would miss the occasional face to face but we would not miss the costs and time involved in the event merry go round.
I am guilty of that behavior at times myself but today I am going to stay for the whole morning
i have never understood conferences.I used to attend CTIA regularly when it was in New Orleans – it seemed like one big drinkfest to me.what about SXSW? i have never attended but from what i read it seems like something i would enjoy given my affinity for music.And why can’t boston do a similar confest? there are abundant music and tech communities here.
Hi Fred – Thanks for this – I’ve been beating myself up about not going to enough conferences and now you’ve made me feel better! Or put another way you have helped me understand why maybe I haven’t been going. None of them have seemed worth the time. I have been enjoying the smaller London based ones though.
I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.- Groucho Marx
My hero and my motto
i spent teenage summers at the maidstone – fun at the time. Cant think of anything worse now.
I agree 100%. I am in the Executive Search business and I never go to conferences! I just don’t find it a good use of my time, and I also find that it drains my energy, for some reason. I think it’s just that I get turned off by the schmoozing going on – just not my thing.However, I have to call BS on you on one thing. If you were invited to Sun Valley, I am willing to bet big money that you would go. That would be just plain stupid to turn something like that down.
I can be pretty stupid at times todd.
Hear Hear!I agree with the attitude problem in buddy clubs; secret handshakes and other stuff.Some of the best meetings for em has been around a kitchen table or in a local restaurant.
I generally think conferences are a waste of time and money.The two worst types from my view are the circle jerk “social media ” conferences and the “meet lots of VCs” conferences. The former are mostly just “expert” consultants pitching their services (mostly to each other), the latter, well I’ve never heard of anyone being funded through one of those things so what’s the point?That said, we do attend (and have even sponsored) lots of radio conferences because that’s where our programming partners are. There’s a clear and demonstrable ROI for our participation there.Back in the day (early 90s) SIGCHI was terrific, but since the web came along and everyone fancies themselves a usability expert it seems to have slipped. The only tech conference I have attended in the last 5 years or so that was worth the time was the Nantucket Conference, mostly because there were essentially no vendors there at all, it was very much about the abstract ideas behind the industry.
Speaking of conferences, I recently got into a discussion with the folks that run the New York Venture Summit (http://www.youngstartup.com…. In response to their $1500 fee for *presenting*, I made the argument that”Over the years, I’ve learned that paying to present is perceived by investors as a very poor use of funds, especially early on.”Any thoughts?sanjps. I did suggest that they set up an anonymous survey (using something like survey monkey) and asking their ~100 active investors to take part. They declined.
They also reached out to us to see if we wanted to pay to present there. We declined.If you don’t have the networking skills to get introduced to the VC’s you want to meet do you really have the networking skills to be a CEO?
Its nuts to pay to present. I have issues with TC 50 but I have to say that they totally called bullshit on that business model
A brilliant comment Fred- “The most interesting people you can meet are the outsiders, the up and comers, and the hackers who can’t afford to lay out $4000 to attend an event and are never going to get an invite to an event where you have to know somebody or “be somebody” to get in.”
Interesting post last year on O’Reilly Radar about “the best of” TED . . . and also the recognition that there was a negative TED meme going around.http://radar.oreilly.com/20… Jimmy Guterman, who wrote the post, referenced a post by Umair Haque who said:”The underlying assumption is that we can help solve the world’s big problems by putting a bunch of interesting people in a room and talking about stuff.”. . . and also:”But when you get lots of brilliant people in one room, surely there’s a way to organize it so more value is created than just lots of interesting talks. Surely there’s a way to amplify the productivity of conferences like TED – because right now, it ain’t too high.”Of course, people react strongly to that kind of critique because TED has brought so many breakthrough ideas out into the open and inspired thousands.For example, Tim O’Reilly responded to a comment I left on Jimmy’s post with:-Brooks –Umair’s critique just seems bizarre to me. By his measure, any effort that doesn’t move hundreds of millions of people is a failure. He should stop doing his blog, since it suggests that posting ideas that only a small number of people read is just not worth it.Chris Anderson has done an amazing job of democratizing TED — more than 30 million video views since they started putting the talks online. That’s a great job of spreading great ideas.TED is a national treasure.-Can’t argue with that, right? But, underneath the truth of TED being a “national treasure” I think Umair raises a very good point about how we organize ourselves, opportunity costs, and what the best way is to actually solve the problems discussed at TED and other conferences like it.Wouldn’t it be fabulous if TED evolved into THAT kind of gathering, one that figured out how to get movements and crowds and swarms of people tackling previously intractable problems in partnership with the people who live them out on a daily basis? Sign me up.Opening up to the world like TED has could certainly be an early step in that evolution. Or maybe TED has set a really high standard for this particular kind of conference and it will be an upstart conference that builds on it to offer something totally new. We shall see.
The more they do to open it up the more I’ll agree with your last statement. Our national parks, for example, are open to everyone
TED aside (never been) since the preso are incredible, I think this post once again why (no brownnosing intended here, but whatever) you are the “godfather.”It’s not even that you are right or not, it’s the way you make a meta-demonstration that you use your blog, your community, and your network to constantly have ongoing conferences of your own. The networked economy makes it such that the need to exchange ideas in a physical environment is less. Certainly, face2face is impt (I’ll be at #140conf if you’re up for a quick chat there…and am presenting…I’ll put myself in the ‘up and comer’ category), but the nature of the conference experience has to change.Regardless, I just love when you shoot straight. Well done.
As far as “spreading ideas” with TED, isn’t this what Youtube is for? Seriously though, if TED was maximally concerned with carbon footprints and so forth, couldn’t they just contract with local videographers in every city where the speakers/fellows are located and have them do the talk and then upload vs. ……. renting out an entire city block in Long Beach and creating a week of “spectacle philanthropy?” I understand that TED creates a “unique atmosphere and energy, etc….” but it seems ironic to stage such an event at 6K per head while the costs of disseminating ideas continue to plummet (anybody can shoot a video and use social viral marketing, digg, redditt….and P2P, bittorrents to distribute). Perhaps the cost savings alone could then fund most of the fellowships.It seems to me that no matter how inclusive TED now aspires to be, the very concept of the event presupposes a particular conception of how we identify and “certify” the “ideas worth spreading.” I mean, honestly, haven’t a lot of the fellows spent years “spreading their ideas” without all the pomp and circumstance before they finally get “discovered” and reach the grand stage of TED?For fascinating insights into questions of the “attention economy” see http://goldhaber.org/blog/. Disclaimer, not my blog, I’m just a fan. Conferences ultimately get their allure from artificial scarcity and the creation of exclusivity….otherwise how would you “sell” the event to registrants. The great promise of the net is to break the distribution monopoly that characterized the 20th century industrial model of cultural production. Now that anyone can afford the means of production for digital media ($1000 home studio equivalent to $ 1 million of equipment 20 yrs ago), there is no need for 500 “top name” artists to capture all the eyeballs. American Idol proves that pop stars are not in short supply–one can be manufactured in a few months–talent is not scarce, but our attention is routed only to select “superstars.” Hell, the industry of celebrity impersonators and cover bands shows that the experience of Frank Sinatra, Elvis…. etc can essentially be duplicated–even if concerts seem scarce, the supply of equivalent experience performances could be expanded to meet demand.Given this shift in perspective, and the new possibilities of digital media production and distribution, I’m left feeling that TED perpetuates an obsolete idea of celebrity as one-to-many communication, whereas the future is heading toward micro-niche-celebrity (twitter) and many-to-many interaction. Sure, seeing and meeting these “super achievers” can be inspiring, but it they are usually noticed and promoted because they are, in Gladwell’s term, “outliers.” It is fine to call attention to these exemplars, but does the “average person” watch a TED talk and feel that they can relate or are they left with the feeling that only these “anointed” can change the world?Certainly, Gandhi, MLK, and other leaders of social movements managed to spread their ideas without TED…. the more connected we get, the less necessary such an event seems. And whatever spin you try to put on it, a $6K price tag or, for those who can’t afford it, a “feed from Palm Springs” for only $3750, gives the lie.I’m with Groucho Marx on this one.
Well I’m not wacking anybody (except in zynga’s mafia wars) so I’m not sure the godfather is the right moniker!
Fred – this is a great post. I’ve never been to TED or AllthingsD either – just can never justify the massive time commitment required. Here’s the quandry, though: what’s holding back East Coast technorati from similar “must attend” events of all the relevant CEOs, entrepreneurs and VCs? AlwaysOn tries to do this in the digital media space and does a pretty good job. MIT’s Deshpande Center does a nice job with their IdeaStream event (next week) for interesting things bubbling out of MIT. It’d be great if we could increase the quality level of events within the Boston-NYC corridor for more collaboration and, as you put it, short, sweet and easy stuff in our collective neighborhood.
i agree – there is no reason that a SXSW type format cant go on in Boston. I spent some time with 2 CEO’s of companies here last week – who could directly impact an event of this nature. It seems it was tried several years ago – but thy both had clear reasons as to why it failed
Foundry Group has helped start Glue and Defrag. I think we can learn from them
This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on this blog.I think this is an issue up and coming companies face far more than well known “insiders” like you. In our business, we’re constantly struggling to determine which conferences to go to. On one hand these conference are expensive, time consuming, and exhausting, at the same time, all of our most important relationships were initiated at face-to-face meetings at conferences.So here’s what we do: we never register for the event and almost never stay at the hotel. We basically set up 10-15 meetings in advance by cold calling and cold emailing, hang out in the lobby for these meetings, and stay at the nearest motel 6.We met every one of our investors, every one of our customers and every one of our partners like this… never registered or entered the exhibit halls once.So I think if you optimize your time at a conferences, they can be incredibly productive. But you have to be careful, it’s so easy to show up because you’re “supposed to”, go through the motions, and get nothing accomplished.
Hacking conferences is the way to go
What I have learned from reading through this exchange is that people do what they want for their own reasons. That has about as much lasting value as a Highlander rerun. So what IS the value of conferences? For me, it is “the randomness of eventuality.” I go to see what I have not seen before, and by chance, to meet someone who is inspiring in a way I could not have predicted. Instead of promoting TED, let’s stick closer to home. It’s internet week in New York, we should promote the New York technology scene.Go to the TECH SHOWCASE at FIT right now. http://nytm.org/showcase/ …supporting your tech homies instead of some corporate thugs at a nice resort somewhere else…Now that has value.-s
Love this post. Brings a definite hope that VCs are human after all.
I can assure you that this one is
I love the attitude of this piece. So much of the online social world has made everyone into a cheerleader about everything tech related. By the time you ‘make it’ your inclination to make it again has usually fallen, and even if you are very smart you aren’t as hungry.Social networks will also begin to fail if they do not encompass the full range of human emotions. I’ve begun calling it ‘Fakebook’ and have a few ideas…
I’ve got something to prove
I am so glad you said this! However, if you get any TED tickets will you send them to me.
Nice Post! Good to know people like you make it and stay the same. Works the same for good research. Look for: “I don’t care.” http://www.fisafari.com/?p=100
I don’t take attending conferences related to digital media for granted – at all . I’m lucky for instance in this economy many conferences offer free hall passes, and they are located in San Francisco, for instance read this post on my enthusiasm about that:http://blogs.cisco.com/medi…Also not all of us get invited to things like AllThingsDigital !! Yet I’m inspired by the fact that most conferences live online, via searchable hash tags, videos, slide presentations, etc. So I hear you on travel, but fortunately most conferences seem to be going virtual with their content. I’m going to blog about that topic too soon. Thanks for the inspiration! Chuck Fishman*By the way the Facebook Connect integration failed here for commenting, and seems to fail on every other blog I try to use it on
I find that local mixers with smaller groups are my favorite. I went to a cocktail meetup held by the Internet OldTimers Foundation this week (I’m a member) that didn’t cost anything. It was great.I met a bunch of folks who I’ve read about and some who I had done business with in the past. Then I met a bunch of folks who I’ve never heard of or met and learned about what they were doing.I had a couple of glasses of wine, met some new people and then walked across the street on got on my commuter train home. Three hours very well spent, especially when compared to flying to San Diego or god forbid Hawaii.Spend all the time you want in front of your screen, in social media, etc. It balances things out to meet in person. I’ve been to D and lots of other conferences. I like them, but agree with some of the posters here that these events can be ‘echo chambers’ that reinforce the status quo.Some friends of mine are starting their own meetups. Their thing is called the ‘Wednesday Group” and they currently run an event on Wednesday nights in NY for the interactive crowd. They are moving to a sponsorship model.I liked Jason Calacanis’ events on 18th street in the late 90s. I met a lot of great folks there.The point of my rambling post is that I agree with Fred for the most part. Choose your time out of the office well and you will be rewarded.
Meetup.com is one of our portfolio companies and scott is so right that people must take their relationships into the real world
Meetup.com is one of our portfolio companies and scott is so right that people must take their relationships into the real world
Excellent post. Power parties indeed. Localvore is really the way to go with conferences, absolutely and for everything else there is Second Life which even exists behind a firewall for corporations now.
Fred, I agree with your argument on too much emphasis is being put on attending high priced events. First, the events are largely bad business practices because the fees are outrageous and often times ROI is not even thought about when planning attendance for industry events. Second, the content from the events is largely published throughout the various social streams, making any education aspect almost worthless.One question: Do so called “power” VC’s such as yourself see an annoyance in attending conferences due to potential endless pitches from “outsiders” looking for an opportunity?
I don’t mind being pitched. I like it. As long as it is short and sweet and doesn’t dominate my time when others want to do the same thing
Great article Fred. On the price front, I agree that a lot of these conferences exclude the most interesting up and coming folks. I saw an interesting approach to pricing with the NY entrepreneur week conference next week – http://nyew.org/ Note the different prices depending on the revenues of your company on the right hand side of the home page.
Regarding the insider/outsider angle – I have definitely noticed that so many people with new ideas get locked out of the very conferences that should be fostering such work.I work for an organization that helps social entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground, and for several years we’ve tried to get a booth at a major yearly conference to publicize what we’re up to, reach new people, and of course attract the interest of potential investors. Unfortunately, booths cost $1000, so we’d try and mooch a few feet off someone else’s booth or carry stuff around with us to pass out.Essentially, only the rich organizations that are already well known can further promote themselves and get more PR. The small fledgling organizations doing cool stuff, which are looking to build community or gain investor interest, have nowhere to display what they’re up to – they haul around boxes of pamphlets handing them out as they are able. This is so counterintuitive! I want to know what’s new and exciting – not about that 100 year old dinosaur organization that needs to seriously revamp its mission and strategy.This year, for the first time, we ponied up for a booth, to publicize info about us and about some of the entrepreneurs we’ve helped launch projects. (Does this mean we’re part of the establishment?) Was it effective? It did help – we got a lot of interest. Will we do it again next year? Probably, but with a whole new strategy. It’s a great networking opportunity for us and our entrepreneurs, even if it is pricey. That said, we would never rely on a conference for all or even most networking – small meetings are much more effective, especially when both parties aren’t trying to remember the hundred other people they already met over the past 2 days.
Did you seriously use another web shortener for that? Why? where does it go? I don’t know. I really feel bad for the author of whatever content it links to. It’s not good. It’s really not good. For so many reasons. I know i’m a hardcore geek, so i understand how dns works and seo works and that bit.ly will go away someday but the internet never will and that maybe what you are linking to will out live bit.ly itself and then if it does, anyone 10 decades or 100 decades from now reading Fred’s post here and your comment are going to click on the link you’ve shortened and get one of those domain squatters who snatched up bit.ly before anyone else.The web is being ruined by all the social brats who make introverts proud to stay at home…
Thanks charles. I’ll check it out