DEMO has just begun here in Palm Desert. Word on the street over the past few years has been that the conference is losing its luster -but here on site it's feeling pretty relevant still today. You can judge for yourself via live streaming video embedded here below the fold. The conference runs through Wednesday night.The startup launchpad conference
You're likely to see a lot of press about DEMO over the next few days, we've posted a toolkit for tracking the event, but below are some of the arguments for and against the continued relevance of this high-profile event. The live video player below from BitGravity may make you want to turn down your volume but that's what it's like here at the event, too.
After interviewing hundreds of companies interested in launching products here at DEMO, executive producer Chris Shipley chose 77 companies to present. There's a wide variety of products being shown here and this is the 16th year the event has happened.
Many people are critical of DEMO and these tend to be the most common critiques.
- The high price of entry is limiting.
- DEMO is antiquated.
- It's not just startups.
- A lot of undifferentiated mobile stuff.
It costs more than $15k to present at DEMO once you've been selected. In exchange for that entry fee companies give one six minute demo of their product and a space in the crowded gallery. Critics contend that many of the most exciting startups today wouldn't have been able to pay such a high price to launch in their earliest days. The ability to pay to play does not correspond to the innovation a company offers.
There was a time when the press corps was small and there were limited opportunities for investors to find the most interesting startups coming to market. Neither is true today. Just like creating a company has been democratized beyond the ranks of those who can afford to launch here, so too has media expanded to include far more writers and reviewers than are walking the halls here in Palm Desert.
Though DEMO presents itself as the place for brand new companies to launch, there are always a significant number of big companies presenting. This year well known companies like Symantec, Citrix, Leapfrog and Education.com are coming on stage. Many people are looking to discover the freshest of the fresh, the newest of the new, and cynics contend that big co's are just buying their way on stage.
GrandCentral launched at DEMO 2007 and was promptly scooped up by Google. Other than that, if you're not interested in the finer points mobile and telephony, a lot of DEMO presenters won't interest you.
DEMO's continued relevance
I've considered the arguments above but am particularly moved today by the following reasons why DEMO is still relevant.
- Large number of diverse companies. Executive producer Chris Shipley focused in her morning address on the intersection of many different market sectors. New, media rich consumer websites create new demands on hardware. Both software and hardware companies are here at DEMO. The business and consumer software markets are tied together by providing each other with innovation and motivation. Throw in some mobile vendors and you've got a unique and really useful mix of companies here.
- Good international presence.
- Mix of startups and established companies.
- High production value.
- This is a particular sector of the market.
- There is some awesome stuff here
Shipley says that the hundreds of companies she talks to each year in order to make her selections are all data points she uses to create her best forecast of where tech and markets are headed. I think she's in a unique position to do that.
There are quite a few companies here from Canada, a handful from Europe, some from Asia and a panel of startup entrepreneurs from Africa. There is heavy Silicon Valley representation here as well, but the international participation is important.
While this is something that some are critical of, the participation of big companies at DEMO means that we get to see some really neat new products built by companies with substantial R&D and marketing budgets. Though the innovation offered by small stealthy startups has proven a game changer in recent years, the big guys are still coming up with some things that are fun to see and could make a big impact on the market.
There's a lot of mediocre conferences in this world, but DEMO isn't one of them. It's worth your time here to sit in the presentation room - not just lurk in the halls. The production values here are high. It's a classy operation. Things are in transition here and some kinks need to be worked out of a new approach for a new era - the new website, for example, is hipper than before but it's not nearly as pretty.
DEMO is expensive, but so is hardware production. There's no shortage of software companies either for whom nearly $20k in total cost of attendance stings but is doable. Companies that have raised any money at all, including just angel funds, pay multiples of that sum each month in wages. Chris Shipley interviews hundreds of companies each year that are fully prepared to pay the DEMO entry fee.
The rise of the fringe startup as web hero is a really important part of the internet story. It's also just a part of the story of a whole technology industry that's thriving in many different ways. DEMO helps tell another important part of the technology story.
All thinking aside - I am in awe of some of the products being launched here. There's no arguing with that.
Thanks for checking out our coverage of DEMO. I'm going to sit down with some startup founders and talk tech over the next few days, but I hope you find this and our previous DEMO toolkit post interesting and useful.