Chris Shipley has been the executive producer of DEMO since 1997 and at Ubergizmo, we think that she does a great job of selecting high quality products and companies in the highly competitive field of new technology. She also has a talent for identifying new trends. DEMOFall 08 starts next Monday and we will be covering the event live. Below are the 9 questions I asked Chris Shipley, go to the full article to read her answers.
- Wen did you co-found the GuideWire Group and how long have you been the executive producer of DEMO?
- Can you describe how you select the companies that are going to Demo?
- Why is DEMO a better launching platform than other conferences?
- Is presenting at DEMO a good way to get VC funding?
- How did the idea of creating DEMO pop-up?
- Technology changes all the time, can you tell us about past trends and about the trends for DEMOFall 08?
- What are the most famous companies that launched at DEMO
- Why 2 sessions of DEMO?
- Will we have DEMO in the Bay Area one day?
1) When did you co-found the GuideWire Group and how long have you been the executive producer of DEMO?
Demo was started in 1981 by Stewart Aslop who is now venture capitalist and after the 1996 show I was talking with Stewart about my experience as a demonstrator and as an attendee at Demo and I was giving him my prospective on the future of the show and he told me that he was looking to hire a new executive producer for Demo and asked me “are you interested?”. That is how I became involved and my first DEMO was in 1997, it has been 12 years and it represents twenty plus events. In the early nineties, information did not move as quickly as now, because you had big trade shows like COMDEX, but you did not have the World Wide Web. So, a lot of the things that were at DEMO were products that were showcase of relatively new and interesting technology, but DEMO was not a launch venue in the early days.
In 1998 we decided to make Demo a launch venue for new technology, first time seen in the market products and we put a screening process in place, so that the people who come to DEMO see it as a we have gotten out and we have looked across the landscape all over the world and these are the products that we think are, not the best, showing new ideas, have strong potential, are disruptive in the market and are incredibly innovative, we are not trying to select products or companies based on whether those companies would be great venture investment although often they are. DEMO is ultimately about seeing where the market is going through the lenses of the products that are there and it has also a layer that is about helping accelerate introduction to market and their access to customer, and it has been quite an accelerator.
In 2002, I decided to leave as an employee of IDG and became a consultant because I wanted to work with more early stage companies and do less of paperwork and budgeting for the show. So I left IDG, it became a contract relationship with them and a year later I started the GuideWire Group. It is a technology research firm identifying companies across the market segment and understanding how these early stage companies are affecting the emerging markets.
2) Can you describe how you select the companies that are going to Demo?
Often, companies apply on our website, often they are referred to us by people who are familiar with the event like investors, and we go out looking for interesting companies. What we are looking for in an easy checkbox box is: is this product a new product? it has not been widely seen in the market, it has not had media coverage, which is difficult today where there is a need for public beta, but we are looking for products that are under the radar. The second criteria: is this product has the potential to be disruptive in the market, is it filling gap, is it solving a problem for consumers, is it bringing a new feature or even new pleasure to the consumers? (…)
3) Why is DEMO a better launching platform than other conferences?
Better is a relative term, I will let somebody else be the judge for better and I will tell you what we try to do. DEMO ultimately is about the products and the companies that are launching, it is not about the event, the event brand, the executive producer or staff. It is about how do we, as a company, line up behind these companies, whether they are big or small, to help them to launch their product to a large audience. The audience at DEMO has a tremendous influence, for example you (Ubergizmo) come to DEMO you cover the companies and you have thousand of readers, so you have this great amplifier effect. A VC, a customer, an analyst or an early adopter who is in the room who is among the first to buy the product like that pen (Editor’s note: I was using the Livescribe pen to write this Q&A) and people see it and you become this great advocate, you are an influencer in the market. So the first drop in the pond is this audience at DEMO that have a tremendous reach and influence. So, presenting to that audience for the companies it is about talking to the hundred of millions of people that those people influence. In the first sixty days after DEMO 08, stories about companies (in traditional media, blogs are harder to monitor) reached more than 200 million people. DEMO sees itself as a partner with the companies in launching their products. And while there is a cost to be part of DEMO and some have made it a controversy, there is a big service component and because we charge a fee two things happen: one, the companies that launch are very serious about coming to the table and making a great impression on the market, and second, DEMO is tremendously aware that we need to deliver a lot of value back, we have to make sure that everyone of those companies is getting more value than they pay… and it is a strong commitment from our team to help the companies to be successful, not just at the event but also long after.
4) Is presenting at DEMO a good way to get VC funding?
The numbers would say so. Since 2004, the companies who launched at DEMO have raised 2 billion dollars of funding. For example, 40% of the companies of the class of 2004 was acquired or had some other liquidity event. The point is that the numbers suggest that venture has moved to later in a company’s life cycle. Many investors, even the early stage investors, want to invest in a company that has come to the market, has some traction from customers, has begin to prove out its business model. Those are exactly the companies that come to DEMO, because, by definition, they are launching their product and the investors who are looking for a company that has executed to the point of product launch find a very good crop of companies to consider for investment.
5) How did the idea of creating DEMO pop up?
Stewart Alsop who was a columnist, did an event called Agenda and it was about bringing together Bill Gates and other leaders of the market to talk about where they were going, it was a very high level conference. But he looked around one day and he realized that all the people who were enjoying themselves at the conference were in the hallways with their laptop showing their peers what they were working on.
UG: The lobby conference?
C.S.: Yes, quite like that!
So he decided to create an event that was just about the joy of showing your work to your peers and in fact the very first invitation
was a postcard all black and in white text it said “FUN”. It is fun if you love product, it is fun to see them, it is fun to get one-on-one with the people who created them, to put your hands on them and to be the person in the know. I had one of the first Palm Pilot that was ever made because I went to DEMO. DEMO has evolved from that prospective but it is still about the joy of showing your work to your peers in the industry and get that work getting accelerated.
6) Technology changes all the time, can you tell us about past trends and about the trends for DEMOFall 08?
DEMO is very very good at identifying future trends and it is very bad at naming them and getting credit for them. I give you an example, in 1997 i invited a company at DEMO called Hot Office, and it was the first company to make office applications like spreadsheets, put them on server and make them accessible from a web browser. And at that event someone from a leading tech company told me “Chris, I do not know why you brought that company DEMO, that’s the dumbest thing I ever seen,no one will ever use a web browser to use software, it is too slow, it is never going to work” and I said “well, i think that there is something there…” It was a page based architecture it was only at the next DEMO that Kiva introduced the first web application server, the product was bought by Netscape and it became Netscape Application Server. It was not until that SalesForce (DEMO 1999) came after that market and started to call it first ASP (Application Service Provider) and then Software as a Service (SaaS). So that was one trend that I saw the product and I knew there was something there.
Another example is when in 1998 VM Ware came to my office, and said this virtualization thing is very important, and they wanted to create a sandbox for developers. No-one was talking about virtualization but we had it at DEMO.
I talked about the social web and the social computing and people centric computing in 2000-2001, and if I go back to my early opening comments at DEMO you will see that there is a lot of things that we pointed to that are now obvious.
What about the current trends?
There is too much information now for us to hide behind false identities or opaque business models, we need to understand for example if social media is to be hugely impacting it has to move outside of the tenth millions of people who are reading and engaging with it now to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are not yet trusting web based information, and the reason is because they do not know where it is coming from, they do not know who is behind, they do not know who those people are who are commenting, so they are still turning to the major media brands because there is a confidence there. For blogging to break out it is going to have to break down that barrier around transparency and trust. (…)
I think that Web 2.0 cycle is done, that it was not an economic cycle, it was a hype cycle and an innovation cycle, and all those innovations around open API’s, and distributed content and social interactions, all the learning from the last two/three years lays the foundations for the next layer of the Web, which I think is the Distributed Web. The first Web was “let me show you a flat page”, and then there was the Interactive Web, Amazon kind of moved to the social web, but the question was: how can I attract a lot of attention, a lot of traffic? In the Distributed Web the question is; How can I get my stuff everywhere, I do not need to be an aggregator, i need to be a distributor. (…) It allows content to go to readers not readers to come to content.
Deep Web and Search:
There is a broad shallow layer that Google reveals and there is lots of deep content that it does not. And finding even in the narrow layer, what you are looking for becomes very difficult. How do we use different techniques whether it is natural language processing, or different kinds of algorithms to reveal and search information that is deeper in the Web.
Business model shifting:
There is a shift to business to applications that serve business needs and to business models that actually generate real revenue. All this Web 2.0 “it’s free for everybody” did not generate a lot of revenues, and as a business cycle did not generate a lot of wealth, there are a lot of .com millionaires, there is not a lot Web 2.0 millionaires. (…)
7) What are the most famous companies that launched at DEMO
Actually Google was at DEMO one year, they launched a mobile technology in 1999 or 2000 there. WebEx, Sales force, VM ware, Tivo, Palm, Grand Central (acquired by Google after) launched at DEMO.
8) Why 2 sessions of DEMO?
Because new products are always coming to market. Somebody told me recently that DEMO needs to happen more than twice a year.
UG: There is no difference between the two sessions?
No, we have to support different product development cycles, that’s all.
9) Will we have DEMO in the Bay Area one day?
The idea is to bring people outside of their normal environment. If you have an event in the Silicon Valley, you sleep in your own bed, you go home and take care of the kids, your real life intervenes, when you go to Palm Spring or San Diego you are there, and so you meet with people, you engage with people, you are fully immersed in the event, and that is the theory around being at such venues. That does not mean that we will not create some Bay Area events in the future.
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