Final Thoughts on TechCrunch50

By September 18, 2009

I was happy to see Sarah Lacy’s semi-scathing article about TechCrunch50, because I was beginning to wonder if I had reacted to the event too negatively. For me, only a tiny handful of startups were even remotely exciting, and listening to the demos in the hot, stuffy conference room was more fatiguing than inspiring, or even educational. Lacey writes: “I did interviews with most of the TechCrunch50 experts backstage and there was a common gripe about the companies launching there: Not enough passion, not enough swinging for the fences, not enough trying to change the world. There were too many people building safe businesses, too many companies just trying to make existing things slightly better, and too many people wanting to be the next, not the next Google.” To be fair, this year’s TC50 companies seemed a more diverse group than last year’s. (At first take, at least. Now looking back on last year’s list, I’m not so sure.)

One thing I will say: this year’s group was a bit more restrained in company names. Most of the names were still trendy and vague, but there was less emphasis on forced neologism and alfabetic gymnastics than in last year’s demo crowd.

TC50 is about the event, not the participants. It differentiates itself from other tech conferences with its emphasis on pop-culture alliances -- this year it was Penn and Teller and Chamillionaire; last year it was Ashton Kutcher and celebrity DJs -- and parties as well as its celebration of money, youth and excess cultural capital. It's the scene's postcard to itself.

In all fairness to the demoing companies, I'm not sure they all understand this when applying for a finalist spot.

I still contend that the event is in some way an analogue to the ‘decadence’ of last year’s “Don’t Stop Believing” video, which was widely vilified as a sign of Silicon Valley’s solipsistic self-celebration in the midst of a national tragedy. There’s a sort of forced laidbackness to TC50 that turns it into a $3,000 spectacle where the many get to watch the boys’ club gaze at each others’ navels.

TC50 is all about TC50, and once you get over that, it’s a great event. The network is there for the taking. Everyone’s in the city for the event and the party list is never-ending.

If you want to go to a conference about ideas, innovation and changing the world, go to NetSquared or OSCON. If you want to see Silicon Valley in all of its shiny gossipy pride, head to TC50.

Ultimately, the big news out of this year’s event was not about the next hot startup, nor the next killer app from an established player, but about the rumored fight between Calacanis and Arrington, one that threatens to end the event.

But seriously, as long as the organizers outshine the participants, TC50 will have a long, healthy future.

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