September 20, 2007

Early Reaction to PlugandPlay Expo

The biggest problem to trying to navigate a few dozen startups in a few hours' time is that there's only one thing guaranteed - I won't get to them all, especially when I'm trying to vie for attention in competition with early-stage investors who could mean the difference between their seeing another six months, or looking for work. I did manage to talk to 10-12 of the companies at reasonable length, and found some services I'll definitely use, while others just simply weren't built for me as a consumer.

The conference, organized by the PlugandPlayTechCenter (yes, all one word) in Sunnyvale, aimed to put entrepreneurs in the same room as VCs and have them make their case in rapid fire. A representative from the three dozen companies was given all of two minutes to deliver their elevator pitch, and based on a vote, four were selected to move to the next round, where they got all of ten minutes to elaborate on their offering, and business model. (Most, of course, were ad-based. Others looked to take a portion of revenue generated from their own users' sales.)

I showed up to the conference around 4, as soon as I was able, and tried to catch up for lost time - visiting many displays and talking to CEOs, CTOs, co-founders and the occasional VP of Marketing. And while some were very pleased with the close quarters and rigid schedule, I did hear complaints. As one exhibitor put it, "If you're the 28th presenter out of 37 companies, the audience is pretty glazed over. You don't even know who the investors are!" You can be sure that he hadn't been selected as one of the final four, and was all too eager to pick apart the process.

Two highlights for me were speaking with Spokeo's Mital Poddar, the company's VP of Marketing, and Jeffrey Tannenbaum, CEO of PhotoCrank. Mital, only a month or so into her new role at Spokeo, did a great job demoing the social network data aggregator, and were we in another situation, I'd have tried to recruit her away from her current job. Needless to say, I'll have a follow-on note around Spokeo shortly. Jeffrey also was all too happy to demo his photo and image annotation tool (now live on this site), and thought of some unique applications for it - which I'll discuss in a bit.

I also enjoyed talking with Leonard Backus, CEO for Datamash, Tomás Zeman of Wirenode, Steve Gibson of and Ernstjan Albers of, to name a few.

Depending on who I talked to, you could see differing levels of strain or excitement on the exhibitors' faces. Some were hard core geeks who didn't like public speaking and couldn't wait for me to stop asking questions. Others, after finding out I had no money to give them for an "A" round of funding, were all too happy to cut their pitch short. But the good majority seemed to enjoy demoing their service and walking me through, screen by screen, how they planned to change the world. Maybe some will. Many won't. But it was a unique Silicon Valley experience. More soon.