Microsoft Does The Right Thing.

Yesterday I posted about Young Startup Ventures trying to rip off Boston-based entrepreneurs.

Today, I’m pleased to report that after hearing of the pay-to-pitch requirements of Young Startup Ventures, Microsoft has done the right thing and no longer is allowing the group to use their facilities.  We should all congratulate them on doing the right thing. 

It appears that the event is no longer on their website, either.  Nice.

I’d also like to thank Dan Primack for the real estate on PEHub and all of you who supported my position via retweets. 

If any of you hear of other similar scams, let me know.  I’d like to weed out as many of these as possible.

  • Noble work!

  • Richard

    Jason – thanks

    I noticed you sit on the board of the National Venture Capital Association.

    Did you know that Mark Heesen president of NVCA is speaking at The South East Venture Conference?

    it's a pay-to-pitch event as well. maybe you can convince him not to support it.

  • I’ll look into it.  Thanks.  Any idea on how much they are charging or what the story is?

  • Richard

    we were offered a slot for $2k but said no way

    • You were getting a deal!  J

      • Scott Williamson

        i presented at southeast venture conference last year and i wouldn't call them "pay-to-pitch." While they did charge me some nominal fee, i was under the impression it to cover my own costs… which i don't mind paying for my own lunch and they provided a demo table and internet. Given the quality event, it appeared to be a steal.

  • Richard

    i just went to the NVCA webiste to see if they were promoting this and i'm shocked to see that they have a banner ad for DEMO on the homepage: http://www.nvca.org

    isnt DEMO the group that charges $18k?

    • I don’t know what they charge anymore, but here are my thoughts:

      1. I assume that you are linking the NVCA to me (good), but this is one of those cases where my blog is my personal opinion and what the NVCA does is something “different” (medium to bad).  Trust me that I’m trying to do right behind the scenes;
      2. There are some longstanding events that members of the NVCA participate in that charge everyone registration fees. They are in the 100s of dollars.  I don’t  like any time an entrepreneur is being charged for something like this, but if the local infrastructure won’t support it (read: service providers) then I can’t bitch too much;
      3. As for DEMO specifically, the question is whether this is pay to pitch, or pay to sell.  Pay to pitch is what I hate – young startup comes bushy-eyed to meet VCs and pays a whopping sum to get access.  If it’s pay to sell – that the main idea is media access, selling your product, etc. (and not trying to raise your Series A), then I consider this much akin to a trade show and each company needs to make its own decisions.  As things like TechCrunch50 have forced things like Demo to morph, I think it fits somewhere in the middle of this. 

      If you (or anyone) can find me credible evidence, I’m happy to expose.  The one that I wrote about today, I had tons of first hand, written evidence of the charade that was being played.  On the other hand, I don’t have all the time I’d like to play detective on this matter, but I’ll do my best.  Again, any help is sincerely appreciated.

  • Ron

    hi jason – as i mentioned on teh other post i'll get you the email for AlwaysOn tomorrow. as for DEMO i just checked their site and i recall they changed their pricing but look at this.

    they created an "alpha" plan "for early stage entrepreneurs who may not be quite ready for a commercial launch" that's a quote directly off their site

    sounds like cash strapped startups to me, yet,
    The fee for companies to participate is $5,000 and you wont believe this

    The get..90 seconds to present!

    here's a link: http://demo.com/pitch/alphapitch.html

    • Yep, but one thing to note:

      Launch versus Fundraising.

      To Launch your product (if the event is awesome), $5k isn’t that much.  Hell, going to a conference and getting a booth is 5-10x that.  So, if conference folks can truly create a launch pad, then I feel like they can charge what they want.

      Fundraising – totally different story.  VCs are accessible.  Entrepreneurs can get in front of us easy.  In fact, they can just email away!  That being said, you wouldn’t want me launching your product on my blog – not a big enough forum.

      So, that’s how I would carve these up differently.  Agree?  Disagree?

  • Ron

    perhaps, but whether launch or not $5k is $5k and these guys are promoting it as for those bootstrapped companies not ready for a launch

    "for early stage entrepreneurs who may not be quite ready for a commercial launch"

    • Yeah, not sure exactly what this means, but to me, I read this as folks who are going to launch soon (But before the next Demo event) and want some good press.  This is a very different type of access.  But, I’m not going to say I’m 100% sure.

  • archie

    that's great!

  • Ron

    i agree – if it's for exposure / launch then i can see a start up paying $500 ok but not $5,000….that's a little much

    even more – DEMO's site says "Each company must be pre-revenue, and have received no more than a seed round of funding (<$500k)."

    sounds like they're taking advantage of cash strapped start ups.

    then they say

    "apply to pitch at DEMO to reach an audience of top investors…"

    I think that's proof enough that they're pitching it as if it's for investors… no?

    as you so correctly gave credit to Seth for saying

    “THERE IS NO CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH ENTREPRENEURS SHOULD PAY TO PITCH THEIR BUSINESS TO PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS. PERIOD. END OF STORY.”

    do you agree?

  • Hi guys,

    I'm writing as a rep from the Southeast Venture Conference just to clarify some statements here, as the conference is not a pay for event for presenting companies. We are run by entrepreneurs and pride ourselves on being as accessible to startups as possible.

    Short version: We budgeted this year for 55 presenting companies, who are paying nothing to present or to have a demo table at the conference. We added five slots at the end to allow in a handful of companies that didn’t make the initial presentation cut to still be able to demo and asked those companies to cover their costs for the demo room and attendance cost for two people, which amounted to $1900. (TechCrunch charges $2995 to offset costs for their Demopit companies).

    Long version: As mentioned above, we budgeted the event for 55 presenting companies on stage and in our demo room. We had room for an additional four or five tables in our demo room. Without having the additional sponsorship revenue this year in a tight sponsorship environment to cover those additional companies we decided to offer those final 5 slots in the demo room to actual companies that could benefit from being there for our cost.

    Unlike TechCrunch, who awards only one DemoPit company the ability to present on stage, we decided to let those extra 5 demo room companies present on stage and afford them all the benefits of the other 55 presenting companies. We invited those final 5 companies (out of 60 total presentation slots) at $1900 which covered all of our costs associated with two attendees and the demo room setup and costs (power, internet, table, etc). This covers our cost of adding those extra companies which were not budgeted for by sponsorship dollars. Again, we would have loved to have had increased sponsorship to cover the costs for these final additional companies, but we erred on the side of giving a handful of companies the opportunity to be a part of the conference by covering their own cost…and we have five highly grateful companies that were glad we did this year.

    In retrospect, we can see how this could create some confusion for folks like Richard and next year we will not likely expand our demo room similar to the Techcrunch approach beyond the number of sponsor budgeted presenting companies. This obviously comes at the expense of allowing some additional companies exposure to the venture community at cost that would not have had the opportunity otherwise but our perception of being highly supportive of the region’s community is extremely important to us – as is the actual benefit we strive to accomplish in helping to grow and expand the regional technology entrepreneurial community.

    We have always prided ourselves on keeping our venture conference highly accessible to the bootstrapping entrepreneur – not just from a presenting standpoint but from just attending to be able to network with investors and fellow entrepreneurs. Where events like Techcrunch or other regional events are typically $1200 to $3000 to just attend, we strive to keep our attendance fees in the $400’s or less for any attendee and have always let unfunded entrepreneurs attend at our cost.

    I welcome a direct dialogue with anyone who has additional questions or suggestions and feedback on how we might can provide additional benefit through our conference to the southeast and mid-atlantic entrepreneurial community.

    Best Regards,

    Eric Gregg
    Executive Director
    Southeast Venture Conference
    Dream. Innovate. Grow.
    [email protected]

    • Eric, Great post.  I had done some investigations myself and came up with the same story, more or less.  Have a great conference and say hello to Mark for me.

  • Phil Sugar

    To me its pretty simple. If you charge everybody attending the same amount, sponsors more, speakers less I'm ok. I'd prefer sponsors to underwrite most, but I'd agree with the comment above if its free, its shocking how many people will sign up and not attend.

    That means you have to provide enough value for everyone to attend.

    As I've said a ton of times it really sucks to get the naive to pay thousands of dollars. Really it is picking on the disadvantaged. Its really make the ones to pay the only ones that can't afford it. I'm all for capitalism, but there is a point where taking advantage is not acceptable.

  • Ron

    eric – i'm a little confused. i managed to find one of your original emails for this year's conference which states "The fourth annual SEVC will feature approximately 75 of the southeast region’s top private technology firms".

    that sounds like you initially planned for 20 companies more than you're stating above.

    also – why should any companies pay $400. as Jason said – start ups should be paying $100-$150 max.

    sincerely

    Ron

  • This is definitely been a hot topic lately amongst many groups and blogs.

    I think the best advice to give entrepreneurs is to conduct rigorous due diligence on the programs that are out there before they jump in and simply pay a fee. There is a difference between a trade show or a showcase and the type of event where companies are selected and screened and coached and receive more than simply a promise.

    The Private Investors Forum runs the Annual Angel Venture Fair in Philadelphia every April. PIF is a consortium of several angel groups in the region. We charge a fee of $250 for companies to apply to AVF but thats a once a year meeting where we also provide quite a bit of value. Companies are more than welcome to apply to the separate groups free of charge. But for AVF, the goal is to mutually find and build good companies. We treat AVF as somewhat of a bootcamp for entrepreneurs where the angel groups collectively work together to help companies. Frankly, our application fee is probably TOO low.

    Companies not only get feedback on their written submissions but also get to attend several other networking, education and workshop type events which we see as an integral part of raising money. We try to help companies communicate. In other words, it is six months of connecting. Our process? (and I do mean process): From over 120 applications, we invite up to 40 or so to make live presentations before investors. So they do go before investors. During that session we provide guidance and feedback and coaching. From that batch, we ultimately pick 30 which are the best of class. They end up receiving a lot of one on one treatment to prepare them for such topics as making a winning PPT presentation, understanding and presenting their valuation, negotiating term sheets etc.. Those 30 company finalists, if you will, do pay an additional fee but that goes to pay for the one on one coaching and assistance with their PPT, more programs to network which includes food and beverage and of course, the venues.

    As far as attendance at the final event, only active angel investors are permitted to attend the AVF (other than the sponsor and the companies). Thus, it guarantees the 30 finalists are the focus of close to 100 investors. No distractions. No competition.

    It is indeed a pretty exclusive setting that we believe ensures that the company is not wasting their time and draws real active angel investors. It truly is a different kind of setting. (we do a lousy job at marketing and promotion becase all who are involved are active angel investors) But, our historical stats are pretty impressive: Each year, our 20-30 selected companies raised close to $4M each year and we reached the all time high of having 78% of the selected companies reaching finalist stage to go on to raise money after our event. I'd say that is pretty good. We are result driven. (but lousy marketers!)

    My advice? Companies looking for capital must do due diligence on everything they do…..and not simply attend events where they showcase to other entrepreneurs. They should ask for a list of companies that had presented at those past venues and find out how they fared. ie. did they raise money? If so, how much? Did they find and meet a lot of new contacts quickly? Did the contacts connect them to money? Was the money they spent returned to them in spades through other benefits? Could they have accomplished what they accomplished for any cheaper? Could they have met so many possible investor leads by trying to meet these folks outside of such a venue? and so on.. Ask! Ask! Ask!

    BTW, I always thought the SEVC was a great program and thought their prices were reasonable.

    Additionally, one of our big wins was a company called "Fingerworks" They were technology out of Univ. Of Delaware. We chose them to exhibit and connected them with their CEO. "Fingerworks" was eventually acquired by Apple in 2005. Their work has been integrated into the iPhone and now, the… iPad! This is a perfect example of Angel Investing at its best! Finding and building.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/technology/comp

    So, we look at the fees as spreading the cost since Angel Investors (unlike venture guys) don't have anyone to answer to and do what they do because they have to like it They often take a lot of risk for little reward. Thus, if we can create create a setting where the investors feel comfortable meeting companies over time, and get to know the entrepreneurs a little better, they are more likely to invest.

    Sorry for such a long post….but please check us out. Comments and suggestions welcome. Our end goal is to provide the best means to build successful companies.

    http://www.angelventurefair.com

    • Ken Schwenke

      To add to Valerie's comments above – I was an entrepreneur who presented at the Philadelphia Angel Venture Fair a couple of years ago as CEO of a company known as the Off-Campus Dining Network, and found it to be a very worthwhile experience for a variety of reasons. My experience at AVF was positive because the process provided valuable feedback to participating companies, and judges seemed to go out of their way not only to junge but to help make companies better! Not only that, but the head of the conference – Valerie – went out of her way to help line up angel investors who might fit the segement in which my company operated, going so far as to invite some investors for free (which I think means she may have paid!) who were felt to be a good match. The great news was that, as a result of the time at AVF (and other good luck) we grew, were #3 on the "Philly 100" (while at the same time winning a "best places to work" award) and went from start up to a successful sale/exit (to Sodexho) in 4 years. AVF helped make it possible, so kudos to Valerie and the Angel Venture Team in Philadelphia

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