Poking the bear on TechCrunch 11 -- What did the sponsors get for their money?

I went to TechCrunch 11 last night in Boston.  It was great to catch up with some people I didn't expect to see there as well as some east coast scene regulars. 

However, the one thing that struck me about it was how little value sponsors seemed to really be getting out of this thing.  A few weeks ago, Phillip from Snooth, the wine recommendation service, told me that he doesn't go to tech events... he goes to wine events.  That just made so much sense to me and it really put all these big splashy launches and attempts to get on the big tech blogs just seem kind of a waste of time from a marketing perspective.

Take IDG for example.  I met those guys a few years ago when they pitched their fund to GM and I think they're smart.  But, I couldn't help but think that, if they just held this party on their own, just as many people would have come.  Do VCs really need more inbound traffic?  Isn't the promise that a VC is going to be somewhere enough to make a startup want to show up to an event?  What did they really need TechCrunch for?  If anything, I think the TechCrunch association brings with it a lot of fanboy traffic and noise.  I think they would have been better off throwing some kind of "open house" or some kind of innovative session showing a live VC pitch, their reaction, etc., with follow up drinks.  That seems like a much better place to get the word out that you're an entrepreneur-friendly, approachable, value-adding VC, versus just paying for everyone's drinks.

Even if it did bring in a bunch of entrepreneurs, the crowded bar scene wasn't exactly that conducive to conversation, nor would it have been particularly easy to find the right people you want to talk to anyway.  Maybe it helps elevate their name in the community to associate themselves with TechCrunch, but I gotta figure they shouldn't have any trouble doing that on their own by sponsoring a BarCamp or something.

For the sponsor companies, it seemed even less valuable.  Mzinga "launched" last night, right in the middle of the little demo mosh pit they had going at this place.  It looks like they've build some kind of Web 2.0 intranet--certainly not a direct to consumer product.  Who could they have possibly met in this crowd that would have made the money they spent to be there worth it?  Wouldn't they have been better off going to some Enterprise 2.0 conference, or, even better, hosting a thoughtful discussion on Web 2.0 in the Enterprise with a number of companies in that space, along with some high profile CEO's.

That's one seriously underused method of publicity as far as I'm concerned--smaller, focused public conversations with and for your customers.  I'm going to be working with some people in the NYC area community to do something in January around Web 2.0 and the education market and I'm sure make some great Path 101 connections through it.  That would be a lot more efficient use of our time (and more cost efficient) than to spend a lot of money sponsoring some big party. 

I almost kinda felt bad for some of the companies there last night.  It felt like they spent a lot of money to be there, and the ROI of randomly handing out buttons and flyers and stickers to an audience that probably wasn't even relevant to what they were doing seemed sort of desperate. 

Buzz doesn't make a company...not in the long term.  Putting good products in front of a relevant audience does--and the Web 2.0 blogger/TechCrunch fanboy world just isn't a relevant audience for so many of these startups.  More so than not, it just feels like a good place to get knocked for not using enough AJAX or not being as technologically sophisticated as your competitor, even if that's not what that market is asking for at all.  If Path 101 gets ripped apart or praised by TechCrunch, it's really not going to make a difference in the long term viability of the company, but burning all our cash on splashy event sponsorships definitely would, and not in a good way.

I could be wrong, of course, and I'd love to hear about all the really valuable connections people made last night to justify the expense--there were some good people and good companies there and I'd love to hear that their efforts were successful.

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