Wednesday, September 10, 2008
What Happened to the Valley? TechCrunch 50
You guys know I'm hurting for a paycheck. So when Tech Crunch 50 decided they were charging $3,000 a pop to get in, I knew there was no way in hell I was going. Until... someone from our Haas distro list started asking for volunteers. Yes, another perk from business school. In addition to all of the other things, opportunities abound. So I signed up to volunteer on day 1 and was given a pass for the conference.
The volunteer work was pretty menial. Stuff envelopes... or whatever. But I met some good people. I watched the TC 50 companies present and I hung out in the demo pit for a bit.
What was my overall reaction after day 1 (and 2)? What the hell happened to the Valley? What was once a hotbed for innovation and creativity is now a hodgepodge of copycats, aggregators, and one off's. What do I mean by all of this?
Copycats are basically sites that do what another site does. They add some incremental value, some new graphics, some fancy text, a celebrity... or nothing at all and call it a day.
One of the sites that I put in this category is Blah Girls. Yea. Nice name. And Ashton Kutcher was there presenting it. What does he know about the internet? So blah girls is basically these 3 girls that talk about what's cool and hip for teenagers - using videos and other media. It's basically a content distribution play. Except I found it a bit unsettling. In the first video, one of the girls is introducing another girl, her black friend, and says, "this is my token black friend". A bit inappropriate for a website promoting what's cool with teenage girls. Is it cool to have a token black friend?
While this site may ultimately do well... they obviously have big backing. It seemed a bit like a big media company launching a new tv show or something. A little surprising Arrington let this into TC.
This needs no real explanation. Aggregators basically take a bunch of disparate stuff on the internet and put it together on one site. Kayak is a great example of a useful aggregator for the airline industry. And it's a great one. And many aggregators are, in fact, good. But it's such a crowded space and very few markets have good business opportunities. I'm definitely bearish on this space. Look at SeminarFeed. They "aggregate industry and university events". While this might be useful - where's the business opportunity?
Ok, so these companies provide an incremental benefit over an existing service. The problem with one off's is that it's not very difficult for the incumbent to add the feature or service. While I hate to call this company out...because I really liked the founder whom I met, this site may ultimately suffer from this fate. KallOut provides search technology from within any application - not just a browser. You can right click on a word in your Word document and a search can take place, while remaining within your document. Nice touch - BUT... how many apps would you use this in? How good does the UI have to be for you to be comfortable using it? What happens when Chrome...or another browser becomes your desktop? Well, there goes your opportunity. Or Google creates the same thing?
So where the hell are the innovations? The groundbreaking technologies? Technologies that will actually make things better (online, offline, whatever)? There were certainly a few of these there... but it just got me thinking about the Valley - and where it's gone...