Tuesday, March 29, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Chris Shipley, Executive Producer,
The DEMO Conferences

PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world. The fourth is Chris Shipley, the executive producer of The DEMO Conferences.

Who Is Chris Shipley? Can any one really answer that question? Beyond the metaphysics, however, Chris Shipley is a writer, analyst, commentator, and stategist known for her keen instincts and razor-sharp insights about technology, business, people, and the mixture of all three.

As a Technology Writer & Analyst, she has covered personal technology for nearly 20 years, and has garnered the reputation as an industry pundit. She looks at technology not with an engineer's zeal for elegant code, but with a human eye for usefulness, practical advancement, and social change. As a product analyst, she meets with companies as they are developing and bringing new products to market in order to help them position the technology in the marketplace. As a technology writer, she talks about technology at the point where it meets and impacts people.

As the Executive Producer of The DEMO Conferences, the show has earned the reputation as the premier place to launch a new information technology, product, or service. As executive producer, Shipley creates the program for DEMO, interviewing hundreds of companies each year and inviting only a handful to use the DEMO platform as a launch pad for their new products. DEMO is as much about ideas as it is products and technologies.

As one of the founders of the Guidewire Group, Shipley focuses obsessively on market-making ideas and technology products, bringing the right people together at the right time with the right information in order to accelerate market development and business opportunity. As a global media company creating events and online media, Guidewire Group helps entrepreneurs – and those who support them – navigate the challenging terrain that leads from innovation to market value.

Guidewire Group is a natural outgrowth of the focus of her career for the past decade: helping companies bring the most innovative products to market.


Chris Shipley's DEMO Posted by Hello

This year was the 15th anniversary for DEMO – was there anything different this year than past years?

It was a celebration of a 15-year anniversary, so we honoured fifteen innovators who have one way or another been associated with DEMO in the past 15 years. We highlighted their achievements, like Howard Elias who introduced the first media PC and Ben and Mena Trott who are making a significant impact with Six Apart.

These were special elements of DEMO@15, and the core of the conference remained consistent: to put the best products on stage for our audience to see.

Have you ever had any DEMOgods turn out to be DEMOdogs?

The Demogod awards are about great presentations, as well as great ideas and companies.

I don’t evaluate companies with the criteria of an investor, so I can look at a company’s idea and vision and select. Certainly, I want the companies that come to DEMO to be selective and to have long-term viability, but it is more important to me to select ideas. At the same time, I also have the liberty to choose companies based on the cool factor of the product.

Now having said that, I would not mind having a DEMO portfolio, which would seem to have a track record as good or better than some other VC portfolios. DEMO Companies – and particularly DEMOgods - are, on average, better than the average company in the marketplace.

Are there any special plans for DEMO 16 – like a sweet 16 motif?

We did miss a chance to throw Quinceanera in the Southwest, and we've got a bit of multicultural work to do.

But, we'll surely plan to do something special for the Sweet 16 - the longevity of the show itself is a reason to celebrate. The goal of each DEMO is to bring out the best technology, and that itself is the celebration, but we should have a little fun.

Although DEMO is 15 years old, there still is that aura that the show is a dot-com holdover. How do you combat that view?

I wouldn't suggest that that is true. We've been around since 1991 - and we have launched far more desktop applications than classical dot-com bombs.

DEMO is a reflection of the marketplace as it is, and not any preconceived notions of what we believe the marketplace should be. I screen 500 to 600 companies each year, and from those interviews I choose who will be at DEMO.

During the dot-com time, the Internet was what was important - a thing unto itself. So, those companies had a significant presence at the event. Today, we know the Internet is a component part of communications and computing, and that is now reflected at the event.

During 1998 - 2000, it was the era of the dot-com, and many of those companies are gone. But DEMO is still here. We are a mirror of the market, and not a market creator. If that were the case, we would not have survived groupware, pen computing - all the latest and greatest hyped products.

We transcend any singular trend, which is why DEMO has staying power.

What has launched at DEMO that you have been surprised hasn’t taken off?

There are companies and products that are truly useful that are sometimes overlooked. ActiveWords, for example, is a tremendously useful application - the company is a great fan of DEMO, and continues to push the product. Those who use the product are a great fan base. The program is not on every desktop, but it's a simple application that ought to be.

Then there have been products like Kerbango's Internet Radio. It was great technology, but possibly too soon, and got lost after its acquisition.

Sometimes the product itself might not be a success, but the concept is. ASP products were introduced at DEMO back in 1997, but it was too early. At the time, people told me no one would want to work on products through desktop applications. Now, ASP applications are clearly the dominant delivery source for products.

What has launched at DEMO that you thought was too esoteric/brainy that turned into a consumer hit?

I would not say it was a consumer hit, but an extremely successful company is VMWare. Virtual machine is not something the average bear raps his head around easily. But I found myself in Japan, and saw VMWare being advertised in a computer shop. I walked into a developer’s office, and VMWare was being used. It has become such a critical tool for developers to test applications. VMWare was acquired and is now a part of EMC, and the company has done very well in its community and marketplace.

It seems like a lot of the companies are represented by PR firms – is that one of the ways you find a lot of the companies for DEMO?

There are many channels. A lot of agencies pitch their young and new clients to DEMO. I talk a lot to VCs. I am involved in mentoring start-ups. Finding great companies for DEMO is about turning over a lot of stones.

The reputation of DEMO, and my own, have helped make DEMO an important part of the start-up process. It's not atypical to hear that a start-up has DEMO in the business plan as the launch platform.

There are company CEOs and founders that have been to the event, see the value, and come back with their next or new companies.

How much does DEMO cost? Can you justify the costs for a start-up that is trying to be scrappy and money conscious?

The list price to participate is $16,500 - no mistaking that that is a hurdle for start-ups.

We do work with companies, though. Price alone is not a deciding factor for coming to DEMO. No one comes to DEMO because they can write a check. They come because I decide that they are DEMO worthy.

The money covers the cost being there, and it is a great value. It's not hard math - if you are taking a company on a press tour, trying to reach just 1/3 of the journalists that come to DEMO, you simply couldn't do it for our price.

Plus, at DEMO, start-ups get the chance to take the product and company in front of considered investors. To do that on your own, a company would pay a finder's fee that would greatly exceed that price.

So it’s a simple cost comparison justification.

Young companies ought to be concerned on their money spends. It is about being scrappy and smart with capital. But, with my Midwest values, I am worried for those companies and would not want them to come out if it's not a good value.

DEMO is not a high pressure sale, but an opportunity for the thinking company that is going to try to succeed.

This year, it appears that DEMOmobile is going to be DEMO. How come there is no Mobile?

The business and consumer communities have adopted the mobile platform very quickly. Mobile technologies have been integrated wholly, and it's part of the business.

When we started DEMOmobile, we knew we would move it back into DEMO at some point. We thought it would be 10 years down the line, but it was just 6 years. The end of DEMOmobile is just a reflection of the marketplace.

What do you think the hottest trends for 2005/2006 going to be?

The future is the incredibly vibrant, great start-up companies who are scrappy and smart since they were founded in the past years tempered by the rough market.

It's the companies that worked in the garage, hid out and built in a smart way. They have the interesting products, and we will see more M&A activities as these companies are discovered by the larger market shareholders.

Specifically, there is a tremendous amount of activity in connectedness at home. Wireless networks have moved into the home. Digital media, new applications and devices are very exciting, but at the same time, for the consumer it's a confused marketplace.

Mobility, while now mainstream, remains exciting. A lot has to be done to make data more accessible wherever you are - from the desktop to mobile to any device in the home.

And, since we are conducting this interview fully on Skype, it's worth mentioning that VoIP is a tremendous opportunity.

It really is difficult to just say one trend or market. There is a lot of experimentation and innovation being done in a lot of markets out there.

Do you turn companies away that are too beta? Do you believe that Beta companies are launching too soon at DEMO, hurting long-term prospects?

Some companies do launch too soon. It's not uncommon for me to find companies that are in the early, early stage, and work with them over a couple of years to make them ready for DEMO.

I think of what's in the best interest for the company, and am not just looking for good ideas to see what sticks.

This year, there was buzz that it was more of a talent show rather than the best of DEMO – the usual calls of vaporware, etc. What do you do to make sure that the best are heard, not just the best presentation?

I work with the companies to help them hone their presentation skills and make the best use of their one to six minutes.

However, none of the companies would be on stage if I didn't believe that they belonged at DEMO. It's a long vetting process to make sure I have the best at DEMO.

This year, VB2S presented a tremendously interesting and important 3D CAD technology; in the format of the event and their time on stage, they might not have made their best impressions. But they have a great and important product for the market.

The brief time of the presentations is why we also have the Pavilion. I have always noted that that the real work at the event happens at the Pavilion, with face-to-face demonstrations and networking.

While DEMO is usually thought of as a place for start-ups to come, get noticed and possibly funding, there are always established companies that come and present, such as Adobe, Microsoft and Motorola. What does DEMO do for these companies, besides a big PR push?

For those companies, it is a big PR push. But, it's the before and after the event that is important for such established companies. For these companies, it's a longer relationship with DEMO, me and IDG. It's networking, relationships.

For a Motorola, it's a good place to launch a product to 80+ journalists; over time, the relationships then form over referrals on cool company introductions. It's good for the big company to find the smaller network companies, and you come back for the larger relationships that are built at the event.

This blog is targeted to PR professionals – you have any advice on how to get noticed to be chosen for DEMO?

It's not difficult - the key thing is that the fundamentals for getting to DEMO are on the Website. The thing that makes a difference in pitching for DEMO is to understand the value for the client at DEMO. Being an advocate for both the client and DEMO, being a bridge.

PR people overzealously pitch clients to DEMO, but not DEMO to the clients. Too many times, I have had companies say to me at the pitch - so, what is DEMO. The agency did not explain the value, and the client comes in blind.

The basic fundamental is to keep the client appraised of such opportunities, and understanding the event, the launch venue, the requirements - putting together the pieces for the client. Let the client understand what is done.

I value PR people that understand that DEMO is not your typical tradeshow or executive conference, but something more. There is a status and stature with being selected for DEMO - you can't put a lot of money on the table, and have someone in the industry for 20+ years - but that's what DEMO does. It brings that seal - happy clients at the end of DEMO.

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