I spent Wednesday & Thursday last week at the Southeast Venture Conference (also known as SEVC). The event started last year and was held near Washington DC this year. It's primarily for VCs, but a few entrepreneurs attended the event.
You never quite know if these kind of events are going to be worthwhile. The SEVC folks were kind enough to offer some starving-entrepreneur pricing (thanks Eric!) and DC is an easy drive from Raleigh, so it seemed worth the risk. One of my favorite bloggers was also listed as a speaker and I had arranged to meet him, although unfortunately he had a conflict and had to back out.
All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip.
Most important news first. We raised our first VC dollar! Sadly, it was only one dollar, but the first one is supposed to be the hardest, right? I had a great catch-up conversation with a VC I pitched last year. His firm passed, but we've stayed in touch and he's been great at giving straight feedback (if you find a VC like this, hang on to him/her because they are a VERY rare breed). The subject of customers came up, and I mentioned that we had a couple of folks that had been willing to pay at least a dollar. He promptly pulled out a dollar of his own and handed it over. We'll be framing it and hanging it in our lobby (when we have a lobby)...
There was a great panel that included Scot Wingo (CEO/Founder of ChannelAdvisor) and Jim Steele, (President of Salesforce.com). I've known Scot for a little while now and always enjoy seeing him on a panel -- he's adept at keeping things simultaneously humble, entertaining and informative.
There was also a classic "Oh no he didn't" moment at the end of the panel with a very VERY pushy entrepreneur who spent 3 minutes introducing his company and 5 seconds on his question. When he didn't like the answer Jim Steele gave, he actually proceeded to berate him. As a fellow early stage entrepreneur, I'd be a little more reluctant to tell the President of a $7B company that he's a dumb ass... especially when in front of a room full of VCs. I thought Jim handled it very gracefully.
Jim had another presentation later in the day. Salesforce are branching out into web services with their "Platform as a Service" concept. The basic thinking is similar to what underlies Amazon's web services -- "We've built all this infrastructure and can package it up so you don't have to". In principle, I think it's a great idea. From what I saw, Salesforce is a little more oriented towards application developers. What they offer appears to be more "finished" than Amazon's offerings, but there are clearly pros and cons to both approaches.
What impressed me most about Jim was that after both his panel and presentation, he hung around answering questions until every question was answered. I talked to him for a few minutes about the 'Monkey and picked his brains about channel strategies. When we were done, he readily handed over a business card. I've met a lot of executives from much smaller companies that wouldn't be so accommodating.
There was also a fascinating presentation by John Sculley (ex-Pepsi, ex-Apple, among other things). He started off pretty slowly. Since lunch was being served, I have to say that my attention was elsewhere. But when he got going, I was hooked. Much of his presentation was about virtual supply chains. Doesn't sound interesting, I know. But he talked about mass customization (ordering online and getting a customized product shipped from China to your door in 48 hours... at a profit!!!) and the new breed of companies working with wholly virtual supply chains. Another company he mentioned was able to prototype a new consumer electronics product for a major cell carrier in 45 days! The product will be launched later this year at 36,000 retail points-of-sale (those kiosks in the mall). Back in the day, I did a lot of work with some major toy companies. Their assembly/supply timeline was measured in calendar years, not days. The toys for Episode 1 were regarded as a major security risk as they were being shipped from China 6+ months before the release of the movie (and were in manufacturing for many months before that).
I spent a few minutes in an elevator with Frank Bonsal. Mr. Bonsal is regarded as one of the Godfathers of the VC industry and was a founding parter at NEA. I was, of course, wearing a disruptorMonkey button. The big news is that Mr. Bonsal liked the name so much he asked for an overview of what we do and my business card. Take that, Monkey Haters!
I also chatted with some very interesting folks from the IPO group at NASDAQ. Clearly some very smart people working on some very interesting stuff.
On the negative side (you knew I couldn't keep up this happy stuff for too long, right?), some of the presentations were between average and lame. I was surprised at how many of the company presentations managed to break every rule of presenting -- way too much info per slide, no rehearsal and getting cut off before you're finished because your timing sucks. Notable exceptions were local boys Neal Page of Inlet Technologies and Ben Weinberger of DigitalSmiths, both of whom did an excellent job.
So all in all, it was a productive and useful few days.