ITEXPO West: StartupCamp Comm Edition

This is a cross post from gagagadget contributing writer Grant Roe, who was lucky enough to attend StartupCamp at ITEXPO West on Monday, October 4. Normally not a telephony guy, this event was definitely an eye-opener for its learning and entertainment value.

At 5:30 p.m. on a rainy day in Southern California, 200 business suit-clad men and women descended upon room 153b in the south hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center. After the free food and booze were generously administered, everyone took their seats. I quickly came to realize that I was outclassed in almost every sense of the word. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was the youngest person in a room of men and women whose collective worth must stretch into the billions (as opposed to my net worth which is about 60 bucks and a jar of spare change). A friendly Eastern European gentleman sat down next to me and told me about how the company he owns recently invented a billion dollars in a cloud computing business. The man next to him, an Australian and equally difficult to understand, was just as influential in the lucrative sense of the word. That’s the theme I personally came away with after the show: “Influential.” While they may not be the “faces” we all know and love like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg (yet), these people are responsible for the future of consumer tech as we know it. They are the young, idealistic upstarts with fresh ideas. They are the Angels, looking for that one stand-out concept into which that they can invest untold millions of dollars. As much as I didn’t fit in, I was there, and I loved every minute.

Exposing the early stages of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in communications…

-Larry Lisser

That was the official focus of the show. The StartupCamp people were searching for small companies with revolutionary ideas in the communication technology space; companies under two-years-old with little to no major funding by Angels or other investors. Out of the 35 applicants, five were chose to each give a five-minute pitch/demo of their product. Those companies were:

  • Adela Voice
  • Vokle
  • GroupMe
  • Val9000
  • cloud telecomputers

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the keynote given by the CEO of email giant Xobni, prolific idea-man in the comm-tech industry, and all-around funnyman, Jeff Bonforte.

After going through his impressive work history with companies he started (iDrive, Gizmo5), and companies he was hired to help turn around (Yahoo, Xobni), Bonforte talked about his experiences with startup companies, some lessons he’s learned, and his views on what makes or breaks young companies.

You can must break *one* rule, but more than that gets risky.

Bonforte explained how breaking one major rule of the industry a company is entering while following the rest can be the most successful path. Some examples he gave were Twitter’s decision to limit the user 140 characters, Southwest Airline’s no-frills, affordable flying experience, and RIM’s crazy e-mail on beepers idea way back when (nobody would want to communicate through typing with their thumbs right?).

The risk of overreacting is as bad as the risk of under-reacting.

When Gmail announced their unheard-of two-gig inbox size, Yahoo Mail had to play catch-up. They under-reacted to Google and only gave Yahoo users one gigabyte. When Google continued to soar ahead in market share, Yahoo overreacted and gave their users unlimited inbox space, spending a ludicrous amount of money to cope with data management. When surveyed after Yahoo’s announcement of unlimited storage, most users still said Gmail had larger inboxes. Bonforte said that if Yahoo had simply matched Google 1:1 they would have neutralized the threat. Instead, their over/under-reactions cost them the battle, and they are losing the war to this day.

Over the next few hours the audience got to know Jeff very well. His humor, insight, and willingness to flat out say to someone, “This is why your presentation sucked,” was an absolute delight. Jeff stole the show.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be going in-depth with each of the five presentations. There are some very interesting and game-changing ideas coming up.

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