Hey you kids — knock it off back there

I debated whether to write this post on the brouhaha (or is it a kerfuffle?) between TechCrunch50 — which is being run by Mike Arrington and Jason “I’m more famous than you” Calacanis — and Chris Shipley’s DEMO conference. After all, it’s really a lose-lose situation: if I agree with Mike then I’m one of Arrington’s toadies (as some commenters have accused me of being), and if I agree with Shipley then Mike will take it badly.. But I just can’t resist a good blogosphere donnybrook or “bitchmeme,” so I figured, what the hell, why not wade in.

Off the top, I think Mike saying that DEMO “needs to die” is a little strong. As Carla Thompson of DEMO writes at Guidewire, we’re just talking about a couple of tech conferences here — it’s not the Battle of Biscayne or the War of the Roses, or even the battle between MacLeod and the Kurgan in Highlander (great movie, even if Christopher Lambert’s Scottish accent is laughable). Still, there’s no call for Carla to say that Mike’s ego is over-inflated and he needs to “get over himself.”

The bottom line for me is this: Jason Calacanis (unfortunately) is completely right when he says that DEMO’s model is completely untenable — or should be. Charging companies $18,500 for a three-minute pitch is just ridiculous, no matter how many times you talk about all the mentoring and coaching and contacts and stage managing you get. If I’m a startup, why don’t I just keep the $18,500 and buy my own mentors and coaches and whatnot? Or better yet, buy some food or pay the hosting bill.

Now, TechCrunch50 (which started as TechCrunch20 and then became TechCrunch40) is hardly a charitable enterprise, as Cynthia Brumfield has pointed out in the past. The two lads are likely to pull in several million at least, depending on their costs — and yes, there are fees to take part in the “demo pit” (which I picture as a sort of Jell-O and dirt-filled kids’ swimming pool type of arrangement, like something you would see on the Gladiators TV show), but they are an order of magnitude smaller than the fees that DEMO charges for a few minutes of glory.

There’s no doubt that Mike’s pugnacious attitude (much of which is for show, as far as I can tell) can rub people the wrong way — and I would expect it’s doubly irritating when he happens to be right, and when he’s also making you look bad in the process, as I think he is in this case.

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