Wine, Startups, and VCs—A Report from DEMO

3/4/09

Late last fall, after discussion with some board members, I decided to apply to show some new features from Evri at DEMO 09, which we were about to start active development on. We got accepted, so now we really did have to get the stuff ready to ship. In fact, one of the great reasons to do something like appearing at DEMO is the motivation it provides to get more done, in less time, than you think you can. Well, we got our new Collections feature done, and a Firefox and IE toolbar to boot, so that part worked out! Here’s how our experience went on the ground at DEMO.

Day 1

I flew down to Palm Desert, CA, early Sunday morning to get to a mandatory noon presenters meeting. This was a good intro—the DEMO team was all there, including outgoing chief Chris Shipley, and incoming one Matt Marshall. They really did a good job making everyone feel that they would do whatever it takes to make this successful for the presenters. After that we (me, our CTO Deep Dhillon, and product manager Keith Williams) tried to do our equipment check and rehearsal. Now, understand that we hadn’t actually pushed our new code to production yet—I was waiting until closer to Monday morning, when the show opened, to deploy. We fought with our VPN and the DEMO network for a long time to try and do our walkthrough with our behind-the-firewall version. After a grueling hour-and-a-half, we finally just launched the stuff live—about 6 hours early—and had a good run-through. This is when it was particularly nice to have a kick-ass team covering us back in Seattle. (Thanks Mark, Ryan, and the rest!)

That night was a CEO dinner, with a panel discussion on public technology policy. I missed most of the discussion, but had a good conversation with James Joaquin, from Xmarks, Raman Khanna, a VC from Onset, and Michael Wheatley from Ensembli. Not yet having looked closely at the DEMO schedule, I didn’t quite realize that James, Michael, and I were presenting in the same “Smarter Internet” group on Tuesday morning, but figured that out soon enough. After more wine than food, I went back to my room to catch up on work, and make sure everything was working in preparation for our first full day at the “booth.”

Day 2

Monday was mostly spent on one thing: talking about the product, over and over. Either we were at the booth giving demos, or I was talking to press, or I was rehearsing my two minutes of our six-minute presentation scheduled for Tuesday morning. But the day went well. Deep was off pitching to a potential partner, so Keith and I handled the booth, with ace PR guy Lane Buschel helping out. Some of the first DEMO stories came out later that day. The first I saw pitted Evri vs Ensembli as competitors. I don’t see it that way, but all press is good, right?

Some good companies that day. I really want to get my hands on a Touchbook when it comes out, and Skout is funny, if nothing else. Fellow Northwest startup Ontier, from Portland, also showed well with Pixetell. The panel that ended the day—with VCs ranging from angel Eric Tilenius to First Round’s Christine Herron to August’s David Hornik—was a bit grim, but interesting. … Next Page »

Neil Roseman is the founder and CEO of Seattle-based Evri. Previously, he was vice president of technology at Amazon.com. Follow @

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  • http://www.marybranscombe.com Mary Branscombe

    Competitors, not because I’d choose one over the other for the very same task, but in the sense that you and Ensembli are very different approaches to the same problem; using context, categorization, semantic analysis and ontology to make sense of the mass of online information and present it more comprehensibly. I’m thinking about the Primal Fusion and even Xmarks in the same way.