Striptease Threats, Aggressive Shushing & Mascot Mania: Memorable Moments from the Seattle 2.0 Awards

5/6/11Follow @curtwoodward

Updated 4:15 pm with new photo. Anytime you get a few hundred people in a room and add a couple of drink tickets, there are bound to be some interesting moments. And when that crowd is comprised of the techies, entrepreneurs, risk-takers and rich people from the startup scene, you’re starting from some pretty fertile ground for quirkiness.

Last night’s Seattle 2.0 awards didn’t disappoint. From organizer Marcelo Calbucci’s exasperation at the crowd noise to a friendly faceoff between a couple of mascots, these are the moments that stuck out to me. Check out the Seattle 2.0 page for the list of actual winners, along with a few other thank-yous and tidbits that Calbucci called out.

Rand Fishkin threatens to strip: When it was time for the mingling to stop, Calbucci had to plead—and almost threaten—the crowd to detach itself from the main bar, quit chitchatting, and sit down for the show. It still hadn’t quite settled down when SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin—a sponsor of the event—took the stage for a few remarks, so he took matters into his own hands. “I’m about to start taking off my clothing, unless–unless!–you sit down and be quiet,” he said. “This is a threat.”

The tactic may have had the opposite effect, however, because once Fishkin tossed his dress shirt toward the crowd and stood there in a white v-neck T-shirt, someone rushed the stage and appeared to try to tuck money into his waistband.

Soul-searching: The overall tone of the program was a mix of boosterism and self-criticism that you encounter constantly in Seattle’s tech startup community—on one hand, the town’s instigators are beating the drum about why Seattle is good and how it can be great. On the other, there’s plenty of hand-wringing about why this next-level evolution hasn’t happened yet, and what else could be done to ignite people.

Calbucci hit this sentiment early on with a heartfelt speech in which he compared his Seattle 2.0 website to a community restaurant—it doesn’t make money, and in fact can be a drain on personal resources. But the owner clearly sees that it has value to the community, and worries what would happen otherwise. “If I close it, I fear that no one is going to do what I’m doing right now,” he said.

Mark Suster, from crowd control to inspiration: Suster, a Southern California entrepreneur-turned-VC, was the keynote speaker. He created a bit of anticipation for the speech by publishing this Seattle-themed piece about building a startup community, and the talk itself didn’t disappoint. It started with Suster over by the bar area, wearing a Tony Robbins-style headset, telling Calbucci that he was going to take another run at shutting up everyone who was still mingling and refreshing their drinks.

Then he waded into the crowd, and gave them a once-over that was broadcast over the PA system: “I was standing right next to Marcelo and it was so fucking hard to concentrate with you guys talking,” Suster said to the surprised patrons.

His speech detailed what he felt was needed to build capacity for more entrepreneurs and startups in a place like Seattle: Get “wantrepreneurs” off the sidelines, get would-be investors off the sidelines, pull the trigger on your big ideas, be cheerleaders for your community, but also don’t believe the hype of what’s hot now (complete with Public Enemy album cover shot).

“Do we need another fucking check-in application for restaurants?” Suster asked. “I like Foursquare—I’m not critical of it. But do we need another deal site?”

Mascots: Promotional hackery, yes. But mascots do the job (I’m writing about them, aren’t I?). The team from Deal Springer—offering a kind of reverse-Groupon engine that allows local businesses to set and promote their own online discounts—hauled out a blue lycra full-body suit that some unnamed fellow rocked along with all-white sneakers. He startled at least one lady who was not expecting to encounter a shimmering, shrink-wrapped dude, but also got his picture taken plenty of times.

Not to be outdone was the group from Giant Thinkwell, which is building a way for celebrities to engage their fanbase with online and mobile games. They brought a giant squid mascot, complete with glowing orange eyes, that bobbed ominously in front of the stage as Kyle Kesterson accepted his award for best designer.

I didn’t see it happen myself, but Deal Springer’s Nick Huzar sent along the photographic evidence that the pair accepted my earlier Twitter challenge for a mascot confrontation. No word on who dominated.

Update: Giant Thinkwell’s Kesterson sends this additional photo (also shown at top), which may be showing some sort of mascot dance-off in progress.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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