Crunchies, Yunus and State of the Valley So Far

23 01 2008

Friday evening I attended the Crunchies, a collaboration by TechCrunch, GigaOM, ReadWriteWeb and VentureBeat for a startup awards ceremony- the first time for the event. Mashable also did an awards show this month. You can view some highlights and coverage here.

As far as events go, the Crunchies Award Show was the most “web celeb” heavy event for the 4+ months that I’ve now been in San Francisco. In attendance and accepting awards were Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Kevin Rose (Digg), and many well-known CEOs/VCs/founders.

First, a few critiques:

  1. Get a real emcee. A natural person might have been Steve Lyons- it was very clear that his Fake Steve Jobs acceptance speech was the highlight of the show.
  2. Timing is everything. Even the Oscars has hiccups, but the show must go on. Keep the timing down pat, and don’t worry so much about the hiccups (or even acknowledge them).
  3. Put the community’s best foot forward. The show felt too much like a conference. The funniest, most entertaining, and most poignant people should be up on stage and given appropriate license to spice the show up. I understood the need for sponsors, but they don’t necessarily need to be presenters.

The cynics can (and will) say that this was simply self promotion, and maybe it was– I think these changes moves the show away from self promotion, yet would result in more attention and a more successful show. However, it’s never easy to put together something of this magnitude and the first years will never provide a return for all the work involved to putting the show together. It’s a great first step.

Traditionally, the Valley hasn’t been the most entertaining of places. It’s not even that Valley types take themselves too seriously, just that “showing off” is sometimes frowned upon. I find it all very entertaining personally, even aside from its fulfilling nature. I’m probably in the vast minority there, especially outside of Valley.

Is Silicon Valley insidery? Absolutely, but not without fundamental meritocratic underpinnings. The best stuff will bubble up, but it’s faster with established connections. I’ve started to build my network, even without the big name startup (yet!). I’m impressed and inspired by the caliber of people here. I’m less impressed by pedigree, but more impressed and inspired by people with interesting pursuits. There is no shortage of people like that here, despite some bubble chasing occurring.

Earlier last week, I went to a Muhammad Yunus speech hosted by the Commonwealth Club. Inspiring is a vast understatement of the Nobel Prize Winner’s succinct description of his successes with Grameen Bank, the pioneer of microlending in developing nations, and the vision of a world with social businesses and profit-making businesses. No judgment, just a real solution to a very real problem.

Would it be contradictory to the Valley ethos to embrace these flashier pursuits, such as awards shows, elaborate parties, exclusive events? Is it a bad thing for the Valley to go Hollywood?

Many would argue that it is, but sometimes you need a broader platform. We want kids to think “that could be me”, and mean changing the world instead of acting.

I’m happy that Valley pursuits can remain somewhat pure, and that even the biggest Valley egos don’t hold a candle to Hollywood egos. It’ll never be Hollywood, and I hope it never will be. But the entrepreneurial stage is growing, and shining a light on it is a great thing.

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