In general I am against paying for conferences, whether for myself or for one of our portfolio companies. I think there is enough sponsorship money out there to cover costs plus a profit for organizers. Especially if they think creatively like my friend Jeff Pulver, the folks at TedxTelAviv, and the producers of DLD.
But when the annual announcement came out calling for companies to apply for the "Red Herring 100" award, I encouraged AttracTV to apply. And lo and behold they were accepted...and were informed they had the right to showcase the company at the Red Herring conference in Paris being held today and tomorrow. And the catch...to claim that right need to pay 1500 euro. But still I encouraged to move forward, because the company needs exposure to more VCs, and I [mistakenly] thought would be a good venue.
We arrived yesterday for the pre-event cocktail party and already there were bad vibes. A room set up for hundreds held many twenty people. OK, I said, most Europeans can simply come in the morning for the official conference. but this morning was no better. In a salon in a very fancy shmancy hotel in Paris, that could easily hold 500 people, there were maybe 50-75 people. In an opening speech, Alex Vieux, longtime producer of ETRE and RedHerring online magazine and conferences, spoke about the gloom and doom of venture ecosystem in Europe. He went on and on for 20 minutes about how terrible things are, how no deals are getting done, and everything is grinding to a halt.
Now, Zeev Holtzman, founder of Giza Ventures in Israel, has recently said the same thing about the reality of the Israeli venture scene. But of course there are contrary opinions.
My questions today are more for conference organizers...if you pressure start-ups to pay high fees to present, but then do not deliver a quality and quantity of audience, should you refund money? What responsibility should conference organizer bear? Is there not an implied contract?
I for one believe that Mr. Vieux should refund registration fees to all the start-ups who came. Not to compensate them for their travel, lodging, time, but at least what is directly in his control. After all, he told us several times this morning how wealthy he is...giving back 100K euro would not kill him. And he certainly does not deserve to profit from such a awful turn-out. Most of the start-ups today presented to other start-ups, which is always fun but does not have to take place in a five star hotel in Paris.
Oh, and there wasn't even breakfast this morning!!!