Skip to content →

Was Mike two-faced over the way he launched TechCrunch20?

I can’t believe no one has called out Michael Arrington out on the way he announced his own TechCrunch-branded start-up conference slap-bang in the middle of DEMO, whilst also managing to trash the rival at the same time. He fired Sam Sethi doing just about the same thing AND stated at the time that he couldn’t tolerate such ‘unethical behavior’.

I’ve been sitting on post this for a day or so because, well, frankly I’m trying to keep the snark on the low these days. But no one seems to be adding this point into the debate, so I guess I’d might as well jump off the fence to call out the bullshit…

For those who don’t remember, Sam Sethi (the then-editor/publisher of TechCrunch UK) was fired primarily for trashing SixApart’s dismal Le Web conference and then announcing his own TechCrunchUK-branded rival the day after Le Web. In fact Mike explained his position and justified his actions on his CrunchNotes blog:

“These events were not discussed with me, and certainly were not specifically approved. The fact that he promoted them while trashing a competing event was a clear conflict of interest and was not appropriate. I do not consider this to be ethical behavior.

(emphasis mine)

So it was somewhat of a surprise to me that Michael decided to announce TechCrunch20 during the middle of the rival DEMO conference! He didn’t even wait until the conference was over to get in there!

And whilst not as vitriolic as Sam Sethi on Le Web, the announcement contained more than it’s fair share of rival trashing in order to upsell the TC alternative…

“DEMO, where I am currently, is probably the quintessential example of this [pay-to-present] model. The entire conference is paid startup demos. There are way too many to digest—60—and it is a well known secret that if you are willing to pay the $15,000+ fee, your startup will really need to suck to be turned down.

While conferences like DEMO are extremely lucrative for the organizers, I’m not sure the startups or attendees attending get much out of it other than a great networking event.

And there is a serious conflict of interest at the conference level. The economics of the event dictate that a certain number of startups must be accepted for a certain fee. Attendees don’t know if they’re really seeing the best startups, or just the best startups that are willing to pay the exorbitant participation fee. A few (or a lot of) duds always make their way in.”

The post then goes on to pitch TechCrunch20 as the alternative to all this, etc.

To be honest, I don’t have much of a problem with Michael faulting a conference, even in the middle of it (so long as his points are accurate).

I don’t even have a problem with him pitching a rival – good on him and Jason for creating what may be a better option (time will tell).

But anyone who observed the heavy-handed approach he took with Sam Sethi over Le Web could only assume Michael holds a strong ethical stance against opportunistically attacking a competitor in order to get the upper hand and springboard one’s own event. In fact I’ll repeat the earlier quote I lifted from Michael’s blog post:

“These events were not discussed with me, and certainly were not specifically approved. The fact that he promoted them while trashing a competing event was a clear conflict of interest and was not appropriate. I do not consider this to be ethical behavior.

Which makes the way he announced TechCrunch20 so, well, un-in-keeping with his clearly defined ethical nature. Further more I fear such behavior could easily leave Michael vulnerable to criticism of ‘appearing two-faced’ and ‘demonstrating double standards’ from certain quarters.

I’m surprised IBD, the organizers of DEMO Under the Radar, didn’t latch onto these points in their smear-campaign email to ‘friendly bloggers’ (which amusingly got back to Arrington). They seem unhappy he inferred similar issues with their conference too.

UPDATE: Stowe correctly points out IBD organize Under the Radar and not DEMO… apologies all round.

Published in News Thoughts and Rants


  1. Ben –

    Correction: IBDNetworks are the organizers of Under The Radar, not DEMO, which is a production of Chris Shipley’s Guidewire Group.

  2. For the record: Sam was not fired, he resigned after Arrington criticised Sam’s last post defending himself against Le Merde’s “a-hole” comment and saying he’d have a go at puting one on himself. Sam was also not vitriolic about Le Web 3: he called it bland. Also Sam was not an employee. TCUK was set up as a franchise. But well done for point this issue out.

  3. I think there’s a difference here. The TechCrunch20 post was explaining a different kind of event. The primary feature being that companies are chosen on merit, rather than on merit plus willingness to front up with a (in startup terms) serious cash. I think Mike’s right that it has reached a point in the industry where the companies shown are more based on their money than their merit (note I didn’t say only based on money). Removing the cash element ensures a more appropriate selection process because it fixes the underlying criteria and motivators.

    Mike’s comments on other events is a fair comparison of what he thinks can be done better. Whilst that’s self-serving, it’s still appropriate.

  4. Actually, just one clarrification. I’m not saying these conferences are choosing companies based on cash. I’m saying the companies they have to choose from is restricted to those with the cash to be in the running in the first place.

Comments are closed.