Saturday, February 12, 2011

Standing up to an Internet Bully - why we support Private Equity Events

For several years now the iBreakfast group has run low-cost Angel pitching events of its own where the winner gets a free seat at one of Mike Segal's Private Equity Forums. So on that basis I can speak to this issue. 

Mike Segal's Private Equity Forum events are always sold out and are packed with real investors and entrepreneurs - often from outside of New York.

In most cases, these players are worlds away from Calacanis and Digital Media. They never get the attention of the Fred Wilsons, the Esther Dysons, the DFJs and so on. They tend to come from energy, engineering, biotech, transportation, waste management – all the stuff that doesn’t make it to the blogoshpere. They are also usually older and let’s face it - you don’t see too many gray hairs in the digital Start-Up world. When they do, the seniors rarely get funded. 

At Segal’s events these participants are, for the most part what I call pedigree start-ups – people with 10 or more years of experience in serious business and technology fields. Their plans are not too sexy or too wildly conceptual and they will never be the next Facebook or Twitter. But they often have real customers on tap and genuine backgrounds in the field with deep relationships and so on. They tend to come from areas in the hinterland that are not flooded with investors – so presenting in New York means something to them. 

Should they pay what they pay? That’s their calculation. Does Mike have a right to charge them? Ask them? They know the cost and resources they need to reach out to investors – and there really are investors here – and so they make that decision.

The bottom line is they will never get an invite to Fred’s office, they won’t get a “free” invite to Techcrunch or any other hackerthon or techie start-up fest. And guess what, this is not a socialist country - people have a right to charge and you have a right not to show up.

So why the libel?

Has anyone stopped to ask what Jason gets out of this crusade of his? Free publicity for his ridiculous people-powered search engine, Mahalo that now answers your every lame question. Jason is the same idiot who dropped over $200,000 on a late night TV poker game and then claimed it was really publicity for Mahalo because he wore a logo shirt. Some publicity! See Calacanis Poker Face.
Last year, after he got into a fight with his partners at TechCrunch, he went after Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. While the site has its flaws it is nowhere as evil as Calacanis made it out to be. But he was after his usual cheap publicity. I don’t recall any Egyptians saying “Thank you Mahalo.” Even the so-called “founder” of the revolution, a Google executive, said “Thank You Facebook.”

I have met Mark’s dad, Dr. Edward Zuckerberg so I know what it is like from his perspective to be slandered by the likes of Calacanis who has never found a cheap shot not worth taking. It is not only an unpleasant thing but almost impossible to respond to because he hogs the conversation. I even saw him hold up a gun of some sort when talking to a Keiretsu exec. Hardly a fair fight.

I am all for choice. If you can get a free ride as a Start-Up, for heaven’s sake take it. But most entrepreneurs heed some help and one way or another they are going to have to pay for it.
What I can’t abide is a bully. Calacanis made his mark as a champion of NY’s Silicon Alley in its salad days (remember that?). He picked battles when no one else would and paraded about with his trademark bulldogs – which made him look like a good guy to some people. That was 10 years ago. Flame throwing is OK when you’re in your 20s. Being a Tae Kwando black belt when everyone else is a geek is intoxicating all right. But this act is getting old – a touch of the Mubarak. In reality, Jason is rapidly becoming a slander machine that mistakes dirt-dishing for publicity and thinks it makes Mahalo and his various conferences look good. 

If he can make money doing what he does good luck to him. But here’s an amazing reality: the Private Equity Forums have never been fuller – precisely because they fulfill a need that others don’t offer. Apparently, Calacanis is just singing to his choir hoping they’ll pay for more of his web-thumping. Watch out, if he thinks there’s a publicity angle, he could come after you!
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