01 Nov Sometimes, features can make a company
The reviews are in for DEMOfall 2006 and – to paraphrase Sally Field – “You like us, you really like us.” But amid the compliments (thank you very much), there was a keen observation: that some of the companies debuted “features” rather than products.
It’s an apt enough description of some of the technologies on the DEMO stage. Yet I suspect there was criticism in the observation as well. A feature, one might argue, does not a company make. Or perhaps I should say “not a fundable company make.”
In an environment where investors swing for the fences – and that is, after all, what they are paid to do – that criticism from a VC is understandable.
Still, I’d argue that among the “feature companies” are enough stand-up doubles to make these companies a viable investment for some portfolios, and enough solid innovation to make them appropriate for the DEMO conference.
Much of technology innovation comes feature by feature, and it always has. The very first DEMO conference nearly 17 years ago included a little “feature company” that made envelope printing a breeze. Until then, trying to get four address lines properly placed on a standard envelope was a nightmare of waste and frustration. This feature spurred Microsoft to make it a cornerstone of the next release of Word.
A few years later, a small company called Milktruck brought to DEMO a feature that downloaded Web pages so you could read them offline. Within a few months of DEMO 96, that company had an attractive pay-off through an acquisition by LapLink. The founder of Milktruck, You Mon Tsang, has gone on now to create two more companies. And it was a “feature” that spurred his entrepreneurialism.
During the boom, we saw small armies of feature companies snatched up by the major Web portals. In fact, I used to joke that the way to succeed in the boom was to figure out what feature Yahoo! or Excite would want next, then go build three or four of them to be snapped up by the then-leading Web portals.
“Feature companies” have fueled growth and innovation for decades, yet some continue to look upon them dismissively. Some investors searching for the next Google (which, ironically enough, showed itself initially as little more than a feature – a search box on a blank page), overlook utility, and in so doing may miss substantial opportunity.
DEMO is all about exposing innovation in whatever form it takes. Sometimes, it’s wrapped in a company that has obvious big opportunity. Other times, it’s bundled in a start up whose fortunes are less apparent.
Because DEMO isn’t about identifying, specifically, the next home run company, you’ll find Feature Companies at this conference. And it’s among these features that you’ll find the seeds of innovation and value creation.
DEMO 2007 takes place a bit earlier this year, Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2007, to be exact. I’m screening products – and features – now through early December. If you’re heading to an early 2007 launch, check out the demonstrator background pages and get the skinny on how to apply to be a part of DEMO 2007.
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