Over the last 13 years, Chris Shipley has been the primary gatekeeper of the twice-a-year Demo conferences, evaluating more than 20,000 applications from companies wishing to present in front of a roomful of reporters, venture capitalists, and analysts.
For each Demo, Shipley and her team have selected a few dozen companies, giving each a chance to make a name for themselves during a 6-minute presentation in a tiny show floor booth by unveiling something never seen before--or perhaps a great new take on an existing product or service. All told, over the 24 shows, she has given the opportunity to more than 1,500 firms.
Some of them are now household names, and some have long since faded into little more than memories.
As a parting gift to the many Demo alumni, Shipley recently announced the show's Lifetime Achievement Awards, honors that went to some of its most successful presenters. Among the winners were Palm co-founders Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, Six Apart founders Mena and Ben Trott, Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff, WebEx CEO Subrah Iyar, and others.
Given that list and the fact that Marshall is waiting in the wings to usher in the next generation of Demo--to begin next spring--now seems to be a good time to follow in the footsteps of my colleague Josh Lowensohn, who a week ago took a "Where are they now" look at 10 alumni--five good and five not so good--of the TechCrunch50 shows, examining some of the stars and flops of Demo's past.
One of Demo's older success stories, it's still hard to believe that TiVo, the first successful service for digital-video recording, is already 12 years old (it was founded in 1997, though service didn't debut until 1999). From its humble beginnings on the Demo stage, the company has gone on to become the standard-bearer in the world of DVRs, even as others have tried to ride its coattails.
Today, TiVo has just more than 3 million subscribers and is boosting its presence among cable users. During the last quarter, cable provider RCN became the first to ever use both TiVo's hardware and software offerings. The company offers three main DVR models, two of which have high-definition capabilities.
Over time, TiVo has become synonymous with DVR technology and, to some extent, has been one of the major thorns in the side of commercial advertisers, who have had to battle against viewers' preference for skipping through commercials.
Although Palm as a company has had its share of ups and downs, it has to be considered one of the most important players in the history of handheld computing. Today, it is trying to make one of its biggest comebacks ever with its Pre smartphone, one of the few devices that has the potential to take a bite out of the iPhone's market share.
With its original Palm Pilot, Palm essentially created the market for personal digital assistants. And while the company lost some of its edge when Microsoft decided to get into the business with its Pocket PC technology, there is little doubt that the PDA market, and the subsequent smartphone market, owe a great deal of debt to Palm. The original Palm OS was used by millions of people around the world.
Founders Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, who were recently awarded Demo Lifetime Achievement honors, left Palm to form Handspring, which produced its own line of PDAs using Palm OS. Eventually, Handspring was sold back to Palm, giving the latter a chance to regain its dominance with the Treo.
Marc Benioff brought his fledgling company, Salesforce.com, to the Demo stage in 2000. Unknown at the time, the company has since become a household name in customer relationship management, or CRM, services.
Today, Salesforce.com has more than 63,000 corporate customers, and in its most recent quarter, it earned $21 million on record revenues of $316 million.
After debuting at Demo in 2004, Six Apart became a leading provider blogging tools. Its Vox, Movable Type, and TypePad services are used by many of the most popular bloggers in the world, including HuffingtonPost.com, Boing Boing, and Talking Points Memo.
Founded in 2001 by Ben and Mena Trott, the company got its first significant round of funding, a $10 million B round from August Capital, and soon after, purchased Danga Interactive, the makers of LiveJournal.
Launched at Demo 2007, Blinkx has become the world's-largest video search engine. It has more than 500 media partnerships and currently indexes more than 35 million hours of video content.
Ugobe Ugobe, which presented at Demo in 2006, looked poised to become a leader in personal robotics. Furby inventor Caleb Chung was one of its founders. And ts Pleo animatronic dinosaur, both friendly and programmable, was the kind of toy that seemed certain to provide enthusiasts and children alike with hours of robot fun.
But the company probably came along at the wrong time. Ugobe found itself in the position of trying to sell a product that cost too much, just as the global recession was kicking in.
While Pleo got positive reviews and had a wide range of fans, it simply couldn't gain a foothold in the market. Ultimately, Ugobe filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, and today, Pleo is sold, albeit with little marketing, by a company called Innvo Labs.
Launched at DemoFall in 2005, FilmLoop was intended to be an online service that presented a tray of moving images that slide from right to left across a user's screen, showing each picture and then advancing to the next.
The goal was to create a community in which users could invite anyone they wanted to join, and even add photos, to, their loop. There was no limit to the number of people that could be added to a loop, meaning that an entire community could participate.
The company also hoped to become a photo newswire of sorts, and it had relationships with hundreds of professional photographers.
But things didn't go as planned for the company. By early 2007, it had burned through millions of dollars of venture capital and had laid off most of its staff. In large part, that was because there were other companies providing similar services, and FilmLoop's service simply never picked up a critical mass of users.
Also launched at DemoFall in 2005, PeerFlix aimed to be something of an open-source Netflix.
The idea was that users would send each other their own DVDs, and would search for and figure out where to send their DVDs through PeerFlix's servers. The company hoped to take advantage of the collective library of movies of its users, and it thought that members would trust each other enough to send off their own personal property to strangers.
From the get-go, the idea seemed problematic, in part because it required a critical mass of users in order to maintain an attractive collection of films. By early 2008, PeerFlix died. According to my colleague Rafe Needleman, who liked the service at first, "instead of getting more reliable as its user base grew, the service got less and less reliable, most likely as users stopped participating in it."
It sounded like a good idea when it was announced at DemoFall in 2008: WebDiet, a service designed to help people find healthy restaurant food, regardless of where they are.
The idea was that people would enter--either via a Web interface or through an iPhone app--dietary criteria and then see healthy food options arrived at by combining those criteria with location-based data. WebDiet even planned on partnering with restaurant chains with online menus so that users had a wide range of choices right from the get-go.
But good idea or not, a year later, and WebDiet is still in private beta, not a good sign this late in the game. It's certainly possible that it will still launch publicly and make an impact on people's eating habits, but at this point, it seems like the odds are against it.
Announced at Demo 09 last spring, Ham-It was touted as a "mobile-centric single-stop shop to globally connect and match consumers with local providers of day-to-day consumer services with capability to collaborate and schedule."
At the time, I wasn't sure what that meant, and I'm still not. And it looks like potential customers never understood either, as the company appears to have all but disappeared.
The DemoFall 2009 roster
Starting Tuesday, these companies will be taking their 6-minute turns on stage at this year's DemoFall. Stay tuned for full coverage of the show.
Article One Partners
Freeddom Tecnologia e Servicos
Hand Eye Technologies
Point of Wealth Systems
In addition, these 14 companies are part of Demo's AlphaPitch program, in which presenters get 90 seconds to make their case: