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Whoops! Hoffman opens both TechCrunch and Demo shows

TechCrunch Disrupt and Demo Fall have long competed for the autumn startup crowd. But this year the shows are taking place simultaneously and share the same opening speaker: LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman speaking with Demo Fall executive producer Matt Marshall in Santa Clara, Calif., on Tuesday. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--If there's one thing that late night TV hosts like David Letterman and Jay Leno are said to hate, it's when a star books both their shows back to back.

The tech industry doesn't have its own Letterman and Leno rivalry, but one could say that this week's head-to-head TechCrunch Disrupt and Demo Fall shows are a pretty good analogy.

So it was a bit strange to go to both shows this week and see the same high-profile kick-off speaker at each, LinkedIn founder and Graylock Partners principal Reid Hoffman. And both presentations were one-on-one conversations with the public face of each conference: Michael Arrington at Disrupt in San Francisco yesterday, and Matt Marshall here today at Demo.

Arrington's interview yesterday came just minutes after the TechCrunch founder had formally announced his departure from the tech news site he'd founded, so there was a bit of novelty to his onstage interviewing of Hoffman. Marshall's talk with Hoffman didn't have the same curiosity factor. But Hoffman's appearance at Demo was equally as important to the audience full of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and others as it had been a day earlier in San Francisco.

There doesn't appear to be too much actual crossover in the audiences of the two shows. But since the shows are taking place simultaneously, one has to wonder what the organizers were thinking when they both booked Hoffman--assuming they were aware of the other's plans.

And compare the pictures of Hoffman speaking yesterday with Arrington (below) and Marshall today (above): in both cases, the LinkedIn founder is sitting on the left side, and the chairs are even exactly the same.

A day earlier, Hoffman spoke with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington at TechCrunch Disrupt. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Thankfully, Hoffman's messages were different yesterday and today. But that likely had more to do with the questions asked by Arrington and Marshall than any interest on Hoffman's part not to share the same ideas with the two audiences.

At Disrupt, Arrington wanted to know about what Hoffman would do if he were the new CEO of Yahoo, how he manages companies, and whether people should take big risks with their personal finances. Marshall, by comparison, wanted to know a lot about Hoffman's early strategies running LinkedIn, as well as the kinds of things he looks for in potential investment companies.

Either way, it doesn't look good for these two shows--which year after year seem to be at each other's throats and usually are scheduled at the same time--to have the same lead speaker. And because Demo opened today, it makes this show look like it is copying Disrupt's schedule, though of course, Hoffman probably confirmed his dual appearances months ago. Perhaps the real question is why Hoffman himself agreed to appear at both on consecutive days.

Legend has it that in Hollywood, an actor who schedules appearances on both Letterman and Leno back-to-back ends up black-listed with both. In Silicon Valley, Hoffman is too big a star to have to answer to the likes of conference organizers. But he must have been aware that this would look funny. Especially when he sat down today on apparently exactly the same chair at Demo as he'd been in yesterday at Disrupt.

Stay tuned to this post as I'll try to find out from Demo's organizers how Hoffman ended up appearing at both events.