Demo confab to get new boss from VentureBeat

After 13 years, Demo producer and host Chris Shipley is stepping down, making way for VentureBeat editor Matt Marshall.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
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Chris Shipley, host and producer of the Demo conferences, is stepping down in 2010 to make way for Matt Marshall, CEO and editor in chief of the tech blog VentureBeat.

At the next Demo event, Demo09, which will be held March 1 in Palm Desert, Calif., Marshall will share the stage with Shipley. He refers to this show and the one after it as his "internship." Afterward, his company will be at the helm of this old conference.

Demo has been a fixture of the start-up community for years, but got an uptick in awareness when Michael Arrington, founder and editor in chief at TechCrunch, proclaimed, "Demo needs to die," and in 2008 ran his competing start-up event, TechCrunch 50, at the same time (but in a different city) as DemoFall 2008.

New Demo honcho Matt Marshall. VentureBeat

Unlike TechCrunch, which gives stage time to presenting companies gratis after a vetting and selection process, Demo charges a significant fee for presenters, which TechCrunch conference co-producer Jason Calacanis has called "payola." Demo, however, also selects companies for the stage based first on merit, not on ability to pay.

Marshall takes pains to differentiate between the TechCrunch50 mission and Demo's, which is "focused on companies that have something to launch for the market." Data from the competing 2008 events bears this out to a degree: 42 percent of the products demo'd at TechCrunch50 were immediately available for use by the public; at Demo, about 67 percent were.

Beyond Web 2.0
Demo also casts a wider net. Non-Web products like the Moobella ice cream maker and the Pleo robotic pet were shown at Demo. TechCrunch focuses on earlier-stage companies and primarily Web-based products.

With the VentureBeat relationship, Demo will get something it's been needing for all of its 13 years: An online community that lasts beyond the conference itself. Marshall will continue in his role as editor in chief of VentureBeat.

For its part, VentureBeat gets a shiny new revenue stream. Only the biggest blogs and online news outlets make enough revenue to support a reasonable-size staff of content creators. All others--TechCrunch included--would not likely be sustainable without an additional revenue stream, like events. Publishing company IDG will continue to own the franchise, and will support the show logistically, but from 2010 on, Venture Beat will create the content for the conference and will share in the revenues from it. "We have a pretty good profit share," Marshall said.

It will, of course, be a difficult year for the conference business. Marshall says, "I do recognize that it will be a hard time," during this recession, and he says that, "We'll be watching the conference business...and tweaking the model." He did not rule out reconsidering the steep presentation fees for the show, but notes that it has worked so far for Demo--even under the TechCrunch attack. "Fifty to sixty companies keep showing up," he said. "They say it's worth it."

Shipley staying engaged
While Shipley is stepping out of the limelight at Demo, she will stay on the advisory board and continue to circulate in the start-up world. Her consultancy, Guidewire Group, works with start-ups to "help validate their business strategies and accelerate their growth," she said. "Demo gave me a chance to have short, intense relationships with companies. Guidewire allows us to get even closer, and help them build businesses."

Shipley acknowledges the rough seas for start-ups now, but says, "I'm the eternal optimist. We innovate our way out of these economic issues." But is she perhaps leaving Demo at just the right time? "I have no rosy glasses," she says, "but Demo is a platform that has survived at least four economic cycles. I think it will continue to do well."

CNET News will have in-depth coverage from Demo09.