Ideas for the TechCrunch 20 conference
Sunday, May 13, 2007 by Dave Winer.
Jason posted an outline of the agenda for the TechCrunch 20 conference coming up in September. I had some ideas I wanted to add, and asked if he'd prefer if I post them publicly or send them privately. He said he prefers public discourse, and naturally I agree, so here goes...
I think something is missing if we start with product pitches, and don't go any further back in the gestation process. Ideally I'd like to have a discussion about a roadmap for the next ten years in Internet entrepreneurship. Which ideas of today will still be around in ten years and which won't? What problems will be solved that will change the nature of products we can make in the future? I think that's a hard nut to crack, but there are some obvious things -- for example the mythical podcast player we're always talking about. It seems that, while no startups are today producing such a product (correct?) at some point in the next ten years someone will. Yes or no? If we want to see this problem solved, because, theoretically it will enable many more companies to start, how can we create incentives?
If given a chance, I'd get up and evangelize Checkbox News. I wouldn't actually be pitching it, but I'd be interested in knowing if anyone wants to work on it. A friend, Greg Stikeleather, once called this Idea Capital, it works like venture capital, but it provides a fertile idea for a group of entrepreneurs, much the way VC provides cash to stimulate the development of new entrepreneurship. That's a business I'd like to be in myself.
Just after the last boom ended, I argued that VCs should set aside some of their profits in boom times to build up a stock of developed ideas to fuel the next boom. I think doing so would help diminish the familiar boom-bust cycle that Silicon Valley has been going through for all these decades.
So that's part one of the discussion. Part two is more fun -- I'd like people to talk about some crazy idea they have, ideas they don't think will get funded, but products they'd like to see nonetheless. Companies don't solve all the problems out there, some things get created with little thought of creating a company, but they end up creating opportunities for companies -- things like folksonomies, syndication, digital photography and video, blogging, podcasting. Personally, I'd like to see us make archving really work, so what we create on the web may outlive us. If there's a Hemingway or a Woody Allen out there today, they're probably creating for the Internet. How will we make sure their work survives? And of course that's just one idea. And some ideas never become commercial yet still have a potentially positive effect on our lives.
Now it could be these kinds of things don't have a place at the TechCrunch 20 conference, that's up to Mike and Jason to decide. But I would find a conference with a broader agenda more interesting, and perhaps it would provide a reward for some of the entrepreneurs who come, beyond helping get their companies funded, and their shareholders liquid.
Finally, I think of this set of ideas as nutrition for the startup community. So many times people come away from these shows feeling that nothing new was discussed. I feel strongly that the way to make sure that people feel they got their money's worth is to be deliberate, even systematic, about bringing the new ideas in.