TorCampDemoCamp 4.0 – get your game on

I attended TorCampDemoCamp 4.0 last night. Nice crowd… well over 100 people in the room, lots of energy, fun demos and some smart constructive questions asked. I enjoyed reconnecting with a few familiar faces and meeting new people. Thanks David Crow and the demoers for putting together a valuable evening.

What I liked most:

  • Short, interesting, densely packed demos
  • Demoers were all obviously passionate about their work
  • Loved seeing both software and hardware
  • Informal atmosphere
  • Good opportunity to mix and meet afterwards
  • A beautiful space: Mars, the tech incubator that now inhabits a vast chunk of the old Toronto General Hospital. Most of the old brick structure is intact, and they have added metal and glass to modernize it and slice it into smaller spaces.
  • Solid, ego-free organization and moderation from David Crow

Suggestions for demoers:

  • Start by saying who you are (5 seconds)
  • …then say what you are going to show (10 seconds)
  • …and say what sort of discussion and feedback you’re inviting (15 seconds)
  • …then demo! (9 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • no commercials :-) your honest passion is sufficient, no need for spin
  • repeat audience questions briefly into the mic so that everyone can hear

Operational ideas:

  • Remote mic or mic stand for audience questions? Not needed if room stays small, but last night I found it hard to hear most questions. Having a mic also enables audio capture of the whole event.
  • For smooth turnaround, speaker N+1 can set up their machine while speaker N is answering questions.
  • Scaling up with heart: this event wants to stay interactive, and to grow in attendance. Those two goals are at odds. One solution that may make sense down the road is the “Science Fair” approach: divide the space up into smaller sections, and run multiple demos in parallel with subsets of the audience. In between demos, either the audience or the demoers roam from venue to venue. Microsoft does effectively this for their annual Tech Fest, where most of their 800+ researchers present. It allows for voting with your feet and much deeper audience/presenter interaction. Noise control can be hard, though.

Lastly, it would be cool to do a more hardcore blend of demo + deeper workshop-style discussion and feedback. There were a number of keen minds in the audience and I know they would willingly give a few minutes of thoughtful feedback and coaching geared at helping the entrepeneurial- minded presenters bring their ideas to success. As currently defined DemoCamp isn’t the right forum/structure for it, though… not all presenters want “business help”, and I LOVE that DemoCamp doesn’t require ideas to arrive at the party all gussied up in a business model. That shouldn’t change. Mark Kuznicki alludes to the same issue here. I haven’t attended a Canadian Venture Forum event yet, but I suspect the thing I’m talking about lies somewhere inbetween.

My 2 cents. More DemoCamp, please! Game on.

P.S.  re: the suggestions above, I’m willing to help implement.

18 responses to “TorCampDemoCamp 4.0 – get your game on

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  3. Jerry King

    Would it kill software developers to mention commercial terms? Are business models the new Kryptonite?

    Last Tuesday evening was my first Toronto BarCamp, so as a newbie, I am still learning the rules. I recognize that my work as a management consultant biases me, yet even if that were set aside and I reverted solely to being a recovering electrical engineer, I was dumbfounded at the percentage of presenters whose software applications lacked a business model.

    Why so many?

    Mind you, I was not expecting a 4” 3-ring binder, crammed with a detailed market entry strategy to accompany each 8 minute presentation, but was it too much to expect that a developer who’s been labouring nightly for 3 months to develop an application, to offer a few comments on the potential commercial appeal of said application to his or her audience? Surely the thought must have crossed the mind while consuming cases of Red Bull.

    Is it that BarCamp attendees disdain commerce or believe that being mindful of commercial terms as one explores one’s pet projects somehow dulls the creative edge? Or is it that attendees acknowledge its importance, but believe that they can neatly slot a successful business model into place AFTER their software application is built?

    Don’t get me wrong, serendipity has a role. There is something to be said for unfettered, undirected research-for-research-sake. Over the past five decades, a number of useful things including the transistor, the laser, the mouse & graphical interface, etc. have emerged as inventions which found commercial application well after their creation.

    But the famed labs which produced those inventions in the 1950s, 60s, 70s–the Bell Labs, the Westinghouses, the Xerox Parcs, with their massive budgets and their ability to undertake pure research, of academic quality, on an industrial scale—seem to have either disappeared or been radically downsized and/or become increasingly applied in their outlook. Research today, undertaken by their offspring, the Intels, the Microsofts, the Googles of the world, tends to be more applied–think small “r” and really BIG “D”. Maybe there is a reason for this trend.

    Here are two propositions. The first is that Tuesday evening’s presenters at BarCamp reflect a breadth of fresh air, the ushering in of a more democratic and a more cost effective way (e.g. Open Source) to explore their pet projects. And in exploring their pet projects, the presenters self-actualize and that’s good enough for society at large.

    The second proposition is that the presenters were symptomatic of something more troubling–a Canadian tertiary educational system which, with the noticeable exception of the U. of Waterloo, continues to pump “technologists” into the workforce. Technically competent, these technologists arrive with undisciplined minds and largely unskilled at the process of converting ideas into world-beating products, or raising money, or mediating customer needs, etc. Deliberately oversimplifying, this second proposition would see Canadian universities teeming with absent-minded, pipe-smoking, tweed-jacket-wearing Ivy Tower professors as opposed to the PhD-entrepreneur, Porsche 911-driving professor heroes that populate the campuses of MIT, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon.

    Here is why we should all care about which one of the propositions rings most true.

    At a micro level, what are BarCamp organizers and attendees to do and think when future presenters show up with yet another photo-sharing Web application or yet another search engine application that is, at best, only marginally better than the incumbent? Time—no—more accurately, attention, is a commodity and an increasingly scarce one at that. As BarCamp becomes more popular, there will be an ever-growing number of attendees and demonstrators. Inevitably, there will arise a need to ration demo space, to manage the “draw” on our collective attention. Commercial success—in the eyes of the BarCamp organizer and presenters—might be a useful, practical criterion, one among others, that could be used to organize future BarCamp.

    Staying at the micro level, my mind thinks back to the second presenter on Tuesday evening night, a digital camera hack from Disposable Digital Cameras, that claimed no discernible business model.

    No business model?

    Consider the following:
    1. There are new populations, tens of millions strong in the emerging markets of coastal China, India, Brazil and South Africa, that are coming on-stream as their disposable income levels rise (Google C.K. Prahalad “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”).
    2. That for digital goods, the Web is the perfect platform for agglomerating geographically dispersed market segments–the proverbial ‘Long Tail’.
    3. Bollywood (India’s film industry centered in Mumbai, formerly Bombay) already churns out more movies annually than Hollywood. Nigeria, yep Nigeria, also has a thriving film industry.

    Now think about the disruptive effect that radically bringing down the price of digital movie making will have in India and Nigeria. OK, now let’s add in the heretofore excluded consumers in emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa.

    As I understand the presentation by Disposable Digital Cameras, cheap disposable cameras—hardware—plus their software = really cheap movie making. Sounds like a disruptive way of entering an uncontested market—selling to folks who are currently non-consumers. Clayton Christensen will be pleased.

    But have we seen this movie (no pun intended) before? If we chat with Canadians over 70 years old, they’ll tell us that Japanese goods in the 1950s and 1960s were distinctly down market, synonymous with schlock. Akito Morita’s Sony, Toyota, Honda and other manufacturers systematically penetrated North American consumer markets (e.g. radios, televisions, autos, motorcycles), at the low end, took away market share and then moved up-market, leveraging scale economies, improving quality and raising prices.

    Can Disposable Digital Cameras find a company, somewhere in the world, to manufacture under contract a cheap disposable camera? You bet! Across China today there are probably 100 entrepreneurs with the acquisitive mindset of an Akito Morita, circa de 1955, AND under utilized contract manufacturing capacity at their disposal AND cheap engineering talent on tap AND a bottomless supply of labour capable of doing the most minute, the most intricate, manual tasks. These folks are lean and hungry and accustomed to staying up nights figuring out how they can further assault global markets with their goods. Say Disposable Digital Cameras were to marry low-cost Chinese manufacturing prowess with a Tucows-like distribution model for the actual delivery of their hack application, and then take rifle aim at the emerging markets in Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa. I believe Disposable Digital Cameras will have a recipe for some serious coin—er, make that yuans, rupees, and rubles, etc. Please, tell me again with a straight face that there’s no business model to this hack!

    Finally, we should care about which proposition rings most true because at a macro level, entrepreneurship remains heavily vocational, complete with a disturbingly high failure rate, but it remains essential to Canada’s productivity levels and our standard of living. Many know that 80% start-ups less than 5 years old fail. However, what’s less well known is that most new ideas also fail. According to The Economist, March 9, 2006 of 1,091 Canadian inventions surveyed in 2003 by Thomas Astebro of the University of Toronto, only 75 reached the market. Six of these earned returns above 1,400%, but 45 lost money. If you combine the two, i.e. the prospects for new products put out by new companies, they are harrowing. Indeed, you’re operating at the riskiest part of the economy. If we as Canadians are serious about narrowing the growing productivity gap with the U.S., then we need to improve both the quantity and quality of entrepreneurs that we generate. We need to produce more folks who are comfortable innovating in a commercial environment. BarCamp is a great place to start. After all, we can’t depend solely on our tech giants—case in point, CGI announced yesterday that they’ll be cutting 1,000 jobs in 2006.

    By regularly encouraging our best technological talent, at an early age to be mindful of the commercial appeal of their applications, the discipline of that way of thinking will imprint and we will gradually raise the bar. Look at it this way, if the folks presenting at MaRS on Tuesday evening can’t speak intelligently about the commercial aspects of their very own ideas, who can? From where will Canada’s next generation of startups emerge? There is a lot to be said for exposing 3rd and 4th year engineering and computer science students to an introductory marketing course, if only so that they can learn how to recognize and structure a problem. Listen to the interdisciplinary seminars Stanford puts on for their engineering and business students ( ).

  4. Oshoma,

    Good points. I have also been arguing for a little more upfront clarity from demoers about who they are, why they’re here and what they’re looking for. DemoCamp will no doubt evolve, and I can imagine several interesting offshoots. I like the idea of workshopping after demo with community members with the right expertise to get into greater detail. I also like the speed-dating idea, where expertise and needs can be quickly matched. Keep on coming out, and we can talk more about this stuff more.

  5. Pingback: My Own Pirate Radio » Jerry Holds Forth on DemoCamp

  6. Jerry’s comments are both necessary and poignant. We are beginning to build a community of technologists, designers, and entrepreneurs. I invite leaders like Jerry to come out and help shape the direction of the community. I hope that we can start successful businesses that meet the needs of customers and become revenue positive, i.e., profitable, early.

    Thank you for helping to make us better and hopefully more successful. We need to rise to the challenge issued by Jerry!

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  8. Pingback: Hogtown Consulting » To business model or not to business model

  9. Damn, Jerry — you gotta get a blog, man. I don’t care if it’s about salsa (which it definitely should be, at least in part) but that comment of yours is longer than the last 10 of my posts put together. You need a blog in the worst kind of way. Ask Mike McDerment — he should be able to whip a nice one up for you :-)

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  12. I appreciate most of what Jerry King says in his comment (and I agree with others that he should really blog that directly rather than “comment”). But there is a big problem with his argument that “yes there is a business model for disposable digital cameras”. What was demoed was a parasite application of an existing product. Cool, yes, but *not* a new product. And if all users of these disposable digital cameras hacked them and the companies supplying them therefore took a loss on every purchase, these cameras wouldn’t be around much longer. So, like the demoer said, there is no business model for this. The new product required for what Jerry talks about is a new digital camera that’s cheaper to build and/or sell than what’s already on the market, and that’s not what was being demoed.

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  14. Pingback: brentashley » Blog Archive » Camp, oh more than just Camp. You know you’re soaking in it.

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  17. Pingback: Michael McDerment Blog » Blog Archive » Demo Camp 4 Roundup: A Treatise from Jerry

  18. Pingback: Michael McDerment Blog » Blog Archive » Tips for DemoCamp Presenters from Jerry & I


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