It could be said that media people are spoiled. And I’m saying this because I’ve attended quite a few press events and public conferences where everything is laid out for you in near grandiose style. Take for instance the recent CA World (2008) event I attended in Las Vegas (November 15-18). The venue was superb, the attention paid to the media was ok as were the sourvenir – OGIO backpack. CA planned it well – as have most other vendors and organizers I’ve met.
So it would come as a surprise to me that yesterday (November 2) an event in Hong Kong hosted by Red Herring was less than usual. It was their 4th annual 100 Asia Awards. Two things that should have rang a bell when I arrived to claim my badge: (1) the registration queue was long with two gentlemen manning the registration table; and (2) the welcome kit was a piece of A4 paper with the agenda printed on one side.
The programme said introduction was to commence at 0800. Ok, people in Hong Kong are rarely morning people so you’d expect the event to start a few minutes late and sure enough by 0845 the host of the event, Mr Farley Duvall came up the stage to introduce himself and apologize for the delays. He ventured on to explain that the CEo, Mr Alex Vieux could not come to this event personally due to visa issues (email me if you are interested to know about this). Seeing as the programme was running late he invited the members of the keynote roundtable on “Global VCs’ Move on Asia: Too Much Money Is Investment Bubble” to come up on stage. When no one stood, he again apologized saying that due to the events in India last week, it is possible some of the members of the panel could not join the panel.
Mr Duvall then proceeds to invite Scott Martin, an editor for Red Herring, to come up to stage and say a few words. Very casually he also invited anyone in the group (about 100 people maybe more) to come up to the stage and share their experience on the issue of capital raising. No volunteers.
Mr Martin spoke briefly about how the US market was tanking and that investments in Europe were following suite. He did note that Asia seems to be a bright spot. in particular, China seems to be holding up although he has doubts about sustainability.
Following his short speech, he invited the first round of presenters to come and tell their story. This is where it gets interesting.
I’ve never attended a Red Herring event before so I was mildly surprise that to see entrepreneurs come up to the stage to talk about their company, what they had done, and what they are looking for – all in under 12 minutes. Later in the afternoon I had an opportunity to speak to Mr Duvall on the model. After clarification on Mr Vieux case, he proceeded to explain the whole purpose of the Red Herring Awards and how the events, like today, are organized. In light of this my expectations were somewhat reset.
I now understood the setup for this particular event and in some ways I congratulate with Mr Duvall and Mr Martin for their efforts. Mr Duvall showed me over an inch wad of business cards showing some investors and a lot of entrepreneurs – small businesses.
As it turns out the whole aim of the event itself is to allow entrepreneurs to sound their case to an audience of investors and other entrepreneurs. I saw some smiles and signs of appreciation from what is likely a crowd of entrepreneurs listening in to each presenter. I saw groups of people exchanging cards and talking casually, presumably about business opportunities.
If you visit the Red Herring website you can get the full list of 100 winners as well as the original 200 nominees. At 3pm, Mr Duvall announced 78 entrepreneurs Red Herring editors have identified as promising businesses. Mr Duvall later mentioned that the remaining 22 will be announced the next day.
I know I’m supposed to tell you two stories. The first is about “how not to organize an event” and you can read that above. The second and likely more important story is about how investments are ruled by sentiments and gut feel. yes, the US market is tanking (but no bottom is in sight as some people on Bloomberg Television tell it).
But judging from the presentations I’ve seen today, there are a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs out there with ideas and businesses that are proven. The people I’ve seen present are not presenting ideas on paper. Most are actual startups that have proven the business model and what they are looking for is funding to go to the next level. It is unfortunate that we are at a stage when the funding wells are dry (or appear to be) because people are ruled by sentiment. The “stock” markets are down, companies are collapsing, and people are losing their jobs.
yes, some people are losing their jobs because businesses are unable to borrow money to keep the business running. Because people are afraid of their prospects for the future, they are less likely to spend money, causing retailers and wholesalers to stop orders to manufacturers. And stock traders and analysts, those who live on speculation, exaccerbate the situation by predicting and actualizing the doom and gloom in the market.
I was fortunate to attend the CA event in Las Vegas and for me one of the two highlights was listening to Jack Welch being interviewed by a Wall Street journalist. One of the many quips he made during the 45 minute Q&A* were:
“…with greed overcoming fear, we will move forward, start lending, start starting things, start doing things, and we will see ourselves come out of this thing (recession) sometime through the latter part of 09… that forecast is worth half the bottle of this water (holding a bottle) but its my best shot…”
He also said that “cash is King in 09” which is even true this year as banks hold on to their money. I won’t be surprise if venture capitalisrs use magnifying glasses to scrutinize future prospects for investments. And this is not going to change. And this is the right approach whether we are in a recession or not. We’ve learned the hard way that money doesn’t grow on trees. That people have to work hard for their money.
Many of the presenters identified a problem, built a solution, and created a niche for themselves. I would not be surprised if some of those entrepreneurs attending the event (coming from many parts of Asia) would take the ideas and try them out locally.
As Mr Duvall pointed out, the whole point of the Red Herring 100 is to identify the best ideas from around the world and give them the opportunity to grow. Hopefully their vision will inspire investors to come forward with seed money to allow them to grow.
By their success, others will follow.
Just to go back to the first story, let this be a lesson to all of us running events… never try and organize an event remotely. Remote controls are great when the device being controlled is a stone’s throw away from you. It always pays to be on the ground where the action is.
*I will post the Jack Welch audio on SearchSMBAsia very soon.