People at Echelon are too good looking

I’ve been to every Echelon since it began, and the conference has changed a lot over that time. Everything is bigger, slicker, more polished. A reported 1700 attended the conference! There are more interesting people from a wider variety of backgrounds. Ideas are well researched and articulated. Start-ups pitch well and are better funded; you can say almost professional.

The tech scene’s maturation is unbelievable; like watching a child grow up into a young adult.

While so much of this is good, I have noticed two trends that while are not yet concerns, can easily be if we as a community are not careful.

People at tech conferences are…too good looking?

Before, the people who attended tech conferences tended to be nerds passionate about technology and the way technology can make an impact on our lives. You meet a lot of engineers, serial entrepreneurs, even intellectuals.

Today, the people you meet are much better looking. Much better dressed. Many have backgrounds in finance (as did I), some in marketing. There are lots of buzz words. People suss out your profile, and if not judged Grade-A their eyes wander to look for someone cooler to talk to. As a result, people show off like crazy.

I’ve done this. I raised that. I’ve sold for this much.

The reaction I get from people after mentioning my Stanford background is huge; the tenor change is like night and day. People are much nicer to me. Whereas a few years ago, people didn’t give a shit where you went to school.

There’s a purity the tech community used to have that is increasingly harder to feel.  There’s too much posturing.

I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. People are still mostly genuine and among the most friendly across industries; I made friendships the last couple days that just might last. But I do think it’s possible for our culture to change from being open and friendly to being judgmental and mercenary. We must guard against that.

Investors at tech conferences are…too snobby?

There are a LOT more investors than before. Which is undoubtedly a good thing. Sometimes I wonder if there’s more money than good ideas.

However, a few investors I talked to over the conference came off as kinda snobby – and I didn’t even pitch to them. They see my entrepreneur lanyard tag and immediately look like they’d rather jump off the second floor than have a conversation. Is it possible to be a good VC and not like to talk to entrepreneurs? Is it a good thing for investors to think of themselves as above entrepreneurs?

South East Asia needs more good old fashioned, Silicon Valley styled VCs. A Ben Horowitz type who’s been there, done that, and loves relating to entrepreneurs. Someone who knows how hard it is to succeed as an entrepreneur and so would never act like he’s above one.

Again, it’s not like those guys don’t exist here. There are a few awesome investors, like Kuan from GREE Ventures and Roderick from Sinar Mas.

But I also see more wannabe VCs who don’t seem to get it.

The tech community has come a long way and so much of that growth is good. We just need to make sure that with all this change, we don’t become too snobby or too mercenary.

11 thoughts on “People at Echelon are too good looking

  1. I totally agree with you. There are more and more wannabe VCs that think they are above entrepreneurs. To make it worse, the VC reps are soooo young (like literally early 20s) which make yourself wonder, how could one possibly provide advice, guidance, knowledge, etc. We don’t need just money, we need “smart money”.

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  2. damn, I missed it (again). I haven’t able to make any of them, even though my company had a booth at the first one. I saw some of the pics and there were a few hotties but I didn’t see more or less than what you see in a tech conf in SG. In the Valley there are way less. As for the VCs, the number of really good ones are about the same as the number of good tech entrepreneurs (and there are a lot more tech “entrepreneurs” now then there were 5 years ago). Meaning there’s a lot of phoniness to go around on both sides of the aisle.

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  3. I made a similar comment on stage on Day One of Echelon – from my experience as a founder – meeting an investor who actually instinctually builds on your ideas vs tears them down is refreshing because its so rare. Now in my investor role at 500 Startups I hope to bring my past experiences to play so I can do a better job.

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  4. All these so-claimed startup community, incubators, events like echelon, webcamp, founders drink in SEA region are just looking to harvest any potential startups for a jackpot exit. If a startup is making a product that really solves problem and profitable, then they really don’t need to waste time with these groups at all. It’s just business to cook up the hype of what startups need to do. Focus on what works and what matters

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    1. I completely agree. I compare the activity of perpetual conference attendance to writing books upon books about building but building nothing but that. We should start to work in an environment where becoming an overnight success or a million dollar buyout isn’t a short term goal.

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    2. I agree in spirit, but many successful start-ups that solved real problems needed incubators and venture capital. Dropbox and AirBnB are two examples off the top of my head — I think these events and organizations do add value. But you’re right in that nothing replaces a product that solves a big problem.

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  5. The value in these events are their networking opportunities – meeting people who you might not have otherwise met. After that, long, drawn out relationship with key people would have to ensue. But what if you don’t get to meet these people – people who truly care about connecting, slow building and value? And most importantly, people who care about doing that for other people?

    Conferences like Echelon have their place, but entrepreneurs and VCs should not get too sucked into attending too many of these as a way of distracting themselves from the work that they need to do to get their products shipped.

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  6. Interesting point of view.

    I think the true ugly signal will be when advertisers and marketers get a bigger share of talks, sponsoring and expo, which is still far to be the case. SXSW has been criticised the past few years for losing this authenticity, though it still provides tons of networking opportunities.

    For the other comments, don’t undervalue these conferences and events and everything else. Coming from a media background, I really see the difference between startupers who don’t give a sh*t about looking good when it’s part of the job.

    Airbnb or Uber are not *huge* technological prowess (compared to what Facebook or Google built just before them, say). They have an incredible service and have paid a lot of attention to look good especially among us early adopters and techies, don’t you think?

    For the rest, let’s keep the “yes, and” rather than the “no, but” mindset : )

    (Nice blog by the way)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I do not think 1700 was at Echelon, seems like the number was bumped up. Startup Asia Singapore 2014 had a bigger audience with a much more impressive speaker lineup.

    But it is definitely good to see so many conferences in Singapore, provides a great place for entrepreneurs and investors to meet!

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