Trade Event Report
iBreakfast Venture Capital Outlook, +
By Al Berrios (contact Al Berrios)

I get a call from a good friend Wednesday evening for this Thursday, April 21st event. He enthusiastically recommended it to hear the wonderful speakers, convinced that it's 7:30am start time was a key draw for very big execs.

I get there at 7:15am only to encounter a loud and obnoxious host, Alan Brody, who blurted out, "NO!", with other early arrivers looking on, to my request for free admission, (since I was going to feature his event on our site), in between grunts and heaves as he's still setting up displays and equipment. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect free admission like I deserve it, but I do appreciate some discretion in your response. His response regrettably set the tone for the rest of the morning in my mind and made it twice as hard for his event to leave me clamoring for more.

Great, I paid, and with the hunger I arrived with, expected a meal for kings. What I got was something that could only be described as a semi-continental breakfast, with excellent bagels and barely drinkable coffee. The venue was Peking Park, some tacky Chinese food joint in midtown NYC, and it was obvious they've never hosted a breakfast, because the only utensils they had out were forks, which made it impossible to scoop and spread butter on my bagel and a ridiculous scene trying to stir sugar in my coffee.

The first person I encounter was someone I had met at a McGraw-Hill media conference ("2004 Media Summit"); and someone I made an effort to avoid. I'm not the best judge of character, but it was obvious that this person was a remnant of the dot-com heyday, with every device imaginable to make him seem like the "cool, urban" middle-aged man he was. I hate to say this, but I'm not a grunt. (Us Vs. Them: An Abstract Discussion on Programming Consumers). I was once, but have made efforts to evolve. I don't mind associating myself with grunts, however, make an even greater effort to avoid dealing with them anymore, as many of them seem to have no goal other than to remain grunts. So as soon as I see this middle-aged grunt pretending to not be one, I should have bolted out the door to avoid this grunt-get-together. Instead, I proceeded to sit down and take the notes that introduced this Report.

As folks streamed in, I noticed I was already sitting at my table for over an hour and yet no event had started. Turns out, 7:30am wasn't a start time because grunts don't get up that early. Anyway, the networking started, but my disappointment from my first two encounters made me lose interest in meeting anyone else. Unfortunately, I found myself standing up to get something more drinkable, (I'm so spoiled, I am accustomed to coffee mugs. I was practically disgusted at the paper cups offered for coffee, which even smelled suspicious and added an undeterminably pungent savor to my coffee), and inadvertently spotted a networker who wasn't networking.

Of course he wanted to speak. He introduced himself as "a consultant, for now". When I repeated, "for now?", he said he's a financial consultant in between jobs. I asked him, "so what's XXXX Associates?" He replied something to the effect of, "Oh, that's just something I used to say something on my badge." Offended and insulted that this person is calling himself a consultant, I excused myself to simmer in my disgust back at my table.

This whole thing had so far thrust me back into mid-2000 - all hype, no quality. I was already vexed, but the morning was just getting started. Scanning past the happy-hour flyers on my table, I noticed a list of attendees. Almost everyone was a CEO or President of companies with names bearing the initials of the CEO or President. Just like mid-2000, except folks just gave up coming up with cool, techie names. Like me, the two or three serious professionals in attendance must have felt bamboozled at the dearth of quality peers and the obnoxiously loud music that made it difficult to do any networking anyway, and desperately awaited the long-overdue speakers.

Finally, Alan decided to get his act together and introduce the speakers, VCs with solid backgrounds, which begged the question, why were they here? With the speakers all around hissing uncontrollably, Alan introduced the speakers as Stephen Brotman from Silicon Alley Venture Partners; Salvatore Tirabassi of Dolphin Equities; and Kay Koplovitz from Koplovitz & Co. (but more notably, founder of USA Network).

Rule #1, Alan: Always have an agenda. In his carefree dot-com manner, Alan permitted the speakers to basically have free rein over the audience's time. As a result, the speakers offered dissertations on their investments and investment strategies. One even gave us his analysis of "The Apprentice", comparing his investment approach with the characters on the program. To me, who doesn't watch this program, it was like listening to a 5-yr old explain investment strategies; it's cute at first, but after 30 minutes, it's time for the kid's nap so the adults can get down to business. It got so bad that even the podium sign passed out, the tape unable to withstand the strain of holding on anymore.

Alan's moderation was so unstructured, that time ran out and Kay had to abruptly leave to catch a flight, in the middle of the question and answer period, (if you could even call it that), visibly upset at not having had more time to speak or network with the audience. Many audience members followed her out to speak with her, but she was in such a hurry, she snapped at and ignored them. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that Alan is so accustomed to servicing the unemployed, with nothing better to do, that he forgot that execs, with jobs, may actually be busy. He wasted 3.5 hours of my life, and all I had to show for it was gas from the awful coffee.

…and then Alan made us watch something that looked like he recorded on his home camcorder to play on public-access TV. He called it a showcase for entrepreneurs debuting in the fall. After 15+ years in the business of organizing events like this, he's managed to get this project off the ground. Although his support of entrepreneurs and other executives "in-transition" is very admirable, the quality and caliber of his business for folks like me can only be compared to one thing - and I quote - "a hemorrhoidal attack". This event merits one plus (+), an honor possessed by a mere 5% of the events this reporter has ever attended. And for that reason only, I feel it wasn't a total loss, since we all need a couple of those to appreciate the rest of them.

Read Mr. Alan Brody's response >>


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