Monday, February 14, 2011

My response to the "why don't you have any TKTK as judges... "

Almost every time I attend an event I hear someone complain about the
composure of the people on stage.

It's like clock work, and it's understandable since our industry is
filled with so many men and so few women, as well as so many asians,
indians and white dudes.

Here is the latest..... and my comment:

Q: Do you think I did a decent job respond?

best j

Couple of points:

1. Thanks for taking the constructive step of actually making
suggestions as opposed to just throwing stones.

2. The panel is very diverse as you can see, and it was selected based
on merit, as well as my personal network. The diversity was organic,
but obviously not having a black executive does stand out to some.

3. There are not enough black CEOs, founders or VCs in the internet industry.

I don't know exactly why that is, but if you run down the top 200
sites on Quantcast's ranking I'm going to guess that the number of
black CEOs or founders is going to be very low.

Someone should do this breakdown--it would be meaningful. It would
also be interesting to see how many female, asian, indian and LGBT
members are on this list.

4. We can all agree that conference producers are not responsible for #3 right?

5. We can all agree that conference producers are most responsible for
putting on a great show with as qualified speakers--or in the case of
LAUNCH "judges"--as possible, right?

6. We call agree that we should never put someone on stage because of,
or primarily because of, their race, gender, religion or political
affiliation. Unless of course the panel is about that specific issue I
guess (i.e. "the role of female, Democratic, Irish Catholics in mobile
SNSs"--an important panel at SXSW this year :-).

7. Sadly, I can't remember ever running into a black VCs or angel
investor in 20+ years in the industry!

I just went to angel list and sorted by # of investments and found
only one black angel investor in the top 150 or so listings.

Note: this is imperfect because Angel list isn't a perfect
dataset--but it still says something. I have met some hip-hop moguls
who have tried to build internet companies and failed horribly (who
shall remain nameless).

8. I've always tried to have diversity in every conference I've done,
but I will never lower the bar on who should participate on stage. I
feel lowering the bar means a) the conference would suffer and b) the
speaker would suffer from being considered a token.

9. The qualifications for being a judge at LAUNCH are much, much
higher than being a speaker at a high-end internet conference. Judges
at the conference need to have very significant success in the
industry as demonstrated by things like a) investing in a significant
number of successful companies, b) creating a very significant
internet company and/or c) having significant exists in the internet

The reason for this should be obvious: the person who is judging
another startup needs to, at least ideally, have more success then the
person pitching a company. Now, this isn't always the case, and it
certainly isn't the case for all time.

Note: Once and a while there will be a wild card thrown in for fun,
like Kevin Pollak, MC Hammer or Ashton Kutcher, who are celebrities
with an interest in technology. I've had all three of them speak at my
events in the past. I think one of them is black--but he wasn't
selected for that reason. He was selected because he is awesome,
insightful in matters of media and fun! :-)

10. This is a long-winded way of saying that although the folks you
suggest up top are undoubtedly successful, I wonder if they themselves
consider themselves successful enough to judge other startups?

There are two of note, one of which I know would be qualified: David
Drummond of Google.

Also, I don't know Michael Seibel, a co-founder of Justin.TV, but I
would consider Justin.TV a modest success to date. They have raised
money and built a mid-sized company. I wonder if Michael considers
himself ready to judge other startups or if he would rather take on
this challenge later in life with more wins under his belt? Either
way, I'd love to meet him for consideration next year.

Summary: Conferences, blogs and newspaper tend to reflect the
demographics presented to them. They don't control those demographics,
nor could or should they.

What could have an impact?

Well, I'm no expert but I think the funnel is the problem. Perhaps we
should be focusing on energy on the angel funding and accelerator

BTW: one of the companies *presenting* at LAUNCH has a black founder
and CEO. And I'm an investor in it! And it's awesome!

I hope this long-winded response doesn't come across as defensive. I
just want to make sure I give as full an answer as you gave in your
blog post.

I invite the people you've select above to attend the event at my
guest. I'd love to get to know them better! email intros would be

all the best,


Jason on Twitter This Week in Startups

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