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Loren Feldman has a reputation for being Web 2.0's bad boy. He's been highly critical of many of the startups and figures within the Web 2.0 community and doesn't mince words. Yet his popularity proves one thing: quite often, whether we'd admit to it publicly or not, he has a point.
Through Twitter (somewhat ironically), I was led to a video he posted with his comments on the 140 Characters conference, which, as you might guess, was focused on Twitter. Feldman's video is very NSFW but mentioned that the operator of the conference was doing something quite questionable: promoting that he'd take partial payment for the conference fee in equity.
That's right. For startup entrepreneurs who are working with limited resources and couldn't spend $1,000 to attend 140 Characters, conference creator Jeff Pulver had an offer that was too good to be true. Okay, not really:
Starting today, I am once again offering a new payment method for: delegates, exhibitors and sponsors who wish to be involved the 140 Character conference.
What’s the catch? The startups that qualify for this alternative payment method are determined solely at my personal discretion. Second, equity can only be used to pay for up to 50% of the amount due.
Over the years, I've been asked by a number of start-up CEOs to consider an alternative payment method for our conference delegates (and exhibitors). By taking advantage of this payment option, additional start-ups will be able to take advantage of the business networking opportunities the 140 Characters Conference will be known for.
Now I didn't attend the 140 Characters conference so I'm not going to comment on the quality of the presentations; there are plenty of great conferences out there and I hope that 140 Characters will become one of them.
But offering to accept partial payment in the form of equity is really shameful in my opinion. In fact, I'll go so far as to state that I think it even borders on predatory. No savvy, experienced entrepreneur is going to dole out small amounts of equity here and there to cover $500 costs. Jeff Pulver isn't a dummy; he's an industry veteran and chances are that if he is going to be nice enough to accept a small sliver of your equity instead of your cash, he thinks he's getting the better part of the deal.
So given this, it's safe to say that the only entrepreneurs who are likely to have an interest in such an offer probably have more ambition than street smarts and are the types who can easily be convinced that the conference circuit is the best/easiest way to network. While conferences can provide great networking opportunities, you don't have to give up equity in your company to meet people.
I'm not naive and I understand that conference organizers need to cover their costs. Running a conference is not easy and many conferences are for-profit ventures. I don't think anybody takes issue with that. Some conferences are able to offer discounts to certain attendees. TechCrunch50, for instance, offers a limited number of discount tickets to students, which is a nice gesture.
To be fair, 140 Characters did offer scholarships, although I personally find it a little bit shallow that extra consideration was "given to those people who also post their entry in their blogs and share a pointer to their blog post on twitter and include the #140conf hash tag". But c'est la vie. Asking somebody to tweet for a free pass is one thing; seeing if you can get a piece of equity in a company for 2 days of Twitter talk is another matter altogether.
Personally, I think it's shameful and sets a very bad tone. And even though he didn't say it in the nicest way possible, I think it's good that Feldman called attention to a practice that hopefully won't gain much traction.
Photo credit: Brian Solis via Flickr.