Going into this conference I was skeptical. I was not expecting an objective discussion about technology. I was expecting a forum where Gilder portfolio companies are given the microphone and allowed to preach to the Gilder priesthood, and a forum where dissidents to the Gilder viewpoint are viewed with skepticism. I was wrong.
Friday evening, I spoke at length (after about 2-3 too many beers) with George Gilder and Jeff Stambovsky. After speaking with them it was clear my perceptions of how they run the conference were false. Rather than stifle debate, it appears they were mildly disappointed there was not more disagreement and debate at times. In an era of Reg FD this is one of the few venues striving to create real debate and discussion about company claims. Some of my previous comments were wrong and I stand corrected.
Unlike standard Wall St. conferences where portfolio companies are trotted in to give their 30 min pitch and allowed to retreat for limited questioning, companies that present at Gilder are subjected to the full force of criticism of the moderator, their peers, and as a last resort, smartasses in the audience like myself. The folks asking the questions are not analysts, but industry insiders best positioned to ask pointed questions. This creates a far better environment for evaluating companies and forming/altering your opinions on industries.
This process is by far the biggest competitive advantage the conference has. It may be too effective, and actually keep some companies away who prefer a more controlled environment.
I was not expecting such technical depth and breadth among some attendees. It was refreshing to go to a conference where everyone is not a tech drone. It’s rare you can go from talking about the requirements for VLAN tag stacking to discussing the need for consumer medical choice at a conference.
Finally, I must admit I personally enjoyed the political theme that runs under and through the conference. The message resonated with me and made it a personally enjoyable experience, though your mileage may vary. Where else can you see Michael Milken, Carver Mead, Steve Forbes, John Rutledge combined with senior management from leading optical component companies?
I’ve resolved to keep an open mind henceforth. I’ve also signed up for the newsletter. We’ll see how it goes.