Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal put on its very first tech conference, called WSJD Live.
It was held at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, California.
Speakers included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Jack Ma from Alibaba, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and Avatar director James Cameron.
A couple hundred people attended.
Other than speakers and a few reporters (like us), almost all of the attendees paid $US5,000 to go.
Is going to one of these things worth that kind of money?
Would you spend $US5,000 to go to a resort in Southern California and hang out with a bunch of tech executives for three days?
At the same table, there was News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma. Not far away was top VC Mark Suster.
... and only a few people watched. It was like that scene in the first episode of HBO's 'Silicon Valley.'
WSJD Live was The Wall Street Journal's first attempt at a tech conference.
In years prior, The Journal outsourced its conference business to All Things D, a now-defunct joint venture it co-owned with journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.
This was a good plan, because each year Mossberg and Swisher put on a very esteemed conference called the D Conference.
In fall 2013, The Journal and Mossberg/Swisher decided to part ways. Mossberg and Swisher formed a new company, called Re/code. This past summer they put on their first conference, called Code.
In many ways, WSJD Live felt like the Pepsi to Code's Coca-Cola. Everything was very similar, but a different colour. The logo was even blue instead of red.
The most meaningful difference between Code and WSJD Live is that at Code many of the big-time tech business celebrities who go on stage will stay at the conference after their interviews are over. Last year, I spotted Netflix CEO Reed Hastings chatting with strangers in the hallway. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was sitting in the audience during a few keynotes. Famous VCs asked hard questions.
At WSJD Live, the big-name guests all left right after their hits. That was disappointing. It also didn't help that the rest of the attendees weren't as high profile as the people who go to Code. There was one person from Google, for example. No one from Facebook came.
The people who put on WSJD Live did manage to differentiate their conference from Code in some smart ways. They tried to give the conference more of an international feel. With speakers from China and all over Europe, it worked.
Toward the end of the conference, I asked an executive from a mid-tier startup why he, or rather, his company, was willing to shell out $US5,000 to send him.
He said it was because in past years, the networking events at the D Conference led him to meet people who wanted to fund or acquire his company -- sometimes on the spot.
Obviously, that kind of conversation is worth $US5,000.
The Journal put on a great show at WSJD Live. The atmosphere was the exact right kind of low-key elegance.
If WSJD Live can improve its crowd -- perhaps by insisting that its keynote speakers stick around -- it is definitely going to be the type of conference executives around the globe will happily pay many thousands of dollars to attend.
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