Year in and year out, the legendary DEMO “pitch” conferences can be counted on for an entertaining look at new technologies as companies stake their fate on pressure-packed four minute pitch presentations to potential investors. Last week’s DEMO Fall gathering in San Jose, California was no different in that regard, and was made even livelier through a surprise appearance by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and an intriguing number of startups which were intent on breaking new ground.
Wozniak took the stage on the first day to promote a new company – Primary Data – in which he is the chief scientist. The firm has created a data virtualization platform for the enterprise.
As if having the iconic Apple founder onstage wasn’t enough, Primary Data’s pitch also featured a person dressed in a gorilla suit dancing in the background and a quick “streaker” dash by a man wearing a flesh-colored body stocking.
Primary Data’s kickoff was followed later in the evening by a launch party they hosted featuring daredevil motorcycle stunts and high flying acrobatics by bicyclists in a tent outside the San Jose Convention Center for DEMO attendees. Woz still knows how to throw a party.
In a separate on-stage interview earlier in the day however, Wozniak was a little more reserved about the forthcoming smartwatch from Apple. Asked by DEMO’s Eric Schonfeld why he wasn’t wearing the new Apple product, Wozniak quickly replied that “it isn’t out yet.”
The Apple legend acknowledged that he still planned to try it out, but expressed disappointment that the other smartwatches on the market to-date were so similar. “I’m a little turned off by the small display so far,” said Wozniak.
Another key figure from the tech industry who spoke at DEMO last week was Peter Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook and co-founder of PayPal and Palantir. Thiel has been on the speaking circuit lately (he has a new book out titled “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future”) and had plenty of advice for entrepreneurs in the audience.
“Ask yourself: what great company is nobody building?” Thiel told the gathering, making the point that the most successful businesses have created monopolies. “Bad companies are competing with other companies,” said Thiel. “If you want to compete like crazy, open a restaurant.”
Thiel also took a shot at the prevailing focus in Silicon Valley these days on the cloud and data management. “When you hear ‘cloud computing’ or ‘big data,’ you should think fraud and just run away,” cautioned Thiel.
As for the companies on display last week, there were some interesting new wrinkles in the startup world. For the first time, DEMO pitches included five new bitcoin-related firms (Obsidian Exchange, HelloBit, Trustless Exchange, Pavilion.io, and SmartContract), among a crop of crypto-currency companies which are springing up almost weekly.
The startups named “DEMO Gods” last week (companies who successfully communicated the power and value of their emerging technologies) came from a diverse set of fields covering the work cloud, mobile, smart data, wearables, and hardware. And all were based outside of Silicon Valley.
The latest “Gods” included Ghostery, a new app for businesses that can track delays and security vulnerabilities in vendor websites. The highly visual display makes it easier to see where the blocks are occurring and fix them quickly.
During his DEMO presentation, Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer mentioned one of the most infamous users of his products: Edward Snowden. The NSA whistleblower disclosed that he used Ghostery while addressing a tech conference in Austin, Texas via video feed from Russia earlier this year.
Another DEMO God winner was PathSense who introduced technology that promises to deliver precise GPS location data without draining a smartphone battery. It can be integrated into iOS or Android and claims a significant 90% reduction in battery drain.
Though not voted into the top category, a couple of interesting social media apps were also showcased. Kandid takes Instagram to the next level by promoting photo sharing tied to realtime interactions with friends. Their app requires you to share a photo within a preset time limit and once you do, it opens all the photos your friends have shared as well. It’s kind of a visual way to see what your circle is experiencing right now, all at once.
Another new social app is Lifebox where users share a daily moment of reflection that encourages personal storytelling. The result is a daily blog that builds over time to create your own life history which can be shared with friends and family. “It’s the world’s largest dinner table discussion,” said Lifebox CEO Adam Noble.
During his brief appearance at DEMO, Wozniak remarked that “hopefully, the computers won’t get smarter than us.” But less than an hour before, a company called Curb showcased sensors that analyze every electric device in the home and can send a mobile notification if you leave the lights on or forget to turn down the heat while you are gone. Sorry Steve, but it may already be too late.