Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley retreat definitely wins the prize for “Most Ironic Conference” as it is a media conference that very vehemently shuns media. Just this morning one intrepid reporter was told to stop harassing the guests as she walked down the rainy thoroughfare with her friend who also happened to be an attendee (and, no, it wasn’t me).
My boss and guest Tim Armstrong technically isn’t allowed to talk to me about anything that isn’t smalltalk (Hi Tim!). Really.
Founded by Allen & Co. in 1983, the off-the-record CEO conference takes place 6,000 feet above sea level in Idaho, at the storied Sun Valley Resort and its iconic bar Duchin, which has the best bar name ever if you pronounce it a certain way.
Every summer, bigwigs like Mark Zuckerberg and Drew Houston convene at Duchin to share high-altitude drinks (or at least a drinking space) with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Oprah, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Bob Iger and Tim Cook. Press are also not allowed to go into the bar at a certain time, in case that wasn’t clear.
Because all these rich people are
hungry for fresh blood interested in innovation, traditionally Allen & Co. wrangles a group of humble, rising star CEOs to the Gem State, inviting three or four promising startup founders to give a 15 minute presentation for the olds. They call it the “New Breed Program” and it’s such a pure, brilliant form of lead generation.
Last year it was Quora, Airbnb and Dropbox. The year before that it was Square, Groupon, Pandora and The Fancy (as thingD). But once you’re in the club you’re in the club. Many of the past presenters return as legit attendees.
This year’s “New Breed” includes Uber, Evernote and more modest startups (in terms of press coverage at least) like neighborhood social network Nextdoor and Hadoop shop Cloudera. The startups will each hit the stage for their close-ups on Saturday morning, starting at 7:30am.
All of the companies in attendance this summer had also presented earlier this year at the bank’s private company conference in Arizona. There were eight startups in total presenting, divided into “Consumer Internet” and “Enterprise”.
Benchmark investor Bill Gurley, who is on the board of two of the four chosen — Uber and Nextdoor, thought that the following characteristics lead to the startups’ participation, “One of the thing that’s critical to achieve breakthrough success is that you have to do something fairly different. In both of these cases (Uber, Nextdoor) these entrepreneurs have tackled the big problems. There’s a lot of ideation. Uber for example is one of these companies where the user value proposition was known from day one.”
Gurley also said that out of his current portfolio companies, he viewed social network for schools Edmodo and collaborative enterprise software startup Asana as most likely to garner an invitation next year.
According to a source, photosharing darling and, yes, Benchmark investment (who was also my pick for Allen & Co’s New Breed this year) Instagram actually joined Evernote, Uber and Nextdoor on the consumer Internet track in March. According to the same source they weren’t invited to the summer conference, most likely because their acquisition put the kibosh on any further dealings with Allen & Co., who has a pretty effective system going on here you have to admit …
Get ‘em while they’re young.