Twiistup creator Mike Macadaan once hailed L.A.'s premier tech event as a nod to the dot-com days of excess. Geeks got together in uniquely Los Angeles locales to network and party like rockstars. But Macadaan sold Twiistup to an undisclosed party a few months ago, and with new management came changes.
The first major change for Twiistup 6, which took place July 30 and 31 at the Universal Hilton, was to move it to the Valley. The second: make it a two-day event and include panels from high-profilers in the Web space. The last, but by no means least: to jack up the fee from 80 to 300 dollars.
Thursday's post-conference Twiistup party wasn't short on excess, but the vibe was different. I made my round of the room, surprised that no one was talking about it. When I asked people, their first question was whether I'm friends with the event producer, Francisco Dao. The second is whether I'm a blogger.
(No one asks if you're press anymore. Now all people need to know to assess liability when talking to you is whether or not you have a blog. A sign of the times.)
I tell people I know Dao — he's a good guy. I tell them I'm doing a piece for L.A. Weekly. Some ask me to keep their names to myself; They don't want to piss people off, but they share concerns about the location. Many had to take two or more freeways to get here and impending drive back makes it hard to really let loose.
I work my way around the booths of the event showoffs, the companies competing for Twiistup's trophy awarding innovation, financial potential, and defensible market positioning.
Somewhere between the Blip.fm and Bakespace booths, I catch a glimpse of Dao as he cuts across the ballroom floor. He looks like he hasn't slept in days. This is Francisco Dao, the fun guy whose Twitter username is @theman, and the guy who created the Facebook group “Francisco Fun Club a.k.a. No Business Cards Allowed.”
There's a big difference between being the life of the party and throwing one.
Frankly, I'm impressed. At Twiistup 5 in February of this year, Dao put together a Bachelorette-style show where three bachelors answered questions in hopes of winning over one of L.A. tech's bombshells. The premise was hilarious, but the execution was so sub-par that when people found out Dao was taking over Twiistup, concerns immediately erupted.
There was a share of drama accompanying the hand-over, as there tends to be for things that are so near and dear to a group of people. But by the looks of things tonight, Francisco Dao has proven his event-planning chops.
Mike Macadaan, the creator of Twiistup smiles when I catch him.
“It's great,” he tells me. “This is the first Twiistup I've been able to really enjoy.”
If that's in the least bit surprising, it helps to remember that those immortal words that for so long defined Twiistup — “It feels like 1997 all over again” — were uttered by Macadaan as he was hauling bags of ice at the Viceroy at Twiistup 4 in 2008.
Brian Solis, a next generation public relations specialist, is someone in the social space you have to know. He's in the back of the ballroom, seated on one of the pristine white couches that have been set up in the lounge.
He's surrounded by a group of social media high-profilers. Next to him are the writer Paul Carr, TechCrunch's newest acquisition, and its editor-at-large Sarah Lacy–both of whom look either bored or exhausted whenever anyone other than Solis speaks with them.
Solis is all smiles. He greets me in such a way that I feel at home. That's the thing about Solis–he makes everyone feel important. Like they matter. And to him, they do. That's the secret to his success: he means everything he says.
I joke to him that my life is complete now that I've made it to the VIP area. He grows serious.
“These are people who've worked hard and who now are noteworthy,” he says after giving up his seat for me and taking a sip from his glass of Scharffenberger. “This is not VIP. This is the future of the digitalization of social media.”
I ask him how he's enjoying Twiistup.
“I was adviser to the event coordinators,” Solis says. “I helped put together the agenda. At Twiistup, we're democratizing the social landscape. We don't need another party. We need to share the knowledge. Francisco and Neil [Patel] are putting something back into Los Angeles.”
THE STUFF NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
“You have a skinny ass,” says Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetric and allegedly the buyer of Twiistup.
“Thank you,” I respond, taking in the sight of the 5-foot-7 whiz kid of Web marketing. He's dressed casually in a shirt promoting QuickSprout, his consulting firm.
“That wasn't a compliment,” he says.
“Do you like how Twiistup has turned out?” I ask, changing the subject. “Was it a good investment?”
“I didn't buy this,” he responds.
“Neil, it's the worst kept secret in L.A. tech.”
“I've lost 20,000 dollars,” he laments. He pauses, then repeats, “No, I didn't buy Twiistup.”
“Who bought it?”
“I know Francisco didn't buy Twiistup,” I say.
“Come on!” he says, uncomfortably.
“So 'someone' lost 20,000 on this,” I say. “Why do you think that is?”
“Francisco didn't sell enough tickets.”
“I thought the event was sold out?”
“Not even,” Patel responds. “We didn't sell anything.”
“What does this mean for Twiistup?” I ask.
“We'll keep it going,” Patel says. “I mean–I didn't buy this. Look, do you want to meet the real person who bought Twiistup?”
“He's the owner.” Patel says.
“Owner of what?” Nazar asks.
“Of Twiistup,” I answer.
“I am?” Nazar asks, an amused look on his face. “Oh, right. And GE and GMC…”
Patel introduces me to Andy Sack, general partner and angel investor of Founders Co-op.
“Andy's an investor,” Patel tells me. “He's sold two of his three startups.”
“Of five,” Sack corrects.
“That's still good, right?” Patel asks me.
“Absolutely,” I turn to Sack, “how is Twiistup–meeting your expectations?”
“I've lost 10 grand,” he replies. “But I have a good buzz.”
“She's a blogger!” Patel exclaims. “Be careful what you say.”
“If anything's off the record, let me know,” I tell them.
Sack doesn't say anything. After that, he doesn't say anything to me at all.
The lack of open discussion surrounding the event is astonishing, which is ironic, considering many of the Twiistup conference panels dealt with the importance of transparency and openness in business with the rise of social media usage among consumers. For the most part, everyone who attended had a good time at Twiistup, and that makes it all the more difficult to confront its underlying questions–especially in a community as tight as that of L.A. tech–when it is these very issues that are going to determine the long-term viability of the event.