By Megan McCarthy, Valleywag party correspondent
After last month's spin in San Francisco, STIRR returned last night to its original home at Fanny and Alexander's in downtown Palo Alto for version 1.7 of the massively buzzed-about schmoozefest and startup show-and-tell. Allan Lienwand of Vyatta, Adam Marsh of PrefPass, Oliver Muoto of vFlyer, and Robert Pastornik of LicketyShip all presented for their respective startups and Adam Sah spoke on behalf of Google Gadgets, which came not to impress investors, but to show all the entrepreneurs how to act when you finally move the business out of the toolshed and you're able to afford that nice new silver TT.
Kudos to STIRR for instituting the 60-second pitch limit. One would think that being boring in such a small amount of time is difficult, but you'd be surprised. The key is to keep from forcing in too much information and coming across like the MicroMachine spokesman in front of the live feed. As an observer, it would be refreshing to see some sort of deviation from the typical stand-and-deliver speech, like an interpretive dance, or a founder displaying a large banner of the company name while blowing an air horn for sixty seconds* or something creative like that, but the real audience isn't made up of the press or the PR people or the servers behind the bar. The whole dance is to seduce the shadowy investors who lurk in the background with a pocketful of bank notes and no one to spoil.
STIRR's purpose is to network, as a verb. There's little to no time for niceties here: There's Business to be done! The entrepreneur-heavy crowd conveys an expectation that everyone is a potential investor, partner, client, or vendor, and treats whomever they're talking to accordingly. For the most part, they're right. The STIRR founders have culled the guest list to limit invitations to decision makers and higher-ups. They have no qualms about rejecting people who wish to attend. Recently, associates from venture capital firms were disinvited en masse, unless they brought along a partner. This selectivity does have downsides. There's hardly any gender diversity - there were more blue-shirted men than women, total. Not good.
When the event was winding down, the food cleaned up and the last secret free drink tickets given away, that was when the night got interesting. The entrepreneurs and others relaxed enough to hold conversations unrelated to their business model or valuation, allowing real connections to be forged. One angel investor, who confessed to arriving late and missing all the presentations, held a private conversation with a criminally young startup founder in front of the entrance to the bar, after everyone else had left the event as a memory.
From a purely social standpoint, STIRR is the equivalent of doing your laundry — you know you need to do it, you know it's good for you, and you feel accomplished when it's done, but during it, part of you is wondering "Am I missing a good Maury episode?" Should you be there next month? Yes, if you're an investor, a biz-devver, or a startup, it would probably be worth it. Find some way to get your hands on an invitation and bring your blue shirt, your business cards, and your bold-face name.
*I'm kidding. Please DEAR GOD don't do this.
Full disclosure - I volunteered to give out nametags at the STIRR event in May, out of boredom and dorkiness and the fact that it was a few blocks from my house. I'm not affiliated with the organization and, aside from a shared passion for the Boston Red Sox, have nothing in common with the founders.
Photos by Jeremiah Owyang [Flickr]