How Bitter Infighting May Break Up One of Tech's Most Lucrative ConferencesS

High revenues and relatively low costs have made TechCrunch 50 the envy of its rivals, competing tech conferences like Demo and the Wall Street Journal's D. If only its founders could stop fighting like rabid dogs.

TechCrunch 50, a Silicon Valley conference where hungry startups strut their stuff, is as volatile as it is profitable. The event nearly broke up last year amid a spat between co-organizers Michael Arrington, publisher of the blog iteration of TechCrunch, and Jason Calacanis, the Web entrepreneur. "We fight like rabid dogs," Calacanis told VentureBeat, but would not "throw an amazing event like this out the window."

Or maybe they will: We've heard from multiple sources that a chasm has opened between Arrington and Calacanis again. Though we've had some help from said sources, it's not hard to figure out what sorts of little feuds might derail one of the industry's most lucrative conferences.

We catalog some of them below, if only to provide other media-event organizers with a nice overview of traps to avoid. For their record, neither Arrington nor Calacanis would comment about their dispute for this post.

  • Kidding around with puppets: Last year, Calacanis confirmed the conference series was finished in an interview with a puppet controlled by blogger Loren Feldman. He later unconvincingly tried to say he'd only been kidding. Purportedly his public statements about his spat with Arrington remain a point of irritation.
  • Participating in rival events: Calacanis' participation in Silicon Alley Insider's Startup conference supposedly rubs Arrington the wrong way, even though it's ostensibly a different sort of event.
  • Conflicts of interest: Calacanis' newly-launched Open Angel Forums are designed to help select startups get investment funding. At TechCrunch 50, Calacanis helps award prizes, potentially to some of the very startups he helped raise money for. As for Arrington, one could argue he has an incentive to help reward startups who have been especially helpful to his coverage. That's certainly enough basis for petty bickering (you don't need much!).
  • Big pointless online flame war: Calacanis became enmeshed in a big complicated online controversy and Arrington supposedly found his behavior in said fight tacky and classless. Which it kind of was. The gory details, if you care: A teenaged TechCrunch writer asked a startup founder to give the writer a free MacBook Air in exchange for an article on TechCrunch. The writer was publicly busted but the startup founder remained anonymous for a while. The startup founder, Sam Odio, emailed Calacanis out of the blue to ask advice on going public. Calacanis for some reason forwarded his email to Calacanis' venomous blogger friend Loren Feldman, who promptly threatened to expose Odio's not-so-terrible secret — he had originally promised to give that TechCrunch writer his bribe, "but not right now." Odio blogged about Calacanis' behavior and a shitstorm ensued.
  • Just plain mean: Supposedly Calacanis has been gratuitously and exceptionally rude to some of the startups at TechCrunch 50. We've heard stories about Arrington being that way at other events. So, hey, maybe everyone just got on each other's nerves, with the rudeness to other people.

So there you have it: Avoid these pitfalls and your conference/event/sausage fest just might possibly avoid descending into vicious infighting. In the meantime we'll see how long it takes before Calacanis and Arrington realize that only by taming their egos in the near-term can they play Silicon Valley kingmakers in the long term, thus allowing their egos to gloriously balloon to their fullest potential.

[Photo via TechCrunch 50 on Flickr]