Jason Calacanis stepped up his attack on angel groups that charge entrepreneurs to pitch their startups, circulating another long blog post with anonymous criticisms of two of the groups he’s called out — the Keiretsu Forum and privateequityforums.com — and a claim that he expects Keiretsu to sue him by the end of the week.
Not so, said Keiretsu founder Randy Williams. There’s never been a lawsuit, Williams said, although he adds that Calacanis has his facts wrong and has misstated the fees Keiretsu charges.
“I’ve not talked to an attorney or counsel. I always take the high road,” Williams said. “My wife and family are very hurt by (the criticisms) — there’s a lot of collateral damage. But I think Keiretsu will get tremendous exposure because of this and more companies will come to us and we’ll fund greater companies because of this.”
Calacanis hasn’t said why he’s telling 17,000 people on his e-mail list that he expects the Keiretsu Forum to sue him — “if they are, my official response is ‘BRING IT ON!’” — and if he gets back to me with an answer, I’ll post it.
But Williams said he thinks Calacanis may view the Keiretsu Forum as competition for Calacanis’s own efforts with entrepreneurs– which include the TechCrunch50 conference and a weekly Webcast, “This Week In Startups.”
“We’re here to work together. Why can’t we just get along?” Williams said. “We’ve gotten along fine for the last 10 years.”
The controversy started last Friday, when Calacanis circulated a blog post attacking “angel payola” and naming five angel groups that he said were taking advantage of entrepreneurs by charging them to pitch.
The angel groups shot back, saying that the TechCrunch50 conference also charges entrepreneurs — to attend, if not to present — and that angels provide genuine value to entrepreneurs through coaching and mentoring. Plus, angels have to cover their costs.
“Randy’s got 50 people running the business – you have to write a check,” said Jack Porter, a blogger and CEO who is blogging at Newsvine in support of Keiretsu. “Angels and entrepreneurs both write checks.”
Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures has blogged in support of Calacanis, and Charlie O’Donnell, an entrepreneur who used to work at Union Square Ventures, was blogging about the issue last month, before Calacanis picked it up. Check his post: “Dear VCs and Angels: Please stop participating in events where people have to pay to meet you.”
John Dilts, the founder of Maverick Angels, another angel network called out by Calacanis, said the real problem is that the old model of funding early stage companies is broken and all investors are missing out. Maverick Angels charges, but also provides mentoring. “New opportunities are coming up faster, entrepreneurs are doing more with less and there needs to be streamlining. VCs are calling us — the corporate model is changing too,” Dilts said. “We’ve all missed out, and some of our best deals are referred by other entrepreneurs.”
Calacanis wrote that he plans to interview some of the angel critics on his Webcast on Friday. Maybe they will show their faces.
UPDATE: Calacanis got back to me and said someone from the Keiretsu Forum – he doesn’t know who — called and e-mailed his investors last Friday after his first blog post and told them Keiretsu was suing.
He also said that charging for the TechCrunch50 conference (which he does, but not as much as Keiretsu claims) is different from charging an entrepreneur to pitch, which is not necessary. If Keiretsu doesn’t stop charging, or make its fees “success based,” he wrote, “I’m going to put free events against their events. It’s game over.”