What Happens in Vegas…

Another year, another blizzard of VCs descending on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to check out the latest venture deals. Well, not exactly. 

“What’s the latest in the plasma vs. LCD debate?” I asked a VC friend as we crossed paths in the turbulent canals of the Venetian Hotel. “I didn’t focus on it this year,” he responded without the least hint of irony. “I’m not in the market for a flat panel this year.” 

Interesting, I was thinking, when I bounced into an old friend from Intel Capital. “Going to see the Ottelini keynote?” I asked rhetorically as we shared a step on the escalator. “Ugh, no, I don’t think so,” he responded slightly embarrassed. “There is an awesome collection of HiFi equipment spaning 4 floors of the Venetian Tower,” he added. “Last year I missed it so I’m prioritizing it first in my day… I may never get to the convention center,” he laughed. Then he disappeared in the crowd.

A few miles later I bounced into another VC in the Logitech booth. Facing an array of IP video peripherals I expressed hope at the increasing volume of network traffic which might span another wave of networking startups to help manage and optimize the network video traffic. He cut me off in mid-sentence: “I’m really here to check out their newest universal remote control.”  “The Harmony One,” he added to with the muted confidence of someone who just spent 3 hours on deep internet research. “I’d like to see one before I order online.”

There were some good learnings about the technology market: In-home audio-video distribution remains a landgrab, Microsoft isn’t going out of business anytime soon, no American company (read: HP, Motorola) can be an electronics conglomerate (we call it loss of focus) but Japanese and Korean (and soon Chinese) companies can only be conglomerates (I’ll take an LG cell phone with my Flash Memory and energy-saving washing machine). 

Bill Gates’ farewell address (before he comes back as I predict in three years) was memorable for its star-studded video roast and comic foreshadowing: Bill Gates calls Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (among others) to ask for advice on what to do next. Obama doesn’t recognize him at first: “Bill?  Bill Who? Bill Clinton?” he asks.

And so it was that several hundred VCs made productive use of their time evaluating the latest deals in Vegas. But this was not just an expense-paid field trip to the largest Best Buy in the universe. It was also a place to see what other VCs are buying for their home entertainment centers.

The NVCA hosted a well-attended cocktail party which served as a solid excuse for all us in attendance to rationalize the shopping expedition to our partners and significant others: NETWORKING. So there was a business reason for going after all!  Later that night, Scale Venture Partners hosted a memorable dinner at the Wynn’s Daniel Boulud Brasserie, overlooking the “Lake of Dreams.”  One VC whispered sheepishly “My wife doesn’t care about what I do in Vegas, but she’ll never forgive me for eating at Boulud without her. She’s been wanting to come here for years!” 

Fortunately for her, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. I just booked my hotel room for 09.