The F.ounders conference came to New York with its questionable punctuation and reputation for taking VERY good care of startup execs intact. The invite-only conference, first launched in Dublin in 2010, brings together select founders of promising companies to network, mingle, raise a glass, and possibly talk some shop between the revelry. In its relatively short lifespan, it’s been massively successful in building itself up as a worthwhile gathering—trumpeting the “Davos for geeks” description bestowed by Bloomberg. It brought its brand of elite-club status to NASDAQ’s offices in Times Square today for its first Stateside gathering.
Paddy Cosgrave, a surprisingly young curly-haired Irishman, started F.ounders (along with its more proletariat version, Web Summit) after shuttering a company he cheerfully referred to as “shit” in casual conversation and deciding to focus his talents on the complex world of event planning. The last F.ounders conference, in Dublin last October, included Bono, a visit with the Irish President, and bottles of expensive whiskey personalized with the name of each attendee.
This installment includes dinners hosted by Goldman Sachs and discount rooms at the Mondrian Soho. What both have in common is a carefully constructed list of attendees who look poised to become the next familiar business name. Think of F.ounders as the conference that takes Ramen-eating coders and introduces them to the rarefied world of the stateless New Global Elite, a status these aspirational entrepreneurs can reach if they stay on their current path. A training-wheel-Davos, if you will, for the Online Elite.
Here’s the secret of tech conferences: What happens onstage is almost always irrelevant. With the exception of the occasional splash – usually brought about by a person who has reached his (or, rarely, her) fuck-you-money quota – panelists are well-behaved, speakers are on-message, and everything you hear from the uncomfortable chairs in the audience is a careful rehash of over-rehearsed talking points. That is why the hallway of NASDAQ was abuzz with entrepreneurs catching up with potential business partners they met three conferences ago and PR people pitching their clients to recharging journalists camped out near electrical outlets. The real key to power isn’t dutifully sitting through the panels of people you want to impress, it’s sneaking out with them to a dive bar on 44th to catch the England vs. Sweden game and watching their beer while they run back to the conference to ring the NASDAQ closing bell during halftime.
But even the quote-unquote “global elite” – the actual-Davos ones – still get dragged into the dirty world of inconvenience and petty bureaucracy once in a while. Arianna Huffington was spotted in such a predicament when she accidentally tried to enter through the exit at NASDAQ instead of getting in the line for security. “Excuse me miss, we need to see your ID,” barked a gruff security guard. Ms. Huffington was compliant but surprised, like a 40-year-old who had just been carded at a bar, and explained that she didn’t have any ID on her person. A F.ounders employee came to rescue the keynote speaker, and a second, pop-culturally-literate security guard steered her through to the right line, where she was X-rayed and surveyed just like the rest of us.