YAWN at VON: Brought to you by Big Dave

I arrived at VON with grand expectations, having attended past shows at this very same venue in the San Jose Convention Center and been greeted by an arena packed full of people and exhibits. On this day, however, I thought for a moment, as I walked through the lobby, that I had arrived a day early. The massive lobby of the impressive center was absolutely empty. I did see a reassuring banner or two, so I knew the joke wasn’t on me. In fact, the joke was on everyone attending, which turns out, wasn’t too many. The first give away, was, since last year, they moved the entire registration process, which in itself took up several thousand square feet, from the spacious lobby of the convention center to inside the exhibit hallway space. That fooled quite a few of us traversing up the elevators, and no small confusion ensued as we were wandering around the lobby wondering where to register because of the emptiness. Seeing our obvious pain, a convention center employee walked over and attempted to direct us to the bathroom. Now if I was Senator Craig, I could have indeed found “business” contacts there, but being a true telecom professional, I concluded that I needed to pursue other interests, so I proceeded to the exhibit hall where the registration area was now incorporated, in a lame attempt to fill the house. Other ideas to fill up the cavernous exhibition from defecting exhibitors were to put up massive pipe and drape, which may have worked for, or to fool; Dorothy and the Scare Crow but it didn’t impress me. Gone this year were the impressive two and three story trade show booths like what Veraz had last year. In fact, poof! Veraz wasn’t even there at all: not even with a ten by ten and a fold up and a dorky sales engineer with a briefcase full of key chains to give out; Nobody. Kind of surprising when you consider Veraz only had to ask an employee to drive his Prius twelve blocks to get to the convention center from their corporate headquarters. Rather than picking on Veraz for their lack of marketing efforts, I think It’s more indicative of the fact that this show has really remained exactly the same for the last five years and what was new and exciting and a must-see show, is now tired and a repeat and ho-hum despite the incessant broadcast emails sent out on a daily basis reminding us to attend, with opportunities to sponsor and exhibit. That’s the problem with “for profit” shows. The whole purpose of the show is to put money in the pockets of the show’s producer or owner’s pockets. That’s not a sin. It’s just a reality. So corners are cut, there is absolutely no vision, there aren’t going to be any great speakers coming in, or great night time events, because heaven-forbid that costs a lot of money, and at the end of the day it is about making money. So they sell space to anyone and everyone for as much as they possibly can and there is little direction thereafter. Even Jeffrey Pulver was shirking off somewhere in his hotel suite, probably playing ‘Guitar Hero’ by the hour and counting his royalties. At least the captain of the Titanic had the fortitude to stand on the main deck and direct traffic to the exit ways. So, what did I see and was there anything worth seeing? The answer to the latter is yes. There were quite a few carriers there and with just one notable exception, every carrier had a quality presentation staffed with exuberant sales teams. Paetec, I-Basis, Network IP, Qwest, AT&T, and Grande, all rate a solid nine out of ten. The only improvement would have been if they had a fun feature in their booth, like a sports celebrity, or a game to play, but they save those expensive tricks for Comptels and Channel Partners. Having a very senior member of the executive staff would have been a huge plus as well. A side note on that advantage a little later on. But all these carriers did a fantastic job promoting their networks, and it was obvious their sales staff were well prepared and energized for the show. I noticed Paetec reps would actually move out from their booth into the aisle to greet an attendee and engage him in conversation. I thought the Grande’s exhibit booth, while compact, did an excellent job explaining the company’s network capabilities and was impressive. The only carrier who failed to deliver was, sadly, a no-name company called Global Pops. I had to work to find out they provided wholesale termination service rather than an international stud farm for wanna-be moms. They were adequately staffed at their ten foot booth with four people, and their location provided a steady stream of attendees, but despite my persistent trolling past their showroom a total of four times, each time stopping and staring at their plain poster at the back of their booth, I couldn’t break the concentration the Global Pops guy had with his freebie cup of coffee. That guy was truly java challenged. Perhaps I just wasn’t their kind of prospect. It just seems to me, when you don’t have a brand name like I-Basis or Qwest, or even Grande, you might want to talk to everyone; like panning for gold. I give Global Pop the Global Poop Award, because I can. Highlights of the show: Off to the side, a fairly old trade show booth with no moving lights, no freebie given out, and not even a breath mint offered. I rate it a ten out of ten. The exhibitors were Orcawave and their product is a rating and billing software system and other web enabled information services and routing solutions. But, the ace up their sleeve is that the co-presidents, in fact founders of the company, are in the booth. These telecom vets have, in the past, run giant telecom companies and had senior level management positions with companies like Electric Lightwave and McCaw, as well as owning their own Long Distance telecom Company, hence, they know all the veterans. When I approached their booth, Jeri, one of the founders, was talking about just speaking to Reed Hundt. Every three or four minutes, another industry veteran would amble by and chat for a few minutes, leaving some tidbit of news which is how we lazy old timers act in the know. For someone interested in a product or service though, nothing compares to talking to the boss. You get the straight scoop, the good, bad, and ugly, but you get the truth. Very importantly, you get to deal with the decision maker from the onset. I truly respect the role of salespeople, and our industry needs them, and prospers because of them, but it’s very refreshing to stumble across a booth like Orcawave and find owners that care. So I award them the gold star at VON. I spent a great deal of time during the two and a half hours I was on the exhibit hall floor talking to exhibitors about what they were getting out of the show versus past shows and whether they would attend again. While I hate people that tell me the end of a movie I have not yet seen, I will give you a hint of what I heard from them: VON is GONE. Yup, within two years it is either going to be vastly different or much more likely it won’t exist. At least not in its current shot gun approach of presenting a VON conference every three months because it take s exhibits willing to pay five to twenty thousand dollars per pop for a small piece of carpet space to stand on in order to make it work. Despite what VON will represent as attendance figures, the exhibitors and those walking the floors will all say the same thing: Attendance was down by at least forty to fifty percent and the exhibitors’ space was down by at least thirty-three percent. So there were less people with less to do and less to talk about. All stuck in San Jose, all wondering why are we here? Except me of course, because I have a good friend, in fact, the publisher of this very online digest, who in his infinite wisdom saw fit to deliver me to the VON conference in the corporate airplane, thus allowing myself to make a hasty stage left departure after three hours instead of fighting it out with the rest of those trying to leave San Jose in the gaping lobby, attempting to use their cell phones to call Southwest Airlines for a last minute flight out. Having just been in Vegas for Channel Partners, where I was pretty sure that every hotel casino there were still holding my markers and worthless checks and I wouldn’t be welcome back there yet, I directed the pilots to fly just thirty three minutes north from San Jose Airport to one of Nevada’s other Meccas of fun: South Lake Tahoe. (Okay, so technically SLT is still in California, but you get the idea.) For those of you that wish to trek in my travel footsteps I’d like to advise you at this juncture, that if you’re going to fly into South Lake Tahoe do so before six o’clock pm, because unlike most normal airports, the airport staff there tend to close and go home. And landing on an icy runway at dusk without the benefit of live personnel was dangerous, scary, and unwise. Thankfully, I had availed myself to the adult beverages abundantly stocked aboard the airplane so I had adequate courage to weather the experience. Tahoe, whether in beautiful winter with snow everywhere and skiers off to Heavenly Ski Resort, like when I was there this week, or next month when spring begins and the flowers begin to poke through the snow, and wildlife, such as the greyhounds which come to Tahoe in abundance to disgorge what is known as the gray-haired bucket ladies to play nickel slots, is a constantly evolving, wonderful place. Summer is about water-skiing, Budweiser, and Chambers Landing. Personally, I always liked going to Charthouse on Kings Road up the Nevada side to Heavenly. For those of you that would prefer more telecom in my articles, all I can say is this: I would have written more about VON had there been anything there to write about other than it looking like a sad flea market in San Jose. And no, I don’t get paid by the word. There are quite a few telecom moguls living right here in Tahoe, just on the other side of the Lake, Incline to be precise. It may be because of the weather, or proximity to great skiing at Mount Rose and Slide Mountain. Perhaps the fact that Nevada has no state income tax is a factor as well. The kinder, gentler Big Dave will leave out listing their names, except to say one was the former CEO of US WATS and his neighbor owned Tahoe Tel. Then there’s the retired owner of what long ago was called Phone Club. That was the opportunity where everyone made a lot of money from finding five friends who found five friends who found five friends. You get the picture. There is a saying in Tahoe, when a MLM deal goes south, the money and the owner move to Incline. It’s truly God’s country up here. I suppose he is a very forgiving person. Next article, a jump back in time, to last week: Vegas.