Is VON Creator PulverMedia Dot Gone?

138 Comments

Pulver Media, the New York-based company well known for VON, the trade shows for the VoIP industry and a magazine with the same name might be shutting down, joining the dot.gone club, according to sources.

The rumors of the shutdown of Pulver Media first started to show up on some VoIP blogs like that of our good pal, Andy Abramson. I am still waiting to hear back from Jeff Pulver, the founder of Pulver Media. Meanwhile, I spent some time trying to nail down specifics of what exactly went down and have been able to find some details.

According to my sources, earlier this month when the Pulver Media executives were in San Jose, Calif. For the Spring VON, their investors, TICC Capital Group pulled the rug from under Pulver Media, and shut down the company. They also seized control of the bank accounts. As a result many folks saw their checks bounced.

TICC Capital Group, a Greenwich, CT-based investment group that trades publicly on the NASDAQ stock exchange had invested $11 million in Pulver Media in June 2007. The investment was senior secured notes with warrants, i.e. debt.

In a filing with the SEC earlier this month, TICC said

During the first quarter of 2008, Pulvermedia indicated that it was projecting a sudden and dramatic decline in projected revenues and earnings for the coming year … Based upon the review of the company’s financial projections and operating cashflow forecasts, we determined that the debt investment warranted a complete write-down, $10.3 million, and the warrants were written-off as well, in the amount of $300,000. The investment was assigned a credit rating of Grade 5, and was placed on non-accrual status as of December 31, 2007.”

It seems Jeff and his team are trying hard to save the company and might pull a last minute miracle. This is a very sad development for the VoIP industry. Not only this puts one of the big VoIP trade shows at risk, it also is a setback for Pulver, an industry icon and a constant tinker. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

Disclosure: Our columnist Daniel Berninger is a long time business associate of Jeff Pulver.

138 Comments

Carl Ford

Om,

I am not at liberty to speak. But I would love to understand the blogosphere self promotion crowd.

Certain people chase ambulances for a living. Others think they are undertakers. I don’t think I would offer the blogosphere the chance to do my eulogy. And no one here should be writings Jeffs.

I am available for IM to friends. All my email accounts in pulverwhatever.com work Feel free to talk to me.

Kind Regards,

Carl

PS One more comment. I would offer a replay of Gordon Cooks email list on Etels demise.

anonymous

Confirmation: VON offices offically shuts down this Wednesday.

BeenThere, DidIt

I’m just beginning to compose my thoughts. But I’ve been around VON since 2000, so I have some views here. Jeff has his virtues, but he made more money on VoIP than most vendors and ‘saved’ more money than most enterprises or service providers that tried to exploit the technology. Meanwhile, he started businesses that competed with the very copanies he tried to embrace (err, tried to sell exhibit space to) and he demeaned many of these potential vendors (specifically service providers). And I’d say he wasn’t the saint to start-ups that some portray (extortion is not enrolling). Lastly, his fascination with Facebook was a far greater train wreck than the ‘experts’ brought in to professionalize VON. I hate to see people fail, but Jeff was his worse enemy in many many regards.

northernlights

Here are the facts:

1.All employees of pulvermedia no longer have jobs as of Friday (rumor true), many of them were very good people who had been with Jeff for years.

2.A second wave of “experts” (former CEO of Comdex explains it all with the too many shows, lost community, questionable value) came in a few years back and the world began to change.

3.Jeff is a passionate person who will put his heart and soul into anything he feels “pulver” about to the nth degree. Jeff meant well in trying to bring in an “expert”; what he didn’t know at the time as he had the most vision of all.

  1. It is shameful how the brand was used and abused by “the experts” who failed to listen to paying customers who questioned taking the brand to too many places.

5.By now, everyone should know that when Jeff is less involved, it means less passionate and nobody can replicate his formula. Jeff can’t be in the backseat, plain and simple. He can’t share the driver’s seat either.

6.Some folks at pulvermedia worked incredibly hard over the years so don’t blame them for a current bad driver. Some truly great people who deserve to be recognized for their efforts in helping to create VON.

7.Jeff would do incredible things for a company he believed in, even when they had no money. Jeff would take a risk where nobody else would to help these companies develop what became VoIP.

  1. Jeff was very success with this philosophy and deserved the rewards that came with his efforts.

  2. It is a very sad situation but lessons learned; never deviate from your vision. Never expect others to tell your story for you…it just doesn’t work.

Unofficial Mayor

What are you guys talking about? Pulvermedia is alive and kicking. There’s an industry slowdown in general which is effected by macro factors that are happening all around you – don’t you guys live in this world? Don’t you read financial newspapers?

Where is all this venom from? Be positive. Pulver sure is…

Loring Wirbel

Maybe James Snapsh erred in bringing up Vonage, but there is one factor he mentioned that Jeff could have played some role in stopping or slowing — the Pulvermedia effort to expand trade shows to multiple nations in a round-the-clock-and-calendar barrage. This is a rerun of what DSLcon did several years ago, and what several market analysis firms have done with various wireless and consumer-electronics markets. The market originally calls for a “XXX East” in the spring and a “XXX West” in the fall, expands to support a “XXX Europe,” and suddenly the marketing suits think that a dozen conferences in locations like Bangalore and Prague can be sustained. Exhibitors have to be foolish to buy into this concept. No matter how big your publishing or market-analysis firm is, no matter how hot your topic is, the world cannot support ten or more conferences per year in your vertical market area. And a good CEO or CTO should tell the marketeers that it is an inherently stupid idea.

Owen Linderholm

Lots of misperceptions here – some due to language.

First off – most people here are using the term VoIP as a proxy for all communications made over IP = very different from pure VoIP.

Second – it would be great if Jeff can rescue VON and pulvermedia – but it won’t matter all that much in the long run. There are already new shows (Lee Drysburgh’s comments about Ecomm are NOT self-serving – it was a fantastic debut show with energy and lots of intriguing discussions of the FUTURE). There are successful VoIP media companies – as Om mentions there is TMC.net – and there is my publication, VoIP-News, which is growing extremely rapidly. The industry – in terms of phone systems and enterprise telephony – IS very mature – but it is healthy. Companies like Cisco, Nortel, Mitel, Avaya, Shoretel and hundreds more are doing very well.

Third – the real excitement in this area – as Lee and others mentioned – is in the next phase – doing things with voice as an application – or other communication tools. Putting IP, the internet, voice, IM, chat, data, and more together in ways that make life and business easier.

Lee Dryburgh

Comments on James Bruni “No one is making any money in VoIP and Pulver biting the dust is just the final nail in the coffin of this oversold industry.” – exactly. VoIP is a race to zero hence my near complete disinterest in it – only engineers get excited about transmission means but why would a user care when TDM prices are so low? My only interest in transmission over IP of voice is to allow voice to become democratised and thru democratised innovation combined into other realms/applications which will/do make money. Standalone VoIP was a 90s hyped surge of interest thing, so I was amazed to see VON running for so long.

James Bruni

No one is making any money in VoIP and Pulver biting the dust is just the final nail in the coffin of this oversold industry.

Douglas Arrison

I know I speak for the thousands of entrepreneurs out there that have worked with Jeff. He has always been extremely generous with his time, his ideas and his money. That’s the lifeblood of the entrepreneur and it is truly appreciated.

Lee Dryburgh

Last October when O’Reilly shelved ETel, I took a quick look at VON as a replacement conference as I need a meeting space – i.e. a get together of communication enthusiasts. A five second look at the event home page made me yawn; it was five year+ old hum drum. Quite frankly it was boring and appeared just to be a commercial monster milking things left right and centre. So with no other meeting space to go to, I felt the only option was to create something as a follow up to ETel.

I unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) had to spend 2100 hours of my own time (free gratis and when I had lots of well paid work sitting on the table) and took a big financial risk to put together the Emerging Communications conference (eComm) a few weeks back. It was very successful so much so that I have apparently no option but to hold a 2009. We were worrying the night before that if all registrants came on the Monday morning there would be no space (in a 7000SQM room). Luckily 58 people did not collect their badge on Monday morning but even then, there was no space so the photographer had to setup outside.

Details of 2008 are still up but later on 2009 details will be put up at http://www.eCommMedia.com

Regards

Lee

PS There is some show discussion here: http://saunderslog.com/2008/03/26/squawk-box-march-26-guests-jon-arnold-and-marc-robins/

Moshe Maeir

Whatever problems Pulvermedia may have, that doesn’t take away from Jeff as a person.

Besides being a smart person, always bubbling with new ideas, Jeff is a real mensch and very generous. So maybe he wasn’t the greatest manager, does that take away from all his other positive virtues??

I have no doubt that he will continue to be a thought leader and disruptor, as he has been for many years, with or without Pulvermedia

Ian Bell

Blaming Jeff for VONAGE’s IPO is like blaming Barbara Bush for the second Irag war. Jeff didn’t have much to do with managing Vonage, as Andy says, after Series A financing and as far as I know didn’t even have a significant financial interest in the launch.

Having been in the back seat with Jeff for a number of years I know that his energy and enthusiasm for nextgen communications is not going anywhere. My prediction is that his core team will likely hold together and the loftily unrealistic, greedy team that brought in the financing and attempted to milk the industry during a key point in its transition, thus diluting the value of the core show, will leave the sinking ship and move on to the next deal. Jeff has been through this before.

VON’s mission — to shift VoIP from an obscure tool used by nerdy kids in their parents’ basements and well into the mainstream — is largely fulfilled. VON might be gone, but Jeff will always find himself at the centre of disruptive changes in the communications industry… and via Jeff we entrepreneurs and enthusiasts will always be able find one another.

Conferences are not a business which are eminently fundable by VCs. Exit opportunities are rare and therefore what was really problematic were the expectations.

Andy Abramson

First, we’re all pulling for Jeff to find that lightning can strike twice.

Second, by the time Vonage was even heading into their S1 SEC filing it had been years since Jeff Pulver had any say at Vonage. Yes he cofounded it, but he was out by the second round if not the first Series A as the other Jeff (Citron) was clearly in charge. One of the problems with comments is the facts never seem to get in the way of a good comment. So be it.

Those of us who know, really do know.

civax

If I’m not mistaken, Jeff no longer holds any active role in Pulver Media for quite some time now, except being on the board. In addition,I know of several investments in startups he made and I don’t think there is a reason to worry about him.

All in all, as a person who meets him in events quite regularly, Jeff is a wonderful, friendly, approachable, intelligent, fun guy. As the comments on this page hints, even if he’ll have problems at any point in time, there are tons of people who will be ready to be there for him. Me included.

James Snapsh

Over the last few years the Pulver group has launched shows all over the world… Europe, Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, Israel, Italy, Australia, etc. In virtually every case these events failed. Even in China, where VoIP is booming, the company had to cancel not one but two events!

My company had the unfortunate luck of paying for exhibit space at some of these events, showing up and finding that there were no potential customers at any of them.

Sadly, during these past years, hundreds of companies whose main marketing vehicle was the von conferences got screwed by events that were terrible. The von conferences were responsible for millions of dollars of wasted marketing expenses in the telecom space these past years.

Even worse is Pulver’s launching of Vonage — the company that many refer to as the worst IPO in recent history. How much value did this man take out of the IP communications industry by helping this sad excuse for a company go public?

Companies like Mitel and others had to cancel IPO plans because of the crap that Pulver and Citron peddled to Wall Street. It is disgusting really. Our own valuation was cut in half as a result of this “serial entrepreneur’s” missteps.

Now that they are gone, the industry can get back to basics and start focusing not on personality but on making money.

Endlessly repeating how excited you are about disruption and launching dozens of failed companies does not pay anyone’s bills.

Let’s just hope this “serial entrepreneur” doesn’t destroy the social networking market next.

Anonymous

What did the Pulvermedia CEO and CFO do for the last 6 months to blow through millions of dollars???

Rebecca Rachmany

First of all, I wouldn’t worry about Jeff specifically. He’s invested in a dozen startups, and had a number of successful exits over time, including an exit (and re-entry) to the VON conference group. Jeff is still an accomplished entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

The truth is that trade shows do well when there is a lot of money washing around, but not as well during a downturn. You don’t need to be a prophet to know it’s going to hit hard by the fall, when the next round of VONs are scheduled.

VON has a strong networking (as opposed to hard sales) element, and is primarily enterprise-oriented. Jeff pulls in a lot of startups as well. By the fall, I expect there to be suddenly a lot fewer of them as venture capital starts to dry up.

No surprises there. It’s insightful to pull the plug before the crash. It would be foolish to wait until revenues go down and then do it. Quit while you’re ahead. Jeff’s done that more than once himself.

James

Jeff Pulver is a Mensch and has proven time and again to be an enthusiastic supporter of both start-up companies and individual content producers alike. The VON Conference in San Jose, California that Jeff invited our national PBS television and on-line series to present at was absolutely one of the best conferences we’ve ever attended. To bring a variety of disparate high-tech and creative communities together under one roof is no small undertaking, and to get these varied groups to find common ground and discover exciting new business opportunities with each other, well this is what makes the VON conference one of the best in the business!

Rocky

I’m a big fan of Jeff’s, he’s a brilliant, kind and inspiring guy. I hope VON survives and prospers. Jeff will succeed no matter what.

Om Malik

@ Dave,

From your keyboard to god’s ears, I hope the rescue works and the show survives. I am a big fan, and despite the large size of VON, i find it the bes way to stay connected with friends.

Dave Burstein

Om

I did three + shows with Pulver, and can add to the testimony of Jeff as a good and generous guy. Dozens of people will join in.

What I'd like to add is that VON itself is still a first rate show, and the underlying economics very favorable. I can easily see how the very expensive marketing apparatus they built in Boston may have dragged down the company.

Unless corporate issues make things crazy, the VON show itself will survive and Jeff Pulver will be the natural lead. Carl Ford, the genius behind the VON schedule, should also be part, unless he finds an even better spot.

Dave Burstein
Editor, DSL Prime
Chair, Fast Net Futures (with Pulver) and Web Video Summit (with Meckler)

Hillrider

Jeff’s conference used to be a “brains to play” one — a networking event showcasing the best and brightest business and technical people in the VoIP world. That format worked very well, bringing money in as a logical byproduct.

In 2005 the former CEO of Softbank Comdex (a failed show itself) was brought in (http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=109&STORY=/www/story/03-30-2005/0003291383&EDATE= ) and started turning the conference into a “pay to play” exhibit. Companies were alienated by exorbitant greed (even Cisco pulled out), and interesting startups were forced out (Jeff was known for helping several smart companies start by providing them free exposure, a favor they reciprocated as they grew). The conference content increasingly was for sale, its quality suffering for it, and the new organizers made major blunders such as scheduling in conflict with an IETF meeting, which deprived the conference of the technology luminaries speakers whose presence attracted attendees.

All of this as the industry was in transition from VoIP to Unified Communications and from carriers to the enterprise, a wave that they missed as they were busy squeezing money out of the legacy exhibitors. No wonder that the latest basic scheduling blunder, going head-to-head with VoiceCon, did them in. By some accounts VoiceCon had 80% share of traffic, and VON attendance was significantly below even the most pessimistic forecasts.

I wish Jeff all the best. Him and Carl Ford are masters at building communities and have enviable Rolodexes; they could easily put together a very successful “brains to play” conference any day — a profitable one for them and all involved, even if of more modest scale.

Derrick Kwa

Actually, the first thing that came to mind was “thinker”. Haha. Maybe it’s meant as a cross between that….”thinker” and “tinkerer” =D.

Keith Casey

I just had the opportunity to meet Jeff at his breakfast in Baltimore this past Tuesday. He seemed like a really good guy and offered some great feedback to some friends and I. I wish him the best and that everything/everyone lands on its feet.

frank davison

perhaps being an industry visionary and running profitable and successful businesses are incompatible! or perhaps as others have said VON didn’t change the nature of its conferences fast enough–too much “trade show” and not enough idea exchange?

Olivier

Great admirer of Jeff’s visions. Another reminder that ideas, even the best ones, don’t pay the bills.

Richard

Sad news…
This makes us all part of the x.VON community…

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