Trolling venture capital and the death of Hacker Camp Shenzhen

hacker-camp

The sixth and final Hacker Camp Shenzhen begins in a few days. We’ll do the typical tours, market shopping, factory visits, and lots of eating and drinking. There are around 30 purchased tickets, and another dozen repeat campers and locals coming along to help.

Hacker Camp has been amazing because of the totally cool people who come, but the stench of death has been noticeable for a while. Shenzhen has become too damn trendy and Hacker Camp is attracting the wrong kind of people.

Hacker Camp is about authentic connections with hackers from all over the world, and getting hands on experience exploring the massive resources available here. So, when an executive assistant at a major venture capital firm on Sand Hill Road tries to weasel into a sold out event like this:

Hi Ian,

My name is Theresa and I got your contact information from Anjney. I was hoping you could help me with getting a ticket for Mike to the Hacker Camp on March 24-26th. The camp is now sold out.
Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated! J

Thank you!

Theresa

_EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT _
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
2750 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Then our ‘executive assistant’ sends a reply like this:

Hi Theresa,

Thanks for inquiring about Hacker Camp Shenzhen. Tickets sell extremely fast, we are both sold out and over-sold.

There is an Elite VIP package available exclusively to VCs. For $25,000USD we will strap a Go-Pro camera to one camp participant and one small dog named LingLing. At the end of the camp we’ll send you the videos by DHL!

Now you are no doubt thinking “Two perspectives for $25,000, that’s a lot of value!” You’re right! So if you want, you can pay more!

Thanks again for inquiring about Hacker Camp Shenzhen.

Best regards,

Lynn Lacanaria

Executive Assistant
Shenzhen Dangerous Prototypes Electronics Technology INC
1106A Galaxy Plaza, Huaqiangbei, Shenzhen, China

We email detailed instructions to campers. We have a forum. There’s a WeChat group for communicating with other campers. Today we got an email from an executive assistant at another venture capital firm asking basic questions that are easily answered via any of these avenues.

It’s clear these three participants from a VC firm haven’t personally read the emails or joined the WeChat group. If they’re so disconnected from the event that an executive assistant is following up on Hacker Camp then there’s no reason for them to be here.

We grumbled in the WeChat group and by almost unanimous decree decided to refund their tickets. We assume they’re in mid air and that poor executive assistant will have to forward our profanity laden response when they hit the ground. We’re sure they’re lovely people, but people who haven’t prepared for the camp shouldn’t come.

Hacker Camp is a fun way to meet amazing people and get fresh perspectives on the resources in Shenzhen. As Shenzhen gets trendy, for example the 20 page spread in the latest Wired magazine, it’s harder and harder to maintain an authentic experience.

In the future we hope to ditch the Hacker Camp Shenzhen name and create something new. Something more informal and curated. There will likely be an application and interview process to filter out non-hackers. It’s been clear for a while that Hacker Camp isn’t sustainable in the form we want to present, and today venture capital people with executive assistants killed it for good.

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27 Comments

  1. Oh this is really bad news. I was hoping that one day I will have some free time and money for this experience. I hope that something new will come in this way.

  2. Sorry to hear it’s ending as I hoped to attend sometime but I look forward to hearing what the new venture will be.

  3. Wow. You made the right move. I know you will stay ahead of the curve, and great things will continue!

  4. I think the thing I learned at Hacker Camp Shenzhen is that I don’t need no VCs – after working for startups for 30 years I can go to Shenzhen and do it myself. So can you.

    Queue the Floyd:

    We don’t need no VC funding
    We don’t need no thought control
    No dark sarcasm in the boardroom ….

  5. Thanks everyone! Jin was honestly terrified I made such a drastic move in an otherwise open and accepting community, but the hacker campers already here have reinforced it even further. A great point they made was that they would no longer feel comfortable sharing ideas openly with VC people present.

  6. Ian, you and Jin made my HackerCamp an incredible experience. Thanks to both of you for the terrific experience and memories. Wish I could have made this one! Might have to come over solo for one more HQB round.

  7. It’s one thing to say in advance “No VC types”. I don’t like them any more than the next guy. But to accept their money, let them book flights and hotels, apply for visas, and possibly even fly there before you decide to keep them out is even more douchey than the worst VC I’ve ever met. For one, you wasted their money and time on flights and hotels. Second, you are judging people based on their affiliation. That doesn’t fit the values of the hacker community as I know it.

    What kind of decision making system is a WeChat group? This is childish and unprofessional.

    1. True. It has little to do with vcs. It has more to do with getting your shit together and reading emails and participating in the event you fucking signed up for… and you took places of of hackers who could join but couldn’t cause these creeps had their ea take the tickets. Being childish is defo not out of our range…its our event and we will run it with authenticity.

      1. To add: I made it clear they can still come, but there is really no point to be here. They’re not welcome, but they can still come, FOR FREE. We refunded them, they can come. We don’t need people who don’t give enough shits to not read our emails or join into the group.

    2. I’m a huge fan of Dangerous Prototypes, but I’m afraid I have to agree with Yootis here. Wanting an “authentic hacker” experience makes sense, and maybe an interview or screening process would help if you’re afraid you’re losing that. The civil thing to do would have been to talk with these three people and voice your concerns, and get their reaction. Then if you truly believed their involvement would be problematic, you could explain politely, and maybe give some advice on alternative stuff they could do while they’re in Shenzhen. Think about how you’d want to have been treated if you were in their shoes.

      1. Look, I agree. I was rude and aggressive. Under any other circumstance I would never dare be so blatantly rude. It was not a classy move. However, in this instance it was the right call for me and I stand by it. First, I couldn’t talk to Anj because he communicates through his executive assistant. Second, there are two volunteers here planning logistics for 40 people who managed just fine, we don’t have the luxury to sit down and have a chat with anyone individual to sort stuff out.

        Anj had a choice – below he said he was in the group chat for a month – he could have dropped by the group chat and said “looking forward to the camp, I have a question”, instead he asked his executive assistant to email me. I stand by my decision as an organizer to concentrate our limited resources on people who embody the spirit of the event.

        If I were attending an event for hackers run by know internet trolls and I did something like have an executive assistant contact the organizers, I would expect to be roundly mocked and called out on it. That’s exactly what I did.

        While I called them out, refunded their money, and said they shouldn’t come, I am not barring them from the camp. They can certainly show up for all the events. I’m sure they’re lovely people, as am I when I’m not screaming at people. However, since this is a no-profit event run by volunteers, I reserve the right to refund money and ask people not to come, especially when a large portion of the camp expresses a similar opinion.

  8. Hey Ian , I’m one of the three folks you refunded – a bit taken aback at the last 12 hrs so responding here since I just saw them this morning after waking up from jet lag. We’ve all been in the group for a month now and you and I have texted before , but I know you get a bunch of messages. Sorry that our travel coordinator emailed you – we should have told her we were in the Wechat group and she didn’t need to email, she was just doing her job and didn’t realize. Should clarify that we do work at a venture firm by day, but we’re all engineers by training and hobby, and we were just excited to work on our personal electronics projects during the camp (mine is a modded MIDI controller I’ve wanted to complete for a while).

    Anyway, we won’t join if you feel we shouldn’t (kind of bummed since we’ve been excited for this for months) but I guess we can just visit the places ourself and work on our projects. One of the most fun parts was going to be comparing notes with other hackers and learning from each other, but if you feel we won’t add to that, no worries and we’ll figure something else out

    I sent this msg in the group as well but haven’t heard back so feel free to reply here since I’ll notify us via email

    Thanks

  9. Ian,
    Can you email me at the email addr. provided. I’m already in Huaqiangbei, Shenzen without knowing about this event. I would lIke to join. I need to reschedule my tickets though. So it would be great if you let me know asap.We have met in MakerFaire SFBay ’13. I’m sure you wont remember ;-). I sent you a wechat request as well.

  10. Hey all, so this is the sixth Hacker Camp that Ian and I have put on. We had more than 200 awesome people that came to visit us for the last two years. A lot of you already know that Hacker Camp is non-commercial and Ian and I fully host the whole thing. I run a very small company myself. Every time we host this event we both lose a month or two’s month’s of productivity. It doesn’t really matter because we really like that people come visit us and we get to show them whatever this amazing city has to offer for the OSHC.

    This camp has been slightly different, we have some people coming from the VC industry and they both have their executive assistant write us for special favors. This is what we don’t want in the camp. At least that is how I feel. When people don’t communicate personally and make special requests, and that takes a lot of joy out of hacker camp for me. I don’t volunteer my time for people like that. There is already an unbearable VC scene in Shenzhen but hacker camp is supposed to be different.

    These people are still able to come, I will make sure you have boose, food, and parties just like how every hacker camp has been. I am a Shenzhen local guy, and I really like making sure people enjoy the city and feel at home when they are here.

    Ian discussed the refund with me, and we both agreed to refund the tickets because we don’t want any sort of strings attached.

    Big shout out to the previous campers and thanks for coming back for more! This is gonna be a great camp. Thank you all so much!

  11. @Ian to be clear, we didn’t ask our assistant to do anything – she reached out on her own just to confirm details while we were traveling – there’s been a complete miscommunication here, you seem to think we had questions and made her reach out. We didn’t – if I had any Qs, I would’ve just asked you here, or in the Wechat thread that I already have going with you. Either way, it’s clear we’re not welcome so we’ll hang out in Shenzhen – if you want to grab a beer and talk abt anything, just let us know

  12. Wow, I can’t help but think Ian’s completely in the wrong here. Made completely incorrect assumptions about some people when he got POLITELY asked a question by a third party who wasn’t aware of his unusual communication requirements, then threw a giant tantrum and kicked them out through no fault of their own because he didn’t like their day job.

    I’ve wanted to come to a Hacker Camp since they started but I’ve changed my mind now. Screw that cliquey bullshit.

  13. I give my support and appreciation to Ian. It is hard to organize all of this with little money, and people who present just more work than others should not expect too much leniency. If the camp was already sold out, why should someone that uses an executiv assistant to ask receive a ticket, when us others, “common people” , would just accept it as a lost opportunity or hear a polite “Sorry, we are already sold out”.

    Also, nothing wrong with an engineer working for a VC, but if their presence wasn´t to be considered “VC Endorsed” , why would they involve the VC people in their registering to the event ? If i want to go to an event without envolviment of my employer, I do sign, pay and use my personal money and addresses. If I register to something through my employer ( trade shows, etc ) , then it means I´m there on behalf of said employer, and my behaviour should be the best because I am there representing them.

  14. Indeed. We made up at Japanese secret location and all is good. Evidently they are trying to pay off student loans and hate their vc firm. Despite that, the number one pillar of hacker spaces and open hardware admonished me for giving in too fast. The hacker campers also. So damned if you do, damned if you dont.

  15. Yes glad we could all meet – for the record, we don’t hate our firm, but clearly others have had poor experiences with other VCs based on the discussion. Anyway, as always face to face helps and thanks to Ian and Jin for putting together the dinner.

  16. Oh, drama end.

    And now I have an open half eaten bag of popcorn left.

    Any suggestions where to eat the remains?

  17. “1. Mandatory exit. Venture capitalists are in it just for the money. Most are not out to do good for the world. They manage money on behalf of pension funds, insurance companies, educational endowments, and wealthy individuals.”

    “Their concern is not for your employees and customers, or to build a long-term business.”

    “Their only priority is to sell the company or take it public, so that they can get the 5- to 10-times returns their investors seek. In their world, the need to create high shareholder returns always triumphs over personal relationships.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2006-07-17/venture-capital-the-good-bad-and-uglybusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice

  18. I’ve been the first time with Ian when we went to Shenzhen in 2012 and had a great time back then. We were in the candy store of the electronics almighty! That is what I believe hackers would like to see.

    However it is hard to give that feeling to a group of like 20 people… And even harder if you know some of those aren’t truly ‘hackers’. This is not a normal travel agency which does organized travels, but a enthusiast who wants to share his enthusiasm with others (at cost). organizing a camp like this costs lots of energy and money. It will also ask some efforts from the participants too to make it workable.

    I agree with Ian, hackerscamp needs genuine hackers !

    1. I think you need to negotiate a contract with whomever you are dealing with to protect yourself.

      I would work with a travel agency instead of a venture capitalist but if you are running a business overseas then it is cheaper to get your workers to do different jobs and to get the visas, book the hotels, answer emails and plan the event and that way you can save the money yourself by doing it yourself and keeping the profit instead of letting others make a profit which lets you control costs. If you hired a VC as a contractor, you can make a contract and set the prices.

      In business, if someone lies to you and behaves badly then you have to cut ties with them over lying.

      In business, you don’t offer credit to whom credit is due and since these venture capitalists behaved badly, I wouldn’t give them anymore credit.

  19. As I mentioned up-thread I’ve largely worked for VC backed startups over the past 30 years

    I think that the big thing that the traditional VC-startup thing that everyone makes a big deal about is that they really can only aspire to do BIG things – there’s no easy way to do saomething small and/or sustainable – if there’s not a potential hockey stick somewhere in your future they’re not interested.

    What I think has changed over the past 5 years is that you can do small things, crowd-funded (which helps set a realistic scale), built in Shenzhen (giving small volume costs that can be comparable to what you might get if you are spending millions) etc etc.

    You don’t need the VCs if you’ve already pre-sold enough product to fund a build big enough to cover the kickstarter and to open a store bootstrapping a biz …. and you get to keep all the profit ….

    (that’s not mean there’s not a place for VCs … but it likely involves multi-million dollar exits)

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