Notes from the CSFB Conference: Robin Williams and More

The comedian helps plug Audible, while the CEO of EMC takes a jab at eBay.
Author:
Publish date:

Check out part one of today's column: a look at Software.com (SWCM) and the name game, and some VC news.

It's common for major companies and investment banks to recruit celebrity performers to entertain customers and employees at major meetings -- and to pay them a bundle. But when comedian and actor

Robin Williams

showed up last week at the

Credit Suisse First Boston

technology conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., the impersonator and funny guy did it for nothing.

SiliconStreet: Join the discussion on

TSC

message boards.

Well ... not quite nothing.

While First Boston neither paid Williams nor allocated to him chunks in any of its recent initial public offerings, the comedian has a major interest in the success of one of First Boston's banking clients,

Audible

(ADBL)

. Audible records books, news and entertainment and make the sound available over the Web on a subscription basis.

Former journalist and current Audible CEO Donald Katz says he approached Williams about the company and persuaded him to get involved. "He's a partner, he's a believer, and all of this is about creative work as opposed to the spokesmodel stuff."

It also helps that Williams was allocated 150,000 shares when Audible went public on July 15 at 9. It closed Friday at 13. The comedian also has warrants to purchase another 900,000 shares. In return, Williams will create original comedy for distribution on Audible. He also seems willing to jet down to Phoenix to help plug the stock.

Some Nerve

Some call Michael Ruettgers, CEO of storage systems and software maker

EMC

(EMC)

, "Iron Mike," a name I'll always associate only with

Mike Ditka, the only coach to lead the

Chicago Bears

to a Super Bowl victory.

But Ruettgers certainly has the nerve of an iron man. Serving as a dinner speaker last week at First Boston's technology conference, Ruettgers noted that one of the few major e-commerce Web sites that doesn't buy software and systems from EMC is

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

, whose technology snafus have made for a case study on how not to build a scalable Internet infrastructure.

"People ask me why we don't get eBay as a customer," Ruettgers deadpanned. "I tell them it's because then I'd have to spend the $50 million in advertising expenses that they're saving me by

not

being a customer."

An EMC spokesman only bothers sanitizing Ruettgers' comments a little, saying that the CEO "obviously was joking because we'd love to have eBay as a customer." But Ruettgers didn't make his jab precipitously, assures the spokesman. "If Mike knows that an organization had an opportunity to consider and fully understand the issue and still decided to buy it by the pound" -- a reference to the dollars-per-megabyte alternative server makers like eBay supplier

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

use -- "then they're not making the right decision."

An eBay spokesman, relaying comments by recently hired technology chief Maynard Webb, says Webb "is aware of some of the comments EMC has made. He believes they are offering a very oversimplified solution to a complex issue. It is not accurate to portray what they are offering as a solution to our next-generation architecture ... which is still in the conceptual stages."

But aren't you kind of miffed at EMC? "We don't appreciate it, but that's to be expected," says the spokesman. "We will probably consider them along with other vendors," he says, adding that eBay has divulged neither the cost nor the timeframe of its new systems.

Adam Lashinsky's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at

alashinsky@thestreet.com.

Edie Yates assisted with the reporting of this column.