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Twiistup scraps NYC event amid management shakeup

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Twiistup, an influential gathering for tech startups, has scrapped its upcoming conference and lost its event producer -- a shakeup that casts doubt on the series' future.

Next week's New York City summit was slated to be the first East Coast event for Twiistup, which brings young entrepreneurs together to hobnob with influential investors and tech-industry celebrities. Founded three years ago in Los Angeles, Twiistup quickly became a fixture on the startup scene, drawing hundreds of attendees to its networking extravaganzas.

Twiistup's success caught the eye of a group of entrepreneurs, who teamed up in 2009 to buy the brand off founder Mike Macadaan, a former AOL executive.

Launching a New York event was part of their expansion plan: "We are finally coming to NY with everything that made our Los Angeles event into the biggest Internet startup showcase in SoCal," Twiistup trumpeted in announcing the new gathering.

But one week before the planned forum, the New York Startup Summit disappeared from Twiistup's website, and event producer Francisco Dao has left the company.

The Startup Summit "just wasn't coming together," Dao told CNNMoney in an interview this week. That played into his decision to resign three weeks ago, he said.

Twiistup investor Krutal Desai said the group should have given itself more than three months to plan an event in a new city.

"We're big in L.A., but New York is something new. We realized it takes time to grow a community, and we'll try to make an even bigger splash next year," he said. "Francisco's leaving was a part of the cancellation, too."

Considering that Twiistup is focused solely on events, Dao's exit is a huge blow.

Twiistup's influence: Tech blog ReadWriteWeb hailed Twiistup events for their marriage of "micro- and mainstream celebrity with Hollywood production values in over-the-top glam settings."

That combination lured in big names and promising startups. It also caught the eye of investors, who after buying Twiistup began turning the party-focused gatherings into more extensive business conferences. Twiistup's last major event drew sponsorship from Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) and featured discussions with industry newsmakers like Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham.

Desai and his partners say they're now focused on planning this year's L.A. Twiistup, which is scheduled for February.

But they'll have to do it without the charismatic Dao, who is redirecting his energy -- and his extensive contact network -- toward his own new venture. It's called 50 Kings, and Dao touts it as "a new VIP conference model."

50 Kings will throw about three events a year, Dao said, and attendees must apply or be referred. Only 50 people will be allowed at each event, in an effort to keep the tech networking intimate.

"I felt like the conference model was broken," Dao said. "When events are hundreds of people, it's too formal -- my goal is to make this feel like 50 friends on vacation together."

Although the Summit was canceled, Dao came to New York this week anyway -- and he's scoping out ranches for a 50 Kings cattle drive, à la "City Slickers."

"I have a knack for creating a really cool environment, and I want this to feel like a party at my home," Dao said. "When you create that vibe, the handshakes are gone -- it's hugs. It's like family." To top of page

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