LaunchTN settles Pando’s legal complaint, will stick to agreement it signed months ago

By Sarah Lacy , written on February 25, 2015

From The News Desk

About a month ago, Pando was forced to file its first ever legal action: A complaint against LaunchTN, our former partners in co-producing last year's Southland conference.

While the actual conference went amazingly well, with tickets significantly oversold, the partnership went so badly that we told Tennessee that we couldn’t work with them on future events without some major changes they refused to make. Instead, both groups are doing their own events in Nashville this year; ours is Pandoland and with nearly 30 confirmed speakers and more coming, it’s going to be better than anything we’ve done before.

If you care about the grubby details of the split with LaunchTN, you’ll find them in our legal complaint which we shared with Pando readers. Some highlights: Launch TN tried to withhold over $100,000 in revenue from us, they screwed around with ticket pricing, and they constantly reneged on their agreement to allow Pando full editorial independence over the event in order to get more stage time for local politicians.

We published a TL;DR version of what happened next a few weeks back. In short, we argued, LaunchTN was trying to ride roughshod over our separation agreement, including by working with our former colleagues at TechCrunch to host their new event.

From the legal complaint:

In the event this Agreement is terminated by either party, each party understands and agrees that, as between Pando and LaunchTN or any of their successors or affiliates, LaunchTN retains the right to host a conference within the southeastern, regional target market of Southland held the week prior to the Bonnaroo Music festival so long as LaunchTN does not partner with another national media company for a period of one year from such termination date...

On or about January 6, 2015, LaunchTN announced its conference entitled 36/86, which represents the latitude and longitude of Nashville. 36/86 is scheduled to take place on June 8-10, 2015 – two weeks before Pandoland, one week prior to Bonnaroo and within a year of the termination of the Agreement – and will focus on Southeastern United States culture, technology and entrepreneurship...

The press release LaunchTN issued on January 6 also announced that its media partners for 36/86 included not only a regional entity, Silicon Prairie News, but also TechCrunch, another national online media outlet covering tech news.

On January 6, 2015, Pando’s counsel called to inform Launch Tennessee’s counsel that Pando considered the partnership with TechCrunch to be in clear violation of the Agreement. On January 12, 2015, Launch Tennessee’s counsel said it did not view its arrangement with TechCrunch as a partnership.

However, TechCrunch’s core business includes competing with Pando in hosting such events, its editors will be performing the same roles Lacy performed such as conducting on-stage interviews, and a local journalist has described the relationship as a “partnership.” As we explained at the time, pretty much the only thing LaunchTN was barred from doing under our agreement was partnering with another national tech outlet for one year after the agreement end. By working with TechCrunch, it seemed clear to us that they were doing precisely that.

Filing suit was the last thing we wanted to do. We’re a startup and we like to save our legal budget for defending lawsuits, not filing them. All we wanted was for LaunchTN to honor the contract we both signed. This, after all, is a government-backed agency that was set up to help startups, not screw them over. For our part, we’d stuck to all of our side of the deal, including not using the Southland name and not hosting our event the same week as last year’s event.

Still, all’s well that ends well. After weeks of negotiation, Launch TN has just agreed to settle the lawsuit, with LaunchTN signing an agreement outlining how they plan to stick to what we previously agreed. As a result we’re dismissing our legal complaint.

I'm pleased that it did not come down to actual litigation. This was never about winning damages or trying to stop Launch TN from putting on a great event. As we explained at the time, it was mainly about standing up to a group of politicians who thought they could bully a startup. I’ve had enough of people trying to bully us this year.

In keeping with Pando’s policy of full transparency in any legal fights, the full settlement agreement is below. Let’s hope LaunchTN sticks to it this time.

See you at Pandoland!

Update: LaunchTN has issued a statement explaining that it settled the suit "[t]o avoid prolonging the pointless distraction and spending time and money to demonstrate that Pando’s claim was misguided."