I awoke this morning uncertain if I would attend Techcrunch Disrupt. Foremost amongst my concerns was actually getting into the conference. I did not purchase a ticket beforehand like I was supposed to. I had actually signed up as a volunteer during the weekend, but hadn’t received any confirmation whether my presence was expected. How could I possibly convince the gatekeepers guarding the entrance between me and the technology utopia inside?
Nevertheless, I decided to go anyways, armed with my trusty bart ticket, wallet, and cellphone. Upon arriving at Civic Center, I proceeded to walk several blocks all the way to Brannan Street, where the conference was being held at the SF Design Center Concourse(is that the official name?). It was before noon when I eventually arrived. A sports car sat admiringly outside, and I noticed folks from Disrupt NY’s winner Getaround, sporting their company’s t-shirts. I did not approach them, probably because I was more concerned about actually getting inside the building without arousing the attention of security.
As I casually walked in (at least that’s how I imagined), I nodded at some folks standing idly nearby trying my best to not look like a tourist. I walk up to a table where people wearing the official Techcrunch Disrupt t-shirts were manning their stations.
Hey, there. I’m Tony. I registered as a volunteer and was wondering where I could sign in? [long dramatic pause]
Hmmm…yeah sure. Lemme see here. Your last name?
Ah, here it is!
There it was, my coveted volunteer badge. My key to the secret kingdom. Wasn’t I supposed to fight my way past the dragon from Harry Potter? This was too easy.
I then headed over to the ticket/badge tables where other green-shirted volunteers were working. I approached a guy wearing glasses named Alex, and I asked him how I could help. Before long, I was outfitted in a green t-shirt and began helping people reprint badges if say, their name was spelled incorrectly or their company’s name was left out.
As I got into the scheme of things, I introduced myself to some of the people who came to our table and asked about their startups. Most were very friendly and didn’t hesitate to whip out their iPhone/iPad and start demoing their product. The most bizarre startup I was introduced to is a company called Soul2Match. Essentially, the company is a Match.com/eHarmony competitor. What makes them different is that rather than ask hopeful singles to fill out long questionnaires in order to match them with their “best match,” they use pictures. Flabbergasted, but certainly ignorant about this industry, I asked the founder whether there was any scientific study that backed up their strategy. He confirmed it, saying that extensive scientific research has shown that happy couples are typically those who physically resemble each other. On their website, they even say that:
- people are attracted to people who resemble their close genetic counterparts, their look-alikes;
- couples resembling each other most greatly after 25 years are reported the happiest in marriage.
I’ll take his word for it.
Startup Alley: where the fun begins
As the day wore on, my “shift” ended, and I decided to make my way through the startup alley, where about 50 fledgling startups awaited me. The atmosphere was amazing. This was a technology lover’s dream come true. At every booth, companies were building products vying to change the world. Here are the six startups I came across:
Advice to startups: If the person/people you are talking to about your startup stops asking questions during the conversation, you’ve probably confused them.
Pitch: Mobile website for your website
The number of tablet and mobile devices are going to continue exploding, and startups everywhere are building products to take advantage of the demand. The “Mobstac’d” Techcrunch website I saw had a grid-based structure. Reading articles is akin to reading through a physical magazine. Kinda like Flipboard. Interestingly, one of the finalists at the Startup Battlefield had a very similar product called Pressly. Product differentiation? They weren’t on stage.
Pitch: Share photos and videos
Streamzoo joins a crowded market of photo sharing apps, dominated by Instagram. Similar to Instagram, you can easily apply filter effects to your photos with one simple click. Two aspects differentiate it though: content discovery using hashtags and social gaming. Users can discover new photos by following their favorite hashtags. This is as opposed to following people and seeing their latest photos in a news stream. The gaming aspect was also interesting in that it rewards people points based on their activity and the feedback they receive(comments, likes).
Pitch: A faster way to book your flights
QuickAirLink is an online search “agent” that helps you find the airlines that offer non-stop flights for your itinerary. So, say you want to fly from San Francisco to Kansas City. QuickAirlink finds all of the airlines that can connect you from point A to point b, with no stop in between. If you visit their website, it doesn’t give you the impression of a polished product. The design resembles the United Airlines website, but like people like to say, “content trumps design.” The nice thing is that you don’t need to create an account before you can use it. You can just start using the service right away.
Pitch: Social gaming in real life
I was hesitant to blog about Questli, mainly because I walked away scratching my head about what I saw. Maybe it was because their signage said something about treasure hunting, but I digress. And then, I find out that they were the audience winner at Startup Alley. Maybe I should’ve paid better attention during my conversation with the founder, Danil Kozyatnikov. I blame the asshole with the press badge who interrupted us and decided to interview Danil.
Back to my confusion. Ok, so this isn’t treasure hunting (I was sincerely disappointed to learn that). Danil pulled out the app on his MacBook and began to show me how things worked. So, users can create tasks and then anyone could complete them for a chance to earn “points” and even money. Yes, real physical Benjamins. He showed me tasks he had created for Disrupt. The tasks consisted of questions like “What am I drinking?” alongside an image showing half a bottle of vodka, which also happened to be on the booth’s table. Danil swore to me that it was just water. I took his word for it.
Save yourself (and me) and read Techcrunch’s coverage of Questli instead.
Ahhh…finally. The good stuff. Session 1 was nearing its end when I showed up. During the next session, there were at least 4-5 startups that presented before a panel of judges, most notably former Facebook founder, Dustin Moskovitz. Gazing around the area, Macbooks dominated the scene by at least 9 to 1. The guy I sat next to had a PC running on Windows XP. Talk about hardcore.
Pitch: Infinite storage at your fingertips
Bitcasa thinks Dropbox and other cloud services are chumps. You give your users X amount of storage? Guess how much we offer our users? Infinite storage.
Is this too good to be true? Suddenly, your hard drive is now the cloud, powered by thousands of hard drives working together to deliver your files to you when you want them. Your actual physical hard drive then becomes a cache where your most used files are saved, which is determined by the company’s patented technology. This solves the offline problem so that you are never barred from your data wherever you are.
But, what about performance you ask. To demonstrate how seamlessly Bitcasa’s cloud network delivers content to your computer, CEO Tony Gauda demoed an HD video to the audience. Fast forwarding to various parts of the video showed minimal lag. “But what about streaming two HD videos at the same time?” smiled Gauda as the audience collectively thought, “don’t you dare do it!”
Two HD videos were played without a problem. No lag, no performance problems, and the audience loved it, responding in raucous approval. Talk about intimidating the next startup in line.
But, it gets even better. How much will it cost to use something that has no limit? “Just 10 dollars per month,” Gauda quipped. “We also offer a freemium option where users are limited to storage somewhat less than infinite.”
Anarchy! This is madness! These guys must be from the future!
I like to be optimistically skeptical about Bitcasa. If it works, great for me(and everyone else). I’m dying to try out Bitcasa myself until I make any final judgment, but in the the meantime, I’ll just have to register for their beta and play the waiting game.
That pretty much wraps things up for my first time at Techcrunch Disrupt. I woke up this morning trying to convince myself with dozens of reasons why I shouldn’t go, but I’m glad I went. I plan on attending again tomorrow, and hope to see what startups await.
Did you also attend SF Disrupt today?? Let me know and tell me how it went! I’d love to hear your story.
Photo credit: Techcrunch Disrupt 2011