0 Comments |  Michael Giles |  PRINT | 

Lessons from the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC conference

Thursday, 9 June 2011 | By Michael Giles

It's funny how things have their way of working out. Even though I really wanted to go, I hadn't planned on attending the conference.


I got in touch with a friend who introduced me to his friend, and he referred me to the link to sign up as a volunteer (saving $2,995). Luckily there were a few spots remaining and I took what I could get (Welcome Team Leader). This all happened within one day.


Taking the role of Welcome Team Leader had me a little nervous, because although they provided training my job was still to essentially manage other volunteers, and I wasn’t sure how that would go down.


It turned out to be really easy and the most flexible role anyone could have, because I had the freedom to move around the floor and mingle with other volunteers – it’s funny how a clipboard implies authority.


For most people they are there to hear (or watch) the speakers, and to network – but unfortunately it is difficult to get to the “talent”. They never really walked the floor, and were either backstage or left immediately after speaking (à la Arianna Huffington). To be fair, in this crowd they would have to keep their mingling limited otherwise they would never get out of there.


In good timing, a few days after the conference Chris O’Donnell from First Round Capital blogged about how to talk to investors – his post was aptly titled “How to approach an investor at a conference #tcdisrupt”. He had some great insights to offer like:

  • Keep the conversation short so they don’t feel like they’re stuck in a bear trap.
  • Don’t pitch to them, but instead talk about your accomplishments.
  • Leave out the lame conference chatter.

He called this the Minimum Viable Intro.


If you follow Chris’s post it will lead you to another one by Jason Freedman titled “How to email busy people” – this is also a must read.


Both of these are very interesting and definitely helpful, but at the end of the day to really make a meaningful connection with a potential investor, you need to get an introduction from a mutual friend or connection – this is the reality of how the industry works, which I will talk more about in future.


Getting back to the conference, overall I thought it was awesome and I would definitely do it all again, even as a volunteer. The connections you make and the knowledge you gain at these events will prove fruitful – perhaps not right away, but in time. The line up of speakers was great and the winner of the Battlefield was deservedly  Getaround (or as some people have put it, the winner was AngelList who helped get them funding).


For me, the most important things I wanted to get out of this event were to network as much as possible, and to learn as much as possible.  There are snippets of knowledge and information that the speakers drop that you can only pick up if you are really listening.


The TechCrunch crew will always report live on the best bits so it is good to follow their website and the # on Twitter while you are the event, which helps you get involved in both an online and offline sense.


In summary, here are the key things that stood out for me:


  • Mobile
  • Social graph
  • Airbnb
  • Discovery
  • User experience
  • Location
  • Deals


  • Photo sharing or tagging
  • Integration with social services
  • Location based or location aware
  • Deals


  • Be your own bitch (Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures)
  • You only learn when you listen, not when you speak
  • Find the signals in the noise
  • The best entrepreneurs are those with a maniacal obsession on one particular issue over a long period of time (Fred Wilson again)


  • 90% of successful exits are repeat founders (Ron Conway, SV Angel)
  • Advertising is now based on the social graph and interactions between people, no longer just behavioural (Gurbaksh Chahal, RadiumOne)
  • 50 million Facebook likes for brands every day, with 68% recall (Carolyn Everson, Facebook)
  • 250 million impressions per day for Tumblr
  • 4.25 million users for Instagram
  • Airbnb books more rooms in NYC than the biggest hotel
  • Getaround in the first 3 days signed up the equivalent of 20% of the inventory that Zipcar has in total

Random stuff

  • Everyone had an iPad
  • Every mobile app was developed for the iPhone as if Android didn't exist
  • Almost every start-up was mobile first, web second
  • Paul Graham from Y Combinator was a crowd favourite
  • Entrepreneurs all dress the same – shirt/t-shirt, blazer, jeans and loafers

Celebrity effect

  • Ashton Kutcher still pulled the biggest crowd and had the most cameras out (apart from the finale) but appeared nervous during the interview – in this backstage interview he admits this.
  • He disclosed that when he started investing in tech start-ups he realised he would run out of money quickly, so he partnered with two other people who didn’t have that problem – his greatest strengths are in creating solid relationships with the best people.
  • Almost all angel investors, VC's and successful entrepreneurs at the event were like celebrities and didn't hang around or circulate amongst the attendees, which was disappointing.

Key takeaways

  • Although successful companies appear to have been built overnight, they are actually built over years in small steps with failures along the way.
  • The final product that makes a company is never the product that started the company, it’s an ever evolving process.
  • It's always who you know, not what you know – particularly when seeking funding.
  • Entrepreneurs are most successful when they are onto their third venture.