A Glimpse into TechCrunch's Disrupt SF Conference

Dave Schools, Former Digital Strategist

Article Category: #Strategy

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3 days, 5,000 people, 35 talks, 25 pitches, and startups everywhere

Last week, I was able to attend TechCrunch Disrupt, which is an annual, global three-day tech conference in San Francisco.

Given Viget's long history of working with startups, Disrupt was of particular interest to me. The conference brings together promising startups and some of the most established companies in tech.

As a media brand itself, TechCrunch did an amazing job covering the event with plenty of posts and live videos, but I thought it might be valuable to share an outside opinion of the experience and a handful of insights I found most interesting. Below, you’ll find a mix of news, anecdotes, and quotes.

I was excited to hear from the impressive lineup of speakers — folks from Facebook, Uber, Google, Twilio, Udacity, Twitch, and others. Steph Curry and Marc Andreessen were two of the most interesting to me.

Steph Curry (left) and Marc Andreessen (right) at Disrupt SF 2016

Highlights from Speakers

Below are some speaker session highlights. For full coverage of the talks, visit the Entrepreneur's Handbook, where I write about a variety of startup topics in detail.

  • The three most talked about topics at the conference were machine learning, VR/AR/MR, and driverless cars.

  • Diane Green of Google announced Evernote is moving its data over to Google Cloud, in a big jab at Amazon’s AWS.

  • David Marcus, Head of Facebook Messenger, revealed the two biggest updates to Messenger: 1) customizable UI and 2) native payments. Soon, users will be able to do tasks such as purchase airline tickets with payment, itinerary, and customer support all within Messenger.

  • DraftKings CEO Jason Robins announced DK Live, a news aggregator for all your Fantasy Football players in one place.

  • Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun thinks the most in-demand tech job of the future will be self-driving car engineers.

  • Jager McConnell CEO of Crunchbase announced the launch of CB Pro. Users now can do in depth graph searches, such as “female founders who went to Yale and previously worked at Salesforce.”

  • Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, said bots are frustrating and we have a long way to go before the AI experience is smooth. He recommends focusing on content, especially the ability to “choose your own adventure” and drill down into content, where users can select how they want to learn more.

  • Tim Armstrong, AOL CEO, said their plan to take on Google and Facebook is not to chase or copy them, but to do something completely different. “Google is search and Facebook is social, Verizon/Yahoo/AOL is brand.”

  • Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said, “We need Silicon Valley,” and the government is specifically looking for cybersecurity engineers.

  • Marc Andreessen said, “Twitter and the Internet haven’t changed anything. They’ve only pulled back the curtains of what has always been there.” He also advised leaders to be very specific and strict on goals, but very flexible on tactics. “The popular phrase ‘fail fast’ is about tactics. ‘Fail fast’ applied to strategy is catastrophic.”

  • Uber will soon be offering machine-learning-as-a-service, according to Danny Lang, Director of Machine Learning at Uber.

  • Affectiva, an innovator in emotional AI, announced they’re releasing their SDKs for free to companies making under $1m/year. Affectiva, also announced partnering with Giphy to search for GIFs by making facial expressions.
  • InstaCart plans to be cash-flow positive in 12 months. So far they’ve raised $275 million in funding.

  • Facebook thinks of itself as a technology company more than a media company, said Adam Mosseri, Head of Newsfeed.

Startup Alley

Outside the large conference room, hundreds of startups set up booths on a “trade show” floor for attendees to visit and demo.

I enjoyed painting in 3D virtual reality at Toyota’s Prius display.

Getting my Michelangelo on painting in 3D VR

I also met Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse, who said, “Anyone can ditch college and learn to code in a year for $2,400 with a new program we just launched.” I also met a Red Bull senior brand strategist named Chris (sidebar: there was free Red Bull everywhere — I drank nothing else) and a Tech Crunch senior reporter who said the key to pitching press is all about the storytelling — you have to frame your startup in a problem-solution storyline.

Startup Battlefield

In the afternoons, Startup Battlefield was a series of 25 startups pitching in front of a panel of judges (and the audience). Finalists were chosen, and then a runner up and the winner were selected. The conference ended with the winner receiving a $50,000 check.

Mobalytics won first place. And UnifyID won runner up.

Instead of listing the participants, I made my own award categories and have chosen to highlight seven startups I found most interesting:

  1. #IsThisForRealUnifyID replaces our current username and password system by linking the biometric data from your devices to authenticate you.

  2. #WatchOutGoogleSensay provides real-time access to expert humans to solve your problem using AI.

  3. #FutureOfRadioPundit is a voice-based social network. Think Medium but with 30-second podcasts.

  4. #LetMePayNowGiftBit allows ecommerce businesses to make their own e-currency to drive sales.

  5. #ForTechNerdsBlazingDB + Sqreen are two tools every developer should know about.

  6. #HealthTechCarbon Health is a hospital in your hand. Decentralizing healthcare through technology.

  7. #WhatTheSpincle is a 360 photo and video sharing mobile app with VR capabilities.


Between the smart people, cool tech, and interesting startups, there’s a lot to experience at Disrupt. I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting a strong pulse on the global tech industry. Also, venture capitalists and press were everywhere. If you’re looking to make connections to raise funding or get noticed, it’s a great place to be.

Hit me up if you have any questions about the event.

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