TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco: The Best Bits

By Silicon Allee |

By Silicon Allee’s international correspondents Don Oparah and Roy Malkin at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco

Following on from the Disrupt in New York and ahead of the one in London next month was the San Francisco edition of TechCrunch’s flagship event, held at Pier 48. As always, it was a gigantic affair, with speakers, startups pitches and a hackathon.

Among the featured speakers on the first day were Twitch founders Kevin Lin and Emmet Shear, who spoke about their recent $1 billion acquisition by Amazon, saying: “It was good for us for a couple of reasons… we got some meeting of the minds on the future of the gaming industry and we had a shared vision that it was going to be Twitch that are going to do it.”

Later on, Travis Kalanick of Uber spoke on the topic of reputation in the broader taxi industry and in the press: “When people start to perceive you as the big guy, you’re not allowed to be scrappy, fierce. If you’re the little guy, that’s cheered, lauded, that’s the heroic startup story.”

On the second day, meanwhile, Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans Inc spoke about the success story that inspired him to push on in business used the example of the building in which he worked.

“Madison Block [in Detroit] was an old theatre [the historic Madison Theatre Building], and it had a bunch of startups in it, and now we have over a hundred startups on second and third fundings, and it’s doing good for Detroit and the community.”

Later, Kevin and Julia Hartz spoke about their ticketing platform company Eventbrite and their plans for future development after breaking the $1bn ticket sales barrier in August.

“What we’ve noticed as more and more sellers have gotten onto Eventbrite has been people have come to Eventbrite to find things to do – it’s not one specific field, it covers your entire life. We have over half of our ticket buyers being repeat buyers, so we want to engage with them to find on how to improve their experience… we’ve never actually engaged the buyers until now.”

By now a regular fixture at Disrupt, meanwhile, Startup Battlefield saw 26 finalist startups from 700 applicants scrap it out for $50,000 and the winner’s trophy. The competition attracted a large crowd eager to sniff out new technology and innovations. Among the interesting startups was Beartooth, whose patent-pending tech allows iOS and Android devices to communicate even if the cellular network is unavailable, has failed or is over-congested. It enables true peer-to-peer communication between devices, completely bypassing the network.

And on day two, Samson Rogers spoke about his project Sciencebite, a platform where experts can be found to provide personal, one-on-one advice on specific questions to help kick off a commercial project or spec out an idea kind of like a highly specific Quora for scientific expertise.

After watching this, it really occurred to us that one of the big spaces this year is in engagement platforms. Everybody is looking for more creative ways to engage faster with their audience, whether that’s recruiting scientific advice for your own project or selling tickets to events.

The conference also featured a hackathon with nearly a thousand enterprising minds forming teams to win the cash prize. Ina Yosun Chang and Fren Heintz had an innovative take on networking with people you wouldn’t normally interact with otherwise: battle chess.

“The idea is that traditional social networks and ways of meeting people are not as personal as playing a game of chess and you haven’t met a lot of your Twitter followers. So you can play chess with them and it’s kind of personal and a conversation, and you can also see how they think. It’s especially interesting to play chess with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.”

But the first prize of $5,000 was eventually won, however, by Shower with Friends, whose hardware hack created a way to manage water consumption by monitoring a shower’s flow rate. Accompanying the hardware was a mobile app that enables users to compete against their friends as to who can take the shortest shower; a great idea to make water conservation fun.