Big Pimpin’ TechCrunch Disrupt
Posted by Pierre de la Fortune on June 04, 2015 @ 12:01 a.m.
Written by Steve Harmon
(Observations from an Internet veteran, who’s been a VC, entrepreneur, corporate executive, analyst and more)…Walking into this year’s Techcrunch Disrupt technology conference was like a scene out of a Jay Z video. But let me start the soundtrack first…
Uhh, uh uh uh It’s big pimpin baby.. It’s big pimpin, spendin G’s Feel me.. uh-huh uhh, uh-huh.. Ge-ge-geyeah, geyeah Ge-ge-geyeah, geyeah..
Here’s the scene: Sweaty palms bridled with hormone-raging enthusiasm. The smell of greasepaint, the hype of the crowd. Dance moves and suave smiles masking fear and anxiety of a thousand entrepreneurs hitting the exhibit floor trying to get attention here. Bust a move. The encore is an interview with John Doerr, who wrote the foreword for my book and I’m looking forward to hearing. But that’s later. Good to see John back in the Internet mix again.
Now it’s about the entrepreneurs hustling.
The scene inside didn’t contrast that much from outside the venue where a homeless guy draws his version of Picasso, oblivious to the artists and onlookers crowding into the San Francisco Design Center. You see it’s all about channeling your inner entrepreneur. Near the entrance, two girls hired to hold onto mini hot air balloons hold on to them for dear life as the wind picks up, threatening to re-enact a scene from the movie “Up”. I thought that would have made the demo rock. But they stayed grounded, even as the balloons whacked a few people sideways.
Right next to the balloon girls, rental car newbie Getaround hawks its cars, getting attention with a red Tesla roadster that you can rent for “just $75 an hour”. I ask if they rent Ferraris and am told the insurance won’t cover anything over 300 horsepower.
Somehow it’s perfect, the mix of chaos, dreams and unbridled capitalism (or drunken greed). If only San Francisco 1971 could see San Francisco 2011. Whatever turns you on, baby.
Inside the cavernous Design Center hall where the conference and exhibit is taking place about 750 people coagulate around various startups lined up end to end like a red-light district in Amsterdam. Oh yes, the pimping is on. Each wants to be the “one”, the one that everyone picks as best.
Two exhibitors stand next to their booth, arms crossed. Trying, desperately to catch passersby. Maybe they’re casting Napoleon Dynamite 2. A woman hired to wear a geisha outfit gets more attention at the booth nearby. She ain’t a coder but she is herding attendees into the booth area. Marketing 101.
So who’s exhibiting here in Startup Alley, the rows of startups who paid to showcase their offerings? A quick stroll reveals lots of companies trying to figure out how to exploit the “social graph”. I don’t know but the term “social graph” sounded cool in 2008 and now sounds like a social scientist thesis. I prefer “people interests”.
Another few dozen want to bring “gamification” to everything. Get a badge for saying hello. Shakespeare had it so fucking wrong. Life is not a stage, it’s a game. Mark Pincus (an old friend of mine and the founder of Zynga) is the new game master. Fittingly, Zynga is headquartered right next to the design center.
Now let’s you and I continue our stroll through the hall and I’ll just tell you who I meet.
Looking like a linebacker for the Chicago Bears (where he hails from) Mike Fogarty has a dream. He’s standing near his exhibit, looking out at the crowd. I have no idea what Mike’s venture is about, the monitor is hidden and something about “Mantle”. So I ask. Mike’s dream is to have friends share their DVD collection on Facebook. He’s pitched investors. I offer Mike some advice: find a way for businesses to use this, video shops perhaps. Uploading DVD titles is a pain in the ass. Give people a reason: fun or profits.
Just a few tables down, all of 4 feet 10 or so, Charlotte Hu (from China) shows off the new iPad browser her company made, the Dolphin browser. She uses her finger to write a gesture on the iPad screen, the shape of a “T” and the twitter home page loads. No typing. No URL. Just a gesture. I like it. As we move more and more into touch screen interfaces it makes sense to me to have gestures rather than boring typing keyboards. I show Charlotte my blog in Chinese and ask her what it says (I cannot read Chinese). I’m hoping it’s my name at the top…and it is. I give her a homework assignment, read my blog in Chinese.
I bump into Denis Harscoat and his venture Did This. What’s it do? It’s about doing stuff. OK. Bottom line: you ask your friends to cheer you on as you do stuff. Doing is better than not doing so I kind of like it. Sort a. But I’m also burned out on asking friends to follow my morning corn flakes consumption. I’m going to keep an eye on it since actions do speak louder than words.
At another table…there are photo apps proliferating like Kardashians on cable TV. So I stop at Snapette to see what the fuss is about. Co-founder and CEO Sarah Paiji walks me through the app. It’s photos of fashion: shoes, handbags. I ask if they’re for sale. No, these are just photos of things women have taken snap shots of with their mobile phone. I suggest it may be cool to allow people to buy the items. Or maybe let a user create a wish list and anyone can tap and buy it. Wedding registries and birthdays, holidays seem a perfect way to turn this into buying. As for me? looking at ladies shoes photos doesn’t quite cut it but I appreciate that many people may enjoy that. I am not a Kardashian.
Two fellows hawking a weather map looking app catch my attention. Yaron Reich tells me how his app works: it predicts the weather, when it will rain anywhere in the world. OK, I ask, when will it rain next in the Sahara? Without missing a beat Yaron says “never”. On the PC monitor screen a map with clouds appears and he asks me pick a place. I spout out Riverside, California, where I grew up. I know how many days it rains there (about 3 a year). He moves some clouds around on the screen with his finger. Hmmm, I don’t get this. But if you can indeed predict the weather then hikers, bikers, outdoor types and farmers, would love it. And weathercasters would be unemployed. Yaron is also in the Israeli army and I ask him to say hello to a friend I have in Tel Aviv.
Across the aisle, two quiet Japanese guys dressed in white shirts and ties that look all of 18 invite me to see their demo. 5 Second video. They hail from Tokyo. What gets me super excited is that I recall that not even a decade ago there weren’t many entrepreneurs outside the US and Silicon Valley. I was in Tokyo in the 1990s and nothing. It is truly more global now. Anyway, what 5 Second video does is let you post…yes, 5 seconds of video online. They describe it as the “twitter for video”. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Japan but to me this idea is very Japanese. High cool factor. I think it could catch on over there. I even kind of like it. This is the fruit fly attention span era we all live in. Twitter reduced the world to 140k. I’m saying let’s take it even further: no words, just facial expressions. Upload and express. 5 Seconds is about right. And I really think it’ll be a hit in Japan. Ryuji and Shinnosuke are the founders.
As I make my way for the exit, near the door a woman slaps a postcard into my hand, inviting me to an RV from one of the sponsors parked out front. A couple of attendees pass me and spring into the Winnebago in search of free beer. After one or two of them the karaoke begins, a Billy Joel song: ‘My Life’ echoes through the outdoor air, out of place anywhere but SF. The guy can actually sing. I’m waiting for the chorus and yep, nailed it.
I prefer the Jay Z exit.
Uhh.. smokin out, throwin up, keepin lean up in my cup
All my car got leather and wood, in my hood we call it buck
Buck? Yeah. Entrepreneur pimpin and all.
For more info please visit: http://steveharmon.com/big-pimpin-techcrunch-disrupt/ Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgoqrgc_0cM&feature=player_embedded#!
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