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25 Things I Learned At TechCrunch Disrupt

At the startup world's most important conference, even Death can't stay off his smartphone.

Posted on September 12, 2012, at 11:06 a.m. ET

1. First things first: the lanyard

There is no accessory more important than the all-important, all-seeing lanyard. They were color-coded to help sort out the pitchers (start-ups) from the pitchees (press) and the bags of money (investors.)

2. Upon entry, the "start-up alley" scene seemed like "Newsies," only with t-shirts

It is overwhelming. My first impulse, honed from years of living with San Francisco's homeless population, was to smile, nod and keep moving.

3. Pitches could happen anywhere β€” I personally heard one in the bathroom. The more popular tech bloggers were sitting ducks.

Poor Mike Isaac.

4. For a digital conference, the amount of paper was staggering

5. It pays to have something more unique on your schwag table than a keychain. Like these cold, soggy fries, for instance.

6. Whenever possible, put an attractive person onstage during pitch

7. It could be a tough crowd


In between trips around the convention floor, there were moderated panels and on-stage conversations. Only one time, in a "Content is King" panel with people from HBO, YouTube and two start-ups, did the conversation get heated: most seemed relaxed and chatty β€” some were mellow to the point of being in-person press release, though othersΒ were more meaty.

9. The Zuck showed up

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

10. He was nervous, a little too-jokey at first, but spoke convincingly of Facebook's mobile plans

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

11. Such a happy pony

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

12. Oh and Jessica Alba was there


Max Morse / Getty Images

Going to a conference is not cheap: in addition to the $2,000 or so that companies paid for booths each day, there were travel, schwag and staffing costs. One participant said that some cash-strapped start-ups were spending upwards of $30,000 to press the flesh at Disrupt. Why? For some, like Cliff McKinney from Memphis-based Work for Pie, who was visiting San Francisco for the first time, they wanted to sign up companies to appear on their website, which is devoted to improving the recruiting process for companies looking to hire engineers and developers. For another, Game Genome, a product that helps sort and categorize Android games, it was an opportunity to drum up press and potential investors in advance of their October launch.

But the cold truth was that many of the companies eagerly handing out key chains and candy were probably not going to be around for the next Disrupt: the world can only use so many cloud storage services or scheduling widgets. True disruption (or "revolution," the term Square founder Jack Dorsey advocated from his keynote) was in short supply.

14. Alcohol helps. One booth had sake bombs, another a margarita mixer. "I talked to CNN because they wanted to know where the margaritas were," said one happy start-up guy.

15. But it wasn't all work

16. Could not escape the juggler

17. Even with nine food stations, the techies emptied the catering pans

18. The best hardware was these mind-controlled cat ears and they weren't even on sale :(

19. Cool backpack

20. For a conference emphasizing conversation, people spent alot of their time staring at phones

21. Even Death couldn't get off his smartphone


After just one day at the conference, it was startling to re-emerge into the open. I actually hit a strange emotional low point on the second day: the wall of humanity, humming and pitching and posturing felt overwhelming. It all seemed sad. Taking refuge on the floor, I just watched people for a while. Most seemed like happy worker bees, but stray expressions of anxiety caught my eye. Eventually, moved by the sight of giant bins of Diet Coke, I roused myself and got back into the swing of things.

23. After a while, your eyes adjust to green light and laptop screens

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

24. Then you spot some San Franciscans loading up recycling across the street from the convention center

25. And San Francisco, sans lanyards, just starts being San Francisco again.