TechCrunch Disrupt: Inspired by the Hottest Trends and Startup Pitches


If you have watched HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” you may still remember the amazing moment when the founder of Pied Piper delivered a mind-blowing demo in front of judges, media, investors, and hundreds of participants. This scene was set a TechCrunch Disrupt, a real event where founders take turns pitching their ideas. This year, TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017 (Disrupt SF) not only draws 485 startups from around the world but also have lots of fireside chats and workshops with top-tier VC, big tech firms, and industry experts, making it one of the tech’s most exciting events this year.


With a strong passion for the tech industry and startups, tens of Wharton students in SSF program, including me, participated in Disrupt SF. Here I would like to share several takeaways from this event.


Trends: Machine Learning, AR, and Blockchain are three of the hottest areas


With the success story of AlphaGo, the AR kit of iOS 11, and the ICO (Initial Coin Offering) boom, many startups in this event focus on machine learning, AR or Blockchain to solve existing customers’ pain points or define new use cases.


For machine learning, the applications are relatively mature and very broad, such as voice recognition and artificial intelligence, and help users to have a better prediction (either more precise, efficient, or both). However, since machine learning has become a buzz word, some startups may just use it for marketing and do not have enough and useful data to optimize the algorithm.


For AR, it is still at the early stage, and everyone is trying to define a right user experience and use case. For example, the products of AR startups in this event are limited to gaming, education or information board and don’t improve the customer experience much because of low-quality visual effects or hard-to-use interfaces.


For blockchain, the products offered by the startups are now beyond typical use cases (e.g., bitcoin wallets or currency exchange). For example, in this event, some startups capture the growth of ICO to create new investment opportunities for investors, and some startups provide enterprise-grade blockchain infrastructures to improve system security.


Startup Pitches: Demo a “lovable” product, understand the business, and have an authentic pitch


In Disrupt SF’s Startup Battlefield, I noticed that there are three key factors making a successful startup pitch: (1) demo of a lovable product, (2) understanding of the business, and (3) an authentic pitch.


The demo of a lovable product means that the founder should demonstrate a product that has a simple but complete user experience that solves users’ pain points. The product is not only “viable,” but also well-designed and creates a pleasant experience for customers. A 30-second demo of a real and lovable product can have stronger power than a 3-minute pitch with beautiful slides.


A founder also needs to show the understanding of the business with a pitch, such as business model and landscape. In the Q&A sessions, the very first question from VC is like “How do you make money?” or “What’s the ROI of your customers?”. Some founders are struggling to answer this type of questions and challenged by VC for the profitability of the business in the future. This kind of cases usually happens if the founders have only technical backgrounds.


Finally, an authentic pitch is the key to win audiences’ trust. During the competition, some founders like to use buzz words, such as “machine learning,” to describe their products. However, they are also later challenged by VC for these words and lose the credibility. A founder delivering a successful pitch explains the technology of the product explicitly and uses data to support the arguments.


Disrupt SF gives me an opportunity to have a deep understanding of the current trends and what a great pitch looks like. Although most of the startups may eventually fail, the diversity of the ideas and the passion of the founders allow me to realize that we all have a chance to change the world, if we start to get our hands dirty now.