Thoughts On TechCrunch Disrupt

I wrote some tweets today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

At a very high level, here are the problems I see with where Disrupt is going:

1. I get that this is turning into a very big business for Aol. But TechCrunch Disrupt should be a conference with a focus on editorial, not sales.

2. Editorial at TechCrunch seems to be completely submissive to sales. If sales wants something, it happens. Way too many sponsors on stage, for example. And the speakers are nearly constantly herded to “VIP events” that are really just sponsor events where sponsors pay to have a captive audience of well known entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Speakers are being packaged and sold to sponsors, and they are complaining about it.

3. Picking the winner of the battlefield startup competition should be free of any influence of non-editorial people and judges. The only people who should be in the room to decide who wins the battlefield should be the judges and the editors, and the editors shouldn’t be voting or trying to influence decisions.

4. It should be completely reasonable for judges to discuss the option of not having anyone win the battlefield at all if the quality level isn’t there. TechCrunch management today didn’t allow that conversation to happen, saying it would send the wrong message. Those people shouldn’t even be in the room, let alone directing the conversation.

TechCrunch should be strong enough to withstand criticism, and I hope they understand that I give this advice out of love, not malice. In any event, I’m not going to participate in the battlefield in the future.

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25 thoughts on “Thoughts On TechCrunch Disrupt

  1. Agree – it’s the only way to keep it relevant and differentiated.

  2. wow I’d feel like shit if was lock8

    • Not sure they should. Startup Prizes and Competitions are often a lure and to me should be considered as a “Nice-to have” industry awards. We hear the same kind of judgment from LeWeb competition or TNW. Lock8 keep building great stuff and worry only about your customer feedback!

  3. a bike lock is a Disrupt winner? Good grief! Nice product, but I see no disrupt at 199.

  4. Glad to see you speaking your mind, there are very few start-up competitions for real start-ups these days… was shocked at how many had already received investment and the poor quality of the start-ups selected….

    It almost felt as if start-ups were selected to fail and look worse than the US counterparts in the last US based disrupt which was also pretty weak although I do like Layer.

    I would love to see a new start-up competition where real start-ups that have no-name founders and ZERO funding get a real honest chance at limelight especially if they are from unknown founders

    If I had the cash this is what I would build, if you know someone that is doing these, point me there way… it needs to be done.

    Or if you know where funding to get it started is, I may even follow-up and find others to do a real event for real start-ups.

    -Scott

  5. Giuseppe Catalfamo (@Joe_Catalfamo) says:

    Michael, you see, in Europe there are far better ideas and better executors than those you saw at Disrupt. The problem is that some European countries fail to understand software and Internet of Things as a potential for not yet existing value-added products. This is so clear with European VCs that won’t fund ideas they don’t understand.
    So, what happens to the “far better ideas” not easily understood from people whose wallets still live in the dotcom bubble?
    We have to work at night, and only those nights we have some spare energy left from our day jobs, which we cannot leave, because we don’t have funding to pay for dinners or rents.
    Silicon Valley doesn’t have better ideas, it has better investors and resources.
    How do you plan to “disrupt” that?

    • Untethered European entrepreneur developers are already solving this getting a flight to San Francisco with not much more than a Macbook and a backpack. Quite a few live on their wits, code for board and lodging, network intensely, get lucky and join an incubator. The Netherlands nost-sv.org had such a deluge they set up an open SF consulate office (beautiful inside like an Apple store) and Nost partners with SV incubators building up the missing eco-system. This allows Dutch entrepreneurs to gather experience and resources before heading back home– although some end up staying. There’s ways to legally extend a visa such as visiting an out of country consulate up in Vancouver, BC (pain in the wazoo but doable).

  6. The last good Disrupt was back in 2011… I was able to attend it back then and it was worth it. Today, I wouldn’t pay $100 to go to that conference…

  7. When’s the last time TC broke a story? Seems to be a press release service now.

  8. Idan Beck says:

    I’ll start that we had an extremely great experience at Disrupt, and without it I don’t think that our product launch would have been nearly as successful. Immediate access to press, customers, users and the open conversation/feedback style of Battlefield only gave us a serious boost because we’re building something we’re deeply passionate about and honestly believe is disruptive in a way that will take years for the industry (both music and tech) to completely understand (which tends to be a commonality in truly disruptive technologies: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” -H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927)

    However I’m really glad you’re being honest and bringing attention to the judgement process since I had really wished that there had been a bit more public transparency into how the winners are chosen, since as I painfully found out, we had a very real chance to win which would have been a much bigger asset to us than the people who actually did win. Although, I’ll be honest that the fleeting feeling that we might win when we were asked to step forward right before we were handed a case of PBR was one of the best feelings of my life.

    Before going to Disrupt I consulted one of our investors who I’m very close with and is a good friend and they told me “Are you sure you want to do this? You know it’s rigged, and you need to know that going in.”

    My answer was that we’re going to do the best that we can do and that “either we’ll win, or we’ll show beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s rigged.” At least to the people that were paying attention.

    I think that if the winning outcome was held to some public scrutiny a decision would be harder to make that’s based on commercial interests, either internal or external. The tech world at least pretends to be a meritocracy and offending this publicly will often rally people en-mass to make sure that this is true when they have the opportunity to do so.

  9. engineer says:

    I’ve felt similarly about TC in general and TC Disrupt in specific for at least 5 years. That they don’t care at all about startups, but only “startups”, that is to say- if your startup has no connection to the bay area, no likelihood of VC interest, it doesn’t matter how good or original it is, TC isn’t interested.

    Note, this is not sour grapes about my startup. I don’t think TC should be covering my startup during that period…. I just think TC is like pandodaily… a mouthpiece for the VC industry.

    It is worse now, rather than writing original stories only about that limited set of companies, now TC only issues press releases about them.

    But disrupt was always worse– always felt elitist, expensive, and the message was clear: You’re not welcome unless you’re part of the inner circle of bay area VC backed companies (or the local equivalent for Dirsupts outside the Bay Area.)

    • Seattle’s the same, Geekwire covers the startup community and helps foster more limited investor/VC connections through conferences and events–it’s just they way the startups industry rolls.

      The editorial mouthpiece situation likely becomes conflicted, in need of correcting by robust feedback by it founders to stay healthy with this “turning into a very big business for AOL”.

  10. Shay Hugi says:

    is he joking us? he invested money in that garbage product “shaker” prior for them winning the competition… this company has been nothing but a failure ever since.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      we invested in Shaker after the competition. In the cases where we had investments in companies in the competition I disclosed that and didn’t vote. Most of the VCs on stage had similar conflicts, which were unavoidable since we didn’t know the finalists until the day of the event. In those cases we didn’t vote.

  11. Tom says:

    1. seems like you have never been to Holland or Denmark. Just step outside Central Station Amsterdam and you see why Lock8 could potentially be disruptive.

    2. Haven’t attended the conference but can recommend The Next Web (http://thenextweb.com) as alternative for startups to present

  12. buyer beware says:

    Techcrunch Europe – has never had an editor, does not understand the difference between editorial and sales. You started it. I wish you would go and work for a newspaper as a business correspondent. I think you would be happy.

  13. marc says:

    what breakthrough with a lock which send you an alert TO TAKE YOUR GUN TO SHOOT THE THIEF of your bike?????
    + asap54 doing a bad work in live shows that the techcrunch team did a bad selection

  14. HÖVDING.. invisible helmet for cyclists bit.ly/8yPkMq — #disrupt

  15. ispeaktospiders says:

    You should be flogged in the street for letting aol destroy techcrunch.

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