Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Ultimate Guide to Attending TechCrunch Disrupt

From strategies to hacks, how to make the most of the event.

What to expect when your startup does TechCrunch Disrupt.

TechCrunch Disrupt has the reputation of being the premier event in the startup universe and that is more then justified.  Alumni of Disrupt include titans of the startup world who have gone on to become major companies in their respective industries.  It is wrong to discredit such revolutionary companies by attributing their success purely on being crowned at the battlefield event. Some could argue it does not help at all.  In fact the value proposition Disrupt offers the majority of startups there, the ones who had to shell out 3,000 dollars for a 2x2 round table in the events sideshow, is murky at best.  What does a presence at the event actually buy startups? Startups, which by the way, have limited resources, can ill afford to burn runway by attending a superfluous event.

Is it worth it?

TechCrunch Disrupt is a contest in every sense.  Even if you are not invited to present up on stage in the battlefield, you will still be taking part in a cutthroat competition.  Your startup will have to scratch and claw its way through the sea of other companies surrounding you, in order to win the attention of anyone worth your while.

If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to have a second face on your abdomen, try walking through startup alley.  No one looks each other in the eye; instead, as a passerby, the focus of the founders’ gazes to your left and right will be on the name tag dangling from your Disrupt lanyard. The tag conveniently states your role in the startup world with a color-coded strip.  Founders waste no time deciphering the hue hierarchy to determine which shades to target.  The Press, VCs, Sponsors, and fellow founders are each assigned a color.  Understandably, like a pretty girl come Prom season, those bearing the right color on their name tag are swarmed by a barrage of founders.  And once again, much like prom season, founders, many former and current nerds, face soul crushing rejection.  Worse, should a member of the Press or a VC be roped into engaging with a founder, the interaction often commences with an awkward introduction, followed by a convoluted explanation of what they do, and ends with a sweaty handshake goodbye — once again just like Prom.

If you do not want to waste both 3,000 dollars and an excellent opportunity for your startup, heed the advice bellow to make the most of your TechCrunch Disrupt experience.

1. Have a purpose:  
We went to Disrupt to attract Press coverage/ explore partnerships
In a startup only one-thing matters, sustainable growth.  Pick a KPI as your true north and make sure that every decision you make has a direct correlation with growing it.  That kind of focused neurosis with pushing the needle for that KPI needs to be at the forefront of your decision to attend Disrupt.  What do you hope to accomplish at Disrupt should directly influence your metric that matters.  Are you there to attract press coverage? Connect with VCs? Find strategic partnerships? Any of those are fine, but make sure you are not there simply to "have a presence"— choose a purpose and narrow in on it.

2. Don’t waste time: 
This guy, probably a waste of time...
Now you know why you are going, and how, if successful, it will benefit your start up, but that is a huge if.  Remember the aforementioned dehumanizing experience of walking through startup alley and having every one focusing on your name tag? Well you will need to be the one who stares.  You only get one day at Disrupt with a table, you can only speak with one person at a time, and you have only one chance to impress your target.  That being said, you will need to insure that you do not waste time when speaking with the wrong person.  I hate to say waste time, as everyone at TechCrunch has value, and depending on whom you ask, so do human beings everywhere.  Some people, however, are truly time killers who, if you let them, will talk to you for hours without saying a thing.  There is a way to be friendly and open without getting sucked into conversation with a curious fellow founder in a space completely unrelated to yours.  If the person you are speaking with does not promise to deliver much value as a connection, give them your shortest elevator pitch and avoid asking them questions.  Be polite, succinct, and friendly.  Even still, there will be times you find yourself caught up in fruitless conversation as a promising lead passes by, possibly never to return.

3.  Attract:  
If your idea is weak and you are not executing, no amount of "Schwag" will get you an investment or coverage. VCs see right through that, as does the Press.  However, there is something to be said about a crowd.  If you can do things that create excitement and engagement with your booth, it is sure to catch the eye of your targets. For some startups just showing off the product is enough to garner a ton of interest; think drones, VR headsets, and massage chairs.  However, if you are, say, a B2B SAAS company, it is difficult to make some noise and be noticed.  Regardless of what you do, there are some universal hacks that can make people stop and check you out.  This starts and ends with Swag. Free is probably the most powerful word in the English language, so put it to work.  Of course giving away branded freebies serves a dual purpose of attracting people and also keeping your startup in their mind as long as they use it.  T-shirts, water bottles, and sunglasses work great, but something unique and cool can get people pushing through a crowd to talk with you. Holding contests, featuring an interactive demo, and having a standing promotional banner are all surefire ways to increase the amount of people checking out your booth.  

Bonus hack: have different level of freebies that require a certain action to receive them. A shirt for a Facebook like, a hat for signing up for the product, and a free car if they fully fund you. 

Teespay creates awesome shirts for your startup and helps get your name out there. Check it out here 
4. Pitch Perfect:  
Imagine you are lucky enough to be free when a person with a Press colored badge from the exact publication you want comes right up and asks, “What you do?” You might find yourself suddenly wondering, “What is it that I do?” You freeze, your brain goes blank, and you begin giving the pitch equivalent of drunk driving.  The press member nods politely, takes your card when offered it, poses no follow up questions, and leaves unclear as to what you do or whether you are capable of forming a logical thought.  You would be amazed how many founders cannot explain their startup clearly.  This is an easily avoidable issue that you have to get right.  Before getting to the event practice your pitch — a lot.  Have several different versions: the short elevator pitch you can spit out in under a minute; the high level few minute pitch, and the 5-10 minute detailed spiel that is essentially your pitch deck without slides.  Once you have these down it is easy to tailor a hybrid of the three to give the appropriate pitch to the audience you’re speaking with.

During Disrupt Unreel went around recording the elevator pitches of the best startups in attendance. 
Interviewing Mike from, the worlds largest all over print online store

5. Network: 
Just because for two of the days you do not have a booth, does not mean you cannot bring value to your startup. Going around speaking with other founders is not just a way to gauge the competition, but is also a valuable way to spread awareness for your startup.  View every other startup as an influencer, able to amplify a message to their followers on social media, many of whom are willing early adopters looking for the next great thing. Go booth-to-booth hearing pitches and making introductions.  You will be surprised how receptive other founders are to interacting and exploring partnerships/collaboration.

6. Get social: 
Once you have made these connections, shout out to them on social media.  You are almost guaranteed to get re-tweets and likes from the startup and their network. Not to mention the TCDisrupt hashtag will most likely be trending on Twitter.  You aren't at the event to boost your social media, but it is a benefit nonetheless.
The guys at Happy Goon shouting out Unreel!

7. Stay Connected: 
Who knows, maybe after three days at Disrupt you got fully funded and made the homepage of TechCrunch. Ok, those are both unlikely, but you most certainly made some awesome connections that can deliver real value for your startup.  The thing about connections is that they are good only if you stay connected. Hopefully you leave Disrupt not only with a tote full of freebies, but also a pocket full of business cards.  When you get home from the event, take the time to go through the cards and organize them into three categories: a blah pile of the mundane startups you may have encountered; a pile of connections that show promise, and a pile of the connections you made that could have a huge impact for your startup.  Send a generic email to your blah prospects, thanking them for taking the time to interact and telling them to keep in touch.  With the second pile of potentials, send a personal email thanking them, with an effort to reference any distinguishing aspect of your interaction. Lastly take the third pile and if you have an address, strongly consider sending a hand written letter.  Not only will this ensure they read what you have to say, but it is also a gesture in today's cyber society that says more than anything you could say in an email. Yes, even more than an emoji.

8. Check out our TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 Reel to see some awesome new companies deliver amazing pitches for inspiration before you go.

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