For me, going to TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2012 is a pilgrimage trip. It’s not that I’m going to have some life-transforming experience or be enlightened by some sage’s words, it’s really a matter of “being there, done that, OK, check it off from my bucket list”. When I first went back to Beijing in 2008 I attended many seminars/conferences in the investment/finance industries. That was where CFOs, investment banks, VCs, shared their latest success IPO stories and everyone was drooling to become the next Jack Ma. The initial excitement and curiosity from those events quickly wore off and became jaded. Later my partners and I would look at those busy bees hopping at various technology conferences and jokingly label them as “losers”. Having said that, some events are indeed bigger and more meaningful than others. TechCrunch is one of them.
I remember when TechCrunch held its first conference in Beijing in 2011, that was a huge event and all of us doing startups wanted to go. Now here I am in Stanford, with the biggest show that fuses tech startups and venture capital in town. Missing the show is not an option.
The sticker price for admission is expensive, running for close to $3,000. As students we can get it at discounted price of $300. While many people think we’re getting a good deal, my conspiracy theory tells me that this is probably just an anchoring strategy deployed by the shrewd organizers behind TechCrunch. They put up an absurdly high sticker price, and at the same time give all sorts of discount to students, Facebook employees, Apple employees, Google employees, Y Combinator company employees left and right. In the end the average paid price is probably only $200 but everyone feels he/she is getting a great deal. Some media journalists, Wall Street analysts, and Sand Hill Road guys will probably actually pay up the full sticker price since their companies have no problem footing the bill.
The avenue of the conference is in a huge factory hall. Multiple large screens descent from the ceiling. Unlike any other professional conference I’ve been to, this one is really dark and all the geeks are burying themselves deep into computers/iPads/iPhones/Androids. You know this conference has “made” it when you realize they’re playing their own TechCrunch Disrupt techno music out loud. This scene immediately reminds me of rave party + 1984 + Kraftwerk concert. Very cool.
- Ben Horowitz from Sand Hill powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz has a great blog. Not only he, but also quite a few others like Marc Andreessen also write regularly. One of the reasons I came back to blogging is that I saw all these great minds and practitioners of our time are still writing blogs. Even though blogging as a business model is pretty much dead, blogging itself always appeals to a certain group of people. I’m one of those. Michael just asked me why I blog. I don’t have a fancy reason to that question. Other than the practical reason that I can easily share all sorts of “how to” with my friends, it is just very natural to me to write about my thoughts. I don’t really intend to share that to a large audience. These days people’s attention and time is so fragmented that nobody reads messages more than 140 words. The writing is mainly for myself, for my own desire to record and reflect what I go through at a particular point in my life. That’s it.
- A bit surprised to learn that Andreessen Horowitz uses 360 reviews in its portfolio companies to evaluate the effectiveness of their CEOS. I thought 360 reviews are mostly for large companies. Confession of a Stanford Sloan Fellow_Week 07_Difficult Communication, A Revisit.
- When hiring CEOs for portfolio companies, fitting is the most important criteria. Everyone is intelligent, hardworking, driven and passionate. What sets one apart from the pact is his/her “fitting” to the team and the company.
- Startup companies are really in the business of innovation instead of launching product XXX or YYY. So when founders are looking for suitable board members, they need to find the people who share the same innovation spirit and drive, not just experts in certain vertical domains.
- With today’s enabling technology and infrastructure, most ideas can be taken off the ground and pushed to the market with less than $1 million dollars.
- One of the courses I’ll be attending in the coming Fall Quarter will be taught by Ben’s colleague, Mark Leslie, another partner from Andreessen Horowitz. It’s good to be in Stanford.
Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter & Square)
- His pizza-selling parents’ story is interesting
- Dorsey’s slides read more like a TED presentation, with full-background pictures of iconic historical and cultural images and hand-written big slogans.
- He used the founding fathers’ story from 1776 to make the point that even though most of their initial concepts were actually proved wrong, US’ got to be where it is today because other people kept revising the original ideas. Don’t be afraid to change the original ideas. Adapt to new situations.
- Many successful entrepreneurs didn’t exactly invent the original ideas. They made them better.
- The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet (William Gibson). The job of a CEO is to distribute the future that is already here.
Cory Booker (Mayor of Newark, NJ)
- Booker is here to talk about his new technology startup waywire.com. Jesus, is there anything this guy CANNOT do? After Gunawan brought his name to my attention, I read his bio thoroughly last night on wikipedia. This guy is just A-mazing, he is so A-wesome, his accomplishments are F-antastic! (sorry, just finished watching Apple’s announcement on iPhone 5 today). He’s like a real-life Harvey Dent/Batman.
- I’ve also watched his more recent commencement speech at Stanford University. He’s got some Vin Diesel look but not as GQ as Obama. Though extremely eloquent, Booker has a speech style that is very different from Obama or Clinton. He speaks like more like a pastor, less like a politician. Looking at his illustrious achievements in all aspects of life (literally), I can’t help wondering what kind of crazy job his chief of staff’s got.
- Memorable quote #1: the power of people is more important than people in power (Booker explains the motive behind waywire.com).
- Memorable quote #2: Life is too short trying to be somebody else…Everybody is born original but most people die a common individual. (Booker responds to the question: do you want to be Zuckerberg or Obama?)
- I bet he will run for US President in 2016.
Education Panel (Khan)
- The hot buzz of the moment Salman Khan who founded Khan Academy is here. He looks like Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire.
- Khan Academy is for K-12, not really useful for people of my age, but Udacity seems really interesting and targets much more mature crowd. Famed Stanford professor Steve Blank offers his time to teach a free tech startup course there!
- The famous Arrington lives up to his reputation as being the most provocative interviewer in Silicon Valley. He’s just such a dick, keeping asking tough questions, cutting interviewees off in the middle of their conversations, taking their words out of context, but he clearly knows what he wants to get out of the interviewee. It must be tough to sit in front of him to endure his endless interrogation.
- Hoffman is a very low-key, dressed very casually. He looks like some video-game playing tech geek dude living in the basement of his grandma eating pizza all day. It’s hard to imagine he founded the largest SNS for business professionals. He looks anything but a business professional.
- Hoffman: my relationship with all the NPOs suddenly changed.. now they only want my money, not my service.
- Hoffman said that he invested $375,000 in Facebook when its valuation was only $5 Million.
- Hoffman: Zynga didn’t diversify their platform fast enough
- Arrington: many say social’s party is long over, why are you still investing a lot in the social space?
- Hoffman: the dilemma for startup founders is the bad idea and good idea. It has to sound like a bad idea first (otherwise other people have already done it), but it has to be a good idea also (so that it’s actually workable).
- the end of Day 1 for me -