What to expect from TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley?

So you are thinking about going to TechCrunch Disrupt, maybe even exhibit at the Startup Alley and you are wondering… is it worth it for my startup?

We’ve just returned from our TC Disrupt trip to San Francisco last week. We were there to launch Kezmo, our enterprise chat and team collaboration tool. We had a table at the startup alley, as part of the Uruguay pavilion, so we can tell you exactly what to expect.


What to expect from TC Disrupt

  • I see startup people. People, thousands of them. This 2016 edition had somewhere between 3000 and 4000 attendees. Most of them startupers. Fellow startup founders, desperate to be noticed, which sets the stage for a hard competition for attention.  Beyond the numbers it’s important to stress the fact that you see people from all around the globe. TC Disrupt has country pavilions, as part of the Startup Alley which adds to the cosmopolitan vibe. It’s good if you want to get a feel of how your product resonates with different cultural backgrounds.
  • Venture/Vulture Capital. You will talk to some VCs representatives, and some VCs wannabes. The latter are dangerous as they can be tire kickers and will suck time and focus out of your brains. Be warned.
  • Tech Journalists. If you exhibit you get a list with a couple of hundred journalists that will be there. You can email/spam them with very low chances of getting a response back. You will get to talk to some of them during the event…but unless you either know somebody who knows somebody and can introduce you to a journalist, or if your startup is somehow related to one of the darling topics of the moment (this year it was all about AI & Virtual Reality) getting coverage will be pretty hard. So low expectations there, and start moving those connections, or talking to those PR agencies.
  • Students. Hackathon winners, university students, MBA graduates, you name it.  They are not the majority but you will come across them. They will listen to your pitch with a lot of attention (maybe too much?) only to let you know later that they have just finished this career/course and are looking for a job. But hey, if you are running a startup outside the US. and are looking to expand your operations in that country it can be an opportunity, right?
  • Talks. If you follow the startup scene, you will notice that people you admire will be giving some cool talk. Unfortunately you won’t have time to attend to most of them. Unless there’s three of you tending to your booth, and you can just leave. For insance in this edition Neil Stephenson was signing books, and I loved Seveneves, but I really couldn’t make it. It was rush hour at the booth and before I noticed they day had finished.
  • Business Development Opportunities. Among the army of startups presenting you will come across some interesting companies. Competitors for once, but also startups whose business could be a good complement to yours, and it’s in these cases that you have an opportunity to discuss some kind of arrangement that may server both parties.
  • Interesting contacts. I came back with +50 business cards, of various degrees of relevance. There are probably 5 of them that could prove to be valuable contacts in the future. From other tradeshow experiences I was expecting to come back with more like 200 hundred cards. Maybe it was just poor hustling on my side, but those are the figures. On the other hand I know I delivered hundreds of my own cards, and was left without any by the second day.
  • Trends. You don’t have to be go to Disrupt to stay on top of trends, but it never hurts to be there and get a feel for what’s trending in the startup scene.

What NOT to expect from TC Disrupt

  • End users. Unless your end users are specifically startups, and startup founders, but even in that case, they will be probably too busy to pay meaningful attention to you at least during the event. If you expect people to hear about your product and register that same night you will probably be disappointed.
  • Enterprise. Large corporations do not have a big presence at Disrupt. With some exceptions that send R&D representatives to spot trends, most large corporations are just not there. So if you plan to connect with these type of companies, or if you are looking to connect with CIOs or CTOs you should start looking somewhere else, maybe the Gartner events?
  • Secured Coverage. In my opinion TC could do a better job at providing exhibitors better coverage. As an exhibitor you get listed in a lousy dynamically generated page that’s very hard to find & navigate. It does not appear in search engines, and where you are listed along with hundreds of startups within a collapsible accordion (I dare you to find Kezmo). For days I was expecting to have some kind of public url I could use in tweets or blog posts, if only to make a statement with local investors that our presence at Disrupt was real but what they provided arrived late and was pretty poor.

Final thoughts

We tried to make the most of the event by launching Kezmo to the public at Disrupt. To some extent this did provide some news coverage,  from media we were not expecting in regions we did not foresee.

Our previous experiences in tradeshows and conferences came from the Microsoft world, in SharePoint events, such as SPTechCon. In comparison that type of events are more enterprise oriented, have more CIOs & CTOs attending and offer a more focused audience for the type of products we develop.

In a couple of weeks I will know for sure if the event really paid off. For now it’s a close call.

Should you go? Sure, provided you have the right expectations.




Let’s talk!