Notes from TechCrunch Disrupt

September 13th, 2014

Last weekend, several friends and I participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in San Francisco. This was my second hackathon (the first one was AngelHack). This time around, I had an idea of what to expect (its basically an all-nighter for people who love to code and theres lots of free food, energy drinks, and t-shirts). My team created an app prototype called Go Social. In a nutshell, this app would help travelers find fellow world-trotters that happen to be traveling to the same destination for the same time period. It would find people with common interests so that they could have travel buddies and potentially make friends.

Spencer and I worked on the iPhone app version while Bryon and Felicia worked on the website front end (the user interface) and Ramin worked on the back end (the server that would manage user account data).

What I Learned at the Hackathon

During this hackathon, I learned about the importance of teamwork. Unfortunately, we had a little trouble delegating tasks since many of us wanted to work on the apps front end rather than the back end. Five people, the maximum number for a typical hackathon team, is probably too large. I think that three would be an ideal number since each person would be more likely to have non-overlapping portions of the app to work on.

I also learned that the presentation and usefulness of the app is more important than its completeness at the time we present it to the judges. After all, we only get twenty-four hours to build the app from scratch. What judges are also looking for is how we implement the sponsoring companies APIs (application programming interfaces basically, pre-made code for integrating the functionality of an existing service into your own app). Because our team integrated the Matrix API for instant messaging into our app, we scored some goodies!

Attending the Disrupt Convention

My team happened to win a pair of tickets to the TechCrunch Disrupt convention following the hackathon. Normally, these tickets cost thousands of dollars, so it was a real luxury for us to get such an opportunity. Through some rather unorthodox means, we were able to get four people into the convention. My bestie and and I got to attend the startup battle on the final day of Disrupt.

During the startup battle, we watched as six startup companies competed for the TechCrunch cup as well as ample funding from investors. Six contestants had exactly six minutes each to present their ideas on stage to a panel of six judges. (666 is the number of the beast)! To my delight, Marissa Mayer happened to be among these judges. (Shes one of my biggest inspirations as a woman I mean person in technology). She and the other judges probed the contestants with intelligent questions after their elevator speeches. Behind the mysterious black curtains, the judges cast their votes. While we waited for them to make their decision, Spencer and I walked around the convention booths in the other room and ate logo-infested cupcakes.

The Significance of Disrupt

Basically, the startup battle is like a hackathon on a grand scale. Rather than pitching an app, contestants pitch an entire company concept in the hopes of getting funding and accolades from investors. The whole point of Disrupt is to disrupt the ordinary by proposing innovative and marketable tech solutions to global problems.

One of the Disrupt finalists was a company called Shpstr. The founder was an industrious young man with a lot of entrepreneurial experience under his belt, including making and distributing his own brand of ice cream as a teenager. He also happened to be an IT administrator at age fourteen (making me feel quite under-accomplished)! Shpstr is a web application that simplifies the shipping process for small businesses. It allows users to make cost-effective decisions for ordering supplies and makes it easier to keep track of these shipments in a single, clean interface. It was a very useful concept, in my opinion, but not exactly geared towards what I find to be a more compelling niche: making a positive difference in the world starting at home with as (little conscious effort as possible). Thats where Stack Lighting comes in.

Stack Lighting immediately intrigued me with its tagline, better life through better light. This company sells smart light bulbs and software designed to save energy as well as promote the health and well being of its users. For example, in the morning, the lights put out more ultraviolet light than they do in the evening, thereby encouraging an optimal circadian rhythm so that users feel energized during the day and relaxed and ready for bed at night. In addition, this lighting system responds to the presence of people and reacts accordingly by adjusting the lights as needed. This could help reduce a household or companys carbon footprint as well as save a lot of money.

In conclusion, Disrupt was an interesting view into the current state of technology startups and what ideas are trending.

Categories: culturetechnology