Startup’s Guide to TechCrunch Disrupt NY
by Jonathan Caras, COO and co-founder of Glide and a TechCrunch Disrupt NY alumnus
It’s the eve of TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016 and you are about to walk down the tech industry’s red carpet, which is filled with investors, influencers, potential partners and media. It’s a special moment in time and you want to get it right. I was in this position exactly three years ago. Not only did I walk down the carpet, but I was also an award winner, capturing the Audience Choice Award and becoming a Startup Battlefield contestant and then finalist, competing for the Disrupt Cup. My co-founders and I found a way to shine amidst the chaos and clearly did a lot of things right. In retrospect, there are a few things we learned and might have done differently. Here are some cases in point:
Play to win
You need to go to Disrupt with a clear goal and confidence in your ability to succeed that borders on indulgence. Our goal was to get accepted to the Disrupt Battlefield. You need to make sure you work backwards from this goal and prepare for each step of the way. If you don’t map out the steps to go all the way, you won’t. We fell into this trap. We prepared for our initial moment in the spotlight and had a plan that would help us win the Audience Choice Award, but when we advanced and became a finalist in the Startup Battlefield, we were wholly unprepared to present on-stage. While the companies that knew they were competing had weeks to prepare, we were told about 30 minutes in advance. Our team was back in Jerusalem, while we were in NYC, so we had to wake our team back home to scramble at 1 AM to prepare our presentation and it showed in how we managed the stage and questions from the panel of judges. We simply could have done better. Believe in your ability to win, do the correct prep work and you are more likely to keep winning.
Prepare your SWOT
Your company’s SWOT is the crux of the TechCrunch Disrupt opportunity. It’s what the judges will grill you on. Be prepared to showcase your understanding of your competitive landscape, the trends, the threats and your company’s unique value proposition. Doing this in advance will help you understand the unique strengths to emphasize, prepare for the perceived holes in your story, keep you aligned with the trends in the market and provide a roadmap for building alliances while on the ground. Even if you don’t get invited to present on stage, having this knowledge converted into prepared sound bites will help with everyone you meet at the event.
Make yourself memorable
Whether it’s in your conversations, at your booth, in person or on stage, make those unique qualities shine. Forget the swag and stickers. Don’t depend on making connections through handing out business cards. If you want to connect with someone, get their contact info, and follow up while they still remember you. Be colorful. There is a lot of noise and you need to break through. Focus on finding the personal connections between people versus looking at the business opportunities. People will remember you better if they have made a connection with you about your love of animé, portobella mushrooms, comics or sci-fi, instead of simply hearing your product pitch among hundreds of others.
Trying to emerge from the pack and showcase your winning plan can be grueling. I lost my voice at the end of the first day. Make sure you have the right people from your team and the right independent visuals to best tell your story. In a perfect world, I’d recommend at least 2 people – your CEO to manage deal flow, and a marketing head to manage media and influencers. If budget is not on your side and you are flying solo, plan to have a video playing on a monitor that can explain the value proposition independently to someone who stops by while you are talking to others. Oh, and make sure, your video can communicate your message without sound, since it’s already incredibly noisy in Startup Alley.
Launch at Disrupt?
While this is definitely an appealing idea and can be successful, think hard about where you are in development and with your media strategy and consider the audience. Launching might make sense if you have already developed a strategic media plan and the product is far enough along, but if you haven’t and it isn’t, you might consider this a better time for lead generation, something you can nurture by making yourself memorable and setting yourself up for a better launch down the road. If you are launching a mainstream consumer product, you might want to consider the early adopter audience you are talking to at Disrupt and adjust your messaging accordingly. Those in attendance are early adopter techie’s not exactly representative of a mainstream consumer audience and your message may not resonate. We launched our Android app beta from the stage during the Startup Battlefield, creating a dramatic moment that aligned with Disrupt’s early adopter audience. The most compelling reason to launch at disrupt is when you have a clear call to action you can offer the audience.
So, before you take your walk in front of that Silicon Alley step and repeat, ensure you believe in your ability to succeed, make yourself memorable and keep Disrupt in the context of your greater business strategy. When done right, it will continue to pay dividends for many years to come. Even today, the personal relationships we established with investors and influencers at Disrupt continue to guide us at Glide.