May 25, 2016

Setting the New York Startup Scene at TechCrunch Disrupt

I attended TechCrunch Disrupt New York earlier this month – what a great event! It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from some of the best minds in the startup biz; from successful entrepreneurs and investors, to government representatives and journalists. Disrupt has built a well-deserved reputation as a launch pad for some of the most popular and successful tech companies. The event was well attended, as many want to be first in line to witness the next generation of revolutionary startups and hear the discussion of “what’s next” in the tech industry.

Here are a few key takeaways and observations from the sessions I saw:

The New Foodie panel: This panel featured co-founders from well-known food startups Blue Apron, Sweetgreen, and Maple. They discussed the current state of the industry and the process of growing and scaling a food startup. Interestingly, none of the panelists on stage seemed interested in utilizing self-driving cars or drones at this stage, even though from an outside perspective,these seem like strategic actions to take to eventually improve their companies’ bottom line. Instead they are taking a wait-and-see approach rather than trying to help shape the future of home delivery services.

Let Your Fingers do the Investing panel: Betterment and Robinhood are two investing startups with very different philosophies. Robinhood is trying to build brand loyalty in the investment space for younger, educated people by doing away with commissions on trades and making it easy for users to invest their money however they want through a push of a button. Betterment, on the other hand, uses their technology to help people make the right investment decisions. The startups have different approaches to monetization. Robinhood reinvests customers’ positive balances, while Betterment makes money from fees. Betterment’s fee-focused approach is rooted in the belief that making money from cash on investments when the customer is not aware,  isn’t aligned with the customer’s best interests. While the two startups couldn’t be more different, both companies are growing and seem poised to disrupt financial services.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong supporting the NY tech scene: Armstrong, along with Union Square Ventures co-founder Fred Wilson, sat down to discuss the launch of Tech:NY, a nonprofit member organization that aims to support and grow the New York tech industry. Wilson believes the city’s tech sector is doing well, but thinks it’s still about 20 years(!) behind Silicon Valley. The organization, which has 450 members so far, wants to have a seat at the table when anything related to tech is decided at the state and city government level. For example, there are currently five drone bills being decided in New York city, and they want to have tech voices involved in these conversations to help prevent laws that will hinder tech’s growth. The ultimate goal is to make it as easy to do business in New York as it is in Silicon Valley.

Uber and Facebook updates: The day wouldn’t be complete without updates from a few of tech’s most powerful companies. Uber senior advisor and board member, David Plouffe, said his company isn’t trying to remove transportation regulation, but instead wants to update legacy taxi regulations in certain cities that aren’t relevant anymore. If barriers to entry are too high because of regulations, there won’t be enough drivers to meet demand. The majority of Uber drivers are part-time, and they want these drivers to be able to sign up without needing to jump through hoops. Meanwhile, Facebook Messenger’s head of product Stan Chudnovsky revealed that, despite user complaints about chatbots, thousands of developers are now building them and Facebook is developing a chatbot analytics system. This will help Facebook Messenger improve chatbots by learning which messages are working, and which ones are annoying and spammy. Stan made the point that you need to launch products in order to learn how to make them better – the point being that they will be clunky at first, but will evolve over time.

At the end of the day, the East Coast startup community continues to be vibrant and well supported. With the introduction of high profile industry groups like Tech:NYC, the local startup industry is going to only get bigger and better, and I’m really excited to be part of this community.


Related posts from Verizon Ventures:

Top 5 Verizon Ventures Moments at South By Southwest 

Women Building the Tech Ecosystem: Insights from 2XinTech: Female Founders Conference

Verizon Venture Forum: IoT – Connecting Devices To Drive Solutions


Tags: investing , Startup , Technology , Paul Heitlinger