The first TechCrunch Disrupt Europe was held on 28th and 29th of October in Berlin, the Europe’s startup capital. The sought-after conference was preceded by a 24-hour hackathon and a warm-up meetup organized by Webrazzi on Sunday evening. Over two days the conference venue Arena Berlin was attended by a total of over 2000 people, making it a busy, lively place for the startup bunch that came to show off their dreams.
The made ones
The impressive list of speakers included world’s top VCs like Dave McClure (500 Startups), Michael Arrington (Crunchfund, recent investor in a Slovenian-American startup Layer), Neil Rimer (Index Ventures), Matt Cohler (Benchmark), Chamath Palihapitiya (Social+Capital), Edward Shenderovich (Kite Ventures) and many more, together with successful entrepreneurs and founders like Marc Samwer (Rocket Internet) Nate Blecharczyk (Airbnb), Aaron Levie (Box), Alex Ljung (Soundcloud), Jens Begemann (Wooga), Slava Rubin (Indiegogo), Misha Lyalin (Zeptolab), Jon Bradford (Techstars), the list goes on.
A fiery fireside chat with Marc Samwer
The conference fittingly started with a fireside chat with Marc Samwer, the founder of Rocket Internet, the notorious German copycat accelerator based in Berlin. Opposite him was Mike Butcher, putting Marc on the spot with in-depth questions about Rocket Internet’s business practices and references to certain phrases and vocabulary used in the internal communication that was leaked some time ago. Marc was able to hold his ground though, apologizing where appropriate and providing relevant answers to all the questions. Regarding ownership structure he explained that with his brothers he has set up a holding company called Global Founders Group, which owns both Rocket Internet, their main business of fast global scaling of e-commerce startups, and Global Founders Capital, a €150 million fund through which the Samwers invest in external teams led by exceptional founders with innovative ideas (startups, take note). Talking about internationalizing ideas and business models, Marc proposed that there’s hardly an online model that couldn’t work internationally, and praised the opportunities existing in emerging markets, where there is fast growth in online population and mobile penetration, growing middle class that is underserved and low local availability of entrepreneurial capital. Marc also told the audience how it’s like working with his brothers Oliver and Alexander:
We decide together and fight fruitfully. There is trust and an indefinite amount of will to always come to an agreement, because there is nothing thicker than blood. We are all well aware of what’s going on with each of our companies, and are able to interchange executive roles and positions as needed.
Among the interesting rumors, Dave McClure hinted discreetly in one of the panels that he’s looking into establishing a local presence for the 500 Startups fund in Berlin, thus helping bridge the funding gap for European startups. It’s not going to happen so soon though, so there’s no need to send him your resumes just yet, as he sarcastically put it.
Box and VKontakte on NSA issues
Quite amusing was the chat with Aaron Levie of Box, hosted by Michael Arrington. Aside from talking about the history and growth of Box, Mr. Arrington devoted a considerable amount of time discussing the recent controversy around the NSA and its data collection activities, specifically asking Aaron about Box’s policies regarding cooperation with governmental institutions and intelligence agencies. The surprise guest of the conference, Pavel Durov, who founded the leading Russian social network VKontakte, also had some comments on the issue. Interviewed by Kim-Mai Cutler, Pavel expressed his belief that providers of communication services should be responsible for safeguarding the users’ information. He argued that it is indeed possible to use technology for protection of personal data, and presented his latest project, a free instant messaging service called Telegram, that uses end-to-end encryption to enable secure transmission of information, letting users communicate in a secure way.
The concluding fireside chat with the managing partner of the Social+Capital fund Chamath Palihapitiya was a very refreshing listen. Chamath created a lot of buzz saying recently that the startup quality is at an all time low. He strives to work on things that create tangible value for large masses of people in the areas of life that matter, such as healthcare (Neurotrack), education (Remind101) and financial services (Ezetap). Explaining that Social+Capital is very open to operating outside the US, singling out Brazil, India and Europe, Chamath wholeheartedly emphasized how their ideal founder doesn’t need to be a Harvard, Yale or Y Combinator graduate. When listening to pitches, Chamath trusts his gut feeling and is often able to evaluate a founder in the first 30 seconds. When they do invest in a company, at Social+Capital they start working hands on with the new venture – they’ve put together an in-house team of growth hackers and other experts that help their startups move faster, putting them several years ahead in terms of overall development.
If you missed the conference, check out the video clips of all the interviews, panels and backstage action here.
There were 15 contenders selected for the Startup Battlefield competition, some more disruptive than others, and only four of them qualified for the final round:
- Import.io – lets developers turn any web page into an API, and work with the resulting raw data
- Voicesphere – adds voice-control capabilities to popular consumer and enterprise apps
- Asap54 – a photo-search engine offering a curated selection of shoppable fashion items based on a query via phone camera, a sort of Shazam for fashion
- Lock8 – a bike sharing platform and a highly advanced, smartphone-controlled anti theft device
The conference culminated with the announcement of the winning team, Lock8, who received a cash prize of €40.000, and of course loads of media attention.
Apart from the startups competing on the Startup Battlefield, even more of them were exhibiting in the so-called Startup Alley area, showcasing their products and solutions to numerous visitors, potential investors and fellow founders. Proudly representing Croatia were Ana Kolarević with Sizem and Josipa Majić with Teddy The Guardian, and we also met Dragoslav Radin from Slovenia with his project Fylet. All of them were able to talk business and discuss partnership opportunities with world class companies and brands, confirming the value of participating in a high-profile conference such as TechCrunch Disrupt.