TechCrunch Atlanta: 2016 MeetUp Review
If you’ve never heard about TechCrunch, it is the #1 source of breaking tech news online.
Becoming one of the most influential news brands in the tech industry, they have expanded their business in multiple ways including the organization of events.
Their flagship event TechCrunch Disrupt is so iconic it was recreated for the HBO show Silicon Valley.
On February 25th, TechCrunch made it to Atlanta through their meetup + pitch-off gathering. I didn’t know about it until I saw a Facebook ad. I was both surprised and flattered to be in their targeted audience!
The meetup gave a chance to 10 Atlanta-based startups to tell a panel of VCs and editors why they’re awesome in 60 seconds or less. The winners will then have an opportunity to attend TechCrunch Disrupt in New York.
If you’re a FOMO like me, here’s what happened.
Before the event
I’ve never been to a TechCrunch event so I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been interested in the tech world for both personal and professional reasons as I’ve worked with multiple startups and software companies.
I like to call myself a “fake nerd”. Let’s say I have enough programming and design knowledge to scratch my own itch as a marketer. I’d love to start my own company one day, which is what most people attending #tcmeetups are doing.
Networking is better as a group, so I thought I would text my friends David and Alex, two Georgia Tech alumni who started Pupwalkr, an on-demand dog walking platform.
I’m not sure what David and Alex were expecting from the meetup. I know I was interested in seeing what type of crowd would be there.
This is what I had in mind before the event:
- Recent college graduates in their 20s trying to build the next Uber while wearing hoodies
- Entrepreneurs in their 30s trying to invest in the next Uber while wearing nice suits
- Bloggers trying to write about the next Uber while typing on their phones
- Guys like me trying to understand that world while pretending to be one of the above
During the event
The place and the crowd
The first thing that shocked me was the security. Privé being a night club, a bouncer did briefly look at our tickets without scanning them. Five minutes after being inside, I finally saw someone scanning tickets directly from her phone.
By then, I knew the event would be smaller than what I expected. I don’t think capacity and security were a concern. I doubt anyone was trying to sneak in for free.
After using our free beer tickets and adding shots to that, we quickly moved towards the main room where some sponsors had a booth/table. Some of them were dashboard providers, others cloud solutions, and WeWork, a coworking office space platform I’ve heard through a Facebook ad, again! I guess I’m the best example of why companies looking for better targeting and ROI should forget about Google Adwords, and focus on Facebook Ads.
As a general matter, everybody was friendly, ready to mingle. The few people I’ve talked to were in the early stages of their company, if they even went further than having an idea.
Selling tickets for only $10 was a smart move from TechCrunch. The startup scene is growing in Atlanta, but it’s still small compared to San Francisco or other cities. The low price point allowed them to decently fill up the place with a crowd that was more diverse than what I mentioned earlier:
- People with just an idea: They have an idea so decided to go to their first tech event. Starting a company seems easy, and building an app even more. Most of them don’t know what they’re doing at that point, but they were there to figure it out.
- Georgia Tech alumni: I did see a lot of them, wearing their college hoodies, or t-shirts of their newly founded startup.
- Startup founders/employees: Some of David’s friends starting a company called Hux, a house-cleaning service marketplace. If I remember correctly, they told me they already have 10,000 customers in the Greater Atlanta area. Funny thing is, they recently realized the spike in search volume on Google Trends around the word “Hux” wasn’t about them, but a Star Wars character.
- Minorities: I wish I could use a better word to define this one. What’s a minority? As a white male from France, am I a minority? Anyways, besides seeing people of all colors, I was happily surprised to see more women than I was expecting.
- Curious people like me trying to see how they could be part of that world.
I think that diversity tells us something else: Having the next billion-dollar idea seems so attractive and easy to reach that anyone feels competent to do it.
Is this the new American Dream?
Having an idea, good or bad, is one thing. Executing and promoting it properly is something else. Finding product/market fit is a big challenge, and this is why most startups fail.
David did warn me before the event by saying this might be a “circle-jerk where everybody is saying the world is great, we can all do it! Statistically we can’t all do it, 99% of you here won’t make it! The fact that you’re even [at that event]… You should go back to work.”
I get it though, the tech world looks promising from the outside. Making an app is so easy nowadays it seems like the obvious way to go when starting a company.
— Romu Gaboriau (@romugaboriau) February 25, 2016
David told me he puts an average of 14 hours of work every day! I’m sure if people knew that’s what it takes, a lot of them wouldn’t even bother.
The best example is one of my old acquaintances from college I stumbled upon during the meetup.
After finishing his first degree, he switched his major to Computer Science. I was surprised to hear he was launching an app called GrubHawker. Besides making the connection with his love for the Atlanta Hawks, I wasn’t sure what type of service that was. He then told me it was a grocery delivery app. To me, it seems like a very crowded market to enter with competitors like Instacart, Shipt and UberEATS!
Everybody wants to make apps, even one of my former interns asked me for advice on the one he’s developing on the side.
The presenters and panelists
First of all, the low pricing had one big downside: the lack of attention to the presenters.
That made most pitches inaudible. It seemed like the crowd was there in some sort of voyeurism. I’m not sure what’s the goal of attending an event if you’re not going to listen to the people on stage. Were they just there to confirm their idea is better than someone else’s?
I also think most people didn’t know who the panelists were. Either the hostess didn’t mention their names, or I didn’t hear them because the crowd was too loud and the sound system was awful.
The first pitch didn’t help with catching people’s attention. From the little I’ve heard, it sounded like these guys had no clue what they were doing. Their business is about telling you the real value of your car when you get into an accident, because Carfax is ripping you off! Seems like most panelists weren’t convinced.
One pitch that caught my attention was DiaScan, a software company that analyzes CT scans for lung cancer by leveraging data analysis and machine learning. DiaScan is said to be cheaper and more accurate than biopsy.
— Jeremy Gill (@StartNetworking) February 26, 2016
The panelists pointed that out, but in a typical fashion for someone who believes in his project, cognitive dissonance kicked in. The guy couldn’t take constructive criticism and got emotional. He even said “you will be using Nearbynewz soon enough!”
On one hand, the diversity of the crowd was a good thing. On the other hand, I was disappointed to see the few women pitching were solely presenting woman-centric concepts. One of them was SwatchPop, an on-demand interior design service. The others were clothes related.
The following presentations weren’t a game changer either. They all sounded like ideas I’ve heard before. For example, Spün makes calorie-counter utensils. HAPI did this before them, even though Spün’s concepts seems more advanced.
By 8:20, the presenters were done.
By 8:30, the winners were announced. I was happy to see DiaScan got third place.
By 8:37pm, most people were already leaving, even though the event was supposed to end at 10pm. We all thought leaving was the best option at that point, since the event wasn’t convincing.
Right before I left, one of the panelists whom I affectionally called “the homeless millionaire” took the mic and said he was available to talk. Not sure anyone cared since he told the crowd to be quiet earlier in a pretty rude way, even though justified.
After the event: Takeaways
If TechCrunch comes back to ATL next year, they need to change the location.
If you look at the events in Boston or other cities, it looks like they were hosted in a more traditional conference setup. That would keep the crowd focused on the stage and the pitches.
At the end of the day, I feel for the presenters who have the balls to leave everything behind and put themselves out in the open, ready to take bullets for their baby, their business. I still have a corporate job for a reason.
It’s easier to be passive and criticize, it’s harder to be active and do. The doers are the only ones that can fail.
I wish I could have been more specific about the names of the companies and panelists. Loud crowd + poorly managed stage = inaudible information.
By going to Twitter, I did find the pitch winners:
I also tried to contact the host Jordan Crook and other people, but none of them replied. That says a lot about the importance of that event to TechCrunch: very little.
Atlanta isn’t a major tech destination yet.
Were you at #tcmeetups Atlanta? What did you think of the event? Who is “the homeless millionaire”? Leave your comments!
UPDATE: TechCrunch just replied to me 3 days later with the list of presenters:
- Trust Stamp
Startup Atlanta also replied to me by sharing their article proving Atlanta is heating up as a “Silicon City”.
— Startup Atlanta (@StartupAtlanta) March 2, 2016