Investors, entrepreneurs, and a few start-up groupies convened today in Midtown for the fourth annual TechCrunch Disrupt.
Topics ranged from frothy IPOs to broken APIs, from immigration reform to BuzzFeed's kitten fixation. There were a few moments of insight, too. Here's a few of them from some of the world's most successful company founders.
1. The world is getting BitCoin wrong.
"People focus on it as a currency," says Chris Dixon. "But it's really a payment scheme." Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, says people have been treating Bitcoin as a currency or investment opportunity, but that's backward. Bitcoin, he says, could potentially solve one of the largest problems on the Internet: payment transfers. "The Internet is an anonymous network with a payment system that requires identification," he says. That, in turn, creates a massive fraud problems, not to mention expensive fees. "But what's exciting is that [with Bitcoin] you have an anonymous payment system grafted onto an anonymous payment network."
2. Macroeconomics is just a silly waste of time in the venture business.
Bill Gurley, a partner at Benchmark, was asked by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington what affect the European economic crisis had on the venture business. Well, for the best investors, not much. While banking and private equity "feel" the shifts of unemployment rates, interest rates, and fiscal uncertainty, the best investors and entrepreneurs, he says, are 'immune' to these factors.
3. New York has a great start-up scene, with key weaknesses.
Thankfully, the buzz-phrase "Silicon Alley" didn't come up, but New York City's start-up scene was discussed. Dixon, a longtime New York entrepreneur and investor, says the most difficult challenge for New York start-ups isn't actually starting up, but rather scaling from 50 employees to 500. Gurley agrees the scene is growing, but it'll need a major "hit" (ahhem, exit) in order to really establish its presence.
4. People are dying. Wars are being fought. And we're funding companies like Snapchat.
Perhaps the most critical speaker was Chamath Pahipatiya, an early Facebook employee-turned investor. He said he's sick of the state of innovation in Silicon Valley--or lack thereof. "We should be utterly ashamed," Pahipatiya said. "We are at an absolute minimum of the quality of things being started. The quality has degraded to reusing ideas from 2003--sending pictures in text messages that disappear."
5. The next Apple exists. But it's probably in China.
Pahipatiya, himself an immigrant, also belives the United States is in a downward spiral when it comes to attracting talent to the United States. "The U.S. is getting its ass kicked," he said. "What are we doing? We're focusing on one percent problems. The next Jack Ma [the Chinese Internet billionaire who founded Alibaba] has no incentive to come to the United States."
6. BuzzFeed understands (and exploits) your social disorder.
What makes certain pages on BuzzFeed so shareable? Well, Buzzfeed has put a lot of energy into figuring out the psychology of you, for one. "We embrace that and make content for the whole person, for all the quirky different things people are interested in," said Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed. "Being human means being a little insane." Ultimately, people are weird. We don't have unified interests, which means a site doesn't necessarily need to produce really specific content.
7. Don't pay attention to the haters.
If you're a company founder, you'll definitely face some negativity. Don't let it get to you, says Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare. He should know: In March, he and Silicon Valley investor Keith Rabois got into a spat (on Twitter, no less) about Foursquare's user-base. Crowley's advice for founders who find themselves in situations like this: Haters gonna hate. Shrug it off.
8. It's OK to build a company in an industry you know nothing about.
Dwight Merriman and Kevin Ryan, perhaps New York's most successful founders, have started five companies together, including DoubleClick, Gilt, and Business Insider. Somewhat counterintuitively, the pair caution against first-time entrepreneurs starting companies in industries they're too familiar with. The danger is focusing on an idea that's too much of a personal hobby, they say, because there's too much of a selection bias to make you think it's something important, or worth doing. "If you're doing a start-up and the idea was not a hobby of yours--that's a sign that it's a good idea," Ryan said.