Thoughts on TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

Posted on December 3, 2018
> Epistemic status: My personal views, go elsewhere if you want a official rundown. 

During the last weekend of November, I managed to end up traveling to Berlin for TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. They conveniently had a student discount, so it was reasonable enough to attend. Below are some thoughts I had about the conference. ### Scope

The first day of the conference had more interesting startups than the second. This probably is because the presence of a good group of alternative data start-ups presenting the first day. Many of them dealt with geographic data, from real-time mapping for AR/VR tech to collecting geographic and alternative data for security purposes.

The company Here at the conference displayed one of the cars that collects street data the 1st day. I managed actually to get inside it and play with some of the data collection tools. One of these days I want to figure out Lidar and SLAM engineering because those tools have intrigued me and I have always wondered how the maps we take for granted are actually made.

In general, I think alternative data companies are going to be more important. This is because more groups want exotic data sources for their products. A current example of this are hedge funds collecting data from RobinHood, or the classic example of hedge funds buying satellite data of park lots and other locations.

A troubling thing about the conference was the lack of climate change startups. While this is understandable, considering climate change is not seen as hip, and there is an argument to be made that a climate change startup is inherently a reactionary operation, it was still disheartening to not see anyone tackle the issue.

Another strange comment was at one talk a representative roughly explained that they wanted to expand digital nomadism to refugees. While de-jure this is the case in real life, it does not feel right to market their displacement as a business opportunity. Obviously, wherever they go from Lebanon (which is 1/4 Syrian refugee at this point) to Germany they deserve dignity. But perhaps we should not be so brazen in using the language of markets to describe people who are in need of being treated with dignity.

While Vinay Gupta and Jaime Burke understood that the cryptocurrency and blockchain space is currently getting wrecked, due to lacking useful products. It felt however that the startups presenting did not quite understand this yet. Many of the companies in the booths presenting were the usual crypto trading/banking products. I get that building something useful like Monax is difficult but I thought more of those companies would exist by now. Mercifully the price crash and at least in the United States the SEC going on the rampage against unregistered security offerings and mediocre crypto scams should drive fools out of the space.

The winner in the competition was a interesting company called Legacy that was branded like companies such as Hims or Roman. This made sense, since the product Legacy was offering was yet another male health product. In this case, it was sperm storage and analysis. Considering the fall in male sperm counts, Legacy will likely have brisk business in the future. It is still funny to see the rise of these luxury male oriented wellness goods that exist to make these things been seen as manly or at least discrete.

Outside the Conference

I went to the after party which was hosted at the Watergate, a nightclub that is right on the Spree river. It was a strange reflection of a German Nightclub experience, as the entire time the all the people within the club where attendees of the conference. It was funny to see a VC attempt to dance, nothing wrong with them trying but definitely amusing. Met a couple of people and had an entertaining conversation about tech. It is interesting to think back that some of the points hit in the conversation are similar to the intro to Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez. The notes being the desire for some people to leave especially finance to enter tech to have the sense of freedom that is going into startups.

As an aside I recommend reading Chaos Monkeys. I think it is a good introduction to 
some of the wackier aspects of Silicon Valley. Also, the stories contained in the 
book can change perspective on some problems currently going on in tech. 

Also, it is an odd experience to meet or at least hear people in real life that you only know from Twitter. In general, it is a very different experience to hear about VC deal-making, versus actually seeing the flow of VC money in real time.

Something rather irksome was that people were surprised about my humanities background. Several people commented that I was more of a data science person, and wondered why I had majored in international affairs and economics in the first place. This disheartens me, as while I have learned a lot on my own, I still enjoy studying international affairs and economics. While I do enjoy data science and tech, I like it more as a means to an end then for the sake of it. My view is without a actual goal to accomplish, technical skills are not as usual. At minimum, am economics and international affairs background provides a set of problems where data science skills could possibly be useful for solving problems.

The conference was worth to go in the end, from meeting a good amount of people, to touring Berlin for a few days, and perhaps gain a little bit more insight into the bizarre world known as the tech industry.