A Hong Kong View of the TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 Conference in San Francisco


I just came back from being totally Disrupted!

As part of my work with SoftLayer Catalyst I just spent 5 days at the biggest startup event in the world – the TechCrunch Disrupt conference from Sept 7-11 in San Francisco. A huge event that starts with a 2-day hackathon over the weekend and then culminates in a rapid-fire series of talks, interviews, panels at the conference with heavy pitching at the Startup Battlefield and most importantly the infamous Startup Alley.

Many HK startups ask me if it’s worth it to go to Disrupt at US$3000 a ticket; plus September is still peak season for flying; and the huge America’s Cup is on driving up hotel prices you are looking at anywhere from HK$40-50K for your 5 day trip there. What you get is a booth for ONE day and access to the conference for the rest. The place IS packed and you meet people from all over the tech industry: potential partners, investors and customers so the validation is great. But it is a gamble as you have to really throw everything into that one day.

I was happy to see one HK startup with deep pockets that got a booth – new startup FoodieQuest – a hot or not food app developed by the people behind Fluid and Nest. I spoke to Simon Squibb and Benjamin Hall and they both said they got some great feedback on the app and good face time with different types of people as well as a front page story on TechCrunch.com the day that Apple announced the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c!


It was also bittersweet to see Cyberport there with a full booth as the only other HK representative, they were able to keep a couple of their startups there like Timable.hk which by the way, are crushing it – they told me they hit 500,000 active users in Hong Kong alone and now are ready to look into monetizing the platform! (that was the sweet part – the bitter part is that the booth looked a bit thrown together). With all the great and inexpensive solutions from places like BannerShop in HK I expected at least a coherent image and branding for what Cyberport is doing to represent Hong Kong. Still they were there supporting their teams.

Ireland, China, Brazil and Korea all had pavilions which were more just a grouping of them together than anything else – and they have some great startups there. It was clear the Irish were looking for funding but it seemed Korea and China both have their acts together with impressive user bases and funding already in place.


Startup Alley must have had over 300 startups over the 3 days; they were categorised by Ecommerce, Enterprise, Mobile etc and the last day was just for hardware.

I saw some interesting startups like Import.io and saw Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer talk – but my insight on the whole event is that 75% of the startups were from overseas – like Russia, Europe, Canada and Asia – with 25% from the US.


I think that TechCrunch doesn’t discriminate against any startup that wants to pay the entry fee and picks the best ones (or the ones their founder already invested in) to be in the US$50,000-prize Startup Battlefield that brings the top 3 startups a ton of publicity around the world.

So to answer the question – is it worth it? Depends on what you are looking to do!

It seems that if you are doing a startup and have yet to participate at Disrupt or the other big ones like Launch then you haven’t seen the intensity of the startup world in the US. Nothing we’ve done, or Singapore or Korea or Japan have done can compare with the sheer size of this conference so its definitely something to visit and if you are just wanting to attend its probably better coming with a startup and feel the excitement from that level.

I must have spoken to over 100 startups over the 5 days – some of the ideas are good, most of them are bad. The US is a highly saturated market and I think seeing new “photo sharing apps” as a big problem. But Asia we don’t have as many. I don’t see them as clones I see them as opportunity in new markets. The secret sauce being: easy to use for Asian consumers and traction with a clear business model.

The talks were great – the legends and new kings and queens were there on stage in 20 minute bursts of commentary and soothsaying – but you can watch all those online afterwards and nice and clear. So while its fun to be in the same room as Zuck, your time is best spent heavily networking and connection making with anyone and everyone!

It’s fun and it’s exhilarating but it’s also a lot of work – I now need a holiday after being so disrupted.

I do plan to go back next year – hopefully with plans for a Hong Kong pavilion.

See a bunch of photos I took at the StartupsHK Facebook page (and join the page while you are there!)


I’m bringing as much of the Disrupt mojo as I can to our Startup Saturday: Mobilliance 2013 event on Oct 13 – sign up here now as we have limited seats and a huge line-up of tech talents.


I am preparing the official StartupsHK podcast that will spotlight entrepreneurs in a 1-hour show to be broadcast on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast networks. So stay tuned for information on that!

Casey Lau is co-founder of StartupsHK and is the Community Development Manager of Asia-Pacific for the SoftLayer Catalyst program. Follow him on Twitter, AngelList, LinkedIn and F6S.

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