I am writing this somewhere over the North Pacific, a couple of hundred kilometers south of Alaska on a Delta flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. I spent the past week in the Bay area for among others the Smartphone game summit and TechCrunch Disrupt. As during every trip to the Valley I was once again inspired by the entrepreneurs that I met and the whole entrepreneurial vibe that’s hanging around San Francisco. It seems like every second person I met either works for a start-up or is an investor (of course the nature of the conferences also helps).
It was a week in which I met a ton of new people and many of them I met through Twitter. I was tweeting a lot during parts of the TC Disrupt conference, and because of that I got in touch with others that saw my tweets. Twitter is invaluable during this kind of conferences, if you miss stuff on stage you can read it again (and with comments) in the back channel and especially during more controversial panels (e.g. super angels vs. VCs or the Women in Tech one that became a cat fight on stage) it was very entertaining as well. Difficult to imagine a conference without Twitter actually, it adds so much value to what’s happening on stage and you get to meet new cool people at the same time.
The conferences gave me a lot of inspiration, especially now that I am sitting on this long plane ride and I finally have some time to recap what I saw and heard. My main conclusion is that the future is mobile, not only in China but all over the world. Nothing new of course, but it’s interesting to see most tech people seem to have similar ideas. Touchscreens? Every device will have them 5 years from now. My kids now already don’t understand why my laptop doesn’t react to them touching the screen! Especially Eric Schmidt (CEO Google) was very inspiring to me, his vision of the mobile future is important because Google is (still) so powerful that it can show the way to get there.
But start-ups can also help to get there, especially the disruptive ones that presented their ideas during the conference. The eventual winner Qwiki is not my favorite, even though they certainly are disruptive and their presentation was amazing. But for me search is still synonym to getting an instant text or image result, not a mix of audio, video and text that you have to listen to. Time is of the essence when searching, I don’t want to listen to a 20 second multimedia bombardment. I hope for them I am wrong, and in that case they’ll probably quickly end up as part of the Google family. Others like Gunzoo (a fabric video ‘wall’) I liked a lot more, but for China’s relatively low Internet speeds this is still too early. Now that I think about it, this also seems to be a good candidate for Google (YouTube).
The 2nd day of TC Disrupt started off with a big bang, when AOL CEO Tim Armstrong came on stage with Mike Arrington and they confirmed the rumors that AOL had bought TechCrunch. Great for Mike and his writing staff, they worked very hard to get where they are and they deserve a good pay off (I hope all their bloggers have decent stock options). TechCrunch achieved a lot in just over 5 years. The first time I heard about the blog is when Mike Arrington wrote about Tudou (at that time still Toodou) in the summer of 2005. Now that would be a big thing for a start-up, but then hardly anybody knew TechCrunch yet. Strangely the article seems to have disappeared, but I assume it should still be somewhere in the Internet archives.
Next to listening to all the top speakers and panelists, we (Floris Jan Cuypers of Spil Games was also in SF) had a couple of meetings with gaming and other companies (a.o. we went to Facebook’s HQ, where you have to sign an NDA before even entering the building, just like at Google. I hope writing this doesn’t break their laws. FB is clearly not a start-up anymore…). We even got to see MC Hammer perform at the Google & SV Angels after party. Pretty cool, Hammertime still rocks and his dance moves are still there 2 decades later.
Another highlight was the visit to Singularity University at the NASA Ames Research Center. SU’s executive director Salim Ismail was also at TC Disrupt and he saw on Twitter that I was also at the conference. We had dinner a couple of months ago in SF so it was good to catch up again. He then invited Floris Jan and me to visit Singularity University. I should probably write a separate blog post about what Singularity is doing, because once again I was blown away by some of the stories I heard. They are literally changing the world with their ideas and projects. For some ideas on what they are working on, check out their Facebook page. Thanks for the invite Salim!
Another highlight of the week was the visit last weekend of one of the best wineries in Napa Valley, Jarvis Wines, where the owner and his wife gave us a private tour. I was very honored by this and plan to write a separate post on the visit over the next days. As I have probably mentioned on this blog in the past one of my goals is to one day have my own winery, so not only did I get to taste some of the best wines I ever had, but this was a very inspiring day as well.
By coincidence last night Seraph Group had a limited partner meeting in Palo Alto, so I was able to join that as well for the first time. Met some of the other LPs and several portfolio companies presented to us. I had seen many company presentation during TC Disrupt over the past days, but actually the ones I saw at Seraph were better than the ones presenting at TC Disrupt. I especially liked Wakemate, that uses a soft bracelet to measure and analyze your sleep patterns and wakes you up at the right time (similar to Lark that was presenting at TC Disrupt). Wakemate will launch in October and I plan to order a kit and try it out for myself. Tasting Room is another portfolio company that I liked a lot. They basically sell small boxes with 6 * 50ml bottles of different wines that you can taste. The wines that you like you can order right away in normal bottles. Tasting Room works with many of the big US wineries but only ships in the US. They also have an iPhone app where you can make tasting notes and with more background on the wines. A very cool idea implemented by a very experienced team. I wonder when someone will copy the model outside the US, it seems like a no brainer for entrepreneurial teams with wine industry experience.
I look back at an excellent week in one of my favorite places in the world. And like I said before on this blog, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I would end up here to do a new start-up