Disrupt SF 2016 just wrapped up yesterday, which leaves of flood of information to be digested. Big-wigs like Marc Andreesen, Marc Benioff, Reid Hoffman, and Jeff Lawson showed up. Through the entire three days, these were the main ideas:
AI was the buzzword of the entire conference. The majority of speakers mentioned plans on integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into their products and organizations and a portion of Startup Alley was dedicated to solely AI, which is a reflection of the growth of artificial intelligence’s market in recent years. Benioff talked a little about Einstein, which is an integration of AI into Salesforce’s core CRM product. He will explain it in further detail at DreamForce this year. Uber’s director in the self-driving initiative also spoke on how AI in the ride-hailing service will inadvertently disrupt unexpected markets. Real estate will be affected because parking lots will be in smaller demand, for example. DraftKings and Crunchbase CEOs also spoke on the vitality of machine learning in refining their respective databases for their core products. Marc Andreesen also heavily emphasized AI: Andreesen Horowitz is reserving a large part of their fund for AI startups.
Equally popular in speech during Disrupt was the lingering problem of diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley. One of the speakers was Morgan DeBaun, female black founder of Blavity, a platform for black millennials to post articles on important social and racial matters close to the black community. Her experience has been that her platform retains users four-fold better than other community-based news and opinion platforms because of the tight-knit community of black millennials. Marc Benioff was especially passionate about inclusion. He talked about when he discovered females in Salesforce were being paid less than men, he immediately raised their salaries to an equal level. There was even a panel of three female founders in the health-tech space who talked about their experiences being female founders.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (and the Secret Service) was in attendance at Disrupt this year, and Carter had a chance to speak. His rhetoric was one of cooperation between the private tech sector and a burgeoning technology-focused government. He repeated his phrase of “we have to meet in the middle” multiple times. He also admitted the government’s bureaucratic faults: Startups typically have a shorter 6 month to 1 year horizon, whereas government grants and purchases take too long to get approved. He claims that the Department of Defense is working on becoming leaner to match the pace of American startups.
Besides the impressive lineup of speakers, there were also several impressive startups in Startup Battlefield and Startup Alley. My three favorite were Bitmark, BlazingDB, and Flock.
Bitmark is a startup that I heard of prior to Disrupt SF, so when I saw the founder, Sean Moss-Pultz, in Startup Alley, I was excited to speak to him on what Bitmark was working on. According to him, Bitmark is a “blockchain-based distributed property registration system that enables individuals to claim ownership over personal data and digital assets.” In reality, this means that typical consumers can sell their data — name, email, phone number, buying habits, etc. — for businesses to purchase for marketing purposes. The main thesis is that your data is valuable, so why not capitalize on it?
BlazingDB was one of the most exciting startups in Startup Battlefield. The founder was very passionate about the potency of his product: A big data SQL parser that is bound to kill the likes of Amazon Redshift and open-source PostgreSQL. Essentially, BlazingDB utilizes GPUs to parse data at the petabyte scale, which has put it at around 5x faster than Redshift and an astounding 80x faster than PostgreSQL. Their one weakness was a lack of patents.
Flock is a Slack-killer. Their team communications app is about four-fold cheaper than Slack with more features like simpler cross-department communication. The one part about their company that really caught my attention was their ability to acquire Slack users and retain them better than Slack.