Reflections on TechCrunch Disrupt: LatAm Startups, It’s Time to Bring It

TechCrunch Disrupt is known as the Startup World Series for a reason.

I’m writing this wrap-up post in the middle of the conference room, which is maybe at 10% capacity, since most people are outside enjoying the cocktail hour. I figured if I didn’t get this down now, while the energy is still lingering in the room, it wouldn’t come out just right.

There’s a reason why TechCrunch Disrupt is known as the Startup World Series, why people are willing to pay thousands of dollars to get a badge. The quality of conversations that took place can only be compared with the amount of talent that came to pitch products in the Startup Battlefield.

Layer Takes the Cake

In the end, Layer, a global communications platform (think Stripe for communications), took home the Disrupt Cup, proving that hardware disruption hasn’t quite arrived. SoilIQ and Cota were the big crowd and Twitter favorites.

Layer was crowned champion by the top dogs of the industry: Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Michael Arrington of CrunchFund, Roelof Botha of Sequoia, Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz and David Lee of SV Angel. We can expect big things from the startup in the near future. After all, this was the stage that witnessed the birth of Dropbox.

The Conference

On the conversation end of Disrupt, hats must go off to Michael Arrington, who pushed it over the edge. Interviews are, without a doubt, what Arrington does best. To quote Marissa Mayer, “they’re his superpower.”

Over the past three days, not only was he profoundly entertaining, but he also managed to lead the train of thought that connected the entire conference. The future of Microsoft, the NSA and government transparency were three topics that he made sure were touched upon by all of his interlocutors.

He went balls to the wall on the toughest of topics, even writing a detailed blog post a few days before the event started to explain his motives and the speakers’ initial reactions:

There has been some pushback. Some people don’t want to talk because lawyers. Others say this isn’t their fight and they can’t effectively lead their organizations from behind bars. Others say they are willing to speak their mind.

TechCrunch Disrupt is an event that brings together the best minds of the industry to discuss and reflect on the past, present, and, most importantly, the future. The semiotics around this on day three were something to note: Don Valentine from Sequoia Capital and Tom Perkins from Kleiner Perkins Claufield & Byers had their fireside chat right after Marissa Mayer and before Mark Zuckerberg. It all came to a close with the Startup Battlefield finale, putting some of today’s up-and-coming rock stars together on stage for the very first time.

Essentially, Disrupt examined the present, tilted its hat to the past, and finished off with its sights set clearly on the future.

A Spoonful of Medicine for LatAm

TechCrunch Disrupt proved quite the reality check for the region’s entrepreneurs. Looking at the companies present from a plethora of funds and accelerator programs on the audience side, most were completely awestruck, realizing they had nothing on the teams that were taking the stage.

Latin American startups, it’s time to bring it.

In order to change the ecosystem, we first need to change the mindset as well as the stories we tell. Building apps isn’t good enough to compete with the best of the best. There’s a need to build complex, genuinely innovative companies. First-world-problem subscription models, “tropicalized” clones and custom made design anything won’t cut it in the big leagues. There’s a need to dig deep and look at the issues that are seriously causing pain in our societies and markets (health, hunger, unemployment, immigration).The companies that solve these problems will be the ones that disrupt our markets and, eventually, the world.

A great example of what well-directed talent can do if they snap out of cloning and building stupid apps was Regalii, one of the crowd favorites that unfortunately didn’t take the Disrupt Cup home. Using SMS technology and store credits, the Regalii team is disrupting how immigrant families send money back home.

Thus far, they’ve already changed the lives of 5,000 customers. When they get bigger, they’ll change the world. That’s called disruption.

Disrupt was an opportunity for Latin American entrepreneurs to learn from the ecosystem that paved the way. A lot was said about the importance of keeping data safe and fighting oppressive legislation that looks at using it unfairly. And a lot more was said about the spray and pray investment thesis and the uselessness of VC advice.

The lessons to be learned were ever present. Now the question is, what do we do about them?