Disrupt Berlin 2018: mostly about good innovation
When I visited TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco back in 2016, I was mindblown. They had fancy battle robots, huge speakers and a lot of amazing projects from my field — VR, at that time. And so I was excited when the tech happening of this scale announced 2017 and 2018 editions in Europe. Eventually, I wasn’t disappointed.
Starting from the very end, the winner of this Startup Battlefield was Legacy. Legacy aims to increase the fertility rate by freezing sperm. Basically, the company sends you a luxurious sperm-collecting kit, it gets analyzed in a certified clinic and then Legacy either offers an option of freezing the material (also through the clinic) or suggests ways to improve its quality.
Important things to remember when analyzing this business:
1) Infertility in developed economies is growing every year. 30–50% is caused by men, according to the pitch
2) Egg freezing market for women is quite well developed, leaving male part untapped
3) The culture of men taking care of this part of their health is not strong enough, meaning clinics alone wouldn’t make a significant dent in the problem
So Legacy is not a middleman. It’s a service that educates and provides high-end experience…
Still doesn’t sound very sexy, huh? It’s not some AI esports analytics or mega efficient file compressing algorithm, that you can imagine using yourself?
Oh boi, just see the pitch. I haven’t seen a smoother pitch and better presentation skills among any founders. Khaled Kteily, the CEO, is the guy you’d want your daughter to date. Yeah, he has the background in healthcare and public policy, what already makes him a good match for the startup, but the sales skills he’s showed were simply extraordinary.
While the first place was given to a great founder with a great speech, the second place was given to a great technology — Imago.ai. This Agtech startup allows big farmers and seed producing companies to automate the analysis of the crops.
Judges were controlling themselves very well, but you could see that their jaws almost dropped on the floor when the team announced that to train the model for each plant, you need just 50 images of contaminated crops. Very soon, the company plans to upgrade the algorithm to the level when 10 images are enough.
The biggest concern was unclarity with potential market size. Will DuPont be the only company that buys the product, and if yes, how much they are ready to pay?
My personal favorites: Koo! and Polyteia
Koo! proposed the new format of social media — something between Facebook and podcasts. The idea is that people are tired of screens and that non-music audio apps are gaining big popularity.
I definitely see social networks like this in the future, but I was extremely disappointed when discussion on stage shifted to the customer base, and founder agreed with judges that the main audience is girls of age 14–20. As a professional hater of TikTok and Instagram, I believe humankind will be better without this type of apps.
Instead, I’d focus on the audience of podcasts. Recent research shows that these are educated people with higher than average income. Just like Facebook during its early days, Koo! could potentially leverage the power of elitism and niche. And only after fortifying this strategical position it can expand to other audiences.
The idea behind Polyteia deeply touched the urban planner inside me. The majority of city administrations are not performance driven, and so they often don’t work on improving the efficiency of the system. Being a Salesforce for cities, Polyteia aggregates all the data and provides government officials with useful insights.
For judges, the biggest challenge on the way to success for this company was long customer onboarding process, long sales cycle and general inertness of the market.
Cool talks on the stage
One of the people who really made this event was Romain Dillet with his amazing interviews.
He started with Caen Contee from Lime. It was a normal interview until Dillet asked about the relationship between Lime and Definers — an agency that Facebook used to attack Google, Apple, and George Soros. The situation got pretty intense when questions about BirdGraveyard, an Instagram account depicting vandalism against competitor electric scooters, arose. And although Dillet was also mentioning “mudslinging press releases” received by TC team covering Bird updates, Contee didn’t say anything that would negatively impact the company brand.
During the talk with CEOs of N26 and Tandem, Dillet was also spicing up the talk by bringing attention to disagreements, trying to get as many numbers out of guests as possible.
One of the unique advantages of TechCrunch Disrupt is that there is always a lot of top rank VCs. This time, Phillippe Botteri and Niko Bonatsos during Q&A session shared that none of them was an entrepreneur in the past. Niko added that he wasn’t good at working for someone either. And yet, both are extremely successful in their field.
There were plenty of amazing companies presenting in Startup Alley, but here are my top picks from Day 2:
Kasaz is addressing problems with fake property listings and low quality of information on the Spanish real estate market. Firstly, the company verifies all the listings posted on the platform — something no one in Spain is doing on large scale. Secondly, it provides buyers with additional data like historical prices, energy-efficiency of the flat and map of places which you can reach in 10 minutes of walking. The cool thing is that this data is generated automatically. With the current pace, Kasaz will definitely become #1 property listing company in Spain, and that’s why I like it.
Staff Heroes is one of the many temporary staffing services that arose in the last couple of years, however, there are features making this company unique. How it works: Potential worker sets his interests, skills, job preferences and hours during which he/she can work during the week. Then Staff Heroes checks open positions for this week from its clients and directs employee there.
So a student or retired person can work in Italian restaurant Mon-Wed 14:00–22:00, to be a merchandiser on Thursday, and if there is no work to do on Friday 19:00–23:59, a time the person set as working time, he/she still gets a guaranteed income from Staff Heroes. By giving more choice and a little safety net, the company provides workers with more freedom.
Cabin Spacey is another example showing us that some startups have to be built by specific people. In this case, the company was founded in January 2018. The first prototype, on photo, was delivered already in June.
I spent a lot of time researching solutions to the affordable housing crisis, and although this one is far from being affordable, it’s extremely spacey for its size. And the craziest thing about the prototype is that it was produced at no cost for the founding team. All thanks to connections in the industry. At the moment there are more than 200 housing units in the pipeline, and this number is only limited by production capacities, I was told. Compare this to some guys in digital startups unable to find users after 2 years of development.
So that was TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018. An event with uniquely high level of visitors. I was glad to see more startups solving real-life problems as well as meet people powering them. Now, with all this knowledge and inspiration, it’s time to get to work!