Posts tagged Disrupt

TechCrunch Disrupts Protest That Was Trying To Disrupt TechCrunch Disrupt

Protesters who attempted to demonstrate outside the TechCrunch Disrupt conference Wednesday afternoon found themselves disrupted instead, after TechCrunch organizers called security—who then called the police—to shoo away the protest.

A group of around 20 disgruntled San Francisco citizens gathered outside the main entrance to TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday afternoon, calling on San Francisco techies to support ballot initiatives intended to stop home evictions and raise the city’s minimum wage. Both are big issues in San Francisco, where skyrocketing rents—thanks largely to the tech boom—are pricing out many long-time city residents.  

While the protesters waved signs and chanted along with megaphone-wielding leaders, the TechCrunch closing awards celebrated the winner of the event’s startup-battle competition: Alfred, a personal butler that manages on-demand services like housecleaning and laundry.

But the protest only lasted for 40 minutes. According to Shum Preston, a campaign strategist for Raise the Bay who helped coordinate the demonstration, TechCrunch asked police to remove the protesters from the parking lot outside the event.

I contacted TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis for comment. After some back-and-forth via email, she provided me with the following statement, which she asked me to attribute to “TechCrunch”:

There were people intimidating our guests and blocking them from leaving parking spaces. We were asked if our security could manage this situation, and we said yes. The property managers took this one step further and asked the police from Giants stadium [where a baseball game was underway] to come by and assist (without our knowledge).  

We did not request, nor authorize any removal of protestors from property to which the public has the right to access. The only thing I was interested in was protecting the safety of TechCrunch staff as I would in the normal course of business.

We did allow the DisruptDenial people to hang out in the parking lot and peacefully distribute coffee and talk to our guest. They actually parked a trailer there without asking and we allowed them to continue doing what they were doing.  

Shum said the group was approached by a San Francisco police officer who asked them to disperse. “We told him we believed it was public property, which he said was possible, but we complied,” he told me by email.

 Why The Protest?

Claudia Tirado, who joined the protests with her son Valentino, is fighting eviction from a building recently bought by Google executive Jack Halprin

Tirado, a veteran 3rd-grade teacher in the San Francisco public schools, lives with her son and partner (who, by the way, drives for Uber to help support the family). If evicted, she said, they’ll have to move away from San Francisco, where the average rent is $3,200 per month.

“We have to adapt to this technology and we struggle every day to make it and keep our family together,” she said.

Preston said that the activists came out to Disrupt to ask attending technologists to support fair wages and housing to “disrupt economic inequality.”

“It’s an effort to get the tech industry to support and come out in favor of raising the minimum wage and asking them to support Prop G which will provide economic incentives to stop the quick flipping,” Shum said, referring to the way landlords buy property at a low price, then evict tenants and sell it for much larger sum. “Is it the perfect solution for housing? Obviously not.”

But it is a start, he says.

Tech And The SF Housing Crunch

The San Francisco Bay Area has seen a number of anti-tech protests this year. In June, a protester crashed Google’s I/O developer conference to call attention to the pending eviction Halprin’s tenants. During demonstrations against the buses that shuttle employees from San Francisco and Oakland to Silicon Valley, one protester intentionally vomited on a Yahoo shuttle in April.

TechCrunch itself has covered both the protests and the underlying issues, most notably in a 13,000-word piece on the San Francisco housing crisis by the site’s Kim-Mai Cutler in April. Cutler even moderated a panel on the subject on Tuesday at … TechCrunch Disrupt.

Though the protest was small, Shum said he was pleased with the turnout. “Inside they were feting virtual butlers, while outside, sure, the execs were ignoring the poor and middle-class folks who are getting squeezed by this economy,” he said. 

Images by Selena Larson for ReadWrite

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Tinder Attempts To Swipe Away Lawsuit At TechCrunch Disrupt

Tinder CEO Sean Rad didn’t say much about the recently settled lawsuit between his dating company and former marketing executive and disputed cofounder Whitney Wolfe at TechCrunch Disrupt on Wednesday. 

Wolfe accused cofounders Rad and Justin Mateen of sexual harassment, including a “barrage of horrendously sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages.”

But he did say that Mateen has resigned—something that occurred around the same time Tinder’s majority stake-holder, IAC/Interactive Corp., settled the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. 

“Justin has resigned to focus on Justin,” Rad said on stage in an interview with TechCrunch reporter Jordan Crook.

See also: The Bathroom Lines At Tech Conferences Could Use Some Disruption

Tinder, one of the most popular free mobile dating apps in the U.S., allows users to quickly flip through photos of potential dates, using a finger to swipe right on a picture if interested, and left if not. Users who swipe right on each other’s profiles are notified of their mutual interest.

Rad also avoided the question about whether or not Wolfe was a cofounder of the company. In the lawsuit, Wolfe claimed she was stripped of this credit. Additionally, Rad wouldn’t comment on the fact that the suit was settled with no admission of wrongdoing on Tinder’s part. 

“Whitney was hired to work on marketing,” Rad said. “She did a phenomenal job, particularly with respect to executing our strategy on college campuses.”

Tinder has become a very public example of the poor treatment women in tech experience. And considering Tinder is reportedly raising another round of funding at a valuation of $750 million, Rad is likely trying to put the lawsuit behind him and the company. Instead of talking too much about the settlement, he provided some advice for startups who are building their company with friends. 

“When you have that kind of relationship and closeness within your team … the lines get blurred,” Rad said. “Creating boundaries earlier on would be healthy.”

Boundaries? You don’t say.

Rad said that in the wake of the settlement, he is working with the Tinder team to ensure everyone knows their place in the company, and is pushing forward to achieve what the company set out to do—which is enable people to date by swiping “yes” on a mobile app.

Lead image by Selena Larson for ReadWrite.

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At TechCrunch Disrupt, Attendees Construct Their Own Fashion Framework

Silicon Valley Street Style is an occasional feature that looks at the intersection of fashion and technology culture.

Along with the slew of keynotes, fireside chats, and startup pitches that infiltrated TechCrunch Disrupt 2014, one of the hottest topics this year was attendee fashion.

Silicon Valley, not exactly known for being the most stylish places in the world, is reclaiming its name in the fashion space. Change is happening, slowly but surely—fashion and tech are meeting in the middle to produce functional and beautiful wearables, and apparel and e-commerce startups are aiming to bring professional designs to even the busiest of San Franciscans. 

The best of the Bay’s clean yet laid-back fashion trends made an appearance at TechCrunch Disrupt. Here are some notable mentions of those who hit the stage with their best shoe forward. 

Greylock Partners’ James Slavet, Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee, and Sequoia Capital’s Omar Hamoui 
Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes and TechCrunch’s Jon Shieber
Liam Casey of PCH International and TechCrunch’s John Biggs
TechCrunch’s Jordan Crook 
Medium’s Ev Williams and TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino

Colorful socks and shoes in bright colors seemed to be the “it” fashion statement this year. The addition of fancy footwear really speaks to a choice that Clover’s Ryan Reid calls “chic laziness”. 

By adding just an element of bright color to an outfit, someone can convey that he or she is fun, quirky, and thinks (but not too much!) about outfit choices. 

“You want to look good, but not like you tried too hard,” says Reid. Sounds like the Silicon Valley fashion mantra in a nutshell. 

Speakers and moderators weren’t the only ones bringing their A game. I spotted these perfect street style contenders through the bustling crowds at TCD. 

It wouldn’t be TechCrunch Disrupt without Startup Alley, and if HBO’s Silicon Valley taught us anything, it would be that we should expect startup tees. Lots and lots of startup tees.

The Pied Piper team on HBO’s <em>Silicon Valley</em>

So did Silicon Valley portray the real face of TCD? While many people in the convention center were indeed rocking a startup tee, it wasn’t nearly as obnoxious and overwhelming as the show made it out to be. See for yourself—here are a few of the infamous t-shirts at Startup Alley. 

Images by Stephanie Chan. Silicon Valley image by HBO. 

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Google Settles Shareholder Suit, Will Set Aside $250M To Disrupt Rogue Online Drug Ads

Google will create a $250 million internal program to battle rogue online pharmacies as part of a deal to end a shareholder lawsuit, Reuters reported today. The litigation was sparked by Google’s $500 million settlement in 2011 with the U.S. Justice Department, which alleged that the search…



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How Alibaba Could Disrupt Amazon In The U.S.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has gotten lots of attention thanks to its pending multi-billion-dollar U.S. IPO. It seems to have no immediate plans to expand in the U.S.—but that’s likely just a matter of time. And when it does, Amazon had better watch out, because Alibaba has a host of ready allies: the legions of mom-and-pop retailers that Amazon has left stranded in its wake.

Let’s start with some background from Alibaba’s perspective. The company controls 80% of the Chinese e-commerce market, which means it needs new markets in order to grow. Its current model—acting as an e-commerce middleman that connects buyers and sellers—might translate well to some big emerging markets, but Alibaba will need to take a more subtle approach in America for three reasons:

  1. Culture clash: Alibaba is a Chinese consumer brand and Amazon is an American consumer brand managed by an incredibly smart and aggressive company. Guess which brand will win over American consumers? Jeff Bezos’s attitude to price wars has been “bring it on,” so Alibaba cannot expect to win on price alone.
  2. Trade friction: Things got ugly between Cisco and Huawei, and some people are already muttering about Alibaba in the U.S. as well (for instance, complaining that the Chinese company will get access to American consumers’ credit card information”). Alibaba will need to avoid getting drawn into the narrative of U.S.-China trade clashes; it would be a major PR fail. It badly needs a fan base among American consumers, not just among investment bankers.
  3. Tapping innovation: America is still the innovation capital of the world. New concepts get traction in America first and then make their way elsewhere. Innovation isn’t susceptible to brute force, frontal assaults; you have to woo it.

The smart thing for Alibaba would be to take an indirect approach. Think of the way Microsoft won over developers in order to take over the PC market—a strategy emulated by countless startups since then. In the case of Alibaba, this means winning over Main Street merchants in the U.S.

It’s probably no coincidence that Alibaba’s first online storefront for the U.S. is branded 11 Main.

Sussing Out The Alibaba Strategy

The 11 Main site today is a placeholder, and Alibaba isn’t saying much about 11 Main on the record. What little we know, however, appears targeted more at entrepreneurs than consumers. Here’s the PR soundbite: “Alibaba is run by entrepreneurs and firmly believes in supporting entrepreneurs with great vision and a strong sense of mission for their companies.”

11 Main is owned by two e-commerce ventures recently acquired by Alibaba—Auctiva and Vendio. This fits with the indirect model sensitive to wooing innovation: Let American e-commerce entrepreneurs take on Amazon, backed by Alibaba’s cash and clout.

Here’s what we know about Vendio from its Crunchbase profile:

Founded in 1999, Vendio Services, Inc. (www.vendio.com) helps small to medium-sized merchants (SMM’s) succeed by offering them an integrated solution to manage their sales seamlessly and cost-effectively across multiple online sales channels including their online store, Amazon.com, eBay, Google, Shopzilla, and more. Each year over 80,000 merchants use Vendio’s award winning multi-channel platform and applications to sell nearly $2 billion in merchandise. The company also operates Dealio (www.dealio.com), a shopping and coupons site for consumers.

That doesn’t seem to present not much threat to Amazon on the surface. Amazon already sells products from partners. Vendio offers merchants access to multiple channels—not just Amazon—and that was probably the appeal to Alibaba, but that alone does not look disruptive.

Auctiva, meanwhile, mostly seems to offer tools to help people sell their wares on eBay. Its “about us” page, however, adds this:

Auctiva was acquired in August 2010 by Alibaba.com, providing users integrated access to low-cost product sources through AliExpress—a global wholesale platform geared for smaller resellers seeking fast shipment of small quantities of goods.

AliExpress, by the way, is—in the words of Slate’s Lily Hay Newman—”Alibaba’s hilarious, deeply bizarre, factory-outlet marketplace.”

Finally, on the 11Main site itself, you can piece together the following description of the type of merchants the site is looking for:

The Best Address For Your Business

Build a following of customers inspired to buy from you again and again.

Connect With Customers

11 Main is a shopping destination where hand-picked shop owners connect with customers in a stylish and professionally merchandised marketplace.

On 11 Main, customers know who you are and can easily visit or follow your shop.

  • Build one-to-one relationships with customers
  • Attract new customers with special offers—some funded by 11 Main
  • Receive promotional placement in 11 Main targeted marketing

Share Your Story

As an 11 Main shop owner, your brand identity is associated with every item you sell. Every connection with a customer is a personal one.

Customers love to hear shop owners describe their journey, passion and point of view. Your identity shines through in your shop at 11 Main, and in your story.

Simple, Affordable

We keep it simple and affordable, so we’ll always be the right place for your business. You’ll be able to offer your great items at great prices, and keep your customers coming back. Request an invitation to sell at 11 Main and we’ll tell you more.

Is 11 Main Right For You?

We hand-pick shop owners who:

  • Sell interesting, quality products in 11 Main’s key categories 
  • Sell successfully online
  • Provide great customer service
  • Display clean, detailed images and write clear, original descriptions
  • Offer fast, reasonably-priced shipping, originating from within the U.S.

Where you won’t find any information about 11 Main, however, is in Alibaba’s IPO prospectus. In 325 pages, 11 Main is mentioned exactly zero times.

Putting The Pieces Together

So here’s how Alibaba can make all that work:

  • Main Street merchants never quite got over being “Amazoned.” (Hey, it might be a funny story in the blogosphere, but when your family business goes bankrupt it ain’t funny). Groupon and other deal marketplaces claimed to ride to the rescue, but big discounts and promotions turned out to be a losing proposition for many retailers. American e-commerce entrepreneurs are not exactly winning Main Street’s popularity contest. An American store backed by a Chinese e-commerce entrepreneur might stand a better chance.
  • Selling Chinese goods in the U.S. is clearly not the way to go. If Alibaba wants to position 11 Main as an American brand, it needs to sell a lot of made-in-America products.
  • The open space is “artisanal”; it include exclusive fashion and other low volume, high price goods. It’s a wide-open territory that Amazon doesn’t dominate—and that it may have difficulty attacking effectively. This is the unclaimed market that Alibaba could win.
  • Small merchants are more agile than behemoth retail chains; that’s why many of them moved into artisanal goods before e-commerce entrepreneurs spotted the trend. Big box stores have to get to WalMart scale to survive, but millions of mom-and-pop merchants are finding ways to thrive with differentiated merchandise, a friendly local vibe and an increasingly savvy digital presence.
  • 11 Main retailers could also act as local hubs in the supply chain. Order from 11 Main online, and it delivers your shipment for pickup at an 11 Main retailer near you. As a consumer, you get cheaper delivery, and small stores get foot traffic. This is the truly disruptive play for Alibaba.

All this levels the playing field with Amazon, as Alibaba won’t have to build massive warehouses and a small air force of drones. And it could provide Alibaba with a ready-made and sympathetic PR line: It’s creating entrepreneurial jobs in America!

Of course, neither Amazon nor its rivals will be standing still. Amazon’s recent “#AmazonCart” deal with Twitter, for instance, is geared toward helping it capture sales of such artisanal goods. And there will be more more where that came from.

It should be an interesting fight. May the best store win.

Lead image by Flickr user F.D. Richards, CC 2.0

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