Launch Festival, the world’s largest startup event, just took place last week at the Innovation Hangar & Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco with an estimated crowd of over 10,000 entrepreneurs and investors in attendance. As a first timer to the event, or any startup conference outside of Sacramento for that matter, I really had no idea what to expect.
Though I was able to score a free “Founder” pass as founder of StartupSac, my situation there as a startup community builder is no doubt different than most in attendance and throughout the conference and the ride home I’ve tried to pin down my impressions of the event but so far haven’t really come up with a coherent story to tell about the event. So what follows are some random impressions of the event.
Tech and Innovation
No doubt about it, the innovative tech and products on display in the demo pit and being presented by startup founders in pitches is impressive. The dominant tech on display included:
- AI and Machine Learning
- Augmented and Virtual Reality
Walking, or rather twisting and contorting, through the demo pit just about every banner and piece of collateral had at least one of the above terms listed. AI and Virtual Reality? Yep, lots of that. Cannabis and Machine Learning? Yep, that too. Hell, I think there may have even been a demo of Cannabis delivery-as-a-service by drone using a proprietary machine learning algorithm with an AR dashboard for the vendor. Kidding aside, the tech and innovation throughout the cavernous Innovation Hangar was impressive and it’s very cool to see firsthand the new tech that will be dominating our lives very soon.
Aside from the demo pit, there were essentially three main components to the event; Pitch Demos and Judging, organized by verticals like AI, VR, etc. on the Startup Stage, 20 minute topical presentations targeted at startup founders on the Scale Stage, and investor panel discussions on the Festival Stage.
I essentially skipped the investor panel discussions, deciding instead to attend the pitch competitions and topical discussions.
For the most part, the pitches were very good and impressive. Early stage startup founders can learn a lot by attending pitch/demo presentations at events like this. Most founders presenting have obviously spent hours and hours honing their pitches, practicing and gearing up for the judge questions. I’d highly recommend that Sacramento startup founders attend Launch if for nothing else to see firsthand how they need to refine their pitches.
For the startup founders and entrepreneurs in attendance, I think the topical presentations are likely to have the most value. The lineup of speakers was pretty impressive. For example, check out just a small sampling from Thursday afternoon’s lineup below:
- Clara Brenner, Urban Innovation Fund: Beyond Fundraising: Building Trust with Your Investors
- Alex Tew, Calm: How to Get 100,000 Users *Before* You Launch
- Mar Hershenson, Pear VC: Clinching the Series A
- Sharon Savariego, Mobilize: Grow Faster & Smarter: Learn how Etsy, Docker & Prezi Mobilize Networks to Scale
- Sonny Mayugba, Waitr: Pitch Starter Kit: 16 Actionable Tips to Present Your Startup in a Way That’s Engaging, Informative and Effective
Sadly and ironically, my most dominant impression of the event was just how crappy the wi-fi was. Granted, with 10,000+ people in attendance competing for bandwidth, I can see that providing strong, high-speed wi-fi might be a challenge. But this is a tech event located in the tech capital of the world. I think it’s realistic that attendees be provided some pretty decent internet connection. And yet even visiting simple web pages was reminiscent of early days of dial-up modems, taking minutes to load a basic page or open an email. On top of that, the cell reception was also very spotty – I was usually only getting 3G on my carrier (Verizon) and 1 bar at that. There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement with this for next year’s event.
As a Gen-Xer, the younger age of most attendees was striking. My impression was that most attendees were Millennials, and as a Gen-Xer I felt a little out of place at times. This age demographic fits with the startup founder stereotype but runs somewhat counter to findings like the 2016 Kauffman Foundation Startup Activity report that shows a much more even breakdown among age groups.
The gender gap at the conference is also very noticeable and the makeup of the conference can best be summed up in this tweet from Laura Good:
— Laura Good (@goodlaura) April 6, 2017
So Many Entrepreneurs Seeking Investors
While sitting in one of the relatively quieter areas outside the Festival stage on Friday morning, I watched as a startup founder walked from table to table asking the person(s) seated if they were an investor or entrepreneur. As each replied, “entrepreneur,” he thanked them and walked on to the next table, hoping to find someone who would reply that they were an investor. This wasn’t the first time I had witnessed something like that, though it was the most blatant. Watching that unfold, an image popped into my mind of the enormous numbers of founders in attendance, many, if not most, looking for their chance to pitch to an investor.
Takeaways for Sacramento Entrepreneurs
So, what are some takeaways for the Sacramento startup community? For me, the biggest impression (after the pathetic wi-fi) from the conference was just how many smart, passionate, driven entrepreneurs there are. Nevertheless, the majority are all in the same situation – they’re looking for funding to continue to develop and grow and are all after investors. It’s the same situation we have here in Sacramento, just on a larger scale.
Related to that, another thought occurred to me repeatedly at the conference. I couldn’t help but think that not enough startups focus on revenue generation, but instead spend so much energy focused on searching for investors and funding. The irony is that those startups generating revenue are going to be more likely to get the attention of investors.
Those are my impressions. What did other Sacramento startup folks think of the conference? I polled a few others that were in attendance to get their impressions.
“The LAUNCH crowd was in high gear to find the next big startup – it seemed that the Virtual Reality and Cannabis segments were most popular. I was a little surprised that drones and robots were underrepresented. I’d like to see more do-good enterprises in the future, and a stronger commitment to making the world better for others.” ~ Cinde Dolphin, Founder, KILI Medical Drain Carrier
“It was amazing to hear directly from Stripe’s founder, Patrick Collision, about their new Atlas service. This service exists to help entrepreneurs worldwide start, run, and grow internet businesses.They can even form a Delaware Corporation and open a U.S. bank account without having to make a trip to the States. https://stripe.com/atlas
The Scale stage, while the smallest stage there, had GIANT ideas for startup founders. In Sacramento, we don’t have access to as many seasoned startup founders. Events like Launch give us a chance to broaden our experience and bring back cutting edge practices for our community. ~ Laura Good, Director of Community Outreach, StartupSac
If you’re a Sacramento startup founder should you go to LAUNCH Festival next year? In my opinion yes. After all, it’s a free event for founders, if you apply early enough. There’s great educational content in the presentations. It’s a great to experience the passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s great lessons to be learned from seeing other startups’ demos. And, who knows, you just might experience a moment of synchronicity and run into someone who can help you move your startup forward. Keep an eye out this Fall for announcements about applications for LAUNCH Festival 2018.