12,000 people. Over 300 startups from all over the world. 11 winners. 3 days.
I recently attended the three-day Launch Festival in San Francisco, California, where MaRS was a media partner.
A change of venue was required in order to accommodate the record number of attendees this year, and that new venue happened to be Fort Mason Center, directly across from the majestic Golden Gate Bridge (a view that never loses its novelty).
They were tough to choose, but here are my top five highlights from this year’s festival.
This was absolutely the best part of the festival. No less than 50 startup companies officially launched their products, apps and services on stage in front of a panel of grand jury judges with a live Q-and-A session. (Think “American Idol” for startups.)
Two weeks later, I’m still telling friends about the amazing companies I watched launch.
Here are my three favourites.
Some of the biggest names in the tech and venture capital scenes took the stage, including:
The following were my three favourite speakers from the conference.
Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn
It’s quite evident that Jeff is a great leader and strategic thinker. In his talk, he provided five tips on how to build great world-class products.
Roelof Botha, partner at Sequoia Capital (and investor in WhatsApp, Instagram and Dropbox)
According to Roelof, the best thing to do as an entrepreneur is to ask questions.
“As an investor I don’t come with the answers. I come with frameworks and experiences to help you get there. The role of venture capitalists is to ask good questions to help entrepreneurs solve problems on their own,” he said.
Peter Thiel, partner at Founders Fund (and the creator of PayPal and first outside investor in Facebook)
Peter’s talk packed the largest number of people into the Main Hall, compromising the building’s fire code!
On monopolies: “I like to invest when I know it will be a monopoly.”
On investing in SpaceX and Tesla Motors: “I would never bet against Elon Musk in anything.”
On what he’s learned as a venture capitalist: “Once something works, people underestimate it. When it’s not working they overestimate what’s not working.”
With over 250 companies in attendance, I spent a lot of time cruising the Demo Pit aisles, chatting with founders and checking out their products. The pit featured everything from content-sharing tools to an app that monitors and tracks your pool’s pH and water levels.
Each day, two or three companies were pulled from the pit and asked to present their ventures on stage.
At an event with nearly 12,000 attendees, you’re bound to meet some interesting people. It’s great to connect with entrepreneurs from all over the world. I met entrepreneurs from across the United States, as well as from Berlin, Australia and Amsterdam.
For me, the most networking happened in the Demo Pit and also, oddly enough, in the UberPool taxis I took to and from the festival each day. You never knew who might be walking by at any time or who you might end up sharing a ride with.
Launch Festival has a proven track record of identifying “the next big thing” in the tech world. Past winners include Mint, Yammer and Dropbox. Last year’s overall winner, the social/relationships app Connect, has since raised over $15 million. With approximately three million users, the company has grown to a team of 18. The element of competition adds a certain excitement and buzz to the festival, as the attendees know that they’ll be talking about the winners for years to come.
This year’s winner, Abra, got me very excited, as it is both a financial technology and social purpose business. Here is the pitch that won them top honours and a $250,000 investment from the Launch Fund.