A Brief History of Techcrunch’s “Disrupt” Program

When you think of AOL, your first thoughts are likely to be either the movie You’ve Got Mail or someone who has yet to move into the 21st century. But chances are unless you are a techie, TechCrunch and their Disrupt shows sound like something Google or Apple would be doing. No, AOL actually is the owner of the company that holds these events that support and debut revolutionary technologies.

Disrupt events take place throughout the world, from San Francisco to Berlin, and hold seminars, conferences, and competitions that introduce the world to entrepreneurial projects that can change the way each of us uses technology in our daily lives. Technologies from companies such as Pi and Oneva have been featured at these events. Targeting entrepreneurs, Disrupt events are not just about debuting technology, but are structured to help startup companies manage and market their businesses and products.

Their major events are:

  • The Startup Battlefield competition
  • The 24-hour Hackathon
  • Startup Alley
  • Hardware Alley
  • After Parties

Michael Arrington was the founder of the company, and it started interestingly with a blog from his home, with the idea of connecting with people and sharing information about what was in 2005, the new Web 2.0 concepts. Arrington was no stranger to the challenges of startups as he was busy starting Edgeio at the same time. Interest in the blog grew to the tune of more than 1 million views per month 1 year later. That kind of success naturally got the attention of some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

What started out as a generic site for startups soon became a series of websites focusing on specific technologies. Success brings networking, and Arrington started to have informal parties at his Silicon Valley home. Those parties ended up being the foundation for what is now known as Disrupts. They’re just held in a much larger building and attract people from across the globe.

One thing that is true about any startup or even established business is getting your company mentioned in the Wall Street Journal in a positive way will be very good for the future of your business. That was the case only one year later for the business that had evolved into TechCrunch. It just happened that Arrington’s blogs broke the news that YouTube was going to be acquired by Google, no small event. The company went from a source of opinion for future technologies to a recognized and reputable source for technology and startup news. Two years later, Arrington’s made the list as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People assembled by Time magazine.

TechCrunch took the next step – hiring seasoned professionals to expand their media business without losing sight of their base. One result of that acquisition of talent was having an online video series featured on CNN Money. But with growth comes the need to meet additional challenges. Those challenges resulted in Arrington selling TechCrunch to AOL in 2010.

The natural question is why would Arrington be willing to sell a successful company that had grown to be so popular and experienced awesome growth. The answer is actually very simple and is a problem faced by multiple startups even today, According to Arrington, he simply had gotten physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by the challenges of sustaining growth and managing personnel. His initial passion, writing and speaking at events, had not waned. But there were the added responsibilities including finding the right people, especially engineers and finding ways to keep them happy. Yet, according to Arrington, engineers were not at the heart of the company – the writers were. So that conflict took its toll.

There is the other side of the story, where accusations that Arrington and some of his staff had been involved in ethics violations and investment conflicts-of-interest that resulted in him and several writers to leave TechCrunch completely in 2011. 2011 was the same year AOL began its annual Disrupt events held in four major cities – San Francisco, New York, Berlin, and London.

Moving forward to 2017, TechCrunch is approaching 10 million followers on Twitter, and 3 million Likes on Facebook. The Disrupts have become one of the most anticipated events for startups everywhere. Though there is a heavy emphasis on the technology aspect of the events, the content has grown to include ways to meet the many challenges of startups, similar to the ones Arrington encountered during TechCrunch’s initial growth. Issues include cybersecurity, initial funding and growing sales, and corporate investment.


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