Disrupt 2015, one of the world’s biggest tech events is underway right now in San Francisco. With the tagline “Startups Start Here”, TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 brings together industry influencers, top CEOs and thought leaders in the tech space at one place and enables a valuable discussion on upcoming trends in the technology industry. The most important part of TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 is the Startup Battlefield, which attracts early stage startups who compete to win the much desired Disrupt Cup and a $50,000 prize. TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 has Startup Alleys where tech startups demonstrate their products and/or services to the attendees. The Disrupt Hackathon is a competition for developers to create a product within 24 hours. All the elements of Disrupt 2015 Day 1 were enjoyable and informative, especially for a first-timer like me.
Overall, the first day experience was a good one. The interiors of the venue weren’t overly sophisticated and fancy like a big conference or the Salesforce event, Dreamforce. However, the ambience was just right for a tech event and the venue seemed to be chosen to specifically give it a “tech” feel. The atmosphere was toned down yet vibrant. There were 7-8 alleys featuring all the tech startups and early stage companies on one side of the venue whereas the interviews and startup battlefield were taking place on the other side.
Let’s Talk Payments covered Day 1 of the event based on the agenda and invitations from companies looking to share their innovations. We focused on the FinTech, payments and financial startups at Disrupt 2015. One of the engaging discussions at Disrupt 2015 was the one around bitcoin featuring Wences Casares (Xapo), Nathaniel Popper (NYT), and Bobby Lee (BTCChina). It was apparent that Bobby Lee and Wences Casares strongly believe in the future of bitcoin - this was also apparent in the interesting Twitter conversation that ensued with many apt analogies to add to the one that Wences shared on stage. However Nathaniel Popper, an NYT reporter and author of Digital Gold: Bitcoin and The Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money wanted to make people aware about the risky nature and acceptability of bitcoin. He said, “One should invest in bitcoin but nothing more than 1% of his savings.”
— Jonathan Williams (@jmlw1) September 21, 2015
In the startup alley, there were 2 pavilions that really grabbed our attention. One was theFintech/Payments/Investment pavilion and the other was the Clover pavilion. We spotted Card1, a Coin device competitor who claimed to be better than Coin. Randy Smith, President & CEO of Card1 said, “Card1 replaces the hardware of the Coin card with software. Who likes to carry a hardware card inside the pocket? Card1 is similar to your credit card. You can choose the card you want to swipe from options within our mobile app. Also, Card1 is much thinner than the competitor. There have been issues with competitors like Coin at POS because of the thickness of the card.” Then, there were 2 startups, Loanly.com and Loanatik who are trying to simplify the home mortgage process for consumers. We also met Faris Gammoh, General Manager at Newton, a company which is trying to become “Siri for insurance problems”. Another startup was Quikwallet, which is an India based POS company. Quikwallet replaces the expensive NFC terminal with a $1 plastic box which can be used as an NFC terminal. Mohit Lalvani, CEO and Co-founder of Quikwallet said, “The plastic box is based on the NFC technology and blockchain technology. We have more than 1200 merchant customers in India. We are now in US to expand the business and we are looking for partnerships with payment networks like MasterCard and Visa.” Billme, an invoicing startup for freelancers claimed to have innovative invoicing features like letting the merchant know how many times the invoice was opened as well as social media and Whatsapp integration in their web app. The Clover pavilion consisted of Clover themselves and 6 other apps in their marketplace. Mark Schulze, Head of App Marketing, Clover said, “75% of the apps in our marketplace are developed by third party developers and 25% are developed in-house. We adopted rapidly to the EMV migration in US. Clover is the only POS that enables signature for Chip-and-signature cards on the POS screen.”
There were a lot of interesting startups in the “FinTech” space at Disrupt 2015. While we walked through the alleys, there were some pure tech startups trying to disrupt the finance industry and there were some finance guys who really wanted a robust technology to succeed in their idea. One example of this was when we saw Ownerlistens, a Clover marketplace app that Eenables scalable, secure texting between businesses and customers wanting to enable payments via SMS. However they are still looking for a secure financial technology to make that happen. VoicePIN, a voice biometrics technology for data protection was also present at Disrupt 2015. VoicePIN has been successfully implemented in various use cases in Poland and Europe. It now looks forward to expanding in the US with its existing use cases and in the banking and payments industry.
TechCrunch Disrupt 2015 was great experience for Let’s Talk Payments. Of all the showcased startups, around 20% were in the payments and FinTech space, which is not a bad sign for the resurgent segment. Of course, we were expecting more startups in the FinTech space at Disrupt 2015, especially with emerging technologies and trends like blockchain, bitcoin, biometrics, NFC and EMV migration in US. Probably our expectations will be fulfilled at TechCrunch Disrupt 2016, when these emerging technologies and trends will gain momentum.