October 2011 Archive
We're kicking off the main conference portion of Disrupt this morning. I can't believe it's finally here! This is one of the biggest moments of my career so far, and I haven't exactly had a sleepy career. I've invested plenty of effort and money to pull crazy things off before-- but typically it's a solo project like a book. This is the biggest thing I've ever done that required a team of people and will bring together so many other people.
As such, I have a million people to thank-- principally Mike Arrington and Heather Harde who trusted me enough to invest huge parts of the company's resources putting this conference together. It's that sort of faith in me that's made me intensely loyal to both of them. As I've said, the team also deserves huge credit for making this a reality. Tanya, Jeanne, Susan, Vineet, the editorial team here on the ground and Jon and the TechcrunchTV crew have all been working around the clock since we arrived to make the impossible possible.
There are a lot of firsts we're pulling off with this event. It's the first time TC has done an international Disrupt conference. From what I understand it's the first time an international tech conference here will have simultaneous translation for attendees as livestream in English and Chinese-- something that's technically been near-impossible to pull off. It's the first time a US tech blog has launched a major event on the mainland. Most exciting for me-- in about two hours Tencent CEO and co-founder Pony Ma will be interviewed on stage by a foriegn journalist for the very first time.
I had a near-panic attack last night when his flight into Beijing was cancelled. Fortunately he was able to get a later one and we had tea last night to talk about the interview. So I finally have real evidence that the most powerful and most elusive person in the Chinese Internet scene actually exists. He even brought a penguin dressed like a rabbit for my son. (He and I are both year of the rabbit.)
Wish us luck today! This is a big moment for TechCrunch.
I just went over to see the beginning of the Hackathon presentations and got chills when I saw the TechCrunch green Disrupt logos behind the stage in the ballroom of the China National Convention Center. I can't believe this is really happening! It's so exciting!
Of course, most of the staff is so neck-deep in problem solving mode, they're not stopping to gush quite as much. We've had legendary wifi issues-- the tech conference curse no matter where you are in the world. Flights from Shanghai to Beijing got cancelled today stranding at least one of our Battlefield companies until tomorrow. The Beijing pollution is the worst I've ever seen it. It is totally grey out of my hotel window. And -- the worst weather news for me-- Peter Goodman, executive business editor of the Huffington Post who was supposed to co-emcee the event with me is trapped in New York thanks to a blizzard! What the hell is a snow storm doing in New York this early??
So it looks like there's going to be a lot more me on stage the next few days...
Speaking of me and microphones, I took some of the speakers out karaoking last night, while the rest of the staff worked on the hackathon. There were huge five liter glass vases filled with beer, the regular whiskey and green tea concoctions and a lot of baaaaad singing. Sometimes my job is just awesome. I'm trying to get photos from Ben Huh to post on TC later today.
Someone Tweeted the other day that the secret to me being able to balance a conference in China with a newborn baby was my husband. True. While I'm gone, he's taking off work to do double-parent duty.
There's a lot of this going on:
His father came in town to help too, so there's a reality show version of Two and a Half Men going on in the Mission for the next week. Just in case Chuck Lorre and Mark Burnett are interested in a collaboration.
Sorry for posting yet another baby photo, but my husband sent this last night to cheer me up. It's adorable.
The TechCrunch editorial team is off to shoot several episodes of Cribs today, while Tanya nails down conference logistics, Susan and Greg greet incoming speakers, guests, and staff, Vineet makes sure we have WORKING WIFI for the Hackathon and Heather works with the competing startups on their demos.
Unfortunately Jason Kincaid couldn't join us at the last minute for personal reasons, so I'm a last minute Cribs host sub. Hope I do him proud!
...but this is also pretty cool.
I met Gang Lu of TechNode on my very first trip to China years ago and he's been one of many God-sends who has gone over and above to make Disrupt Beijing a success. Like a lot of people who've helped us out, his biggest motivation has simply been believing TechCrunch's presence here could help some startups and wanting to do anything he can to support that. He's an awesome guy.
Including me, eight members of the TC staff landed in Beijing last night to join our events wizard Tanya Porquez here on the ground. You could spot us on the plane because we were all reading the Jobs biography. (NERDS!) I should note, everyone flew coach except the woman who's supposed to be on maternity leave and had to pump milk every three hours. (I still had major business class guilt.)
When we arrived, everyone checked into the hotel, threw their bags down and hit the ground running, working late into the night-- exhaustion and jetlag not withstanding. I went to bed around 1 am local time, and I think the rest of the team was still hard at work. At times like this, we still work very much like a scrappy startup without big corporate backing and with everything to lose.
Sitting around at dinner last night listening to our amazing team of eight tick through their to-do list and action items, I was incredibly humbled at the talented folks who jumped in and have made this conference something so much larger than my original vision. Our internal drama not withstanding, this staff is just phenomenal. The writers tend to get the attention, but there are so many people at TC -- like Jon Orlin, Heather Harde, Tanya Porquez and Jeanne Logozzo-- who are the best people I've ever worked with at the core thing they do.
I've definitely been swamped with editorial and agenda concerns, but it's amazing to know I don't ever even have to think or worry about things like sponsorships, live streaming, or logisitics and can know it'll just get done. I'm so grateful to the team for ignoring all the distractions, focusing and executing on such a challenging event. I hope everyone can take a moment in the next five days and be proud of what we're pulling off here.
PS: I'm here, so pay up on our bet, Andreessen!
The other day I got an innocuous email in my inbox from United Airlines making sure if I was prepared for my upcoming flight to China. Wait, what? That's still weeks away right? Why am I getting this email now?
As it turns out I leave for China on WEDNESDAY. That's right: Disrupt Beijing is almost here. It's as tantalizingly close as a warm Jian Bing from a Beijing street vendor. (My first stop, btw.) I spent years arguing we should do a Disrupt event in China, and honestly, I never really thought it would happen. I mean, for Mike Arrington, Seattle is an emerging market.
Even after it was greenlit-- sometime late last year-- there were still a million times it almost failed. There were many times Mike shook his head and said to me, "You don't have a conference." And indeed, I didn't for a while other than in my head. We had epic problems with the venue and dates. An unexpected pregnancy boxed us in on dates and meant I had to plan the agenda totally remotely. I had a devil of a time getting many US names to commit to coming, and a harder time working amid the schedules of the ones who wanted to come. Our first choice of venue was cruelly snatched away by a Ferragamo fashion show and I've boycotted everything Italian since. The astronomical costs weighed against the limited sponsorship and ticket revenues ensured this thing would never make money.
As I frantically tried to finish an agenda before my due date, I was gnawed by guilt that I'd talked our very fiscally responsible CEO Heather Harde into a money pit of a conference and wrecked the health and wellfare of our amazing conference coordinator Tanya Porquez, who has worked US and China hours for most of the last few months. (Tanya has probably invested even more sweat and tears into this event than I have. I hope her husband forgives me one day....) Worse was the fear that I'd have to write a post saying we weren't bringing Disrupt to Beijing after all. I discovered every reason more blogs don't launch major conferences in mainland China-- even with amazing help and local partners, it is just not easy.
But somehow it has not only come together; it has come together more beautifully than I could have hoped. I've gushed about all of our speakers here, but the Battlefield companies are just as impressive. If you live in Asia and you aren't coming to this conference, you'll be sorry. If you're in the US and have always wanted to learn about China's startup scene and aren't coming, you'll be sorry. And if I asked you to speak and you said no, you'll really be sorry when you hear about how much fun the US speakers are going to have between karaoke nights, picnics on The Great Wall, and a potential evening with a mechanical bull in a Chinese Honky Tonk. I mean....a night of Chinese Urban Cowboy? That is just awesome.
My future at TechCrunch has been a little uncertain since the drama went down last month, but even if I wind up moving on, this conference will be one hell of a final swan song.
Of course, the conference is somewhat bittersweet for me, as I have to leave my six-week old baby for a week. Nearly every mother I know has spent the last ten months telling me how impossible this will be. Even Marc Andreessen bet me $100 I wouldn't wind up getting on the plane. I GET IT. it's biologically hard for any mom to leave a new baby. I'm not a robot. I feel a surge of sadness everytime I hand my baby off to the night nurse-- even on days when I'm exhausted and have been counting the minutes until she arrives. It's going to be tough. Pandora finding excuses to play "Cats in the Cradle" over and over again doesn't help.
I mean, look at this smile:
No one wants to leave that. But this is life as a working mom. I've spent most of my maternity leave working on final details, dragging Eli from meeting-to-meeting, vetting Battlefield companies while I burp him and feed him. At least the time zones have been less of a problem, since I'm awake in the middle of the night anyway. It's not ideal, but having a baby didn't change who I am. The insane love for my son didn't eclipse every other passion, it just added another huge one to the top of the list.
Hopefully he'll forgive me. I'm leaving him in good hands with his daddy and granddad (#twoandahalfmen) and I've left him a freezer full of milk and a bunch of mommy-smelling clothes in ziplock bags. Having fully Disrupted my work and homelife, we're officially ready to Disrupt Beijing.
(Yes, Tickets are still available.)
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