The Disrupt Experience


The decision to apply to TechCrunch’s Disrupt Battlefield competition wasn’t an easy one. TalkTo had been operating in stealth. We didn’t want to launch publicly, we wanted to launch successfully.

Something changed once that application went forward. None of us knew if we’d even be selected as a finalist but we worked as if we would be. We were laser focused on what needed to happen before the public launch.

It wasn’t just the product that had to come together. It was the total experience, the feel of the brand and logo, the messaging. Making sure you can communicate well with beta users, and that their experience is delightful from start to finish. That the promise of TalkTo––the ability to text ANY local business and get a text response-–-could be realized.

We were somewhat deflated a few weeks later when we hadn’t yet heard from TechCrunch. And then we got an email—at midnight—from now editor Erick Schonfeld asking if we could answer a few questions and demonstrate the product, right away. He was keeping the same hours we were!

We connected the next morning and the demonstration went really well. I think Erick saw something special that fit the Disrupt model. We felt there was a strong chance we’d be selected. And we were.

Riley, my co-founder, and I met Erick in New York one week before the conference to rehearse. We were horrible. The product performed great but our ability to describe it was poor. Erick gave us some much needed advice.

It’s worth noting that this was a tumultuous day in Erick’s life. The drama surrounding Mike Arrington’s potential departure from AOL and TechCrunch had erupted the day before. Just as we were to meet with Erick, it wasn’t even clear if he still worked for AOL or TechCrunch! All was up in the air. Still, Erick took our meeting on time. He was spot-on with his advice. Not once did he let the drama interfere with our meeting. We walked away really impressed.

Final touches were put on the product and website, and we re-wrote our script a few more times with help from friends. The night before the big launch, we asked Erick if we could pitch him once more. Again he hated it. In fact he thought we’d gone backwards. The product could be magic, but our ability to let it shine? Not so magic.

To say we weren’t feeling great at this moment is an understatement. Over a beer … Next Page »

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Stuart Levinson is the co-founder and CEO of TalkTo, a mobile startup in Cambridge, MA. His last company, Venetica, was acquired by IBM. Follow @

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