This morning marked the beginning of TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 in New York City.

Startup Alley

When you first enter the venue, the energy immediately feels frenetic. You walk almost immediately into Startup Alley, a room buzzing and filled to the brim with about 50 startup companies—the best of the best who apply for a coveted table at TechCrunch Disrupt. A brand new set of 50 startups will fill Startup Alley tomorrow, as well. Attendees can mingle and check out all of the tables in between morning sessions, everyone ultimately voting for their “Audience Choice Winner.” Each day, the audience favorite then goes on to compete in the Startup Battlefield Finals for a $50,000 grand prize and the famous Disrupt Cup.

Startup Battlefield

If TechCrunch Disrupt was a dinner party, Startup Battlefield would be the centerpiece at the main table. The two “Audience Choice” winners of Startup Alley will join 28 other startups to compete for the Disrupt Cup title. The Battlefield competition is highly competitive; hundreds of startups apply to be part of it. Once a startup is chosen, they prepare their pitch and launch on the Disrupt stage in front of an enormous live and online audience, then get drilled with tough-love questions by TechCrunch’s editors, VCs, product experts, and seasoned entrepreneurs.

This year’s judges include: Marissa Meyer (Yahoo!), Ime Archibong (Facebook), Tracy Chou (Pinterest), Sam Yagan (Ok Cupid), Hillary Mason (, Peter Phan (Science), Zach Sims (Codecademy), David Tisch (Box Group), Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital), Nicole Glaros (TechStars), and Naval Ravikant (AngelList).

Yup. Stacked.

Fireside Chats

The first half of all three days of Disrupt are filled with fireside conversations with some of the biggest names in the tech and startup world, spewing out knowledge about everything from fundraising to business models to guiding startup success and failure principles. The list of people participating in fireside chats and founder stories includes:

  • Chris Dixon (Andressen Horowitz)
  • Jonah Peretti (Buzzfeed)
  • Dennis Crowley (Foursquare)
  • Joe Green (FWD)
  • Jim Bankoff (Vox Media)
  • Kevin Ryan (Gilt Groupe)
  • John Borthwick (Betaworks)
  • Mike McCue (Flipboard)
  • Gentry Underwood (Mailbox)
  • Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures)
  • John Donahoe (eBay)
  • Kevin Weil (Twitter)
  • Hill Ferguson (Paypal)
  • Sahil Lavinga (Gumroad)
  • Ben Lehrer (Thrillist)
  • David Karp (Tumblr)

Attendees take a slow-moving elevator (perfect for an elevator pitch if you do happen to be standing next to a VC during a ride up or down) to the 7th floor of the Manhattan Center. You take a seat in a huge theatre venue,  and soak up knowledge from the best and brightest entrepreneurs, VCs, and journalists in 20-30 minute increments.

When you’ve got a guy like Dennis Crowley or Kevin Ryan on your stage, it becomes obvious that the role of an interviewer is incredibly important. The degree to which you as an attendee extracts valuable information from these fireside chats has so much to do with the interview style and chemistry. TechCrunch Co-Editor Alexia Tsotis noted, “You can tell whether an [interviewer] has prepared for 7 hours or 30 minutes. Michael Arrington is one of those guys who prepares for 7 hours.”

That would explain why the tone of TechCrunch Disrupt feels inherently different from other tech conferences out there, like SXSW. Despite the frenetic pace of the main stage and the collective, intelligent noise coming from Startup Alley, the event feels like highly organized chaos. These three days, on a larger, more condensed scale, are a decent representation of startup life: a crazy pace, a constant influx of information, the aura of maniacal hustle, a ready-to-go pitch deck, a string of coffee meetings, and a lot of bumping into Twitter friends and old connections in passing.

The electronic-techno-ish remix music playing in the background during breaks, along with moving green lights in the main room, doesn’t hurt. But maybe it will tomorrow, when half of the room is hungover from the Santos House Party tonight.

If you want a piece of the action, the next TechCrunch Disrupt event is in San Francisco on September 8-12, 2013. You can find out more about Disrupt SF here. But, be prepared to pay a hefty ticket price if you’re interested in attending; the cost of a general admission ticket for Disrupt NY was a steep $2,995.

You can follow along as the conference and watch videos of the fireside chats so far here.