Even before I worked at TechCrunch, Disrupt was one of the few industry conferences I looked forward to every year. There were two big reasons why: The enthusiasm and excitement of the startups who launch there, and the unparalleled lineup of the most exciting people in tech engaging in frank, honest conversations.
When we expanded the franchise to New York, it was natural to bring the most exciting Silicon Alley names on stage. That has included people like Fred Wilson and Dennis Crowley, but also the top names in media like Charlie Rose and Arianna Huffington. We even threw New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the mix.
In thinking through the lineup for Disrupt Beijing– our first ever International conference– I wanted to make sure we were bringing some of the most interesting personalities from the West to China. But more important was that we anchor the show with the most interesting names in the Chinese tech scene we could find.
This is not a conference about Silicon Valley coming to China to tell the country how it’s done. China is the only other country in the world where entrepreneurs are already building $1 billion Internet powerhouses. This is a conference that seeks to bridge the gap between the two preeminent tech ecosystems in the world today.
So after many months of work and early morning transcontinental phone calls, I’m delighted to start announcing our lineup. It’s a mix of veterans and newcomers, investors and entrepreneurs, and of course East and West.
The conference will kick off with one of the most captivating people in the tech world today: Tencent CEO and founder Pony Ma.
While Alibaba’s Jack Ma or Baidu’s Robin Li are more common on the International conference circuit, it’s Pony Ma who has proven what a force Chinese entrepreneurs can be on a global scale. Tencent is not only the largest Internet company in China, it’s the third largest in the world. It’s a titan of China’s surging online game/virtual goods universe– the one area where the Valley are the copycats, not the Chinese. Tencent is the company you worry about if you’re a startup in China, and if you’re a startup in the US– like Groupon– it’s the company you want to do a joint venture with.
It’s the perfect time for Ma to headline a TechCrunch event. After years of focusing on the Chinese market, Tencent is starting to get more international, expanding its staff in the US and quietly acquiring US startups. If you can’t make it to China, this will be a keynote you’ll want to make sure you catch on the livestream.
Lei Jun isn’t nearly as well known as Ma, but when I asked friends and entrepreneurs in China who they most wanted to see on stage at Disrupt, nearly all of them mentioned him. He’s a serial entrepreneur and angel investor who’s been compared to everyone from Ron Conway to Peter Thiel. Earlier this month, he made waves with the announcement of Xiaomi’s upcoming Android phone in a Steve Jobs-styled keynote.
Xiaomi is one of the most ambitious startups in China right now. It’s aiming to make the first high-quality smart phone made by and for the Chinese market, priced cheaper than other locally made smartphones and at less than half the price of the iPhone. It will run on Android, but have features and apps specifically tailored for the Chinese market. It’s sure to set off a pricing war that will affect everyone from HTC to Google to Apple, and be one of the biggest tech stories of the fall.
We’ll be announcing more speakers over the next few weeks, so you might want to grab your tickets here now. And if you don’t speak Chinese or only speak Chinese– don’t worry. TechCrunch is investing in real-time translation headsets for the conference so every one of our guests can address the audience in their native language and everyone in attendance can follow along.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the other thing that makes Disrupt such a special event is the Startup Battlefield. We can stack an agenda with big names, but we rely on the TechCrunch community to make the Battlefield just as memorable. If you’re a startup, and you want to demo your product on the same stage as Pony Ma and Lei Jun, send us your application now. Application forms are available in English and Chinese, and the presentations can be done in either language as well. The Battlefield isn’t limited to just Chinese companies– as with all of our Disrupts startups from all over the world are welcome to submit.
Questions about whether your company is a fit? When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to fill out the application. Only TechCrunch staff will be vetting the applications, and we want to see everyone great.
Stay tuned for more information about Disrupt Beijing in coming weeks and go here for tickets.
Per the company’s claims as of March 2008, Tencent is China’s largest and most utilized internet services portal. The company powers popular products like instant messaging and gaming service QQ and e-commerce and online trading platform PaiPai, amongst others.