As an entrepreneur and recent transplant to San Francisco, volunteering at Disrupt was a dream come true. I was able to experience the energy of the bay area startup scene first-hand, gaining insights from leaders and learning from new companies as they pitched on stage. I was even able to meet many of the speakers, since volunteering often meant walking them backstage. But the biggest surprise was my interactions with other volunteers. As panels were taking place on stage, there was an army of entrepreneurs-turned-volunteers hustling behind the scenes. The true entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well at TechCrunch Disrupt, and you didn’t need a $2,000 ticket to participate.
While the average attendee probably assumed they were dealing with college students, almost everyone I met was an entrepreneur. After all, that’s why I was there. As the co-founder of a bootstrapped startup named LazyMeter, I decided to volunteer and save myself the $2,000+ for a badge or table. And clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought of this. I met a 16-year-old from Chicago with a growing startup – his ability to position himself backstage and approach anyone he saw put my networking skills to shame. I met a partner in a fund in Utah who brought his portfolio out as volunteers to save money. I met a senior at Brandeis University in Boston who won a business plan competition at Harvard and had the foresight to check out the startup scene a year in advance of graduation day. I shared passionate conversations with other volunteers about seeking independence and a good life for our families, the sacrifices we made, and why high salaries at corporations have no appeal.
As you walk down the hall at a conference like Disrupt, the crowd doesn’t look at your face – they look at your nametag. When they see “volunteer”, they keep on walking. This is a mistake. Don’t underestimate the people in green shirts. For all you know, they may be building the next big thing. All the volunteers I met had one thing in common: they had a vision, and they did what’s necessary to make it happen. If you can get backstage at TechCrunch, anything is possible.