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3 Business Lessons from TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014

3 Business Lessons from TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014
TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014 isn't just for tech pros. Entrepreneurs of all types have plenty to learn, too. / Credit: Lightbulb image via Shutterstock

TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014 is one of the largest tech conferences of the year. At the three-day event that took place on May 5-7, startups battled it out with innovations disrupting the tech landscape and tech leaders delivered their insights on new products, tech trends and their own companies. Disrupt NY isn't just for the tech world, however. Business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs alike have much to take away from these tech-based discussions. Here are three business lessons from TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014.

The winner of Disrupt NY 2014 is Vurb, a Web and mobile contextual search engine that aims to reinvent how users browse the Web. As shown in the product demo, here's how people would typically use the Internet for a night out: do a search for a movie, restaurant or event, then go to their individual websites for more information, to purchase tickets and make reservations. If you wanted to read reviews, you'd also have to visit Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp or similar review sites. And for directions, you'd have to then head over to Google Maps or open your preferred GPS mobile app. The end result is a million open tabs and mobile apps just to plan a night out.

Instead, Vurb lets you do it all in one place — find something to do, purchase tickets or make reservations, and gather all the information you need, all without leaving the search engine. It consolidates information from and links to services you use the most to provide a smooth experience that makes surfing the Web easier than ever. [5 Lessons for Women Leaders from AMEX CEO BootCamp]

When it comes to fleshing out an idea for a new business or product, you don't necessarily need to create something completely new. The best ideas solve a problem, but sometimes, that just means reinventing antiquated processes by improving them. For Vurb, it's about abandoning scattered, single-purpose browser tabs that clutter your screen and bringing back the fluidity that the Web was intended to have. It's about taking something complex and simplifying it for a better user experience. What's the big picture going to be for your business?

Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of online fashion retailer Nasty Gal, took the stage at Disrupt NY with plenty of stories to tell about making mistakes and going from a one-woman show to running a multimillion-dollar empire. Professionally, Amoruso, who is on a tour promoting her new book "#GirlBoss" (Portfolio Hardcover, 2014), is a community college dropout who found success on — then was kicked out of — eBay before launching the Nasty Gal e-commerce website. Personally, she "spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and dumpster diving," was diagnosed with depression and battled attention deficit disorder. But during her climb to the top, one of her biggest mistakes was a staffing snafu that exploded on the worst possible day for any retailer.

Aware that she needed another pair of hands to oversee the Nasty Gal fulfilment center, Amoruso delayed hiring anyone in hopes that the senior manager would grow into the C-level role. Come Black Friday, the senior manager was so overwhelmed that he quit. Amoruso herself headed to the warehouse and ran around in sweats and sneakers in a rush to get all the holiday orders out on time.

That Black Friday was a disaster that Amoruso could have avoided had she followed her gut to hire additional staff. Today, she hires people who are better than her so they can help her make smart business decisions and teach her to become a better business person.

As a business owner, you're on a roller coaster ride with more downs than ups. And you will make plenty of mistakes. But running a business is all about learning from those mistakes and the people around you. It's not always sunshine and rainbows, and some mistakes will cost infinitely more than others, but what's important is how these experiences make you a better entrepreneur and, ultimately, a better boss. What mistakes have you made as a business owner, and what have you learned from them?

To say that Whisper, an anonymous confessions mobile app, is controversial would be an understatement. Between innocent and entertaining posts about relationships, careers, family and the like are darker revelations about strangers' fears, insecurities, sexual experiences and mental illnesses, including hauntingly candid confessions of suicidal tendencies. Michael Heyward, CEO of Whisper, was in the hot seat on the Disrupt NY stage during an interview with TechCrunch founder, Michael Arrington, who questioned the value Whisper places on anonymity.

Whisper made headlines when someone used the app to out Gwyneth Paltrow's extramarital affairs while married to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Arrington pressed Heyward as to why a user is allowed to air a celebrity's dirty laundry when at its core, Whisper is about creating a more caring, empathetic world. Heyward pointed out that Gwyneth Paltrow is a public figure and as such is of "global relevancy." Furthermore, Whisper isn't about concealing identities, but about "creating a place where we're not carrying around this 800-pound gorilla that we call our identity," Heyward said.

Now, whether Heyward succeeded at defending Whisper is up for discussion — one can argue that the heated discussion was a train wreck, while others could say that Heyward made some valid points — but what's clear is that this CEO is incredibly passionate about what his company aims to do. Whether he's talking about the subtext of humanity as revealed in the Whisper ecosystem or Your Voice, Whisper's nonprofit organization that aims to help college students struggling with mental health issues, the interview demonstrates that Heyward doesn't care just about Whisper, but also its users and the broader issues the app's posts signify.

As a business owner, you will deal with many instances in which people will challenge or criticize your company and how you run it. It comes with the territory, but what matters is how you handle these criticisms and how you defend your operations. For Heyward, it was countering Arrington's isolated Paltrow incident with the many positive things Whisper has to offer. What could be criticized about your business, and how will you defend it? 

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Sara Angeles

Sara is a tech writer with a background in business and marketing. After graduating from UC Irvine, she worked as a copywriter and blogger for nonprofit organizations, tech labs and lifestyle companies. She started freelancing in 2009 and joined Business News Daily in 2013. Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles.