This is an edited version of a series of talks I first gave in New York over the past week, outlining my work at Columbia. Many thanks to Reinvent, Pete Leyden, Cap Gemini, Columbia University, Cossette/Vision7, and the New York Times for hosting and helping me.
Every year I write predictions for the year ahead. And at the end of that year, I grade myself on how I did. I love writing this post, and thankfully you all love reading it as well. These “How I Did” posts are usually the most popular of the year, beating even the original predictions in readership and engagement.
What’s that about, anyway? Is it the spectacle of watching a guy admit he got things wrong? Cheering when I get it right? Perhaps it’s just a chance to pull back and review the year that was, all the while marveling at how much happened in twelve short months. And 2018 does not disappoint.
Here we go:
Prediction #1: Crypto/blockchain dies as a major story. Cast yourself back to late 2017 when Bitcoin was pushing $20,000 and the entire tech sector was obsessed with blockchain everything. ICOs were raising hundreds of millions of dollars, the press was hyping (or denigrating) it all, and the fools were truly rushing in. In my prediction post, I struck a more measured tone: “…there’s simply too much real-but-boring work to be done right now in the space. Does anyone remember 1994? Sure, it’s the year the Mozilla team decamped from Illinois to the Valley, but it’s not the year the Web broke out as a mainstream story. That came a few years later. 2018 is a year of hard work on the problems that have kept blockchain from becoming what most of us believe it can truly become. And that kind of work doesn’t keep the public engaged all year long.” I think I got that right. Bitcoin has crashed to earth, and those who remain in the space are deep in the real work – which I still believe to be fundamentally important to the future of not only tech, but society as well. Score: 10/10
Prediction #2: Donald Trump blows up. I don’t usually make political predictions, but by 2017, Trump was the story, bigger than politics, and bigger than tech. I wrote: “2018 is the year [Trump] goes down, and when [he] does, it will happen quickly (in terms of its inevitability) and painfully slowly (in terms of it actually resolving). This of course is a terrible thing to predict for our country, but we got ourselves into this mess, and we’ll have to get ourselves out of it. It will be the defining story of the year.” I think I also got this one right. Trump is done – nearly everyone I trust in politics agrees with that statement. I won’t recount all the reasons, but here are a few: No fewer than 17 ongoing investigations of the President and/or his organizations. A tanking stock market that has lost all faith in the President’s leadership. Nearly 40 actual indictments and several high profile guilty verdicts. A Democratic majority in the House preparing an endless barrage of subpoenas and investigations. And a Republican party finally ready to abandon its leader. Net net: Trump is toast. It’s just going to take a while for that final pat of butter. Score: 10/10
Prediction #3: Facts make a comeback. Here’s what I wrote in support of this assertion: “2018 is the year the Enlightenment makes a robust return to the national conversation. Liberals will finally figure out that it’s utterly stupid to blame the “other side” for our nation’s troubles. Several viral memes will break out throughout the year focused on a core narrative of truth and fact. The 2018 elections will prove that our public is not rotten or corrupt, but merely susceptible to the same fever dreams we’ve always been susceptible to, and the fever always breaks. A rising tide of technology-driven engagement will help drive all of this.” I’d like to claim I nailed this one, but I think the trend lines are supportive. Real journalism had a banner year, with subscriptions to high-integrity publications breaking records year on year. Most smart liberals have realized that the politics of blame is a losing game. And I was happily right about the 2018 elections, which was one of the most definitive rebukes of a sitting President in the history of our nation. As for those “viral memes” I predicted, I’m not sure how I might prove or disprove that assertion – none come to mind, but I may have missed something, given what a blur 2018 turned out to be. Alas, that “rising tide of technology-driven engagement” was a pretty useless statement. Everything these days is tech-driven…so I deserve to be dinged for that pablum. But overall? Not bad at all. Score: 7/10
Prediction #4: Tech stocks overall have a sideways year. It might be hard to give me credit for this one, given how the FANG names have tanked over the past few months, but cast your mind back to when I wrote this prediction, in late December: Tech stocks were doing nothing but going up. And where are they now? After continuing to climb for months, they’re….mostly where they started the year. Sideways. Apple started at around 170, and today is at … 156. Google started at 1048, and is now at…1037. Amazon and Netflix did better, rising double digit percentages, but plenty of other tech stocks are down significantly year on year. The tech-driven Nasdaq index started the year at around 7000, as of today, it’s down to 6600. So, some up, some down, and a whole lot of … sideways. As I wrote: “All the year-in-review stock pieces will note that tech didn’t drive the markets in the way they have over the past few years. This is because the Big Four have some troubles this coming year.” Ummm….yep, and see the next two predictions… Score: 9/10.
Prediction #6: Google/Alphabet will have a terrible first half (reputation wise), but recover after that. Well, in my original post, I predicted a #MeToo shoe dropping around Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. That didn’t happen exactly, though the whisper-ma-phone was sure running hot for the first few months of the year, and a massive sexual misconduct scandal eventually broke out later in the year. But even if I was wrong on that one point, it’s true the company had a bad first half, and for the most part, a pretty terrible year overall. In March, it had a government AI contract blow up in its face, leading to employee protests and resignations. This trend only continued throughout the year, culminating in thousands of employees walking out in protest of the company’s payouts to alleged sexual harassers. Oh, and that empty chair at Congressional hearings sure didn’t help the company’s reputation. I also predicted more EU fines: Check! A record-breaking $5 billion fine, to be exact. Further, news the company was creating a censored version of its core search engine in China also tarnished big G. But I whiffed when I mulled how the company might get its mojo back: I predicted it would consider breaking itself up and taking the parts public. That didn’t happen (as far as we know). Instead, Google CEO Sundar Pichai finally relented, showing up to endure yet another act in DC’s endless string of political carnivals. Pichai acquitted himself well enough to support my assertion that Google began to recover by year’s end. But as recoveries go, it’s a fragile one. Score: 8/10.
Prediction #7: The Duopoly falls out of favor. This was my annual prediction around the digital advertising marketplace, focused on Facebook and (again) Google. In it, I wrote: “This doesn’t mean year-on-year declines in revenue, but it does mean a falloff in year-on-year growth, and by the end of 2018, a increasingly vocal contingent of influencers inside the advertising world will speak out against the companies (they’re already speaking to me privately about it). One or two of them will publicly cut their spending and move it to other places.” This absolutely occurred. I’ve already chronicled Google’s travails in 2018, and there’s simply not enough pixels to do the same for Facebook. This New York Times piece lays out how advertisers have responded: No Morals. In the piece, and many others like it, top advertisers, including the CEO of a major agency, went on the record decrying Facebook – giving me cause for a #humblebrag, if I do say so myself. Oh, and yes, both Facebook and Google posted lower revenue growth rates year on year. Score: 10/10.
Prediction #8: Pinterest breaks out. As I wrote in my original post: “This one might prove my biggest whiff, or my biggest “nailed it.” Well, near the end of 2018, a slew of reports predicted that Pinterest is about to file for a massive IPO. As if by magic, the world woke up to Pinterest. It seems I was right – but as of yet, the IPO has not been confirmed. So…I’ll not score myself a 10 on this one, but if Pinterest does have a successful IPO early next year, I reserve the right to go back and add a couple of points. Score: 8/10.
Prediction #9: Autonomous vehicles do not become mainstream. Driverless cars have been “just around the corner” for what feels like forever. By late 2017, everyone in the business was claiming they’d breakout within a year. But that didn’t happen, regardless of the hype around the first “commercial launch” by Waymo in Phoenix a few weeks ago. I’m sorry, but a “launch” limited to 400 pre-selected and highly vetted beta ain’t mainstream – it’s not even a service in any defensible way. We’re still a long, long way off from this utopian vision. Our cities can’t even figure out what to do with electric scooters, for goodness sake. It’ll be a coon’s age before they figure out driverless cars. Score: 9/10.
Prediction #10: Business leads. I think I need to avoid these spongy predictions, because it’s super hard to prove whether or not they came true. 2018 showed us plenty of examples of business leadership along the lines of what I predicted. Here’s what I wrote: “A crucial new norm in business poised to have a breakout year is the expectation that companies take their responsibilities to all stakeholders as seriously as they take their duty to shareholders. “All stakeholders” means more than customers and employees, it means actually adding value to society beyond just their product or service. 2018 will be the year of “positive externalities” in business.” Well, I could list all the companies that pushed this movement forward. Lots of great companies did great things – Salesforce, a leader in corporate responsibility, even hired a friend of mine to be Chief Ethics Officer. Imagine if every major company empowered such a position? And a powerful Senator – Elizabeth Warren, who likely will run for the presidency in 2019 – laid out her vision for a new approach to corporate responsibility in draft legislation called the Accountable Capitalism Act. But at the end of the day, I’ve got no way to prove that 2018 was “a break out year” for “a crucial new norm in business.” I wish I did, but…I don’t. Score: 5/10.
Overall, I have to say, this was one of the most successful reviews of my predictions ever – and that’s saying something, given I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years. Nine of ten were pretty much correct, with just one being a push. That sets a high bar for my predictions for 2019…coming, I hope, in the next week or so. Until then, thanks as always for being a fellow traveler. And happy new year – may 2019 bring you and yours happiness, health, and gratitude.
At the beginning of each year I make predictions, and at year’s end, I hold myself to account. It’s kind of fun to look back and see how wrong (or right) my musings end up being.
I’ll be writing my Predictions 2017 post this weekend (I think), and publishing it shortly thereafter. But for now, let’s take a stroll down memory lane, and see how I did. Here’s a short report card for each of my twelve 2016 predictions.
#1 – 2016 will be the year that “business on a mission” goes mainstream. Well, this was pretty self serving, given it’s at the core of the work I did all year long at NewCo andNewCo Shift. But I did predict that massive companies would put their missions at the core of their marketing, and that certainly happened with corporations like Unilever, Ikea, H&M, and many others. I also said the press would start covering the story as a regular beat, more than just annual “doing good by doing well” lists. While coverage (and the number of those annual lists) has increased, I can’t argue the story has broken out as big as I expected. And while organizations like Just Capital have launched to track company data beyond price and profit, I think this story needs another year or two to mature. Overall, this prediction trended in the right direction, but didn’t fully come true this year, so I’m going to give myself a (noble, well intentioned) whiff on this one.
#2 – Mobile will finally mean more than apps. It may seem counterintuitive, but I think this is the year my mobile prediction actually came true. Here’s the detail from my post: “by year’s end, we’ll find ourselves interacting with our technology in new and far more “web like” ways – bouncing from link to link, service to service, much as we did on the original web, but with the power, context, and sensor-laden enablement of mobile apps and devices.” In fact, that’s exactly how using my phone now feels – deep linking has gone mainstream, and more often than not a link from a search opens an app on my phone, or a call to action in an email or inside an app opens another app – or a mobile web view – inside a third party site. Plus, every new release of Android (I don’t use iOS) seems to increase the utility of notifications, voice, and search. That’s how the next generation internet should work, and it’s here, now. Which is a really good thing (and augurs some very cool new opportunities, which I’ll probably explore in my predictions post). I’m going to grade myself a “mostly nailed it.” Why mostly? Because at the end of my prediction, I said Google’s app streaming was going to help make it all happen. While the company continues to refine and roll out the service (and related services like Instant Apps, or Apple’s On Demand Resources), I deserve a ding for that call. I’d rate it a 75% win.
#3 – Twitter makes a comeback. I don’t really need to go into much detail here. This did not happen. It’s all about the product. And while the election certainly helped Twitter, Twitter did not help itself much this past year. My wishful thinking earned me a fail on this one. Damnit Twitter, please be all we know you can be in 2017!
#4 – Adtech and the Internet of Things begins to merge. Weeks after I wrote this prediction, the industry bellwether Dmexco, arguably the most important marketing conference in the world, declared that IoT was the future of adtech. Core adtech companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon (yes, Amazon is a serious player in adtech) – all released key products or platforms that vector IoT directly into their adtech strengths (Google Home? Check. Facebook Messenger bots? Check. Amazon’s Alexa/Echo? Check.) This merger will be messy and fraught, but bots and voice are the future for all the major internet players, and advertising business models and tech platforms will drive them all, in new and perhaps unexpected ways. Add to that the unprecedented amount of work done this past year in autonomous vehicles (which is a major IoT category and of course, a huge advertising platform in and of itself), and I think it’s fair to say this prediction came true. However, there’s a lot more to this trend than just merging advertising and IoT. That’s the easy (and obvious) part of the equation. The less obvious work remains to be done – as I wrote in the prediction: “I’m suggesting that the underlying technology powering adtech is perfectly suited to execute the highly complicated and highly performant rules-based decisioning required for the Internet of Things to touch our lives on a regular basis.” I honestly don’t know of any development over the past year that proves this part of my prediction, but I can’t imagine it’s not being worked on by the Amazons, Googles, and Facebooks of the world. We did have a major IoT event that proved the power of my predicted merger: Hackers harnessed millions of poorly secured IoT devices to mount massive DDOS attacks across the web.
Oh, and at the end of this prediction, I ventured that in 2016, we’d see a blockchain based adtech player emerge. We did see the emergence of BitTeaser and its related HubDSP, though they are in very early stages as of now. Overall, I’d say this prediction played out – score it as another 75% – a passing grade, at the very least.
#5 – Tesla’s Model 3 will garner more than 100,000 pre-orders. Many of you thought I was crazy to predict massive orders for the Model 3, but….Tesla blew through my most optimistic numbers. Orders are now approaching half a million, and counting.
#6 – Publishers and platforms come to terms. This is a hard one to prove. I wrote: “In 2016, Medium, LinkedIn, and Facebook will all make strides in helping all publishers succeed.” And I think this is largely true. Medium rolled out a publisher program, and limited, but improving advertising options for its publishers. LinkedIn hasn’t yet rolled out a publisher friendly platform, but it’s become a crucial traffic driver for a lot of publishers, and I’ve heard plenty of well-sourced rumors that a publishing platform is coming once the Microsoft integration is complete. And Facebook, well, Facebook had an uneven year when it comes to publisher relations, but there isn’t a serious publisher in the world who isn’t busy integrating with Instant Articles and the Newsfeed in one way or another. Add in publisher centric moves from Google (Amp, etc), and Apple (Apple News continue to grow, slowly), and I’d give this prediction a passing grade.
#7 – Search has a dominant year, thanks in large part to voice and AI. I think this also came to pass this year. We can debate if “traditional search” had a dominant year, but that was not my point. Search is in transition to new models based on voice and AI-assistants like Siri, Now, Alexa, and Cortana, and in 2016, these most certainly came into their own. I predicted that search volume, if once counted voice and AI, would be “way up” in 2016. Voice search volume did indeed explode in 2016, but we’ll have to wait for Mary Meeker’s mid year update to know by exactly how much. Regardless, I think I got this one right.
#8 – Apple endures a boring year. Yep, this pretty much happened. I wrote: “short of yet another iPhone folks feel obliged to purchase, there’ll be nothing spectacular. I don’t think folks will be calling for Tim Cook’s head, but many will wonder if Apple is meandering its way toward a boring, profit-milking middle age.” Check.
#9 – Microsoft and Google get serious about hardware. Oh yes, they sure as hell did. Microsoft became a billion dollar a quarter player in tablets/computing with Surface, and Google rolled out Home, Pixel (its first true Google phone), and more Chrome gadgets. Both companies are very, very serious about hardware now.
#10 – Medium has a breakout year. I wasn’t sure this was going to happen, but just this month, Medium released its growth numbers – up 140% year on year, to 60 million users. Combined with the launch of its publishing platform and the release of far better iOS and Android apps, Medium was indeed on a tear in 2016.
#11 –China goes shopping. In 2015, we all expected Chinese companies like Alibaba to start snapping up startups left and right. It didn’t exactly happen. But I predicted that 2016 would see it come to fruition, and indeed Chinese firms were very busy this past year. China dealmaking rose 145% in 2016, according to Bloomberg, and Internet and Software was one of the hottest sectors, with adtech – much maligned for years – a major standout.
#12 – Sports unbundle. Well….no. I really, really wanted to drop my cable sub this past year, and the only thing keeping me from doing so was my beloved San Francisco Giants. Alas, nothing happened this year that will change that. There was a lot of hand wringing about the future of sports-driven brands like ESPN, and nearly everyone things sports will someday unbundle, just as HBO and many others have recently done. But not this year, so…my wishful prediction was a swing and a miss.
Summing up, how’d I do? Pretty darn well, it turns out. I whiffed on only three – Business on a mission, Twitter, and Sports – and pretty much nailed the rest of them. That’s one of my best showings yet – nine for twelve, or a .750 batting average. Good enough to convince me to try again for next year! Have a great New Year’s Eve, and I’ll be back soon with predictions for 2017.
Picking a schedule for a NewCo festival is an art – it takes a lot more time and thought than your average event. But it’s also fun – each session and company description has been highly curated, and I learn a lot simply by reading through the diversity of experiences that are on offer.
This year in LA there are 80+ companies to chose from. The festival runs over two days – the afternoon of Monday Nov 9th through the evening of Tuesday Nov. 10th. It wasn’t easy, but here’s where I’ll be visiting:
Monday, Nov. 9th
1.30 pm – Maker Studios. Video is the hottest medium on the Internet, and the model keeps evolving, as the recent YouTube Red news illustrates. Maker is one of the most successful of the original “MCNs” and has grown past its YouTube roots into a powerhouse in all things video. I want to get behind the scenes and learn about video because NewCo will be launching video channels next year, along with its media business. I also want to see the Culver City neighborhood where Maker has its HQ – it’s home to an abundance of LA’s best entertainment startups. Wish I could go: Cross Campus, MomentFeed, Inspire Energy.
3.00 pm – Hired. Another selfish business reason here: I’m very interested in the recruitment field, both because NewCo is growing, but also because I sense opportunities for what we’re building as well. Hired has been on a tear lately and has a lot of buzz. I’m looking forward to seeing how the sausage is made. Wish I could go: Tradesy, Omaze, Google.
1.30 pm –Soylent. This food-replacement drink has been the subject of much derision and celebration. But it’s certainly pushing the envelope of how we think about nutrition and the role of food in society. Wish I could go: Science, Inc., Funny or Die, Upfront Ventures.
3.00 pm –Surf Air. Another new approach to transportation – one that promises to rethink how we do shorter haul flights. We’ll get to board and tour their airplanes as well! Wish I could go: Parachute, Expert DOJO, VNTANA (another Manatt pick).
4.30 pm – Flightly. I’ll admit, Flightly’s location helped me chose it (bc it’s near the meetup afterwards, and traffic is rough in LA in the afternoon!). Then again, I’ve wondered about the company ever since it was announced as Twitter’s only e-commerce integration. I’ve long thought Twitter had a huge e-commerce business lurking inside of it – and now’s my chance to hear about it from the source. Wish I could go: WeWork, onefinestay, Crowdfunder.
But I have a different take on why our recent college and high school graduates aren’t opting for politics, and it has to do with a far more positive reason: This is the first generation to come of age in an era where “entrepreneur” is not only a viable career option, it’s actually a compelling one.
I’ve never had a real job I didn’t make myself – back when I was starting out some 25+ years ago, the only path that seemed to make sense for me was joining a startup (job #1), or making one myself (jobs #2-7). I started out well before the Internet, and before the 1990s boom which brought the idea of a college-dropout CEO to the fore of our cultural conscience. Sure, we had Bill Gates, but he was a complete outlier, not a demarcation of a trend, as Zuckerberg became during the Web 2 era.
Back in the early 1990s, my friends and family struggled to understand what it was I was doing with my life. It was as if I had some kind of undiagnosed disease – I was addicted to risk, and clearly allergic to “real work.”
But think of the options a smart kid has coming out of college these days. Not only has company creation become mainstream and entirely acceptable, we’ve built scores of institutions that teach and enable company creation – from Babson to Slack to Y Combinator. I recently met with Sam Altman, CEO of YC, who told me his company receives more applications to his program each year than Stanford does. How many apps does Stanford get? About 40,000!
Cynicism aside, the main reason anyone wants to get into politics is to make positive change in the world. And I believe thoughtful young people are taking a hard look at our major change-making institutions – government, religion, education, and corporations – and they’re deciding that the best way to have an impact is to start a company (or join one). And more and more, those companies are focused on creating positive change in the world. To which I can only say: Right on!
As I did last year, I picked my NewCo San Francisco schedule early, so I could prepare in advance of the festival this September 10-12. There are nearly 130 extraordinary companies to choose from, so it’s not easy to decide where to spend your time. But decide we must. Here are my choices for this year’s SF festival (there are festivals in Amsterdam, New York, Silicon Valley, LA, Detroit, Boulder, London, and Istanbul so far).
Haven’t heard of NewCo? Learn all about it here. In short, we pick extraordinary companies that are mission-driven and changing the face of our city and our society, and they open their doors to the public for a one hour session on a topic of their choice. It’s free, but if you want to insure that you get into the companies you care about, you can pay a small fee to jump to the head of the line right now. Some companies are already full, others are almost full. When we open General Admission, which is free, they’ll all fill up quickly. So it’s worth $90 to get in where you want to go. Here are the ones I plan to visit:
Day 1 – Thursday September 11
9 am – Medium. I’m fascinated by Medium’s rise as a reliable place to find thoughtful and well crafted writing. Founder Ev Williams has been improvising on the theme of publishing platforms for nearly 15 years – first with Blogger, then with Twitter. Medium is a place in between those two, as it relates to the point of view of the creator. It has yet to develop a full throated business model, but I sense one emerging. I’m going to find out more about the company and its people and community. Medium is also one of the Yahoo Media Innovation sessions – a curated track that Yahoo! and NewCo put together to highlight innovative media companies who are participating in NewCo SF. Runners up:GitHub and Brigade. GitHub has always fascinated me – sure, it’s a code-base repository and developer community, but more importantly, it’s the center of an emerging power class in our society. And Brigade has at its core a mission that fascinates me – it asks the question: Can we leverage new technologies to change our political system?
10:30 am – American Conservatory Theater/The Costume Shop. Look, how often do you get a chance to actually see the backstage magic that creates first-class theatre productions? I’m a total theatre geek, though I don’t get to shows nearly as often as I’d like. I’m hoping to re-kindle my love affair with the stage by seeing behind the ACT’s curtain for the first time. Super excited. Runners Up: The Moxie Institute and Chute. I am a huge fan of filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who is a pal. Her “Let It Ripple” films on AOL are a huge hit, and her “The Future Starts Here” series is up for an Emmy. And I’m on the Board of Chute, which is a promising startup in the visual discovery, rights management, and adtech publishing market. But for me, NewCo is about new – so I’m going with ACT.
Noon – Rickshaw Bagworks. It’s not a bad hop from mid-market, where ACT has set up shop, to Dogpatch, where Rickshaw Bags manufactures its wares. I met the CEO of Rickshaw at last year’s festival, and was inspired by his devotion to quality, community, and local manufacturing. I haven’t gotten a chance to see his digs yet, and I know the tour of his shop will be inspiring. Plus, I am a customer of Rickshaw, I love my Rickshaw backpack. It’s cool to be able to see where it was made. Runners Up: PUBLIC Bikes and SVAngel. I’m a biker, and I want to understand the rise of the “city bike,” which PUBLIC Bikes creates right in the heart of SF. And while I know folks at SV Angel, I’ve actually never seen their space. It will have to wait till next year, alas!
1.30 pm – Earnest. When someone leaves Andreessen Horowitz to start a mission-driven company, you know he or she must be pretty, well, driven. In this session, I get a chance to meet the CEO of Earnest, which is a new lending platform with the outsized goal of changing how lending works. Classic NewCo company. Runners Up:the melt and KITE Solutions. I’ve never had a melt sandwich, but I love how the company has grown over the past two years, and wish I could be in two places at once. And KITE, run by my pal Mark Silva, is matching innovative startups to large brands, a business I love. But again, the new beats the known at NewCo for me.
3:00 pm – Lit Motors. I was so bummed to miss Lit last year, and thrilled they are back at NewCo SF this year. Lit makes new kinds of vehicles, not exactly cars, but not cycles either. I can’t wait to learn about the ideas which inspire these creations. Runners Up:AdStage and City & County of SF. AdStage is a super promising platform for managing marketing – but I’m an investor so I know a fair bit about it. And I love that the Mayor’s office is part of the NewCo platform – their session will provide insights on how the city works with entrepreneurs to tackle big civic problems and opportunities.
4:30 pm – Twitter. Sure, I get inside Twitter from time to time to meet with friends and colleagues, but this session is going to be different. Twitter is focusing its NewCo session on how it is leaning into community development and philanthropy. This is a critical issue to the mid market area, as well as to all cities who are experiencing a tech-driven boom. Not to be missed. Runners Up:Yahoo!, Pinterest, and DocuSign. Yahoo! continues its reinvention, and this session is an opportunity to learn how it’s going. DocuSign has a tiger by the tail, I’m deeply impressed with what Keith Krach and his team have done there (Krach is a speaker at our VIP Plenary kickoff party, which you can attend by buying a VIP ticket here). And Pinterest is on FIRE. Tough choices here.
Day 2 – Friday, September 12
9.00 am – Tumml. I’m taking a flyer here, as I know very little about this startup, but I love their mission, which is all about addressing issues of urban environments through public/private partnerships. Also, the session is taking the form of a pitch session, where entrepreneurs in the Tumml program pitch the audience. That should be a blast. Runners Up: Bloomberg and Blossom Coffee. I went to Bloomberg last year and loved seeing behind the scenes of how TV gets made. And who doesn’t need a good cup of Joe at 9 am?!
10:30 am – Lemnos Labs. This speciality VC firm funds hardware startups. What do I know about hardware? Almost nothing! And that’s why I’m heading to this session. Runners up: TechShop and Salesforce.com. I went to TechShop last year and learned a ton about the new culture of DIY and Big Machines. And Salesforce, which is hosting our plenary VIP event, is a great company doing well by doing good.
Noon – Founders Circle Capital & Shasta Ventures. I’m an advisor to FCC, so I’ve been to their South Park offices. But it’s always good to hang at a homebase during NewCo, and I love FCC’s model of founder-driven secondary financing. A much needed innovation for fast growing companies, plus I get to meet the folks at Shasta. Runners Up: Automattic (just a wonderful company well worth the visit) and Yerdle.
1.30 pm – Airbnb. OK, so I’ve been wanting to see the new offices ever since they opened last year. I can’t wait to get inside and see how one of the most valuable startups in the world gets its business on. Runners Up: Backplane and Hightail. Backplane has built a platform based on the insights from creating Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters community, and Hightail is competing in the world of Box and Dropbox. Both are run by fascinating entrepreuners.
3:00 pm – Cloverpop. Another flyer, but this one seems super cool. The company is attempting to “upgrade how we make decisions” using social data and storytelling. There’s a special invite for their private beta for those who come to the session. Now that’s pretty awesome. Runners Up: SEAGLASS, Delectable, and Scoot. In fact, this is the most difficult hour of the whole festival – so many amazing companies. Please head to SEAGLASS, last year they had pure honey dripping from actual honeycomb. It’s an incredible restaurant. And Delectable is all about wine, and my guess is there’s wine to be had there. And Scoot is just a super cool idea – electric scooter sharing.
4:30 pm – Jawbone. I’m eager to know what’s next from this innovative company – now that Apple has purchase Beats in particular. If not for NewCo, I doubt I’d ever get a chance to visit Jawbone – and that’s kind of the point! Runners Up: Comcast Ventures and Trulia. Comcast Ventures is making a move to be a player in SF VC, and I find any move by Comcast significant these days. And Trulia, recently merged with Zillow, is just a fascinating business.
Wow. That’s a dozen deep dives into companies in just two days. I really love the NewCo concept – I know, I know, I’m Chair of it, after all. But really, where else do you get a chance to get inside so many extraordinary organizations and really experience how they are changing our society? Please, join me and dive in. I’ll see you there!
Once upon a time, print was a vibrant medium, a platform where entrepreneurial voices created new forms of value, over and over again. I’ll admit it was my native platform, at least for a while – Wired and The Industry Standard were print-driven companies, though they both innovated online, and the same could be said for Make, which I helped early in its life. By the time I started Federated, a decidedly online company, the time of print as a potent cultural force was over. New voices – the same voices that might have created magazines 20 years ago, now find new platforms, be they websites (a waning form in itself), or more likely, corporate-owned platforms like iOS, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine.
Now, I’m acutely aware of how impolitic it is to defend print these days. But my goal here is not to defend print, nor to bury it. Rather, it’s to point out some key aspects of print that our industry still has yet to recapture in digital form. As we abandoned print, we also abandoned a few critical characteristics of the medium, elements I think we need to identify and re-integrate into whatever future publications we create. So forthwith, some Thinking Out Loud…
Let’s start with form. If nothing else, print forced form onto our ideas of what a media product might be. Print took a certain form – a magazine was bound words on paper, a newspaper, folded newsprint. This form gave readers a consistent and understandable product – it began with the cover or front page, it ended, well, at the last page. It started, it had a middle, it had an end. A well-executed print product was complete – a formed object – something that most online publications and apps, with some notable exceptions, seem never to be.
Now before you scream that the whole point of online is the stream – the ceaseless cascade of always updated stories – I want to question whether “the stream” is really a satisfying form for providing what great media should deliver – namely voice and point of view. I would argue it is not, and our obsession with producing as many stories as possible (directly correlated to two decades of pageview-driven business models) has denatured the media landscape, rewarding an approach that turns us all into hummingbirds, frantically dipping our information-seeking beaks into endless waving fields of sugary snacks.
I, for one, want a return to form in media. I want to sit down for a meal every so often, and deeply engage with a thoughtful product that stops time, and makes sense of a subject that matters to me. A product that, by its form, pre-supposes editorial choices having been made – this story is important, it matters to you so we’ve included it, and we’ve interpreted it with our own voice and point of view. Those editorial choices are crucial – they turn a publication into a truly iconic brand.*
Closely tied to the concept of form (and antithetical to the stream) is another element of print we’ve mostly discarded – the edition. Printed magazines and newspapers are published on a predictable episodic timeline – that’s why we call them periodicals. They cut time and space into chunked experiences, indeed, they stop time and declare “Over the past (day, week, month), this is what matters in the context of our brand.”
I’ve noticed a few interesting experiments in edition-driven media lately – Yahoo News Digest, Circa, and email newsletters (hello ReDEF!) most notably. But I think we could do a lot better. When the iPad came out, powerful media outlets like NewsCorp failed spectacularly with edition-driven media like The Daily. And the online world gloated – “old” media had failed, because it had simply ported old approaches to a new medium. I think that’s wrong. The Daily likely failed for many reasons, but perhaps the most important was its reliance on being an paid app in a limited (early iOS) ecosystem. As I’ve said to many folks, I think we’re very close to breaking free of the limits imposed by a closed, app-driven world. It’s never been easier to create an excellent app-based “wrapper” for your media product. What matters now is what that product stands for, and whether you can earn the repeated engagement of a core community.
Which takes me to two critical and quite related features of “print” – engagement and brand. I like to say that reading a great magazine or watching a great show is like taking a bath, you soak it in, you commit to it, you steep yourself in it. When good media takes a bounded form, and comes once in a period of time, it begs to be consumed as a whole – it creates an engaging experience. We don’t dip in and out of an episode of Game of Thrones, after all – we take it in as a whole. Why have we abandoned this concept when it comes to publications, simply because they exist online?
The experience that a publication creates for its audience is the very essence of that publication’s brand – and without deep engagement, that publication’s brand will be weak. A good publication is a convener and an arbiter – it expresses a core narrative that becomes a badge of sorts for its readership. I’m not saying you can’t create a great branded publication online – certainly there are plenty of examples. At FM, we helped hundreds through launch and maturity – but those were websites, which as I said before, are declining as forms due to social, mobile and search. But every brand needs a promise – and that promise is lost if there’s no narrative to the media one experiences.
Our current landscape, driven as it is by sharing platforms and mobile use cases, rewards the story far more than the publication. Back and forth, back and forth we go, dipping from The Awl to Techcrunch, Mashable to Buzzfeed. Playing that game might garner pageviews, but pageviews alone do not a great media brand make. Only a consistent, ongoing, deep experience can make a lasting media brand, one that has a commitment from a core community, and the respect of a larger reading public. If the only way that public can show respect is a Facebook Like or a Twitter retweet, we’re well and truly screwed.
Reflecting on all of this, it strikes me that there’s an opportunity to create a new kind of media, one that prospers as much for what it leaves out as for what it decides to keep in. Because to even consider the concepts of “in” and “out” you need a episodic container – a form. Early in the Internet’s evolution (and I think it’s safe to say, two decades in, that we’re past the “early” stage), it made sense to explore the boundless possibilities of formless media. And while most media companies have been disappointed with “apps,” remember, it’s early, and that ecosystem is still nascent. We’re 20+ years into the Internet, but barely half a decade into apps. The next stage will be a mixture of the link economy of the original web with the format of the app. And with that mixture comes opportunity.
But as we consider the future of media, and before we abandon print to the pages of history, we should recall that it has much to teach us. As we move into an era where media can exist on any given piece of glass, we should keep in mind print’s lessons of form, editions, and brand. They’ll serve us well.
NB: Writing this made me realize there are many topics I had to leave out – longer ramblings on the link economy, on how the stream and “formed” media can and should co-exist, on the role of platforms (and whether they should be “owned” at all), on the role of data and personalization, on why I believe we’re close to a place where apps no longer rule the metaphorical roost in mobile, and more. As summer settles in, I hope to have time to do more thinking out loud on these topics…..
*I’ve noticed a few publications starting to do this, whether it’s the experiments over at Medium (with Matter, for example, or the hiring of Levy to focus tech coverage), or The Atlantic’s excellent Quartz.
OpenCo NY is just ten or so days away – the opening plenary (for Backstage pass holders and VIPs) is Weds evening, May 22, and the full day of open sessions inside 130+ innovative NY-based companies is the following day, May 23. Consider this post a “curtain raiser” of sorts, with all the information you might need to grok the event and, I hope, participate if you happen to find yourself in NYC for InternetWeek.
General admission registration is still open, and I plan to keep it open until at least 2000 folks register. As of today, we’re past 1500, and with ten days left and pacing of about 100 a day, I expect that to happen sometime next week. VIP access to our schedule picker, which works just like a music festival app but you pick the companies you want to visit (as opposed to the bands you want to see) is already open. If you want to register, either for the free admission or VIP, go here. I humbly suggest you upgrade to a VIP level (it’s just $100) which makes sure you get immediate access to picking the companies you want to visit – once we open General Admission later next week, most of the companies listed below will fill up quickly.
A VERY special thanks to founding Tour Partner American Express OPEN Forum (you’re amazing!) and to IPG and Yahoo!, who are both major supporters and sponsors as well.
So here are the amazing companies that are opening their doors to the public for this festival, and telling the world their story and their mission. Here they are:
June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media Chad Dickerson, CEO, Etsy Eric Hippeau, Partner, Lerer Ventures Bob Pittman, CEO, Clear Channel Rachel Sterne Hoat, Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York Matt Seiler, Global CEO, IPG Mediabrands Robert K. Steel, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Office of the City of New York Joanne Wilson, Gotham Gal
Next are the amazing advisors who have helped bring this to life in NYC:
Advertising Age & Internet Week
VP/Publisher, Advertising Age and Managing Director, Internet Week.
Alison Brod Public Relations
Founder & CEO
Founder & Managing Partner
Brew Media Relations
Brien Enterprise LLC
Founder & CEO
Cofounder I Chairman & Chief Creative Officer
President & Founder
Hearst Digital Media & 212
Chief Sales Officer, Hearst Digital Media and President: 212 NYC Board of Directors
Huffington Post Media Group
President & Editor in Chief
Lowenstein Sandler LLP
Chair, Tech Group
Founder and CEO
Morris + King Company
Founding Partner & Co-Principle
EVP Digital Media Advertising
Vice President Research & Development Operations
CEO & Founder
CEO & Founder
The ReDEF Group
CEO and Chief Curator
Union Square Ventures
CEO & Founder
I’ve just learned that Kim Kadlec, Chief Media Officer for Johnson & Johnson, has also joined this illustrious group. Thanks to all of you, you’ve made this a raging success!
It’s been building for weeks – Friday marks the first day of the fifth annual Outside Lands festival here in San Francisco. Despite the demands of work and family, I try to get to as many festivals as I can – so far, I’ve managed to see Bonnaroo a few times, Coachella once (I’ll be back!), Austin City Limits, and a few others. Outside Lands is local to San Francisco and therefore much easier to attend – this will be my third. Compared to your average festival goer (who tends to be single and about half my age) I’m a punter, but I’ll take it.
Why do I go? In two words, serendipity and joy. When you gather with tens of thousands of like minded, smiling people, unexpected connections are made, and bouts of pure happiness break out all over the place. Who wouldn’t want to soak in some of that?
Well, I think the truth is obvious, but worth restating: it’s one thing to be there, and quite another to watch everyone else being there. The value of gathering together only increases as the virtual channel becomes ubiquitous. And that is a good sign for humanity, to my mind.