Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit Part 1

Last Monday and Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend Bloomberg’s Next Big Thing Summit in Sausalito, CA.  This is the first of two posts about the event. 

Quick thanks to InSITE for hooking me up with a ticket to this event.  I didn’t even have to scan tickets at the door to get in.  The NBT Summit, similar to Bloomberg’s Enterprise Technology Summit, was a non-stop flow of panelists and keynotes.  (I tweeted a bunch from that one, but didn’t blog about it).

The event was held at the Cavallo Point resort right on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We got lucky with the weather and the scenery was unreal- made it tough to sit still inside all day.  The setup is slightly different from some other tech events I’ve been to: the main stage had a pretty small audience setup, maybe 200-300 people in the main room at a given time.  For reference, that’s probably 8-10x smaller than the main room at Tech Crunch Disrupt.

Bloomberg runs a pretty tight ship- there is literally no down time at their events except during lunch: as soon as one panel is over the next one starts within five minutes.  As a result, there are always people sneaking in and out of the crowd, which starts out as a slight distraction, but you get used to it right away. Bloomberg encourages people to take a break in the lobby or sitting area (this is also where the sponsors, free swag, food and coffee are).

Anyway, the NBT had a really impressive lineup of speakers and panelists, including investors Esther Dyson, Sir Michael Moritz, Ron Conway, Eric Hippeau and Richard Wong and entrepreneurs/operators/”others” such as will.i.am, Caterina Fake, Patrick Collison, Max Levchin and Jonathan Bender (yes, that Jonathan Bender).

Rather than give a minute by minute recap of the event, I’m going to share some themes and some of my thoughts:

Consumer focus: 

Everyone – enterprise, mobile, ed tech, consumer, wearable, 3D, food – EVERYONE talked about ease of use for the end consumer.  I think this is a result of two other recent themes: design thinking (or whatever you call it when non designers think about design) and the Uberfication of everything (people think they should be able to push 1 button to get whatever they want).

Patrick Collison, the co-founder of Stripe, identified this trend deftly.  Interviewed by Sir Michael Moritz, Collison praised the “frictionless experience” at mobile-first companies like Lyft, Uber, Taskrabbit and Spoonrocket, but acknowledged that all companies (not just mobile-first) need to reduce consumer friction.  Obviously, this is exactly what Stripe does for online retailers- takes all the hard processing and infrastructure stuff and makes it easy so the retailers can focus on the business.

There was a whole panel dedicated to “The New Consumer.”  Much of the discussion surrounded the empowered consumer.  Years ago, blogs and the internet gave consumers a microphone, but the ubiquitous adoption of social media has given that microphone an amp.  Companies have no choice but to listen to their customers, and it actually makes good business sense to do so.  Jennifer Dulski of Change.org put it best when she said “don’t be afraid of your customers.”

Final point on the consumer theme: will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas (and apparently an investor in Beats) crushed corporations for not listening to what consumers want, but instead relying on running “case studies” about what they should want.  His take was that big brands can’t really understand their consumers through focus groups and case studies, but they also can’t connect with their customers because they’re too big and slow.   According to will.i.am, that’s why they “need to hire people like me to connect to their customers for them”.  Interesting take. I agree that celebrity endorsement/input can be helpful, but he made it seem like that’s their only choice.

More tomorrow.

Decent scenery

will.i.am on stage.  Mortiz and Collison watching two rows ahead of me

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