I just wrapped up my live blogging at the Pioneer Summit in Redwood City, CA, covering both days of the conference, September 14 and 15. More than 1,500 attended. Here’s how the organizers described the conference:
“The agenda is packed with thrilling conversations on the ideas and people who will shape the world. Whether you’re inspired by game-changing entrepreneurs building our robotic future, or determined investors that fuel billion-dollar startups, the Pioneer Summit is bringing the Global Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to Redwood City.”
They weren’t kidding — it was packed with awesomeness!
What follows is my complete live blog, now archived in chronological order.
(Also see a selection of the photos I took at the event in this Flickr Album.)
Hey, lyft – take me to pioneersummit – I’m ready for some caffeine!!
Not easy getting a Lyft or Uber ride today! Lots of people heading to you-know-where…
Beautiful day in Redwood City – need shades! (Thank you, @Flipboard, for the cool red ones I’m sporting today.)
Loving the goenjoy vehicle… http://www.twitter.com/graemethickins
About to get this party started… the crowd is hushing (well almost).
Michael Moe, CEO of GSV Capital, giving opening remarks, citing great entrepreneurs who have “defied gravity” – says we’ll be talking a lot over the next two days about gravitational shifts…
Michael Moe: “The new center of gravity is Asia – Columbus was right, but he just got here early” … 150 cities in China with one million people or more… Shanghai’s population is larger than the entire country of Canada.
Amazon has 30,000 robots now in its warehouses… 12 million white-collar jobs going away by 2025… and Michael Moe says there are predictions that 50% of *all* jobs will go away in next 20 years… BUT, it’s all creating new opportunities! (and that why we’re here) … talking edtech now – “weapons of mass instruction”…
Michael Moe: “Imagine a connected, *global* silicon valley… dare to be great!” That was an awesome talk… and there was even a shout-out to my town of minneapolis in there (where Michael is from originally) – woo-hoo!
I’m in the VR panel session… only because the “reality” is I can’t get out – trapped in a sea of people in the big room! (They really love this VR stuff here in the valley.) Personally, I think AR will dwarf it
eventually. One panelist says there are only about 1 million VR devices now, and it may become a real market when it hits ~ 20 million. A ways to go!
By the way, here’s what a VR panel looks like… this is real, not virtual. Playstation is big, but waiting for the killer app seems to be a theme here. Supercell got a couple mentions… Enterprise collaboration is an area that offers some opportunity… travel time is suuch a waste! (Hard to argue with that.)
Jason Rosenthal of Lytro says he’s personally looking forward to “reality” setting in… <rimshot!> What? You mean there’s a lot of hype in VR? I’m shocked… 🙂
Here we go with some edtech, folks… gonna be great to hear from Coursera. Lila originally hails from Lebanon, and we’re hearing her story as a child in a poor family there. She became an EE and joined Intel… eventually wanted to go back home and do something to help her country. Ran Intel’s education group. In 2011, she saw what was happening at Stanford with machine learning courses and joined Coursera – she was its first business exec. Spent a year then building out its entire content strategy…
Lila now talking data … with like 150k people taking a course, Stanford profs needed to start measuring… now looking at things like unintended bias and more…
Lila (at right) says coursera is very focused on “fair grading at scale”… and (from a business standpoint) “how can we make money by being effective?”
What’s Lila most excited about? Things like what’s going on here: “people building something.” Advice: “Go find people who can help you run further and faster.” Love that!!
I was *dying* to get into the “How to Live Forever” session – but it’s SRO… jammed out the door! Who would have guessed? … the future of medicine, another of those “gravitational forces” for sure!
Squeezed into the next session (same room) – also now SRO – “A Bot Stole My Job,” an interview with Matt Schlicht, editor of Chatbots magazine. (Yes, there is one of those.)
Moderator: is it the “year of conversational commerce”? Well, says Matt, “hard to say yet what the best use-cases will be.” He admits the “tech is not there yet”… and be sure you don’t try to fool your users into thinking they’re talking to a real person… not cool.
So far, no sign of a bot stealing my job. This live-blogging thing has job security plastered all over it!!!
Now down in front (row 5) for this VC session…
From left: Peter Bell, Sandy Miller, Gary Swart…and moderator Matt Heiman of Greylock. Fun to hear Peter’s story about raising money for his first company (Storage Networks)… an early player in cloud. (I was around in those days, playing in that space! Have some colleagues who worked with him at that pioneering company.)
Loved this quote from Gary Swart. An investor in his company Odesk told him “90% of startup CEOs are under-focused and 10% are over-focused. Neither is good – which one are you?” 🙂
Many VCs are investing in “science projects”… esp healthcare investments! (Less so for him in tech, Gary says.) Sandy said even though IVP is a later-stage investor, it still has to be focused on new tech – as in what could disrupt its portfolio companies…
Peter Bell talking about moonshots. Get this: Highland invested in a company that was originally started by a 14-year old (Malware Bytes), and it’s now one of its best-performing companies…
What about investing in something out of your areas of expertise? Peter Bell: “Hire really smart young people. And partner with people in those spaces.” (Like auto for them.) “Also leveraging outside networks” – Stanford mentioned. Gary Swart: “Once you get excited about a space, you have to really get educated fast.”
Sandy: “We believe every deal is a ‘firm deal’ – we make a collective decision, and we don’t second-guess those investments.” That culture helps with collegiality, he says – “We don’t have a star system.”
On early-stage investing… Peter Bell: “For us, it’s getting the team right.” Sandy: everyone says “we back teams, but it’s really the CEO – gotta be right.” Peter says on that last point: “That’s really your only leverage as an investor.” So what makes a good founder/CEO? Sandy: “Passion”… “how they react during tough times”… “fortitude.” Gary Swart: “High integrity”… “not just trustworthy – they do what they say they’ll do.” But there’s more, he added: “competitive gene”… gotta believe “this is the guy who can figure it out.” Great tip he once got: “You can teach a chicken to climb a tree, but maybe you should have gotten a squirrel in the first place.” Bingo!
Gary Swart: “Talent is the single biggest lever we have in our businesses.” Something has to change here, he says. “World is living more on-demand”… changing workforce (millennials)… more global… more flexible… challenges to keep people engaged… “Technology can be applied to all these spaces.”
Peter Bell and Gary Swart agree that younger workers especially value freedom and flexibility… a big factor in the futureofwork. Gary says startups that can attack spaces where compliance and regulations are an issue can hit it big if they can figure it out… “Tell me if you have one of these, and I’ll help you take the hill!” He dealt with a lot of this stuff at Odesk.
Sandy Miller: distrust of banks is a huge opportunity… fintech encompasses “the largest market in the world.” The amount the card companies take is ridiculous… user experience sucks… ripe for destruction. Peter Bell likes payments as well… “whole opportunities happening driven by the mobile device.”
How do you pick a winner? Sandy Miller: “It’s tough… one example: they saw that the productivity of the team at SuperCell was significant. What about VR and AR? Peter Bell: “People getting woozy… things have to be calibrated there.” Watching another person play a game is a thing? “There will be much carnage.” Picking the right team, the right CEO still applies.
Can you still make investments in enterprise? Peter: “Yes, there are unbelievable opportunities. Security, database infrastructure… whole new set of software and services that can be woven into the cloud… in life sciences, insurance, and more. A third of our portfolio is around enterprise and cloud.” Sandy: “It’s still pretty early in this space.” Gary Swart agrees. Peter Bell: “The model of salespeople in every NFL city is gone! How will you sell this stuff?” Gary first tried to build a salesforce at Odesk – trashed that, didn’t scale, and went totally to marketing. Got 4 million customers that way!
Lunch break – back in an hour…
Ok, so at lunch I meet a startup founder (www.PlayLingoland.com) that’s actually experienced a real use-case for a bot: he changed an airline flight with one message on Facebook Messenger… so there’s one! I take back all that nasty snark from this morning 🙂
This next season will pack the big room…
What are some of the areas Joe likes (besides transportation)? He looks at the “big shifts”… how big enterprises run (but those shifts can take 5 years or more)… looks at consumer tech, bio IT, etc…
Joe says raising a fund was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. (But he’s raised one of the biggest.)
Joe thinks big trends include opportunities in the worldwide shipping industry and (of course) in healthcare… he’s an investor in Oscar Health, for one. Looking at the finance world, harking back to his founding of Addepar… he found that “something like 97% of the money was in accounts of $100 million or more.” There was a lot of stuff that needed fixing in that world.
“Bio IT” is the specific space that Joe likes in biotech… So what about “big data” – what’s your take on opportunity there? “Getting the data all in one place where it’s clean and intelligible. Things are very broken.”
Who influenced him most? “The people at PayPal, obviously… Peter Theil helped me understand what matters most, and run your company that way… he valued talent and intelligence the most…I’ve been very lucky to grow up in this area.”
Do you have any heroes? Lots… including “people who can code and make things work.” Michael Moe: Can other markets besides the Valley do what we do here? “Yes, NY and London are doing well… but Silicon Valley is moving way ahead. Maybe technology will help change that in 10-15 years, but being here in person is still important.”
What attributes do you see in the founders you back? “The attitude you’re not going to let yourself fail”… “It’s okay to fail, but you better go down fighting like mad.”
Next up is “Building the Space Economy”: Will Pomerantz, VP of Special Projects at Virgin Galactic. “Only 555 people have ever been in space.” That ticks him off – “it’s not enough!”
Will grew up up wanting to be an astronaut, till he realized he couldn’t qualify: he wore glasses! His boss, Sir Richard, knew he couldn’t either… not a college grad. “He barely graduated from high school. He likes to break rules.” So Richard dreamed up Virgin Galactic… worked up a business plan… deciding to sell tickets to space! Eventually teamed up with someone who had technology (and money): Paul Allen. Voila!
Will is now showing us Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship 2… it will carry six “astronauts” (that have the dough). “If you’re healthy enough to ride on a roller coaster, you qualify.” Weightless time is about 5 minutes, total flight time about an hour. Pre-orders already number 750! Current price: $250k per person.
So, now onto the other part of what Virgin Galactic is doing besides human space travel… He’s showing a slide of recent investments in “small sats” (that’s short for satellites, like 300 milligram-ish size). So, that’s right folks — they’re going down-market, too! … with a vehicle called “Launcher One.” It will be the lowest cost launch vehicle available.
Big panel on artificial intelligence up next…
Hard to get an AI product up and running in a few months, says Syed Ahmed of TARA, second from right (that’s a Y Combinator startup). “It can take about a year to get there.” Mike Haley of Autodesk (center) has had similar experience. Benjamin Levy (second from left) says “an exchange of knowledge from different generations is critical.” (Yes, folks, that means millennials don’t own AI just yet.) Then again, Mike says advancements that used to take decades to become mainstream, like distributed computing, can now take just months to get applied. So things are speeding up… (we can only hope).
“There’s not one location where AI is going to happen. That’s why hardware is important… Hardware, software, UI must be seamless,” says Mike Haley of Autodesk.
One example, cited by Benjamin Levy, of the application of AI: its use in a sales playbook. “What does a good salesperson say at this point that closes a sale?”
Need coffee… so hangin’ in the courtyard area… gsvlabs is a cool place… and with 1500 attendees at this event, plenty crowded!
How to find the next Zuck… Andela now has more than 45,000 applicants. “Why not Africa?” says Johnson. Average age of applicant is around 30.
Jeremy Johnson says Andela’s process takes about six months… so employers get to “watch” their developer candidates all that time.
Up next – a community platform where the users power the monetization…
David calls Roblox the “ultimate simulated sandbox… interactive, physically simulated content.” Kids being able to “show off to their friends was a necessity.” Runs in the cloud, so across all devices. Roblox can moderate comments to control things like bullying. Some kids have been users for like six years now…
“Doing things together has been hard to power, until multi-player game technology happened. Kids are learning from each other. We haven’t really had to interact much with the users ourselves,” says David Baszucki. Roblox is creating a new generation of game developers.
Get this: the top developers on Roblox are now making half a million dollars a year! 25 million monthly players… now getting up to 30% girls. 22 million games and experiences so far… Roblox will soon be available on every major platform, adding more as they become meaningful. “We’re now getting 8 million completely viral new users per month.” Yikes!
“Platforms like Roblox will continue to host more significant stuff.” What has he learned? “Let your community power things.” Parents love what it’s doing for their kids. “A core value of ours is to respect the community, to think of them as individuals and respect what the platform is doing for their lives.”
That was really a great talk – Roblox is one impressive story!
Next up: “A Full-Service Bank on Your Phone.” Yes, folks, it’s happening… Marlon Evans, CEO of GSV Labs, interviews Todd Bradley, CEO of Mozido.
Marlon (on left) points out that Mozido is a for-profit company, but it’s addressing a major social issue. A third of the world’s population is un-banked. Yet the number of smartphones is growing rapidly — now two billion of them! Todd says Mozido’s product will work on any mobile device anywhere. Money transfers can be made in the undeveloped world for three bucks vs. what used to cost around fifteen bucks. “This is a big, interesting challenge.” How is the company doing now that it’s grown beyond the startup phase? “We may focus by divesting assets, will continue to recruit the best talent…” May even go public — “but only when our customers tell us we’re ready for that.” Big partners going forward are telcos, banks, super-large retailers…
“Transporter remittance” is the world in which Mozido lives — and security is a constant focus, obviously. The company has some 100 patents, many of which focus around money transfer in the cloud…
Personal drone time!
Claire Chen says the drone industry has so many startups that a real ecosystem is forming — but everybody can’t keep doing everything themselves. Consolidation (M&A) is inevitable.
We’re learning here that a drone carrying human beings is… um, different. This thing is not perfect yet (oh, duh). But she says it all boils down to software — yep, that’s all! Well, that and bringing costs of the product down. So that’s two things. Okay, fair enough. But the vision is there — it’s normal people flying drones without a lot of training. Can you see it? If not, start here: re-watch all episodes of The Jetsons.
Claire worked for Microsoft for 10 years. She likes cloud… (and now presumably wants to fly among, like, real ones). She joined Ehang, just nine months ago, because she sees the huge market opportunity. The U.S. will become the leader in the drone industry, she thinks, in coming years.
Getting fueled up for Day 2… starts at 9:00 Pacific Time with an interview of Ron Johnson of @GoEnjoy.
The room is filling… slow start today.
Here’s the description of the first session…
What’s the biggest challenge you faced this past year, Ron? He comes from the physical store background, but he’s delivering a new totally online service. “We can deliver to you within four hours, for the same price…The hard part is convincing people that it’s real — too good to be true!”
Ron Johnson says Enjoy is now “16 months into it” and it’s already in 8 cities. That more cities than Uber had at that point, he notes. No problem finding good employees… “there are plenty of young people who want to work in a mobile environment.” (No word about older people – haha. His former employer Apple taking some heat for ageism in their retail operation lately…)
The difference with Enjoy is buyer satisfaction. “People don’t return products that work.” Returns are a huge issue in retail, and in ecommerce. They ensure their buyers can actually use and be happy with their purchases…
“Amazon is Walmart online,” says Ron Johnson. He also noted earlier that ecommerce to him is just a plain brown box with an Amazon logo on it. With Enjoy, he’s about something a whole lot more than that…
Would he do Target the same way today as when it started? “Yes, physical stores aren’t going away.” So, there you go $TGT – maybe your stock will tick up today? But wait – there’s more… “we’re way over-stored.” Square footage per store is bound to go down, he says.
“Today, distribution is filled out – we’re over-stored.” Product selection is key now, and service is where it’s at for Ron Johnson with Enjoy.
Ron hires as much for EQ as he does for TQ (technology quotient). Kind of like what Apple does. Understanding and feeling for the customer.
“We want people to love their experience.” Enjoy has already done more than 10,000 “visits”…
Next up is an interview by Carlos Watson, founder of Ozy Media, with John Donahue, chairman of PayPal…
John’s style as a CEO has always been that of “servant leadership.” He’s a longtime admirer of this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Jackson. It’s about team, not me…
Great companies in tech, in the Valley aren’t the ones that put compensation at the top. It’s a whole lot more than that…
Love the Ted Williams analogy John is giving right now… how the best hitter in baseball hit .350 — meaning about 6 times he didn’t get a hit. “Don’t be afraid to get up there and swing!”
The first thing John had to do at eBay was to be upfront… “call it a turnaround.” No one wanted to hear that. “Don’t be afraid to confront the truth.” The stock eventually went up 500%.
What’s been the role of luck in your life? “Absolutely it did play a role. Personal health. Family. My wife, my lifelong partner. It’s been the luck of my life, not necessarily my career.”
“We have to learn, to grow… the things where leadership matters. It’s never easy in a turnaround… in a weird way, adversity can be luck — an opportunity in hindsight to do something right that you’ll be proud of.”
John Donahue: “It’s up to everyone to build a culture of inclusiveness. A place to grow.”
Millennials – audience questioner asks what he should advise his three kids. As far as career decisions, what John would tell them is “Listen to yourself. Don’t take advice from others, don’t do what others do.”
That was a great session! … even if it had nothing to do with the title of it 🙂
I jumped over to the Maverick Room for “Making Impact Investing Successful”… a panel with Omidyar Network, Rippleworks, West, and Khosla Impact. SRO again.
On that mobile note, Straub says there are those now saying that “Android is eating the world.” Galen says there’s a huge opportunity right here in the U.S. in the “credit invisibles” market – those that have no credit, no score.
Back to the Pioneer stage for Randy Komisar of Kleiner Perkins…
He defines his job as combining the appropriate technology, problems, and economy of a solution. “Steve Jobs was successful because he believed in never shipping a product that wasn’t ready.”
Randy gets to sit down every day with founders who walk through his door with crazy ideas – “lunatics” (audience laughs). “The fun is deciding which ones I’ll take the journey with.”
“Most young entrepreneurs that come into my office have no idea of who tried to do their idea before – no historical context.” (And someone surely did.) “I need them to identify their core assumptions… a breadth of understanding that goes beyond the literalness of their product.” They need metrics that measure those core assumptions.
Randy’s latest book, “Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model,” now being discussed. The moderator (Lisa Kay Solomon) noted a great point: that with startups, Randy’s philosophy is that it isn’t so much the creativity of the idea itself as it is the creativity of the *process* the entrepreneur undertakes to make it happen.
Randy was awesome… what a storyteller! Including at the end when he talked about his first book, “The Monk and the Riddle.” It was almost a mistake, a fluke, that he ever wrote it – he didn’t even read business books! – yet the publisher kept after him. Fast forward, it became a top-100 business book.
Next up, “The Most Powerful Woman in Startups”… Ann Miura-Ko, Founding Partner, Floodgate. Best tagline in the early-stage investing universe: “We invest early or way too early.” 🙂
So, what’s this about Ann being the smartest? Here’s some background…
Ann’s big takeaway for startups is to build a category. “If it’s a big enough idea and someone’s going to make it a category, it might as well be you.”
And now for “Innovations in Consumer Robotics”…
This topic reminds me of a stat I heard 4-5 years ago: “There are 8 million robots in the world, and 7 million of them are Roombas.” Wonder what the number is now? Boris is now showing a toy robot called Cosmo. His company, Anki, even has its own animation studio… “the physical characteristics of the robot are actually animated just like they would be in a film.” Pretty advanced stuff. They don’t think of themselves as a toy company, but a robotics and AI company.
Ready? A guy who’s been called “The King of Viral” is coming up. The session title is “The Next Media Wizard.” It’s Emerson Spartz, founder of Dose and Mugglenet. Dose has raised $35 million. He has this thing for studying exponential trends… Here’s one: it takes exponentially less money now to create any content.
We’re seeing a lot of up-and-to-the-right charts… and I guarantee you that Emerson is speaking faster than *any* of these trends is advancing. He’s an exponentially fast speaker (of course).
Back from lunch! That was yummy…
Here’s more on what they’re gonna talk about…
Where’s the biggest challenge these days? Despite the fact that Series A is usually the hardest to raise, today the panel seems to agree it’s the companies trying to raise B and C rounds that are the most challenged.
IDG guy says one change lately is that the big companies now have such “enormous data sets” — his firm sees that as a real threat or impediment to new startups. GGV dude says “there are probably 5000 AI engineers in the world today, and 4000 of them work for Google or Facebook.” Scary.
What’s the biggest impact of what you do? GGV: “I think it’s creating jobs… what we do here in Silicon Valley is the envy of the world.” IDG: “Our job is to make a lot of money for our investors and do so ethically.” So there you have it, friends – hug your neighborhood VC when you next bump into them.
Jeff Richards of GGV says to not “get too hung up in your metrics” when pitching… try actually talking to your VC about your story, your vision. Check in regularly with updates, what’s working, etc. Building the relationship over time is important. Maven’s Kaden agrees – they value that in a founder!
Wow, GGV has invested ~ $300 million in ecommerce in the past year. The firm invests about equally in the U.S. and China — has been in each for about 15 years.
“For the entrepreneur, it’s less about valuation today and more about creating the excitement around what you’re doing.” It’s harder to raise these days, he says, yet “there’s more VC money out there than ever before.” So then… they like you, founders, they really do – but they like sitting on their money even more?
Now talking IPOs… might pick up again in 2018. “Some of those companies may even be profitable — I know it’s shocking,” says GGV’s Richards.
Things are buzzing here in the Maverick Room – it’s drone time! Yes, it’s SRO… a recurring thing here.
Well, they aren’t really firing up any drones… but they’re firing up to give us their takes on all the possibilities.
Bilal Zuberi of Lux Capital (center) says drones are now being called a 200 billion-dollar market. “The future is still out there. We don’t even know what all the use-cases will be.”
Joanne Chen of Foundation Capital (second from left) says 95% of drone investment to date had been in hardware. “Now is a perfect time for startups to think about use-cases — and data is what we’re mostly interested in.”
A parallel to the drone data opportunity is what happened in the satellite industry — Bilal calls out Planet Labs (who spoke at last year’s Pioneer Summit). Check them out!
Joanne Chen says the challenge for investors in drones is in the timing.
Joanne Chen says the challenge for investors in drones is in the timing.
Moderator wants to know: why has investment in drone startups dropped off recently?
Joanna Chen: Tests are underway, in New Zealand, in China – delivering food and all kinds of things…
Joanne says there’s a shortage of quality founders in the drone space.
Chen: “There will a dramatic shift in a few years. It will be a no-brainer to use a drone for all kinds of things.”
Mike Collet of Promus Ventures in NYC is now talking innovation in real estate, being interviewed by Zach Aarons of Metaprop. Love the title of this session:
Real estate is a trillion-dollar market, and of course Collett thinks it all revolves around NYC! (It is the largest in commercial, for sure.) But we’re not really hearing about how residential and commercial are such different animals… We’re sure hearing about big numbers for all the sub-sectors in this industry, though! “Billions” being thrown around…