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    • With hundreds upon hundreds of speakers from a wide variety of disciplines and fields, Collision Conference 2019 in Toronto has so much to take in.

      Beyond my earlier write-up of Ev Williams & Kara Swisher's conversation...

      Below please find some additional highlights from today, the first day of programming, and select sessions.

      Y Combinator: Calling On Founders

      Panel featuring Michael Seibel (Y Combinator), Adora Cheung (Y Combinator), moderated by Deidre Bosa (CNBC) - *note: I did catch the latter half of this session due to badge registration.* Description: Y Combinator is calling on startups and investing in a new wave of technological solutions. Come and hear how you can get involved.

      Michael stated that he felt that companies should identify impact goals to tackle.
      Adora states: “When we invest in a startup, we have a code of ethics, personally, and if you violate any of those things, you’re out. As you’re growing fast, as you’re hiring, we hope you follow it and put good people around you as you scale.”
      Michael says a lot of this comes out in the application phase; “When we do interviews, it’s not really a pitch, it’s more of an interview. It’s interesting what people will write in an application.”
      Deidre asks about progression from seed stage to big IPO moments; you have the Ubers and Lyfts, versus Zooms. She asks if they want companies to ultimately go public, or are acquired instead?
      Michael says it takes so long - 10-15 years - that a lot of the focus is are they actually solving a problem for a customer. They have a program called YC Growth program where they hire, train executives, all the things you need to do to actually build a company, and at that point they will engage in a conversation abut what they want to do, how to set themselves up for success. “Stay really small, stay really lean, and focus on supporting your customer.”

      Deidre then asks if founders are staying private for too long? Adora says “one of the reasons we don’t have a strong focus on this is because we’re so focused on the founder him or herself, that we don’t give an opinion," while Michael says It’s the founder’s decision.

      Deidre brings up companies they cut a check for - AirBNB, Stripe - what are some of the companies that you passed on?
      Michael says they track that, they have a file called “misses,” and their biggest miss was SendGrid. It’s a good company, not the most famous! "But historically we’ve been pretty good."

    • What's NEXT: Bringing AI to Life

      Panel featuring David Eun (Samsung Electronics) in discussion with Arielle Pardes (WIRED)

      Description: David Eun is staying ahead of the curve, creating a new model of corporate innovation at Samsung. Dedicated to understanding long-term consumer and technology trends, David will lay out how Samsung NEXT is backing breakthroughs in AI and edge computing.

      Samsung is going to invest $22 billion dollars in the next 5 years for 5G and AI. Their goal is to have every form of display have some kind of intelligence in them: David shared:

      “Much of what we’ve seen in AI focuses on machine learning, but there are many different approaches to AI, and while machine learning is fantastic and has created a lot of great benefits thus far, these different approaches we think are very promising. Last year we launched a fund focused on AI startups called the Q fund with the idea of opening up and interacting with different approaches to AI…One example is a company called Missing Link, based in Israel and San Francisco, who provides tools for developers to increase efficiency in how they harness AI data.”

      Arielle asks David about Consumer Trends: what is exciting for the future for consumers? David responded with:

      “In my role as chief innovation officer, what I and my team try to do is identify long-term consumer tech trends that will affect people and businesses globally. A lot of times people will focus on neat features, but what we’ve been doing is go deeper on fundamentals of how people see the world and are behaving. One of the things we are observing is experiences over things. Essentially with younger consumers, not just in the US or North America, is younger consumers are valuing experiences over things - authentic social experiences rather than purchasing transactional items. It doesn’t mean they won’t buy things, but things are a means to a greater end. There’s four times more spending IN things. Something like 80% of all millennial are producing they will spend more money on doing things rather than buying things…you look at Instagrammable moments, they are inherently social and more compelling. Our research indicates when you have these memories, they’re more apt to have positive associations, it’s more closely linked to people’s sense of happiness, of satisfaction. Whether you’re selling cars or luxury goods or services of any sort, the idea of pushing the THING vs what can be enabled by the thing, the experiences, are really important…the idea of owning things is receding, and the access to things is becoming more prominent… you don’t have to buy a car if you can get access through it versus an uber or Lyft.”

      Arielle brings up that Samsung is a company selling hardware: if the trend is selling people less things, you have a big incentive to find and nurture things that people are excited about. But there's a lot of opportunity everywhere you look, according to David:

      “The good news is that for one to have great experiences, things are important. And what this combination of the physical and digital, we look at the house and think there are amazing transformations that are already beginning to happen…one example is the kitchen. You look at the kitchen itself, for the most part, there haven’t been huge tectonic shifts in innovation. But you look at behaviors, you create experiences, the kitchen was where you cooked, the dining room was where you’d eat, the living room was where you’d hang out. But today for many people it all comes together in the kitchen…we just acquired a company in London called Whisk that allows consumers to find online recipes to discover, to go all the way to executing restaurant quality meals. They have relationships with publishers, the people who own recipes, to retail, so you can easily buy the ingredients for things, to preparation. You’re seeing tremendous innovations in appliances so you can easily cook restaurant quality meals and have great experiences around them. So something that’s been overlooked so far, like the kitchen, can have a real opportunity to speak to consumers.”

      So interesting!

    • In Conversation with a Silicon Valley Veteran

      Conversation between Max Levchin (Affirm) and Zoe Bernard (The Information)

      Description: With a loan volume of more than $2 billion and a recent raise of $300 million, how does Affirm balance data privacy and transparency with its rapid pursuit of scale? And how does tech veteran Max Levchin think the Valley has changed?

      Max explains that Affirm is meant to redefine the FICA store, and young people are no longer trusting credit cards. So we built this fairly large company where Affirm will provide a simple, transparent, super-convenient installment loan to buy anything that’s a considered purchase. The Affirm company sees their mission as reimagining most financial products.

      Zoe asks about establishing trust with younger consumers - how do you do that?

      The company was founded by four computer scientists, explains Max, "which probably helped us as we didn’t know anything about marketing! As a result, they didn’t want to inspire trust through words, but with actions: "We designed our product to speak for itself."

      Max furthermore explained:

      I spend a lot of my time talking about the morality of the decisions we make, the companies we build, the products we invest time and energy in. I think that’s the only antidote to the situation. You can’t sidestep the morality conversation: Is what you’re doing good? If it isn’t why are you doing it?”

    • Move Slow And Fix Things

      Discussion between Alex Stamos (Stanford University) and Kara Swisher (Recode)

      Description: Can big tech bring the shine back to their fallen star? Facebook former Chief Security officer and cybersecurity professor Alex Stamos sheds some light.

      NOTE: I tried to capture as much of this panel as possible, however due to technical difficulties, there were some omitted elements, so any errors, so please pardon if anything was missed!

      K: I’m gonna go off of our discussion. One of Alex’s contentions is that it’s misunderstood. One of your thoughts is that Facebook is misunderstood, is that correct?


      
A: I think there’s a lot of directionally correct criticism…I don’t think FB has ruined democracy. One, there’s a whole class of tech criticism that’s actually criticism of people - hell is other people. FB is other people. And when you talk about antivaxxers, crazy parents, that’s the collective decisions of millions and millions of people who didn’t have that ability before…we’re not teasing part what companies are doing actively, and what societal problems have been unleashed by losing the gatekeepers. For those of us in tech, it feels like a lot of media people want to go back to the world where 38 white guys were the gatekeepers.

      K: What you’re essentially arguing is that FB doesn’t kill people, people kill people, right?

      A: People utilize speech sometimes for good things, and for bad things. When we give responsibility, we give power. I think in a lot of ways, FB is too powerful. And I’m very afraid of this moment when we’re assigning responsibility to half-trillion companies without accountability, or power, and then asking them to fix societal-wise issues.

      K: I think some of your fixes we do agree on. The misunderstood part - what direction is it correct, and what is incorrect?


      
A: A great example is something I’m still active on, my colleagues and I at Stanford are releasing a report on June 6 on what to do about the Mueller report, and we’re asking for self-regulation by tech companies, and asking them to reduce ability to target advertising politically.

      K: The ability to target people in precedented ways and manipulate them.

      A: Whether it’s Russians or not, it’s a bad thing. This has been a problem for a while, from the 2012 election when Obama kicked the Republican’s butts on line, that was the first election… I saw the Obama tech teach give a big speech where they were talking about pulling data from FB.

      K: But there’s a difference between Obama’s team and a group of Russians in St. Petersburg manipulating an election.

      A: Well, yes and no. The most effective use of FB in 2016 was by Trump… The Russian Hacking influenced how the media covered the Hillary emails…it’s not that difficult to build a team of edge lords and build a team of targeted advertising… all the Russian election hacking stuff could be done by an American billionaire, like the Koch brothers or George Soros or Reid Hoffman, my real fear is in 2020 it will be the battle of the billionaires, secret groups who are trying to manipulate us at scale online…how do we tell the companies we want them to stop it? It’s easy to say ‘ stop the Russians’ but harder to say that with Citizens United.

      K: SO you have attack of the Billionaires, influenced by the Russians, who will continue to do it because it works, presumably, China, Iran…

      A: The Taiwanese election in 2020, it will be all over that. India, the election’s over, the counting is going on now, and what’s fascinating about that is the misinformation is being driven by WhatsApp - and that’s the exception that is interesting, because it has no algorithmic ranking, it’s private, and yet it has the ability in India for hundreds of thousands of people to be enlisted to push propaganda.

      K: I’ve said that I felt like these companies have amplified and weaponized these things: it’s like going from a gun that shoots 6 bullets to a semiautomatic machine gun.

      A: I like your use of the term machine gun, because we tend to forget that these companies are many different products at once. In FB, the top of that inverted pyramid is advertising and recommendation engines, and when you block someone’s access to advertising, that’s the least concern for free speech. So if we’re looking at it from a regulatory perspective, we could expand the honest ads act, transparency requirements.

      K: So this is Andy Klobuchar’s bill, and both here and elsewhere on the globe.


      
A: And actually the real game in town is other countries. Post-Christchurch shootings, the most interesting moves are in the non-US anglophone countries, and because of the lack of First Amendments, these countries can move much more quickly than the U.S. can. I think the US should lead on this, regulating ads, we should have a US federal privacy law. Our reluctance to regulate is opening the door for other countries to do so, and we could help set an international standard. If the US came up with a broader definition of political ads, and then who you’d have to be to run them, transparency, and how much micro-targeting can be done, it would encourage other countries to do that as well.

      [missed these questions]

      K: What about privacy bills, fines?

      A: One of the interesting things about the US is we don’t have a competent privacy regulator. We don’t have privacy laws. The FTC moves the goal posts and this is a problem you see a lot in Europe because GDPR is being interpreted by 28 different authorities. I think in the US we could do a better job, and this is something you see in other countries, like the Irish, they can deal with things before they go nuclear...That allows you to have a negotiation.

      K: And antitrust.

      A: I think there are legitimate antitrust arguments for breaking up FB and Google. Those arguments are on competition…but breaking up the companies does not solve fundamental issues. Breaking up ExxonMobile won’t address climate change. I think there’s a lot of excitement for antitrust because it’s like “I hate these companies.”

      K: So what’s the solution? You’ve proposed a couple, which I think are interesting.

      A: FB needs to have an internal revolution on how products are built, and there’s a role model for this, Microsoft 2002. They were facing significant pushback. But it’s hard without making significant leadership changes to do that. So if I were Mark - and a lot of it’s personalized on him, because he controls the company - he needs to give up some of that power. iF I were him, I’d hire a new CEO. He’s already acting as chief product officer with Chris Cox gone. He should hire a new CEO, my recommendation would be Brad Smith from Microsoft, some adult who’s done this before. Change the management structure so that the product is not at the top.

      K: Should we go a step further and not allow companies to have these kinds of stock where they have complete voting?

      A: I worked for a company that had an investor who cared what Wall Street thought -

      K: Yahoo! -

      A: I think companies are too beholding to Wall Street. I think they should get rid of stock compensation…this is a crazy world, and if a CEO comes to you and says “You’ve done a terrible job making products that are good for the world, congratulations, our stock went up” - it’s a fundamental issue for Silicon Valley. For startups it makes sense, but for big companies, you’re paying full marginal tax rates. You should be bonusing, and [having that] based on a basket of metrics based on if you’re doing good long term things for the world, versus recent numbers.

      K: Because it gives you incentives to do the worst.

      A: What kind of message does it send if your compensation is back up on quarterly numbers?…

      K: Do you think they’re committed to fixing things at FB?

      A: I think Mark is serious about what people remember him for. I think one o the fundamental issues that they use to measure tends of thousands of people who make decisions is incorrect… I think changing up people to change how they measure engagement would be necessary.

      K: Does FB actually call you?

      A: Lower down people, but we’re not close.


      
K: If you were running FB on the product area, give me 3-4 things that have to be done to make it healthier for humanity.

      A: I agree with the direction of moving toward smaller groups, ephemerality, encryption, to put data out of your research and any one who wants to reach it. The thing that has to happen with that is how do they deal with safety in this situation. There’s a FB where encryption and groups happen, that goes away from the press, but they still exist and the societal impact is bad. That’s a seductive future for the company, and they have to resist that. I believe in encryption and privacy, but we have to balance it. I’d like to see them spend the next year doing that. And I think they need to be honest about what they can and can’t do. They make content decisions based on external pressure, and they don’t base it on a constitution. And the truth is, there should be limits to the company’s power, they should say “there are certain things we won’t do, even if we get yelled at by the NYTimes”

      K: Or Ted Cruz or Donald Trump...

      A: They've vacillated back and forth...It’s been indicated, like a ref, that they can call things if you flop. And that’s not good for democracy if these decisions can be made secretly in a conference room. They should be made publicly based on core fundamental values. What are the goals of their content moderation policy? Is it to keep people safe? They haven’t explained the fundamental goal, or where they won’t go past.

    • Data Garbage and Data Gold: A Guide for Brands

      Panel featuring Sairah Ashman (Wolff Olins), Jaya Kolhatkar (Hulu), Rebecca Kaden (Union Square Ventures), moderated by Jason Abbruzzese (NBC News)

      Description: Companies have access to more data than ever, but how can that be translated into real insights? Leading brands and VCs advise founders and startups on turning knowledge about 'what' consumers are doing into useful answers about 'why' and 'how.'

      Rebecca brought up how DuckDuckGo, a USV investment, has done incredibly well as consumers increasingly look for privacy-friendly alternatives to products.

    • From beta to billions: Conquering the App Store

      Presentation by Kristen Garcia Dumont (MZ)

      Description: With over $2.8 billion in revenue since launch, the creators of hit game "Game of War: Fire Age" share tips for prevailing in the cut-throat world of monetized mobile apps.

      So prior to this presentation, I wasn't familiar with Machine Zone (other than their Arnold Schwarzenegger advertisements from a few years ago). But this was a really interesting presentation on how they've built their fanbase through strategic advertisement, innovative promotions, making sure to support their fans through continual improvement of the product, and more.

    • Media At Work: Tales from the Trenches

      Panel featuring Jim Bankoff (Vox Media), Ben Smith (Buzzfeed), Sabrina Siddiqui (The Guardian) and moderated by Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau)

      Description: The information business is still battling financial challenges, social pressure and obscure algorithms. Moneymaking won't wait for the dust to settle, so how do media companies do business?

      A quote from Ben from Buzzfeed:

      "It’s a moment when there’s never been a better time to be a reporter - if you can get a job. These same tools who’ve done an incredible amount of damage to our advertising allow us to reach an audience or sources on an unprecedented scale. And if you get something wrong, you’re immediately getting contacted by thousands of people to fix what you got wrong…the central questions right now are around these big platforms, particularly YouTube and Facebook, who are fighting for market share, for advertising dollars. And simultaneously they’re full of misinformation, low quality content, and failing to provide an ecosystem to encourage quality content, and that’s something we’re staring to see platforms recognize they need quality journalism. We’re launching a show on Snap soon, we’ve got a morning show on Twitter, and they’re both good businesses. But it’s about striking a distance between what a great time it is to be a reporter, and what a tough time it is to be in the news business."

      A quote from Sabrina, at the Guardian:

      "I think as much as we’re facing the relentless attacks on the press and mainstream media, when you look at subscriptions for the Guardian or NYTimes or Washington post, subscriptions are soaring, so there’s a belief in the public that it’s worth investing in high-quality, real journalism. So I’m optimistic as much as you might see these polls of mistrust, a majority of the public still sees the vital role journalists play. For us at the Guardian, through this membership base model, we wanted to have direct engagement with the readers. A lot of our special projects are effectively crowdsourced in their funding. For “This Land is your land,” it raised $150,000 to cover issues around Native American reservations and the preservation of lands from private interestses. We have another series launching tomorrow called “Toxic America” and its influence on the consumer… all of this is to create content that consumers are searching for, and asking them: What kind of journalism do you want to see? And if you commit to us, we’ll guarantee it’s going towards the kind of content you want to see directly. We have 1 million members, and we’re striving to reach 2 million by 2022. Through our strategic turnaround, and our turnaround, with attacks on the press and how we evolve, it doesn’t matter who’s in office, the most powerful tool we have as journalists at our disposal is the truth."

    • These are all fascinating but I was having trouble following Alex Stamos. I don’t know how you type at warp speed to relay these into us, but thank you.