The Future As We Saw It At SXSW

A few days at SXSW is enough to challenge your current perspective and expectations of the future of markets, industries, technologies and human behavior. This year at SXSW Interactive, social media, connectivity (IoT), 3D printing, healthtech and sustainability were all major topics of discussion.

Social Media

The newest member to the tech community, Meerkat, proved that video is the future as a form of communication between individuals, not just brands to individuals, and that communities quickly form around the sharing of short, real-time and visual content. Meerkat successfully leveraged an existing social network, Twitter, to create overnight communities and viral content.

The challenge now will be how Meerkat can continue to grow independently and maintain engagement on its own platform as Twitter has limited Meerkat’s access to its social graph going forward. Piggy-backing large social networks is nothing new and neither are the lessons learned – take for example Zynga and Facebook.

With so much content flooding the twitter streams during SXSW, from meerkat tweets to keynote quotes to party pictures, the hashtag proved its power and necessity to individuals. With the hashtag, you were able to find everything related to a campaign, event, brand, discussion all in real-time and instantly react to it. #FOMO would be even worse without the hashtag.

At a panel called “Breaking News in the Age of Snapchat”, a White House Senior Advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, and News and Guts CEO, Dan Rather, emphasized the distinction between news and content. Social media has completely redefined who is a reporter and the role of a reporter. With the barriers of information distribution removed, traditional systems will need to adapt quickly to these new channels to be able to manage their own content and distribution (but of course there will never again be complete ownership of information with the growing adoption of social media across the world). I share the same views that live-streaming video services will do to television news what blogs did to printed news.

Transportation

Lyft stepped up its game with Lyft Line, while the SXSW shuttle was a total fail and ultimately converted shuttle pass holders to lyft riders. With Lyft, there was a $10 fixed price per ride as long as you requested Lyft Line. Profitability aside, the campaign was successful with new lyft users and communicated loud and clear its mission – to reconnect people and communities through better transportation. Would love to see some of those numbers from Lyft after SXSW.

The limited transportation options in Austin was also a reminder that there is much innovation needed still in transportation, including public transit, real-time navigation and road closure/traffic/accident notifications, and parking. Most recently, Leap Buses launched in SF to provide a more convenient public transportation solution that enables riders to continue their mobile experience on the bus and access wifi, food and drinks all from their phones. It’s no doubt that connectivity is the next big thing in transportation.

Leap Buses also makes me wonder if individuals are willing to pay a premium to ride Leap Buses because of their need to access wifi while in transit or if they just want the more luxurious experience compared to the regular buses. Or maybe they want to be surrounded by the type of people who value the availability and use of such technologies – tech-savvy individuals are a new class in our society that now exist between the upper middle class and upper class. These type of people are the ones who have transformed Uber into a successful global luxury brand.

At the Interactive Innovation Awards, there was indeed a transportation category and the company that won was Guide Dots – an audio-based guide app for the visually impaired.

Diversity and Workforce

Diversity was a big topic this year at SXSW, while the Pao vs. Kleiner trial continues. I appreciated that more industry leaders, including many women, voiced their opinions about evaluating individuals not based on ethnicity, gender or sexuality but based on their unique background and what they bring to the table. I truly believe that until companies and individuals stop encouraging women and employing or promoting them in order to “achieve” diversity in their workforce, will we be able to reach equality. Equality is not in the numbers, its in the mindset.

Princess Reema’s keynote on the taboos and struggles women face in Saudi Arabia was definitely a highlight at SXSW.

We are at the heart of the “mobile workforce movement” as Kevin Gibbon, CEO of Shyp, calls it. On-demand services such as Uber, Lyft, 3D Hubs, TaskRabbit, Seamless, Wun Wun, and many others enabled individuals to create value with their idle talent, time and assets. I’m particularly excited to see so many individuals become merchants of their own skills and small business owners. As the mobile workforce grows, we will begin to re-define what it means to be a contractor or part-time employee, and tangent industries such as insurance will evolve to service this new workforce (Check out how my friend Tristan Zier’s startup Zen99 is supporting contractors).

HealthTech

I noticed a growing presence and emphasis on HealthTech at SXSW this year, including a health and medtech expo at the JW Marriott Hotel. We are seeing more technology applications in the healthcare space (Go SOLS!) and there is a lot of discussion about the future of remote [self] diagnosis, health monitoring from afar, preventative solutions and use of wearables. Many venture capital firms have recognized this opportunity and need for innovation and healthcare and have already begun investing heavily in this space.

We are seeing new tools for diagnosis, such as the aliveCor and Cell scope that have re-invented the stethoscope and otoscope, respectively. However, on the wearables side, there is struggle to establish trust and engagement with both the consumers and providers. We continue to see a high drop-off rate with consumer engagement with wearables; the length of use is not long enough for the consumer to benefit from the device’s collection of the individual’s data. As such, the consumer is unable to see or benefit from the long-term use of the wearable. There needs to be a series of measurements over time and visual data to help individuals understand their health and encourage preventative behavior (i.e. decreased smoking benefits are made aware to the consumer through the wearable)

While I agree that the fashion first approach is necessary at the point of purchase with the consumer, incentivizing individuals to buy the product, it does not prevent the product from becoming an idle asset (My Nike Fuelband looks great on my dresser…).

Ayesha Khalid beautifully summarized one of the most pressing questions in healthtech: “How can information from all these apps and devices feed to EMR providers to enable effective and consistent information sharing between the patient and provider for more accurate health monitoring and diagnosis?”

When at SXSW in 2016…

Convinced you’re going to be at SXSW in 2016? Great – here are just a few tips before you set out for next year then.

– Pick out your top hotels for the day and just jump in and out of talks at that location. Each hotel has a theme.
– Pick talks on topics that are foreign to you. This is an opportunity to learn not to reassure your knowledge on a topic or justify your opinions.
– The keynote speakers is a Must attend! Illuminating, educational and inspirational talks from industry leaders.
– Explore topics across industries – finance, health, fashion, enterprise, etc. This is your chance to gain a holistic view on the latest leading technologies in the world.
– Challenge yourself throughout the week to meet someone new. SXSW is one of the best and most natural ways to meet people.
– Party. But don’t party too hard – lesson learned.

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