As I sit at Perry’s Café in the heart of Silicon Beach, Santa Monica, watching the sun worshippers, tourists and locals congregating for a leisurely Sunday afternoon, I reflect on the week that has been underscored by a fantastic Silicon Beach Fest 2016. This annual event is created and curated by Kevin Winston, Founder of Digital LA and a leader in the LA business scene. You’ll recognize him by his unmissable red outfits and he’ll possibly be playing Pokemon Go. Kevin connects technology, entertainment, health and financial businesses around the central concepts of innovation, growth and building for our collective benefit. That’s my description of his work, and he has made a great business model out of connecting, curating and educating people in Los Angeles! Officially, Silicon Beach Fest “celebrates LA’s unique startup entertainment tech community with panels, pitches, and parties.”
As a first time attendee here are my four take-aways, highlights and observations from the week-long event.
We all work in competitive businesses. From tech startups to services businesses and even as individual executives we are competing for mind share, attention, funding, customers, growth and opportunities. It is great to share time with really smart, enterprising, resourceful and passionate people who believe in the work we are doing individually and collectively.
There are executives across the age spectrum and at every stage that a business can be. I met Joe at podtopod.com, a young man who knows he has a good idea and proof of concept in the podcasting space, and he is looking to build a business from these ideas. We talked while we waited for the equity funding panel.
On an ad-hoc yacht ride around Marina del Rey close to midnight I spoke to a man in his mid-50’s who sold his veterinary medical practice. He is looking for inspiration to start another business and do something fun.
I met an entrepreneur from Brazil who is exploring options to expand his business into the US.
There is a prominent influencer I spoke to who shared with me her story. Her name is XOXOLizza. She went to Harvard, studied political science, worked for NBC News, looked at a life in politics and is now a taste maker for primarily women and girls. The aggregated output that comes from the content she creates, her writing style, her opinion and her reach makes her a brand, a publisher and a sought after marketing expert. Hearing her story, and the story of other influencers’ path to their current success illustrates that the fundamentals of business remain the same: consumers like good stories, they respect good content and the audience will ensure good content is discovered by others.
With so many different types of entrepreneurs it was great to learn about different business models, talk to smart people and enjoy time with well-meaning and industrious executives.
Chatbots and AI Are New Businesses With Old Business Challenges
During the Thursday lawn party at Marina Del Rey Hotel I met Scott Tamura the Co-Founder and CEO of foodies.ai. As a foodie myself I had to learn more. Foodies.ai is a chat app that lets the consumer find specific meals, and which restaurants nearby serve them. Looking for delicious Blueberry Pancakes, a Florentine Omelet, or Huevos Rancheros? Foodies.ai will pull up Bread and Porridge in Santa Monica and other similar places.
The final panel on Friday at Silicon Beach Fest was dedicated to chatbots and AI, and the business challenges for product distribution remain the same. Whether you are an app for iPhone and Android, a publisher relying on Google’s search algorithm, a chatbot for Facebook, an MCN on YouTube, or a product seeking placement at WalMart there are inherent challenges when your business relies on a platform controlled by a different company. The platform owner makes the rules, benefits from economies of scale and gets to change the rules at any given time. The key to a successful business using this model is to build a brand that is strong regardless of the platform one partners with. It’s clear that MCN’s like Full Screen and Maker continue to work with YouTube while simultaneously building their own brands as a way of creating more controllable infrastructure and diversifying their offering.
You can listen to my livestream of part of the panel here: https://www.facebook.com/RobertBrill/videos/10154199548716195/
Our Expert Panel On Programmatic Advertising
Kevin selected our panel about programmatic advertising to be run on Thursday at 1pm. I moderated a group of experts from VideoAmp, Windstar Media, Klickly, Accuen Media Assembly and Wondros. The lively discussion spoke to programmatic opportunities in the marketplace. Hank Cohen, Founder and CEO of Windstar made the point that marketers miss on opportunities to deliver strong branded messages with remarketing that is too generalized. Even when remarketing is turned on, brands should be sending messages that speak to the audience’s specific interests (such as their life-stage, financial cohorts and purchase tendencies), rather than simply delivering generic messaging in the remarketing pool.
Ken Nicholas Head of Sales West at VideoAmp, and Founder of MindOnMedia[Sales], brought up the trend seen with the rise of consultants like Accenture, Boston Consulting Group and Prohaska Consulting (Prohaska is heavily showing up in this space – watch this business grow!), and whether agencies are seeing a new form of competition. Steven Kaufman, Managing Director at Accuen, pointed out that media strategy married to creative prowess are still critical to helping clients maximize their media investment. Whether consultants help brands evolve their programmatic strategies, agencies are still important at combining knowledge of current trends, consumer behavior, media consumption habits and technology. Plus, providers of consulting services look at developing infrastructure and usually don’t position themselves as ad agencies as the jobs are very different in scope.
Erin Yasgar, Head of Marketing and Digital Strategy at Wondros, and Todd Yu, Programmatic Director at Media Assembly, both agreed that private marketplace opportunities and the push towards more premium ad units will help filter out bad players, fraudulent ads and bot traffic. Further, Erin and Hank shared their assessments that there are many under-used dynamic creative solutions that drive stronger conversion rates, and speak more clearly to audiences and their unique interests.
Finally, Cooper Harris, CEO of Klickly, spoke to her company’s ability to transact directly from within the banner. She stated that the 1-2 step transactions that Klickly facilitates will become even more relevant as their tech spreads across video ads and as data is collected from individual user transactions.
New Tech, New Solutions and New Opportunities Abound At Silicon Beach Fest
From the panel on ecommerce, Canada is a fantastic opportunity to grow your e-commerce business for substantially lower acquisition costs if you incentivize with free shipping.
Bobby Vaughn, the man behind Von Dutch, is back with clothing brand FTW. He was sporting a really cool iPhone case that doubles as a brass knuckle, or a new way to hold the iPhone. It’s your call. I’m pretty sure the first thing he said to me was “drop fools, not phone calls.”
On the VIP yacht tour around Marina Del Rey I spoke to an early investor in the music business, Per Diem. The tech is very straight forward: discover a brand, invest in their growth and earn your money back, and then some, as an investor in the band. It’s the stock market for bands, and it sounds like I’ll be getting back into the music business.
On Thursday, at the same time as our panel on programmatic advertising Vincent Dignan spoke about growth hacking. You’ll recognize him by his cape, winged shoes, shiny pants and friendly personality. We had a brief conversation, and what I learned is that Twitter’s follow / unfollow rule limits have changed. If you are on Twitter you know that. If you want to know what Vincent shared please reach out and we’ll discuss some social growth strategies.
At the Silicon Beach Fest closing party at CTRL Collective we were sampling Be Tini, a great tasting new vodka brand featuring flavors including Pink Cranberry, Cake and Apple Sunset. I’m not normally a fan of flavored vodka’s, but from where I was standing on Friday night it tasted great! Alexis Wirth, the Social Media Manager and Head of Sales, is featured in their YouTube product video, which is a riot!
Finally, the food at SALT, the luxury on-premise restaurant at the Marina Del Rey Hotel is really good. As a certified foodie this chicken sandwich is great. It’s spicy, crunchy and the fries round out the meal nicely. Their margarita is called Salt, and it’s setup with chile lime salt, one massive ice cube and a nice round flavor. The drink is made with hibiscus, averna and lime. Yum!
What a great way to end the event!
Silicon Beach Fest is the best of Los Angeles, business and tech. It brings smart people together to share ideas, solve challenges and learn from other entrepreneurs. I met entrepreneurs young and old, and feel especially privileged to have been part of this group. Great job Kevin! The DNA of this event is a direct reflection of you, your immense work ethic, and frankly just how cool you really are!