By Silicon Allee’s international correspondents Don Oparah and Roy Malkin in New York
The invitation-only conference from Digital Life Design (perhaps better known as DLD) landed in New York for the first time in its tenth year, having previously visited Munich, London, Palo Alto and Tel Aviv.
The two-day event brought together artists, tech industry giants, entrepreneurs and startup businesses for a showcase that remains one of the leading global conferences on innovation. The diverse array of more than 40 speakers included Yancy Stricker of Kickstarter, Don Dodge of Google, author Douglass Rushkoff and Jonah Peretti of New York-based startup Buzzfeed, and they were addressing over 600 investors, innovators and opinion makers in the fields of science, business and the media.
Author and new age guru Deepak Chopra gave a thought-provoking speech on how consciousness shapes our understanding of the universe, and the actual makeup of the biological basis of consciousness. He said: “While science itself is making huge strides, what we forget is that science itself is an activity of consciousness… what we see is a human cosmos. It is constructed in human consciousness. As we evolve, the cosmos also evolves.”
Biological Basis of Consciousness
Chopra went on to define consciousness as that which makes experiences possible, and posited that as such, the hard problem for neuroscience is that “we have no idea how we experience anything.” That is, we cannot at this time answer the question, “what is existence, who are we?” According to Chopra, there is no biological basis of consciousness; consciousness itself “conceives, constructs, governs and becomes our biology.”
DLD 2014 also brought a taste of January’s Munich conference to the party, providing traditional German music and master-crafted beers to entertain and lubricate the crowd as the biergarten closed the first day out in style.
Of particular interest to those considering their own startup projects was the meeting of minds behind two of the pioneering companies of the early Internet era – Mirabillis (developers of ICQ) and AOL. Israeli entrepreneur, investor, DLD chairman and former Mirabillis investor Yossi Vardi interviewed Steve Case, former chairman of AOL, on the topic of the Internet past, present and future.
Post-It Notes Rather Than Bankers
During their discourse, the conversation turned to how Vardi sold his company to Case. During the late 1990s the two were sure that social media would be paramount in the burgeoning online world. As a pioneer of instant messaging, the company was naturally keen to secure the support of industry giant AOL. Vardi’s audacious tactic was to slip a piece of paper to Case every time he saw him at a conference bearing details of ICQ’s rapid growth and latest statistics.
“He didn’t hire an investment banker,” Case said. “He just wrote these little Post-It notes and stuck them on my plate when I was eating dinner.” Vardi also recounted Case’s speech to the employees of ICQ when the company was bought out: “The only way I would get rid of Yossi putting the notes in my pocket, is that I [would have to] buy the company.” History shows that AOL acquired Mirabillis for $407 million in 1998, despite ICQ having no meaningful revenue – although 100 million users were on ICQ just three years after the sale. Not a bad return for the price of some stationery, and a lot of persistence.
Case also made the point that in the future, such collaborations between entrepreneurs and business owners will become ever more important, quoting the African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together.”
Last month, Roy and Don were also at the star-studded Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, and they sent this report.
Many prominent leaders and thinkers gathered in Beverly Hills for the Milken Institute Global Conference last month. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US treasury secretary Hank Paulson, actors Matt Damon and Chris Tucker and recording artist Akon were among the big-name speakers, together with business leaders, journalists, politicians and social figures.
They join a list of prestigious names at past Global Conferences which includes former US President Bill Clinton, former governor of California (and occasional actor) Arnold Schwarzenegger, basketball legend Magic Johnson and media mogul Ted Turner.
With such heavyweights on the schedule, the event provided a great opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture as speakers and panelists addressed difficult questions concerning the future of Wall Street, the economic outlook in the US, the Middle East and other countries around the world, and the future of energy policy.
The conference kicked off with a panel discussion, entitled ‘The Global Economy: Hoping for Momentum amid Tepid Times.’
Weighing Down Startup Valuations
“We can all chat about the benevolent growth environment that exists in the US, and to a lesser extent globally, but the ability to make money on that, the ability to invest wisely on that is very, very challenging right now,” said Joshua Harris, co-founder of Apollo Global Management, on the panel. If investors start moving away from publicly-traded stocks and the stock market heads lower, it may mean less IPOs and would likely weigh down the valuation of startups in US and eventually around the world.
In a later session looking at an overview of the United States, however, Siemens USA CEO Eric Spiegel was more upbeat about the economy in the upcoming year. “2015 is going to be a pretty good year because basically something that gets ordered today turns into revenue in about 12 to 18 months and we’ve seen these orders now for about six months,” Spiegel said. “And what’s driving this is we’re seeing that the US is really becoming a low-cost manufacturing environment relative to a lot of other places.”
Attendees were treated to a diverse range of engaging panels with topics ranging from Bitcoin to the the ‘Highs and Lows of the Cannabis Economy,’ which saw panelists like Michael Kraft, chairman and co-founder of WeedMD RX Inc., discussing the changing environment resulting from the legalisation of both medical marijuana and marijuana for recreational use and what it means for politics, crime, law and business.
Another interesting technology panel was ‘Adjusting to the Tech Revolution: Surfing the Wave or Swept Away?’ It focused on the rapid growth of new technologies like 3D printing, driverless cars and popular phone apps and games, and their impact on the business side of technology and older forms of technology like pagers and newspapers. The panelists were all prominent members of the tech community and included Marc Benioff, CEO and chairman of salesforce.com, and Steve Case, CEO and chairman of Revolution and the co-founder of AOL.
A Top Entrepreneurial Destination
The new mayor of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, used his keynote speech to paint a picture of the city as one of the top destinations for entrepreneurship in the world, with more business owners per capita than anywhere in the US and an accelerating number of new startups at the confluence of technology, entertainment and media.
A highly entertaining and insightful panel followed featuring Tony Blair, leader of the UK from 1997 to 2007, and the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, with both leaders encouraging entrepreneurs and investors to keep a close eye on Africa. The continent is home to many of the fastest growing economies in the world and a burgeoning middle class that is set to double in size in the next five years, and has money to spend. Panel moderator David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group also teased Blair about his future ambitions in the field of private equity – who fancies having him as your next investor?
Staying with the theme of entrepreneurship, the ‘What’s Silicon Valley got to do with it’ panel examined the degree to which it is vital today to be in the traditional home of startups to succeed as a technology entrepreneur. Investors on the panel discussed how a growing number of so-called ‘Unicorns’ (companies worth in excess of $1 billion) are actually located outside of the Valley.
Hot Spots for Startups
While it was agreed that Silicon Valley still leads in terms of its resources for startup growth, it was clear that innovation is now happening everywhere and having good connections into the Valley ecosystem can be just as effective as physically being there. In fact, sometimes locations elsewhere offer better returns for investors (for example by allowing them to circumvent bidding wars on hot deals) or startup advantages for entrepreneurs (like lower living costs in Israel of Berlin which give startups more runway on the same modest funding). Mary Kate Mitchell of Scala Venture Partners picked out Germany and Singapore as two locations that will be particularly hot spots for startups in the near future.
One of the highlights of the closing day was the panel on ‘Inventing the Impossible’ which was moderated by Ken Rutkowski, host of a hit radio show for startups called Business Rockstars. The panel looked at how things we thought impossible only a short while ago become reality, and how they are doing so at an increasingly accelerated rate. Social media and mobile penetration were identified as key drivers behind making the impossible possible – for example, Akon explained how he achieved the world record of being the first person to have a billion mobile ringtone downloads by systematically partnering with the leading artists in different regions around the world. He also treated the audience to a couple of dance moves along the way.
The Milken Institute Global Conference, then, provided a fascinating mix of thought-provoking speakers, rich and diverse content and a high caliber of attendees.