How is technology fundamentally transforming our economy and our day-to-day lives? The Cyberposium, a day long conference at Harvard Business School, brought together students, thought leaders, investors, entrepreneurs, and academics to gather in thought-provoking panels to address how technology is impacting society and businesses today. MIT students from all courses and MIT alumni met at the event, excited about the panels on the future of mobile technology, sharing economy, wearable devices, social influence, education and health technology (and many others) and ready to engage in dialogue about Techonomy 2.0.
Get Creative, Get Scrappy
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Bill Clerico, Y Combinator alum and founder of WePay, a payment platform for small businesses. His business started from dissatisfaction with the lack of useful solutions in the payment space for small businesses, leading him to tackle a complex and intimidating payment industry with heavy-hitters like PayPal already well established. But with his nose-to-the-grindstone approach of both grit and creativity, he built WePay from the ground up. During the early days of WePay, Clerico and his team came up with a show-stopping guerrilla marketing idea that companies often pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to creative agencies for. In a bold move, WePay froze $300 of cash inside a 600-pound block of ice, then placed it at the front of PayPal’s Developer Conference to draw attention to competitor PayPal’s policy on freezing customer accounts (sometimes with upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars in them). Clerico’s message to us? “Get creative, get scrappy.” Indeed, this clever move earned WePay coverage on the front page of popular tech blog TechCrunch and an over 225 percent increase in signups. A fine dose of inspiration to start with on Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m.
Rules Are For Fools
In another fascinating talk on breaking into what seems like an impossible industry, Travis Kalanick, the founder and CEO of Uber, explained how Uber managed to enter and dominate the cab industry. By finding ways to legally maneuver antiquated government policies and state laws, Uber refused to let current laws deter them and gained a huge competitive advantage by being first to market in building a profitable business rooted in superior logistics and a best-in-class user experience that competitors rushed to copy. Kalanick, whose background is in engineering, found himself researching and writing papers on public policy when local politicians threatened to ban Uber from cities — entrepreneurs have to be flexible, right? So instead of caving, Uber called on its biggest fans to band together, bombarding the inboxes of the politicians with thousands of e-mails and garnering tons of media attention in favor of their beloved service. In Kalanick’s words, “The minute you try to instill laws to try to protect yourself is the minute you start dying.” Not only is Uber still in business (even delivering kittens to Uber lovers in San Francisco), it is now expanding into cities around the globe. Overpriced taxi medallions and laws that restrict innovation and perpetuate broken systems? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Iterating Your Way To An Innovative Solution
The best ideas and solutions are rarely ever the first. Through iteration, you can glean valuable insights from experience that often lead to a “Eureka!” “We went through 50+ prototypes in the first year. We kept asking ourselves — how can we solve this problem better?” explained Andrew Chang, the founder of Lumo Back in the wearable devices panel. Product Manager and Business Development Lead at Jawbone, Andrew Rosenthal, also discussed how Jawbone leverages observations from a cultural anthropology perspective to continue to reinvent the Jawbone experience, which includes both software and hardware. Rene Reinsberg, MIT alum and founder and CEO of Locu (now GoDaddy), discussed how Locu continued iterating to develop the best possible service to help small businesses find and retain customers.
A Gathering Of Minds
From hearing ideas from speakers such as James Slezak, founder of Purpose, a platform that uses technology to power social movements, on sharing economies to Rich Miner, cofounder of Android and Google Ventures partner, discuss the future of mobile enterprise, the atmosphere was thick with passion for the power of technology. Hearing about the challenging beginnings that these entrepreneurs faced was further inspiration to stay tenacious in the face of obstacles. Most importantly, the themes and questions that the speakers brought up opened my eyes, and I’m sure those of many of the attendees there, to new opportunities that can be discovered just by having the courage to break traditional molds and rebuild systems. The economy is perpetually evolving, and being finely attuned to what simply is not working is critical in finding opportunities to redefine solutions. Don’t stop asking why, and keep testing ideas until you find the best how.