2014-15 was an amazing year for me and my new company of one, for which I’m grateful to everyone who has booked me, encouraged me, or generally taught me things since I started out on this little journey. I finished off with a week in Austin, taking in as much as I could from the World’s interactive leaders and musicians.
Whilst it was all quite overwhelming at the time, a few weeks’ reflection has uncovered some key outstanding themes for me.
Firstly, holistic service design; I got the impression that every year is about celebrating entrepreneurs and startups, but this year was all about the service-led startup and the connected customer experience.
Apps that stood out weren’t just focused on interaction between the single user and their device, they had a wider impact. They fit into a wider picture of a community of users and product creators (who were sometimes the same people) all represented by this one new brand. Very few long-established brands (maybe with the exception of Phillips, see below) seem to have made significant plays in this space, which is sad, because they already have the infrastructure, in theory. Banks, insurers, utilities, education providers, and lots more industries could be ripe for this kind of consolidated service offering.
For example, Lyft (which we’re yet to get in the UK) which creates a community of drivers and riders with the aim of ‘solving traffic’. I also liked startup apps Trackd, a cloud based four-track recorder, and Peepsqueeze, a collaborative video creator.
A platform called Kakaxi looked interesting as well, as it hopes to bring to life the stories of food provenance from farm to table. There’s a small sensor that sits with the crop as it grows, tracking moisture, heat and that kind of thing, and a social network of farmers and consumers. It’s just hit its funding target on Kickstarter.
Joe Zadeh of AirBnb talked at length about the value of end-to-end storyboards, from the perspective of every service user, in uncovering gaps in your service and new outreach opportunities.
I was also struck by how consistently Philips made their case for the benefits of a connected home. The Internet Of Things is not just about knowing when to open your garage door, they said, but the opportunities for preventative healthcare that arise when your whole house knows what you’re doing and how that’s related to everything else you’re doing.
My own interest in this area is around trust – in the future, how will I trust that my devices have made the right decisions for me, when we may have moved away from the framework of notifications we’re used to now on our mobile devices. For example, why did my thermostat turn down, did it know I had an appointment coming up and I’d be heading out, or is it broken? How do I check the conversation trail between my devices?
When we think about connected cars, and the kinds of choices they might make for us, I think this is fascinating.
Secondly, diversity; Nearly every session I attended championed the value not just of diversity in the workforce, but in the boardroom and the investment choices of venture capitalists. There is still a long way to go, but it was encouraging to hear that more startups led by women had been successfully funded last year, by a still predominantly male population of VCs.
However, having been working in Mumbai for 5 months I was dismayed to hear very few perspectives from outside of the US – even a session discussing the startup scenes in developing economies focussed on the value of American-trained nationals – the diaspora – returning to their home countries to re-create American business models, rather than on home-grown local-needs-based services. I think over the next few years there’s an opportunity to develop a storyline at SXSW that focusses on the amazing work being done on the ground as the digital economies develop across the world.
I don’t feel nearly qualified to talk about music, and it to be honest it was all a bit of a blur! But I was concerned by the rise of the ’studio band’ who probably sound amazing on record but had little to offer in terms of stage presence. This wasn’t the case with Until The Ribbon Breaks – a great band with Cardiff roots. I also really enjoyed catching Bobby Patterson down on South Congress at a big free show that apparently happens every year at the San Jose Hotel.
And if you can get the chance to see Imogen Heap talking about her new synth-gloves, I strongly recommend that you take it!
As with any of these write ups, this is of course all heavily influenced by what I sought out to listen to, so I’m sure there were other moments too. What were yours? What are your hints for surviving next year? I could do with some…