Wow, I’m on the plane back to Raleigh and processing through all the tech I just experienced in the past couple days at CES2016 with my business colleague and buddy Ted Rubin. Drones, self-driving cars, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality and the emerging Mixed Reality which enhances experiences in the real world. Over 170,000 people (according to our Über driver which is as good as Google I figure) all convened to share and explore the latest in technology and innovation. No matter were I looked, the most amazing thing I saw and heard however was the connected relationships that were being built among practitioners, enthusiasts and pioneers in the space. Relationships were the hottest app of the day. From the elevators to the pervasive lines to the show floor, people were interacting live with shared passion for what they’d seen, heard and experienced. In a couple months, the bread that was broken will trump the 170″ Samsung TV.
I find that CES and SXSWi are early year reconnects for all of the people that factor into my business activities throughout the year including those physical and those experiencing remotely through social feeds. I also find that these two events create both serendipity and opportunity for new connections that invariably become the infrastructure for growth of my network and thinking about the emerging media space.
Here’s a brief recap of the best and brightest relationships of the trip.
1. Chris Gardner – The CEO of HappYness – “The pursuit of happiness was included in every draft of the constitution, it’s up to you to take advantage of that promise,” were inspiring words from the amazing story of Mr. Gardner as shared with the attendees of Brand Innovators Summit at the Four Seasons. I also got an opportunity to sit beside Chris at dinner. I could have gone home and done nothing else and had an amazingly successful trip to CES. I was inspired by the simplicity of his success story. Believe in yourself, have passion, build connections, work hard and never, ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. What impressed me the most was our conversation about the value of relationships and how Chris attributed the bulk of his success to the connections he worked tirelessly to build.
2. Clayton Peters – Snapchat – I’ve know Clayton since I was at Walmart and he visited me representing Google (Clayton introduced me to Über 6 years ago when it was SF only so I hold him in high esteem). Clayton is not only a big thinker but also someone who gets how to make technology relevant for consumers on behalf of brands (Which too many platforms try to do the other way around IMHO). It is always a pleasure to spend time with someone who is on the very front line of what is actually happening with brands and technology and hearing about things that the trade and tech journals will be writing about in 6 months. @Clayco also has the absolutely best Snapchat that I follow (naturally).
3. Chris Gonzalez – Gnack – I dig Entrepreneurs, especially ones that hustle to do everything possible to make their business successful. Chris and his team are working hard to create a great new company called Gnack. Chris realizes the value of relationships and sought to build his professional network at CES. He made the effort to reach out and set up some times to connect live. I have entrepreneurs like Chris that reach out all the time asking for help or advice, a precious few actually follow through to actually connect or seek to learn or build their networks by spending some quality time getting to know you personally. I look forward to meeting his entire team at SXSWi and partnering on some relationship building campaigns.
4. Dawn Sandemeno – Life at 50ish – Dawn wasn’t actually attending CES but we spoke several times about new business opportunities and the development of the influencer marketing space. When I was walking the show floor Wednesday, Dawn texted me a shot of the People’s Choice Awards show featuring some of the influencers that participated in the Walgreens Red Nose Day campaign we collaborated on last year at Carusele.
As usual, Dawn is ahead of the curve and thinking about how to create longer lasting connections with people that engaged with red Nose Day last year. We also discussed her son’s new influencer business
5. Andrew Eisner – Scripps Networks – Andrew is a good friend who I met through Ted Rubin of course. He works as an Intrapreneur for Scripps networks, helping its advertisers to leverage its media assets in unique ways to reach their audience. Andrew hosted us at the Scripps tent just outside the convention center which was buzzing with excitement around some of the great digital products that company has developed to augment its shows like The Travel Channel, Food Network and HGTV. Every time I see Andrew, I learn something new about how the broadcast industry is reinventing itself and he is the tip of the spear!
6. jet.com – Liza Landsman – I got to hear a great presentation from Jet.com CMO Liza Landsman at the Brand Innovators event. She deftly illustrated the differences in in jet.com’s model and other current digital retail models. Her presentation really changed my understanding about the service and I was amazed by the brand passionates in the audience that raved about the service. I will admit that I was fairly convinced that the company would have an insurmountable challenge overcoming the huge infrastructure lead Amazon and Walmart.com by having lower prices (neither of the aforementioned companies makes a profit from ecom so beating them on price is an effort in futility). However, I’m encouraged by the thinking and grit of the team and its leaders like Liza.
7. Four Seasons Las Vegas – Wow! I am frequently amazed by service organizations that don’t understand that they are in the service industry. From airlines to restaurants to hotels, many times service companies treat customers as a hassle they have to deal with. I’ve become so immune to this over the years of heavy travel that my default is to expect indifferent service and I’m always pleasantly surprised when great service happens. This is not the case with Four Seasons. Every single person at the Four Seasons is committed to creating exceptional experiences. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. No employee ever passes you without saying hello or asking how they can help you.
Las Vegas logistics is bananas and during CES just getting from place to place is banana sauce with crushed walnuts. Ted and I were waiting on a Über to the airport and the driver bailed on us (I guess the 3.7 surge pricing encouraged him to pick up someone closer). No problem, Tony, one of the bellmen recognized our plight and offered to take us to the airport in the house car. Amazing! Thanks Tony! You have me always thinking Four Seasons first!
8. Monster – Ted and I visited Robin Lee who runs Business Development for Monster at the company’s hip booth space.Despite being incredibly busy, Robin took time to connect with us and even had someone give us a personal tour of Monster’s booth.
Monster had a ton of innovation of course but perhaps the most striking was its integration with auto-maker Bentley. A gorgeous Continental GT completely outfitted with Monster sound gear including a Bentley branded bass tube in the trunk. I’ll admit I’m not a Bentley kind of guy, I like my cars a bit more ground-pounding and loud but this caught my eye and I suspect the eye of many a non-Bentley customer. As cars become more rolling entertainment and information centers, this kind of integration is likely to create a competitive advantage, especially in a stratosphere where buyers can choose anything they like and want some kind of exclusivity.
9. Mosaic – Nicole Yelsey and Lauren Zaner – I’ve known the Mosaic Experiential folks for a long time. one of my best friends and mentors Lee Esmond has been part of the company for several years now and when it comes to creating rich shopping experiences that engage consumers, the company is the best. Lee was unable to attend CES but made sure to connect her team with Ted and me for some networking. During an hour popup connect at the Baccarat Bar in the Bellagio, the Mosaic team met with entrepreneurs, business folks, social media providers and influencers making efficient use of the inevitable conference ‘transition time’. Undoubtedly, these connections will come in useful in future for their work making shopping more fun and interesting.
10. Payx – Jason Alpin – Ted and I ran into Jason literally crossing the street in from of the convention center. After we said our hellos, Jason pulled a small device from his jacket and began to explain to us how it was going to alter the future of payments (I freakin love entrepreneurs!!). Payx is a simple platform that enables point of sales systems to provide mobile payments from a variety of sources. The system also integrates loyalty and consumer marketing platforms making it perfect for some of the folks I know in the shopper space. Perhaps the absolute best outcome of conferences like CES is these happenstance meetings. Jason and I have already connected on a couple opportunities and no doubt will do the same on many more.
11. Brian Fanzo – Social Broadcasting – Like several other folks I met at CES, I’ve know Brian Fanzo for a while but have never met him IRL. Brian is one of the leading authorities on social broadcasting, a rapidly growing new media field that leverages tools like Meerkat and Periscope to create simple live broadcasts from anywhere. The medium bust on the scene last year at SXSWi and is already being used by brands like GE, Red Bull and Adidas. I love that people like Brian are building businesses helping others navigate new tech and at the same time helping to shape how the technology works. Plus, Brian is a Sneakerhead and graciously posed for my #ForcefieldNYC project.
Sure there were lots of great tech at CES2016 and there will be more next year. No of it will be as memorable or useful as the relationships that were built or the knowledge exchanged.