Our colleague, Zhenia Suvorov, heroically spent two days at the Emerge Conference and narrowed down the essence of the speakers’ talks from Nike, Google and WhatsApp.
So what were the topics of the keynotes?
- Lysandre Follet from Nike described how technology connects with design. Based on the data from test runs, algorithms can come up with solutions to design soles to achieve maximum comfort.
Lev Manovich, Professor at the City University of New York, dispelled the mystery around creativity as such and explained that any creativity is a set of systems and attitudes of thinking. The excellence of thinking patterns is an opportunity for creative conclusions. Unobvious combinatorics is equal to creativity.
Eddie Stern, the co-founder of The Breathing mobile app, spoke at the very end and conducted a mass meditation session. At this point, the line between the passionate tech entrepreneurs and obsessed members of a soft cult became blurred. According to Eddie Stern, the path to homeostasis, e.g. to the restoration of the body, lies through deep and calm breathing. Old wisdom of Indian yogis reiterated.
Alex Drozdovsky, ex-Wargaming Head of Strategy, gave probably one of the most creative and smart speeches at the conference. It was dedicated to the formula of design sprints crafted at Google Ventures which helps to quickly create iterations of design and branding for new products (you should definitely check it out).
Stewart Rogers from VentureBeat spoke about mental health in Silicon Valley, noting that the startup lifestyle often leads to depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental disorders because of overtime hours and the special culture that embraces treating a startup as the founder’s whole life.
About Emerge 2019
The program director at Emerge, Karolina Miller, has been wearing a sweatshirt with a sarcastic print “All Conferences Are Bullshit”, which probably perfectly reflects the crisis that everyone feels — conferences are needed but in some other form with fewer speeches and more practical benefits.
Our communication limits are constantly expanding. We have social networks and conferences coming with hundreds of opportunities for new connections. It’s unclear how to focus on the important things when you’re bombarded with notifications on a smartphone that compete for your attention with aggressive media content and a growing abundance of opportunities.
What skills are in demand 2019?
The Heroes conducted a series of interviews with Emerge speakers on how to keep up with the entrepreneurs of the future and meet the challenges of a new era.
Lysandre Follet, Director of Computational Design Lab at Nike: “Empathy, mentoring and understanding that humanity should be at the center of design”
Lysandre manages Nike’s Generative Design Lab and creates some of its most innovative products, leading a team of three in the Nike Innovation Lab.
We are engaged in generative design, which is an automated design process with algorithms being trained to create and design new shoes. This approach will allow us to produce sneakers specifically designed for each person’s feet. And even more, we will be able to create the most effective sole for the particular race or to generate thousands of unique patterns for the sneakers.
An algorithm will sooner or later be able to replace a designer with good technical skills. But it won’t replace the human mind — emotionality, humanity, and a philosophical understanding of work.
The generative design combines algorithms and visionary creativity.
For me, the future of design and creative industries lies in multidisciplinarity, with a strong emphasis on soft skills (note — skills that go beyond the technical specialization of a person; usually communication, leadership, empathy, mentoring and an understanding that humanity should be at the center of design).
The future decade will be a time when philosophy, psychology and anthropology will return to the design labs. We are going to ask ourselves more general metaphysical questions: “Why are we doing this together?”, “What is the meaning of this approach?”, “How can we re-invent this solution?”
There is a decreasing need for specialists who are good at one thing. Many designers focus on a specific matter — they work with clothing or mobile applications or robots. Ten years ago, there were a lot of people who were making something on Flash on the Internet, and now this technology is simply excluded from our lives because it became outdated.
An algorithm will sooner or later be able to replace a designer with good technical skills. But it won’t replace the human mind — emotionality, humanity and a philosophical understanding of work. One should study design in the broadest sense of the word, rather than focus on specialized skills in a single computer program.
Usually at work, I try to inspire the team, manage the processes and prepare the basis for future research. Communication skills will come in handy everywhere. When we started our lab, where we wanted to use generative design, some people at Nike looked at it as a threat, because they thought that we would replace the entire traditional design department. Nike is a big company. If you release an innovative product without preparation, no one will understand it. They will even say that they don’t need it (laughs). Therefore, besides my main work, I spread knowledge and conduct training within the company when we release something new. I introduce everyone to new technologies.
A person should be at the center of any design; a machine doesn’t understand that. A machine can generate technically the best sneakers for running a marathon. But when a person puts them on, they might not like them and throw them out. Therefore, a designer will always have to adjust the work of artificial intelligence.
Nikolay Oreshkin, Managing Partner, Elysium Venture Capital: “The most important skill is the ability to interact and communicate with people and to have an open mindset.”
Nikolay is the managing partner at the Elysium Venture Capital Fund. The fund has invested in companies such as Prisma Labs, Flo Health, TON, Node.io, Acquired.io, Hub, and RSK Labs.
Facebook still considers itself a startup, not a business. There’s a sign on the wall in their office that says, “Move fast and break things.” Such an atmosphere is important to avoid rigidity. When I came to San Francisco from Minsk 10 years ago, I had some outdated thoughts like, “a business should make money”, and didn’t understand who venture capitalists were.
I figured they were probably not very smart guys if they just give money to strangers for unrealizable projects and without any guarantees. Or take startups — if you are a startup that clearly understands how to build a multi-billion dollar company, why would you need an investor to come in and bother you asking unnecessary questions and influencing your decisions?
In fact, everything in the Valley works absolutely differently. And the money is not the issue. Money comes last in terms of importance. Everything is built around collaboration. An investor is needed in order to help. With venture capital you also get smart capital. You get expertise, networking, contacts, sometimes your first clients, PR, and marketing assistance. The investor is usually a person from the same geek crowd who has already earned money. Now his role is to mentor, advise (note — common roles in startups are mentor and adviser) and so on.
It is important for an investor in the Valley to work on their portfolio. That is, to assist companies in which he has invested, to monitor their results and to prevent future mistakes. This is not about “waving a sword” but about helping build your capabilities, such as recruiting a specialist, sometimes with the expertise that you can bring to the table.
My friend’s daughter returned from school and teamed up with her little brother to pitch that the family needed to have a dog. And it was so convincing that he really decided to get one. And then he found out that the pitch was their homework from school.
The world is accelerating and there has never been a moment in the history of mankind where it is possible to travel so easily and quickly. In one week, you can visit several continents and easily get a visa to any country. We are witnessing a unification of the language — everyone speaks English. The most important skill in such situations is the ability to interact and communicate with people and to have an open mindset.
Once you start working in a corporation like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, you will be asked about your soft skills first rather than your technical ones. The technical background is important, but in a corporation, you will need to interact with a huge number of people in order to be productive and contribute. In America, schoolchildren are taught to present, pitch, sell, and defend their point of view.
My friend in America has a daughter who returned from school and teamed up with her little brother to pitch that the family needs to have a dog. And it was so convincing that they really decided to get one. And then they found out that it was their homework from school — they were trained to justify, build a logical argument, and convince their parents to buy something they wanted.
Among Belarusian projects we’ve chosen to invest in Flo for a second time. The investment now totals $3M. We received our largest check in the last inner round. We were lucky to have the opportunity to invest more because the company is profitable and has grown rapidly. But we also pledged to help with other markets, including China and the US. After the deal, we went to China with the company’s CEO. He even complained a little about the overwhelming schedule — we had more than 60 meetings in 10 days in 8 cities.
We barely slept but we met with many potential partners, and now we have a better understanding of the Chinese market.
But Flo is not our biggest check. The biggest one was last year’s commitment with $46 million, but I can’t name the company. Alpaca was our last investment. This is the Airbnb for co-housing in San Francisco and California where the rent is so high that one can’t afford a separate house and is forced to share a “communal flat.” In addition, it is impossible to rent an apartment without a credit history, among many other things. Everyone constantly moves from one apartment to another.
With investments, you need to look at how you can bring value to the team, whether you have some kind of synergy. Some startup schools teach that a startup needs not only to attract or impress an investor but to stun him with its potential for idea generation and growth on a global scale. This sounds ridiculous, of course, but the chemistry is hidden here.
Goetz Trillhaas, Country Director CEE New Markets, Google: “It becomes important to be able to listen to your instincts.”
Goetz is Google’s regional director for new markets in Central and Eastern Europe.
I would say that courage and the ability to collaborate are now required most in corporations like Google. The whole business has become a “sphere of startups”, where you can achieve greater results by disrupting the game. People in tech companies have a different attitude about work and a different culture.
The new business culture means taking full responsibility for the processes that you’ve been assigned with and developing them as if it were your own business.
When you are entrusted with a project, your own “startup” within the corporation, it becomes important to be able to listen to your instincts and bear the responsibility. Whether it will fail or succeed depends on your actions. Taking risks is important, as well as cooperating with others and integrating yourself into processes.
The new business culture means taking full responsibility for the processes that you’ve been assigned with and developing them as if it were your own business. Now, everything is developing very fast. Five years ago, when I was discovering the market in Belarus for Google, nobody spoke English here, and now everyone does.
Elizaveta Oreshkina, Co-Founder, The Breakfast App: “The most relevant skill for me is rejecting decisions based on the desire to adapt and to do what is considered correct and understandable by the rest.”
Elizaveta Oreshkina is co-founder of The Breakfast App former co-founder of TheQuestion.
The most effective actions are obviously related to solving your most serious problem. But only you know what it is. Therefore, if you want to change something in life, you just need to honestly answer the question of what is wrong with it now. If something’s wrong, but you don’t see a definitive reason, that’s a case for a psychotherapist.
All your actions are crucial for development, but they are hard to compare with each other. How do you compare, for example, a course of psychotherapy and 10 years of reading books about mental health? Or what is more important — three successful projects or 50 projects that have failed?
If one wants to change something in life, he just needs to honestly answer the question of what is wrong with it now.
My focus is on people now — I’m curious about how they think, look at the world, and change. Therefore, everything that I do is somehow connected with people; together with Eteri Saneblidze, we’re making the Breakfast App, an application for meeting new people for breakfast. Development for the sake of development doesn’t fascinate me. I just try to spend my time on things that excite me, or turn the necessary things into the interesting ones.
Stewart Rogers, Analyst-at-large, VentureBeat: “The future is already beyond our control.”
Stewart Rogers is Analyst-at-large at VentureBeat. He is also covering artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality and other advanced technologies.
Any new technology requires a persistent approach. You can’t just create AR glasses out of nowhere. You have to make them good-looking, modern, and sized for the consumer’s needs. In order to fit this, the components, (including the battery, display and processor) will have to be made in a new way. And you may find out that so far, it’s simply impossible to make such a small battery that will sustain over thirty minutes.
If you are building a startup, you must be persistent, because the first thing that happens to you is that you have to work your ass off so that everything comes together as it was intended.
Any technology that changes the rules of the game, such as an electric car, augmented reality or AI, requires a twenty-year plan. If you are building some kind of startup, you must be persistent. The first thing that happens to you is that you have to work your ass off to get a product for the mass consumer.
The future is already beyond our control. Any twenty-year plan will be irrelevant in a year. Tensor chips that power AI increase in productivity by 500% every year. This is a huge increase that is difficult to realize: what does it even mean that artificial intelligence can potentially grow in capacity by 5 times each year? And the situation will become more dramatic when quantum computers appear. In a few decades, quantum computers will fit in our hands. Quantum processors will replace the standard processors in our smartphones.
Emerge organizers are talking about the conference and its future.
Margo and Alina held Emerge for the second time. Before that, both were engaged in organizing tech events in London and in Minsk.
We liked the moment at Emerge’s opening party. We were sitting in the Ў bar and talking to Lysandre Follet from Nike and Alexandra Genis from TAS2R, and the whole courtyard was crowded with people. The evening offered a stunning networking opportunity for everyone. People made dozens of new connections and were chatting until 4 AM. There was an incredible atmosphere, and those who travel around the world told us that they’d never experienced such effective networking. In general, we really enjoyed our parties at Emerge this year.
Technology conferences are changing. The trend in benefiting from speeches is fading away and most people don’t believe that it is possible to get some benefit from “lectures”.
This time we had a Founders Day where startups met with investors before the main conference and the QA zone was better organized. The number of participants increased by almost 700 people, from 1,480 to 2,100+. Now we have begun negotiations with the High Tech Park, but we can’t disclose anything yet.
Tech conferences are changing. People mostly attend not to hear the keynotes but more likely for networking, vibes, inspiration and new ideas.
The Heroes have collected a lot of material. No wonder! 2000+ participants, 100+ investors, 150+ startups, 100+ speakers! And all this on three stages under the sarcastic slogan “One More Tech Conference in the Middle of Nowhere.” Isn’t that heroism?
The story is to be continued. Exclusive features with the following five speakers will appear soon. Keep up with the updates.