Rock band theory revealed at Tech Beach

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

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The third annual staging of the Tech Beach conference took place at the Iberostar Rose Hall resort in Montego Bay last week. The conference, which focuses on emerging technologies, brings together investors, founders and executives of leading businesses in the global tech industry for a meeting of the minds to exchange ideas, network, explore potential partnerships and discover investment opportunities.

While the conference was focused on different sectors of the tech industry from financing, start-ups and artificial intelligence to health care, enterprise and digital marketing, there was a strong, underlying and repetitive theme focused on the human aspect of the business. In fact, many participants in the panel discussions went out of their way to emphasise the importance of the human factor in an industry where technology takes centre stage.

It was Jeff Pulver, an American investor and co-founder of Vonage and Free World Dialup, who stole the show on the second day of the conference with a “rock band” analogy that emphasised the importance of human qualities in creating a successful start-up business.

In a panel discussion entitled, “Raising Venture Capital”, Pulver explained that he makes a comparison between rock bands and start-ups when he is looking at investing in a new business.

“Who is the lead singer in the business?” Pulver asks. He made the point that leadership involves “on-stage presence” which is just as important as technical expertise.

He also asks who is the drummer in the organisation or the person who keeps things on track and gets the necessary work done. He wants to know if the business is just a “cover band” or if they are original and different. Both types of band have their own particular audiences into which they must fit. Another question is, “Who is singing your songs?” In other words, who in the marketplace is connecting with your ideas.

“All investors can do is give you fuel for your business,” Pulver declares. “But you have the energy to take it where you want to go.” Rather than overemphasising technical abilities and expertise, Pulver insists that it is important to find your soulmates when putting together a team for a start-up.

Another group of panellists looked at the topic “The Changing Face of Digital Marketing” and panellist Tyrona Heath who is the Global Lead for Market Development at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, noted the growing power of personal brands in digital marketing.

“Not many CFOs (chief financial officers) recognise the power of their own personal brand,” she said.

Heath explained that in an era of declining trust in institutions more business people are becoming aware of the potential of their own personality to communicate with their market.

The discussion also called attention to the growing power of social media influencers. Influencers are individuals who have large followings, in particular audience niches in social media. They therefore have the power to sway the purchasing decisions of individuals within their audience.

However, despite the rise of this more personal, human element in digital marketing, Lisa Godwin, Creative Technologist at The New York Times, cautioned that influencers must also be able to stand up to scrutiny. Their authenticity should be verified as well as their ability to influence particular markets on behalf of businesses.

Even in the conference's discussions on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality the role of human or personal elements persisted as a theme.

“Artificial intelligence does not replace experts,” said Nicholas Fuller, director, Cognitive Service Foundations at IBM. “It augments experts.”

Fuller's point of view was similar to that of Will Hayes, president and CEO of search technology company Lucidworks. Hayes explained that AI elevates human abilities and skill sets. He pointed to the fact that psychologists help to create AI models because those models depend on human experience. He described his business as humanising artificial intelligence.

But perhaps the most personal moments of the conference came from the last panel discussion entitled, “Women In Tech”, where female panellists who are accomplished professionals in the tech industry shared their experiences of overcoming invisible gender barriers. They had various bits of advice for female newcomers to the industry.

“Open up to others so they can get to know you,” counselled Simone Harvey, global programme manager for Airbnb. Lisa Godwin, creative technologist at The New York Times urged women to be advocates for the next woman in their business place.

The most resounding statement of the all-female panel discussion came from Denise Reese,

vice-president of Digital Solutions at Soft Vision.

“Don't be intimidated by naysayers and haters,” she said. “If you can't get a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

The Tech Beach Conference in Montego Bay resonated with many participants and audience members who took to social media to express their enthusiasm and appreciation for the various topics of discussion. Panellists and attendees included leading professionals from Jamaica, the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and Europe.

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