Earnest Labs at SXSW: Day 3

Day three. Sunday. The day of (no) rest. After a night where the biggest brands chucked free drinks down everyone’s necks in return for their love, respect and email addresses – the mood on Sunday morning was somewhat quieter.

So I thought I would start the day with a room full of nice developers to ease me in.

The API economy

SXSW is as much about the networking as it is about the talks and panel sessions, and for good reason – the future of business is going to be all about partnerships, and how companies work with each other and tech providers to give their customers what they want in a way that they want it.

It’s these partnerships, or ‘networks’, that are the foundations of some of the most successful companies in the world – take Uber that is on a network of Google Maps, iPhone apps, Spotify etc. etc.

And the thing that makes these networks of partnerships possible to quickly build innovative products are the APIs – or what IBM has termed ‘The API economy’.

In a business world where it’s constantly a question of disrupt or be disrupted, tapping into the API economy is going to be key.

An example of this is Nordea bank who held a hackathon for partners. The most successful idea of the day came from Spotify who showed the bank how they could use their API to connect with customers in a different way.

The speaker from IBM said the rise of the API has also changed things internally within business. It is developers who hold the key to the kingdom and have moved from ‘back office’ to ‘front office’ to help shape the future of organizations.

So yes, learn how to be a developer right now.

Attention, perception and memory

The University of Austin gave a fascinating talk on ‘inattentional blindness’ – the theory that when we are looking for one thing, we miss many others.

The talk started with the classic video that asked you to count the number of times people passed a ball, all the while missing the gorilla. The speaker of course knew everyone in the room had seen the experiment before, but while they (me) were looking at the gorilla and feeling smug, many other things were being missed.

Anyway, the point is we need to admit our attention has gone – and technology like the smart phone has killed it.

This is hugely important for marketers and advertisers to think about. It’s why the old channels (print ads, online banners, emails) just don’t work anymore because our brains have literally changed to ignore them.

So are we doomed? We are never doomed. But! We do have to be cleverer, think harder and be less lazy. Most importantly marketers need to use technology to interrupt attention in a creative way with the tools that are available to them.

Traditional (lazy) marketing isn’t going to work anymore. People literally don’t have the time for it.


Silent room

Quick snippet for you.

Queues here are long. There is a queue for absolutely everything. Austin laughs in the face of Disney land.

Anyway, I queued for an hour and a half to stand in a silent room for one minute in the name of art. Was it good? Don’t know. Was it interesting? Don’t know.

Smart cities

Earnest has been doing a lot of work on smart cities recently and it’s certainly been huge topic here. There have been many, many talks about transport – from the Google driverless car project to various apps that are about connecting services within cities (oh and a really cool single person car from Japan).

The most interesting talk I went to on smart cities was about a competition run by the Government department of transport for states around America. Up for grabs is a $40 million prize for the best ideas of how to make their cities smarter.

I know that there are a lot of brands trying to own smart cities, and I think bringing a competition like this to the UK would help them really own the space and certainly be a huge project that could be a partnership with the public sector.

Let’s see.


Talking of smart travel – the last talk of the day was about one of my personal favourite ideas of all time, from future king of the world Elon Musk.

A few years ago Elon imagined ‘Hyperloop’ – essentially a series of tubes that shoot people across countries at the speed of light. While he was the one to put the idea out there – he was also busy running a space programme, building a battery for the home and making driverless electronic cars.

Luckily, someone else took up the mantel and set up ‘Hyperloop’ the company. And the dream of what they are trying to make is pretty crazy. They think, for example, that they can cut a 5 hour journey down to 36 minutes.

The impact of that would be huge. Think of London airports. Using Hyperloop you could travel from Heathrow to Gatwick in under 10 minutes. This essentially means that London is one big airport, and the current airports are just terminals.

And that’s just the start of it. The possibilities and the scale of change is incredible.

The other interesting thing about the Hyperloop (apart from the fact that it could change the world) is that the company is made up of people from different businesses around the world – offering their time and resources in exchange for stock options. It’s too much of a big mission for a traditional, single company to take on on its own, so they needed a different way of thinking. And they are achieving it – the first 5 mile track will be built this year in California.

It’s going to be huge.

Hot pepper pitch

I finished the day off at an event that was all about pitching with a difference. The rules? Start ups had 2 minutes to pitch their idea, but only after they had eaten the hottest pepper you can buy.

Weird idea. Amusing though. And some genuinely interesting start ups to keep an eye on.

What else?

I really think VR spinning is the future.