C-Suite Insights: From Dropbox to Fitbit - On the Cutting Edge of Emerging Technology

12/01/2016 11:55 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2017

Thomas White, CEO of the C-Suite Network and host of the nationally-syndicated radio program "Business Matters,” hosts Executive Briefings. The online event brings together top thought leaders to provide you, as a business leader, insights into the most pressing challenges you have in being successful.

He would like to introduce Erick Schonfeld, a founding partner of Traction Technology Partners. Erick is a pioneer in understanding how new technologies both arise and how they impact our life. Shonfeld has worked with start-ups his entire professional career as a technology journalist, a start-up event producer, and founder of many companies.

In fact, he’s the co-founder of TouchCast, leading interactive video platform, and a partner at bMuse, a start-up studio in New York City. He’s also the former executive producer of the DEMO conferences, as well as the former editor–in-chief of TechCrunch.

Is Technology the Right Career Path? How Do You Know?

Shonfeld says, “It’s not something that you decide. I started my career as a journalist at Fortune magazine covering stocks and financial news about 20 years ago. From there, I went on to a series of other journalism jobs. I wanted to make a name for myself, so I had to go to new areas.”

Technology was an open field, and Shonfeld was interested in technology more so than some of the other stuff. He was interested in what was coming up next. His career followed the path of trying to discover emerging trends before anyone else did. As a journalist, you want to uncover important trends before anyone else does. You want to talk about it intelligently so that you become an expert on it. That’s how Shonfeld made his career as a journalist.

Moving over from print journalism to the web, he helped build TechCrunch from 6 people to more than 50 and sold it to AOL. Then, launched the Disrupt events. One hundred percent of his time was focused on new start-ups and new technologies, by bringing them onstage and trying to vet them for the public at large. Shonfeld continued to do that at DEMO with his partner Neal Silverman.

Shonfeld and Silverman are now part of Traction Technology Partners, where they bring emerging technologies to their partners through membership councils. And, they’re happy to be launching one with C-Suite Network as well!

Finding Hidden Companies to Make a Huge Difference

Dropbox, Fitbit, Yammer, and Evernote are just a few of the great founding start-ups Shonfeld has done. A lot of them had early signs of traction. If it’s a consumer-facing application, a lot of it is public-facing. For those that are more enterprise focused, you must rely on your network.

Shonfeld says, “In any field, there are people you trust who are early adopters and they tend to see the future before other folks. If you hear from multiple trusted sources that this new technology is ‘really coming along,’ or ‘you’ve got to check out this company, it’s growing like wildfire,’ I put on my reporter’s hat, get curious about it, and dig in to see if it’s real or not.”

Shonfeld takes a reporter’s editorial viewpoint to try and vet these companies to see if indeed there’s a lot of adoption or there’s a new technology that they’re pioneering. Once he’s happy about those trends, either based on his own judgement or because they’re getting market traction, then he brings it forth to others.

Artificial Intelligence – How Chatbots Effect User Experience

An emerging technology that’s still in the early stages are chatbots. A form of machine learning put into practice. Obviously, there’s speech to text, but it’s not just speech to text; algorithms are teaching computers how to have conversations in specific areas and subject domains. Think about customer service, where this has been happening for a long time. A bit frustrating at times, the automated system asks you a set of questions to get you where you need to be.

When technology can shortcut a lot of the other steps, that’s when it becomes useful. As of recently, you may have seen a lot of these bots in messaging applications.

Shonfeld says, “I think the reason that it’s really popular today, from the consumer side, is we’re past the social networking era. Everyone is on a social network. 1.8 billion people are on Facebook, or somewhere around that. The new interface seems to be in messaging, text, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp.”

The growth of the messaging apps has been even greater than social networking. Many of those platforms are trying to figure out how to put intelligence into the chat interface. The way to do that is with chatbots. You’re not only talking with your friends or your colleagues, but you can actually ask the system to help you with things. The system has a name and a personality. Shonfeld thinks we’re in the very early days of that. He believes in 18 months or so it’s going to be very different.

What Emerging Company Stands Out in the IoT?

Look at which industry segment you want to focus on. Start with the consumer and home, where there are companies we might be familiar with. Everything from the Nests of the world, which is now owned by Google, to Withings, which is now owned by Nokia. There are a lot of Kickstarter projects popping up and pushing forward in terms of automated homes to your wearable devices. On the industrial end, again, there are start-ups and large companies. GE, for instance, is making a big bet on the industrial IoT, IoT being the acronym for ‘internet of things.’ They have a whole unit called Predix – which is focused on the data side of that.

There are many interesting start-up technology companies. For instance, a company called H20.ai. They are a technology company that use open source technologies tied into machine learning. It’s available to enterprises to build their own platforms. Other interesting IoT companies, such as Dash Labs, is a connected car company. They have a device that you put into the OBD port underneath your steering wheel. Your mechanic plugs in his computer to see what’s wrong with your car. All of that data could be available to you, as a consumer, to help you take care of your car.

More importantly, there are interesting applications with a logistics lead. Trucking companies that keep all that data and then keep their trucks on the road longer. They are more efficient knowing when they should come in for maintenance. Insurance companies give incentives to consumers that use this device, as the application can monitor your driving.

C-Suite Emerging Technology Council

The C-Suite Network will soon be launching the C-Suite Emerging Tech Council with Traction Technology Partners. Thomas White asks, “What are people going to be doing there? How are we going to connect people who are members of the council with the folks that are leading this innovation world?”

There will be virtual sessions just like we’re doing right now, along with speakers on that session. Industry experts, analysts, and tech company founders will share their insights on emerging technology. There will be discussions on both the enterprise and consumer sides to get a good idea of how technologies work together.

Find out more about the C-Suite Emerging Technology Council by contacting Lindsey Hayzlett from our sales team, at lindsey.hayzlett@c-suitenetwork.com. She can give you information and answer any questions that you have.

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