Launch Festival 2013

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This past week, I attended Launch Festival 2013 held at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse off 8th street. With over 300 new companies, distinguished speakers like Chamath and David Sacks, and over 5800+ people, the event boasts itself as the largest of its kind in Technology. It certainly did live up to its hype. The guy adjacent to my table was a Russian-born, Canadian entrepreneur who had just flown in from Toronto to show his new Cover, a crowd-published social magazine that lets you see a digest of the top stories about any topic across the world-wide web. On the other side was a Swedish orthopedic surgeon and the founder of STD Triage, a mobile app that allows ordinary people to send in pictures of personal skin issues anonymously to some 30 or more dermatologists for immediate consultation right through their phones. The skin-app guy had just made a permanent move to San Francisco and upon asking him his thoughts on his new home he replied, “…what I get done in one week, it’d take me a whole year in Sweden”.

I studied the new startup ecosystem thoroughly at Launch. Perhaps the most robust theme, sticking out like a splinter, is that “Data is King”. The value propositions many platforms are giving to their specific customer segments are stemming well beyond just a wider distribution or making a specific task easier or faster. Data, numbers, and visual analytics on both the user and their respective friends/customers/employees/buyers/readers – you name it-  are being engineered into the core architecture of every platform. It’s blazing way for a unique and evolved user experience. It begs one to ask the question of where the internet is truly going. Experts have ambivalently debated the mantras of Web 3.0 for some time now. If you ask me, the cardinal direction has its branches delving into individuality. Every person is different– each with their own exclusive tastes and desires. The path forward wants to celebrate this difference. Categories, titles, and judgements seldom do justice to us, and this all provocatively suggests that providing services and goods at the individual level with a very personal, idiosyncratic user experience will be the theme of decade.

This brings me to my second take-away: a good UI/UX can take you a long way. The fact of the matter is that the internet is still inherently ugly. A strong push to make it prettier and easier on the eyes is a leading strategy of most startups now. To be honest, many ideas at Launch weren’t really all that novel, and the only real value being echoed by founders was that it looks and feels better than their “out-dated” competitors. It’s analogous to that enveloping magic of the “new girl” at school, that same rush spills over to the newest, prettiest platform on the market.

Furthermore, healthcare is an untapped market. I can’t tell you how saturated the consumer or enterprise space is getting. An event app here or a daily-deals travel site there were far too ubiquitous in the demo-pit. The truth of the matter is that its easy to get into the space. Any random kid, from the most obscure city can come up with an idea within these realms, and thus the competition is extraordinarily intense, allowing for only the most neoteric ideas to come out as winners.  Healthcare, on the other hand, was practically non-existant. Why? It’s because of a high barrier to entry. Most people aren’t doctors. Most people don’t know the best way to create, pitch, or deliver a new device that tracks or indexes the daily data of an average consumer’s sodium-potassium levels (this was the only other health-care startup besides STD Triage in the entire Festival). I’ve come to the conclusion that in our generation some of the biggest problems and issues in healthcare  will be solved by MD’s that don’t really practice medicine at all and who have absolutely no interest in working repetitive lives at Kaiser or a DNA-sequencing lab.

Lastly, move to San Francisco. The whimsical promise and allure of tomorrow’s innovation, the self-less exchange of ideas, and its breeding of world-class entrepreneurs is incessant as ever.



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