It was a pleasure to attend the Fortune Brainstorm tech conference. After having the privilege of talking with a several technology leaders and sitting in on close to a dozen insightful sessions, I identified three themes.
We are in the age of individualism and expressive consumerism.
One of the broadest themes I've noticed in modern society is that people have become increasingly individualistic. In an era of widespread social comparison, people are grasping for the uniqueness that cements their identity. This trend has manifested itself in what people buy, as well as why they buy. In response, companies are finding that social principles and data have newfound importance. Rent the Runway stands out as a shining example of a company using data to tailor the experience and the subscription model to the customer. While personalized subscriptions may double margins, companies are equally conscious of honoring causes customers care about like sustainability and social responsibility.
- The less there is for people to touch, the more efficient the value creation is, which points me towards infrastructure and defensible enterprise tech.
- Stances (or lack thereof) on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues boast non-linear risk. A small social awareness misstep can have massive implications.
- Thoughtfully leveraging data is becoming table stakes, especially for consumer-facing companies.
Technical talent has never been more important.
Although there was not an overwhelming amount of direct discussion on tech talent, I found the theme hard to ignore. In my opinion, the bulk of the talent shortage stems from the amount of experience it takes to build modern technology. Unfortunately, we just have not seen a reduction in tech construction complexity commensurate with demand and expectations. More companies are thinking about data and scalability than ever before. Even companies that are ostensibly non-tech companies are trying to hire technical talent to spur digital transformation. What's more, there's an increased percentage of technical backgrounds in the c-suite these days.
- Institutionally-minded investors will find ways to invest earlier in tech talent for their portfolio to have proprietary access to downstream.
- No-code/low-code tooling is increasingly more interesting as a stop-gap.
- We’re in an era where a technical background is a big advantage in the c-suite.
Normalization of frontier tech.
It was encouraging to hear about the normalization of “AI”, which used to hog much more of the bleeding edge tech conversation. Tech execs have learned the implications around “AI” actually being data paired with statistical models, and are now grappling to understand the impact of deeper tech. Topics of interest on the frontier include but aren’t limited to autonomous vehicles, space, AR/VR (metaverse), and of course- web3/crypto. Generally speaking, technology leaders have a great deal of excitement around these topics but are still leaning on specialists to execute attempts at creating enterprise value.
- There generally seemed to be an under-appreciation for how much popular frontier tech originates from government funding; particularly in space
- We’re culturally and logistically far from a functional and expansive virtual world, but there seems to be collective agreement about its inevitability and opportunity.
- Most tech execs seemed to be interested in web3 in the fintech context. Moreover- the 'everyone is becoming a fintech' attitude was present.
- Web3 technology has the best odds of impact in new organizations or initiatives. Retrofitting is challenging culturally and technologically.
While there are several other large themes I saw, these are the ones that seem to be driving the largest impact. I'm eager to see how growing companies respond to the market in the backdrop of these themes.
Grateful to the Fortune team for hosting me!