Software is Also Eating the South and Why You Should Care

When DIG SOUTH launched on July 4, 2012, our goal was simple: plant the flag as the South’s first and foremost event elevating the digital economy.

We invited leading brands and promising startups from across the region — Sparc, Blackbaud, Benefitfocus, PeopleMatter, RedHat, CNN, Coca-Cola — to join reps from global brands like Facebook, Twitter, Google, IBM, Fast Company, Inc and others to discuss innovation in technology, marketing, media, entertainment, business, entrepreneurship and other verticals. And since that auspicious launch, our mantra has been “Succeed in the South.”

But, what was the deeper motivation? Simple again: My wife Sunny and I want our two kids, Stella and Garrison, to have the same opportunities to launch scalable tech and creative industry startups at home as children raised in other regions of the U.S. We believe that the best way to elevate the South’s digital economy is to invite the world’s leading brands and investors to join us in Charleston and discuss ways to connect, collaborate, raise capital and do business together — on the spot.

Still skeptical that the South can compete with the rest of the global economy? I’ve got three things to tell you.

#1: Software is eating the world

I borrow this phrase from a Wall Street Journal article authored by Netscape co-founder and Groupon and LinkedIn investor Marc Andreessen. Few experts argue with Andreessen’s argument that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software-based companies are poised to take over large swaths of the economy. As evidence, he cites dozens of industries now dominated by software companies: the world’s largest bookseller, Amazon; the largest video service, Netflix; the dominant music companies, iTunes, Spotify and Pandora; the movie production company, Pixar; and, the largest direct marketing platform, Google. The list goes on: Uber, Facebook, no matter their output, they’re all software companies.

Point #2: Code or die

Digital economy jobs pay much higher average wages than manufacturing and service industry jobs. It follows that if we want to earn competitive wages in the global marketplace and be able to do so from the South, and if we want that capital to largely remain in the region, we must focus on creating, incubating and attracting knowledge economy companies to headquarter here. It’s a guarantee that most of the new wealth generated in the U.S. this century will flow to scalable software companies.

Point #3: There are only five unicorns in the South (yes, I’m a grown man who loves unicorns)

Unicorns are private companies valued at $1 billion or more. The billion-dollar technology startup was once a myth. Today, we’re teeming in them, fueled by the next generation of disruptive technology. However, according to Fortune.com last January, there were 174 unicorns in U.S. — 64 in California and a grand total of five across the South, including Florida-based Fanatics (e-commerce) and Magic Leap (augmented reality), Kabbage (automated lending platform) in Georgia, Red Ventures (marketing software) in North Carolina, and Mozido (mobile payments) in Texas.

Unicorns are the companies marching toward dominating the industries of the future. We have a choice to make in the South: we can settle for employment at a company where the bulk of the profits are sent out of the region; or, we can incentivize, nurture and grow our own unicorns and control our destiny. It’s time for the South to climb in the digital saddle. Operation Unicorn is underway.

Stanfield Gray is the founder and CEO of DIG SOUTH, the South’s #1 tech and creative industry event. Attend the DIG Conference & Trade Show, DIG Demo & Venture Day plus Shindigs, this April 26–28 at the Charleston Gaillard Center. Visit digsouth.com to register and learn more.

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