Top 10 Takeaways From Day 1 at LAUNCH Festival 2016

“The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.” — William Gibson

I’ve heard this quote a few times now while at LAUNCH Festival and it really could be the theme of the event. So many great companies, founders, and people involved in creating and distributing the future are here in San Francisco this week that it is both intoxicating and overwhelming, in a good way. Not enough can be said about jason and all that he and his kick ass team at LAUNCH do for the startup community.

After day 1, it’s abundantly clear that Gibson’s quote above is true, so allow me to help push the distribution a little further. Here are my top 10 takeaways from Day 1 at LAUNCH Festival.

Will Marshall shows Jason one of Planet Labs’ 10x10x30 cm imaging satellites that cut the mass to 1/1000 of a traditional satellite.
  1. The 2016 world of startups and investing in them is not as bad as the media might want you to think. This was clear both Tuesday at the Angel Summit and yesterday morning in the first panel that included 3 of the top investors in the business in aileenlee, Jed Katz, and Hunter Walk. The bottom line is startups will still be getting funded this year, it will just be a smaller number of the better ones that do. If 2 startups in 2015 were getting a $2M pre at $8M valuation, now 1 is getting $1–4M at a $3–8M valuation with more focus on making sure they can go 24+ months until their next round. Great startups will still get funding, there just won’t be as many good ones getting funded.
  2. More interesting M&A in 2016 will be coming from companies with legacy products that are having trouble innovating rather than the Google’s of the world. Hunter Walk and jason specifically talked about Microsoft as an example of this with their acquisitions of Sunrise and Acompli.
  3. IBM Watson is a powerful analytics tool that startups need to be aware of and leveraging. At most conferences you go to the sponsors get some time on stage to mostly just push their product. Normally this is prime check up on email and Twitter time for me, but not at LAUNCH Festival. Both partner presentations from IBM and the McDonald’s were very interesting and got me thinking about both their businesses. I’m intrigued by the potential that Watson could provide and was impressed by the approach McDonald’s is now taking in focusing on their business as primarily a convenience one and not a food one. As a result they are investing in startups that are pushing the boundaries of convenience, for example in the delivery space.
  4. Udacity is rethinking the way you can “go to school to get a job.” Led by Sebastian Thurn a former Carnegie Mellon and Stanford professor, Udacity offers nanodegrees or courses that teach you the specific skills to go get a job in the tech world in as little as 6–9 months. As the cost of college tuition continues to increase at a pace like nothing else in the economy, I can see this continue to grow.
  5. In perhaps the talk that hammered home “the future is here…” more than any others, Will Marshall, CEO of Planet Labs, showed off their imaging satellites that are 1/1000 of the mass of traditional ones. It was amazing to see how their daily imaging of the entire Earth can show crop changes, deforestation, before/after disaster areas, and even man made islands being built piece by piece by the Chinese in the South China Sea. Also Will deserves a shout out for on 3 different occasions matching or besting Jason on stage with witty responses to questions. And in case you were wondering the over/under on finding a habitable place somewhere in space is 10 years. Which one are you taking?
  6. Joel Spolsky had one of my favorite quotes of the day: “The lines of code that we can script together now days to create the future is powerful.” He gave an example of leveraging pre-existing code and apps that allow you to mash together 7 things with say just 19 lines of code. Each of those 7 things didn’t exist 5 years ago. The future is here!!!
  7. Having never really gotten into the Foursquare or Swarm check-in “game,” I was blown away by Jeff Glueck’s presentation on the power of the data they are collecting. Did you know Foursquare was able to predict iPhone 6s sales better than Wall Street? Pretty cool stuff.
  8. I really enjoyed hearing Adam Nash talk about his unicorn Wealthfront, and how most people that are self-managing their money 99 times out of 100 decide to change their investment mix for the wrong reasons, normally because of one thing they hear or read. So while Wealthfront understands this key insight, they still have to allow their customers the ability to do make the change. As a result they have to walk a fine line to take measures to help their customers without controlling them. One way they’ve done this is not allow users to change their mix via their mobile app but rather they have to log in on the desktop. This seemed like a brilliant way to thread the needle to limit some of the impulse investment mix changes that might happen on the fly if you could whip out your phone and do it while listening to the wrong piece of news, etc.
  9. Ok moving on to the really fun and exciting stuff! 10 startups launched on stage, 1 amazing Launch alumni update, and 3 were plucked out of the 250 company demo pit and thrown on stage to present. The products and founders were diverse and you could see why each was interesting enough to catch Jason’s attention and be invited to his incubator or asked to present. Overall the energy and buzz in the building was extremely exciting to get to quickly learn about each company in just 4 minutes with an additional 4 minute Q+A with the incredible judges panels that included some serious fire power Gigi brisson, Jonathon Triest, Cyan Banister, Paul Judge, Ph.D., Mark Pesce, Jed Katz, Adeo Ressi, saar gur, Richard Kerby, Rachel Proffit, Jay Levy, Mitch & Freada Kapor, and Stewart Alsop. I learned a lot just listening to the questions the judges asked each founder.
  10. If I had to pick 3 of the startups from day 1 to invest in here were my 3 favorites. First I will “disqualify” Wrapify from my consideration for top 3 startups that presented on Day 1 since they were an alumni update that in just a year is growing at an incredible rate. CEO James Heller is one of those guys you meet and as Jason likes to say “has a big neon ‘Winner’ sign hovering over his head.” I would definitely invest in Wrapify if I had the money and opportunity.

#3 was StayWanderful, a new solution for hotels to grab back some of the $33 Billion in revenue they are losing having been locked into travel website deals that lock-in their pricing and take a 25% commission. What they do is add a widget to hotel websites that offer users unique “bonus offers” from local merchants related to travel — think free GoGo wifi on your flight, a 2 for 1 show ticket offer, or a free beer/appetizer at a nearby restuarant — which allows the hotel to incetivize a booking right on their site rather than back on one of the many travel search sites. (Which unebeknown to most are owned by just two companies, Expedia and Priceline.) I loved their energy and knowledge of their space as well as the “triple win” they’ve setup for the hotels, local merchants, and the travelers themselves.

#2 was Bloom, a new maternal health wearable device. Eric Dy was one of the better presenters of the day and they have a seasoned and experienced team that has developed an innovation that is literally 40 years overdue. The baby monitoring machine used in hospitals is 1970-era technology and yet somehow no one has evolved it. Enter Bloom with a wearbale and bluetooth enabled monitoring unit that allows a mother to track activity and stress, heart rate — both hers and baby’s, fetal movement and kicks, and contractions. As the father of 4 I know this product is going to be a success. Is their anything more important than the health of your baby? No.

#1 It feels weird ranking anything ahead of that last question of the most important thing in the world, but something as essential as the daily coffee routine reinvented is such a huge potential market that I have to give CafeX the nod in the top spot. Their robotic-barista-espresso-vending-machine is the future of coffee. I was able to try one after their presentation yesterday and their latte holds up against the coffee house lattes you know and love, but hate waiting in a 10–15 minute line for every morning. Imagine pushing a button to order your latte during your morning commute and being able to pick it up in less than 30 seconds from the CafeX stand. Best of all their unit economics are insane. 70% margins? $10,000 revenue per square foot? Sign me up for a franchise please!

That’s it from Day 1, can’t wait for Day 2! Let’s go!!!

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