The annual Wall Street Journal Tech Live Conference was held the week of October 21 in Laguna Beach California at the Montage Hotel.
The conference focuses on leaders in technology, venture capital and media. It is attended by a global audience of 500 people. On stage interviews, breakout focus sessions and networking events make up the conference activities.
This year’s version was focused on privacy, government regulation, the financial markets in relation to tech, the impact of AI and the entertainment industry’s tech driven disruption. These topics spanned the US and China.
Below are highlights of what some of the speakers covered.
Alit Pai, Chairman of the FCC discussed the need for transparency from internet companies in regards to content filtering decisions. He contrasted the highly regulated telecom companies vs. the unregulated internet companies. He stated that the difference leads to internet companies having a competitive advantage over regulated telecommunications and media companies. He also mentioned that the pattern of behavior in regards to Chinese companies spying shows their is too much risk to deploy Chinese 5G networks in the US. He thinks that the US should take a leadership role in 5G because of the adjacent technology innovation.
Mark Cuban, Tech Entrepreneur, Vijaya Gadde, CLO Twitter, Matt Prince, Co-Founder of Cloudflare, Jeff Glueck, CEO 4Square.
This was a town hall covering the regulation of tech companies. There was general agreement on the need for consistency vs. hand selected regulation. Gadde mentioned that Twitter is focused on stopping fraudulent content. Cuban thinks people should be verifiable on social sites and he discussed if China has too much influence on the NBA — he said no. The majority of the panel thinks companies shouldn’t wade into politics as it’s a trap that a company cannot get out of. Glueck said the US should regulate location tech. The topic of China exporting its values through products because of its purchasing power was discussed. Prince mentioned that every tech company is an international company subject to a wide variety of regulations. On the question of should big tech be broken up — Cuban stated regulation will stop innovation, and mentioned that the US no national AI policy unlike China and that we need one.
Marc Raibert, Founder of Boston Dynamics demonstrated a robot dog. 1000 will be produced and sold for construction site and oil refineries work. The dog autonomously navigates sites that humans wouldn’t want to go to because of safety concerns.
Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts is excited to blur the line between reality and gaming. In the future going for a run could give you power for an enduance game for example. He hopes to create games that are culturally impactful. He mentioned that pro athletes all complain about their rankings in the games. He spoke about college athlete’s rights around their names and images. He said video games are the biggest entertainment industry in the world at 2.6 billion players. Noted the need to ensure kids use the platforms responsibility and in a healthy manner.
Mike Schoepfer, CTO Facebook was asked about the backing out of support for Libra by companies that had been supporting the cryptocurrency. He said that 1.7 billion people don’t have banking acess and that’s worth trying to solve. He stated that it is the time to solve major issues such as end to end encryption. The consolidation of using all Facebook apps into one interface is a priority. He touched on political ads and the AI application of how those adds are reviewed, stating that Facebooks wants to do as little content moderation as possible.
Logan Green & John Zimmer, founders of Lyft reminded everyone that they beat expectations the last 2 quarters and said the company has never been stronger. They talked about how the financial market has shifted from high risk growth to value stocks. They announced plans to be EBITDA profitable in 2 years — which is accelerated 1 year ahead of plan and that they have $3 billion in bank. Their ambitions are moving the world from car ownership to transportation as a service. Cars are currently about 25% of a US household’s expense and they sit idle 95% of the time. They want to deliver a better experience at a economy of scale price vs retail. They are looking at a package transportation solution Which will include cars, bikes and scooters for a monthly fee — all controlled through the app. Lyft lost $1 billion before IPO — 2nd biggest pre-IPO loss in history — only surpassed by Uber. However, the market opportunity is the largest in history and they have 39% market share. They are also working to create a line of Lyft cars at airports for walk up service to elivate wait times and congestion.
Makan Delrahim, Assistant AG US Dept of Justice — Antitrust stated that any breakup of a tech company will be based on fostering innovation and competition. They are currently investigating some large tech companies. No decisions can be made until the investigations are done.
Jason Droege, VP Uber Everything pointed out that $7 billion has been invested in the delivery market. Currently over 50% of US delivery markets are profitable, however the company’s focus is on market share expansion vs. profitability right now. The market breaks down with Door dash having a 30% share, Uber Eats 25%, and Grub Hub 24%. However, customers are not sticky and share percentage can change via incentives. He feels that Uber must minimize the time between the restaurant and the consumer by developing a network of driver proximity. He stated that it is a highly demanded service from the younger demographic.
Aicha Evans, CEO Zoox — Zoox is focused on safety in transportation which will save many lives and driving efficiently in freeing up time spent commuting as well as cleaning up cities from inefficient use of space for unused vehicles. This will be driven by AI and robotics. They are developing a vehicle designed for autonomous use which will not be a traditional car with sensors.
Anousheh Ansari, CEO of Xprize Foundation is offering $100 million prize money for extracting gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. The goal is to get it out of atmosphere and turn it into polymers that can be used in a variety of products. Of the $100 million — 50% will be seed funding for solutions.
Drew Houston, co-founder of Dropbox discussed Microsoft’s bundling approach specifically around One Drive. Dropbox competes against the major platform companies. He doesn’t think the platforms should be able to operate in all of the verticals that they do. He mentioned that the platforms tax their competition in the app stores and then offer free alternatives. He said SoftBank has distorted the market with their massive infusions of capital.
Jeff Wilke, CEO Amazon Consumer is utilizing custom data to curtail their shopping experience only. He said the data is never sold or shared. He spoke about private label products and utilizing their search to prioritize their own brands. Amazon doesn’t prioritize private brands in search— they show up because of popularity. He discussed the effort to remove faulty products from the platform. Currently there are about 5 billion page changes a day on the platform and 5000 employees are chasing down and removing products that are fraudulent.
Sebastian Thrum, co- founder of Google X and CEo of Kitty Hawk showed a video of the Kitty Hawk electric aircraft. It takes off vertically but it flies as a plane and is extremely quiet. His goal is to eliminate traffic. The cost to operate a flight from Manhattan to JFK airport is 15 cents. The product is still in development and test mode.
Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz said he advises founders that Wall Street is fickle and not to run their business based on the public markets. He mentioned it’s a lot more difficult to be a public company due to regulatory expansion and thus it is sometimes better to stay private while carving out market share. He said Silicon Valley is a job generating machine and that the tech that comes out of it will be our best hope to solve real problems such as climate change. He’s not a fan of breaking up tech because of competition from China. He stated that culture is the behavior of the successful people within an organization.
Bob Iger, CEO of Disney described the streaming world as a frenzied situation. He is remaking his entire executive team and staff to be aligned with the disruption occurring in the industry. They are launching products under the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and Fox properties. He mentioned that Disney had all 5 top grossing movies this year. He said that the biggest risk in disruption is that investors judge you by traditional methods. He added that the comp package for executives needs to dramatically change. He also confirmed that they have blocked Netflix ads on their properties but not Apple, Amazon and Facebook ads as they view Netflix as a direct competior. He doesn’t put as much emphasis on data analytics in the creative process as Disney’s competitors. He said he will retire after 2021 and briefly talked about his friendship with Steve Jobs after the Pixar acquisition. He mentioned he thinks that if Steve Jobs was still alive the companies might have explored merging.
Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Slack spoke about their direct stock listing being down 45% since day one but that it is valued in the public market at 2x over the last private money raise. He said cheap private capital makes going public not attractive. Slack has 12 million daily users. He discussed Microsoft Teams competition and said that Microsoft views Slack as a major threat. He sees a complete elimination of email to a substantial reduction for Slack adopters that have a choice as a mechanism of communication. He mentioned that there is an email integration for Outlook and Gmail that allows you to live only in the Slack user interface.
Videos of the event interviews can be found here: link