June 12, 2014

5 Big Takeaways from Southland 2014

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Welcome to Southland, the conference focused on disrupting all things that disrupt.

Pando’s “gritty reboot of a tech conference” wrapped up a wildly colorful and insightful three days of innovation and discussion in Nashville, with more than a few powerful takeaways. It’s hard not to when you put former Vice President Al Gore, Box CEO Aaron Levie, and potential new PayPal president Bill Ready on stage with a little whiskey (especially considering Ready’s interview came less than 24 hours after the resignation of previous PayPal president David Marcus, who subsequently canceled his appearance at the conference).

While we slowly emerge from the haze of hot chicken, live music, and startup cultivation, here’s five key conversations that resonated above the bourbon and blaring horns of High & Mighty Brass Band.

1. Everyone is worried about online security

Gore made the biggest headlines of the week when he said Edward Snowden revealed far more serious violations than the ones he committed and ultimately provided an “important service” by unveiling how far the NSA had gone. The former vice president said these security concerns and the rise of a “stalker economy” that collects data on consumers has “hacked democracy.”

“If any of us are put in a  position where we have to self censor, and think twice about what we write in an email, or what we click on for fear that somebody reading a record of this may misunderstand why we looked up some disease or something… that kills democracy,” he said.

The shift — and more importantly, the challenge — moving forward is finding ways to restore the public’s trust in the Internet. Levie furthered Gore’s words, saying the NSA’s actions jeopardize the global economy as a whole. The focus of his and other businesses — at least in enterprise software — has now become addressing those concerns.

“The entire point of the Internet is that it’s a global platform. If you can’t have an open Internet to connect the world, you’re going to dramatically halt the progress of the economy,” Levie said. “The shift now is can you build and buy enterprise software for great user experiences with the same security and stability of the legacy platforms. That is going to take discipline and vigor.”

2. Despite massive valuations, we’re not in a tech bubble

Outside of security, Southland was very much about the money. As in there’s a lot of it being thrown around in Silicon Valley. Thomas Laffont of Coatue, one of the top hedge funds on Wall Street, provided great insight into tech investing and dismissed the idea of a bubble on the heels of Uber’s eye-popping $18 billion valuation. Laffont explained that the companies receiving massive numbers, like Uber and Snapchat, have sound business models and are truly disrupting key global industries. He also downplayed the skepticism of high-priced acquisitions from companies like Facebook, saying track record and access to information (see “stalker economy” above) earns them the benefit of the doubt.


Thomas Laffont talking with Sarah Lacy.

That said, Braintree CEO Bill Ready was adamant that startups not get caught in the trap of high valuations, which could ultimately deter some innovation. “High valuations make it that much more difficult to execute for investors,” Ready said. “I don’t think we’re in a bubble, but it gets pretty frothy when so many people are blowing smoke up your pants telling you how great you are.”

3. Everyone is catching “entrepreneurial fever”

Speaking of Ready, the Kentucky native produced the quote that is pretty much the tag line for Southland: “Innovation is happening in a lot of places outside Silicon Valley.”

Ready was followed on stage by John James, CEO of Country Outfitter, who is well on his way to building a $1 billion E-commerce business … in Arkansas. Phil Dumas of UniKey, which is based in Florida, joined investor John Frankel to discuss the “Shark Tank effect.” Ratings continue to rise for the TV show that puts entrepreneurship in front of a national audience.

“Entrepreneurship is going mainstream,” Frankel told TechnologyAdvice. “We have really moved from entrepreneurs being viewed as someone between jobs to entrepreneurs being a truly valuable part of society. It’s a huge shift and a growing trend, and it’s happening everywhere.”

A great example of that message was located around the corner in Southland Village, where 40 startups companies were invited to demo their product for attendees and investors. The companies represented eleven different states and two foreign countries.


4. Authenticity and conviction matter

Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn said it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, running a company is flat out terrifying. He and the other featured guests offered great advice on building, growing, and managing a company. Some of the best messages were:

“It’s important to know exactly the type of business you’re building, then work backwards from there. Building the foundation has to come first.” — Aaron Levie

“The trials that you go through and the blessings you receive are one and the same. They’re all lessons.” — Tristan Walker of Walker & Co.

“The biggest enemy in life is ourselves. You have to come to terms with yourself.” — Dunn

“You can’t lead without authenticity.” — Dunn

5. Our phones are filled with mediocre superpowers

Sarah Lacy ended each interview by asking “What would be your mediocre superpower?” She defined this as a superpower that has limitations. James wishes he could teleport to any sporting event he was watching on TV, while Dunn wants the ability to make his niece instantly fall asleep whenever she starts crying. Levie’s, however, was the best.

“I’ve got apps that do all that. It’s called your phone, and it’s full of mediocre superpowers. I mean really, you can press a button now and a car appears to pick you up. We’re done, guys.”

It is indeed an interesting thought. Tech and innovation are truly changing our daily lives.

This was just a snippet of the fun from Southland. Check out our live blog from the event to see everything else you may have missed, and let us know if you attended and what your takeaways were.