5 takeaways from Collision 2018 as it prepares to come to Canada


As Collision Conference 2018 wrapped up in New Orleans, Jazz Festival revelers stayed over the weekend to enjoy the city that has been host to North America’s fastest-growing tech conference for the last three years. Created by the team behind Web Summit, since its inception, Collision has grown 10x to 25,000 attendees from more than 120 countries. Next year the event moves to Toronto, which will be host to an anticipated 90,000 incoming executives from the world’s fastest-growing startups, alongside leading investors and media, for the next three years.

Many Canadian startups are already preparing and thinking about next year, but in this roundup, we’ll summarize the highlights for the conference — which had a notable Canadian presence — that took place from April 30 to May 3, 2018.

Diversity in tech is on the agenda

The Women in Tech Initiative at Web Summit gave away free tickets to increase women’s attendance, and Nicola Lyons, head of the Women in Tech initiative, said they have seen a “sharp increase” in women’s participation. “Although we know we can do better to further improve the gender ratio, we have worked hard to get to 35 percent women speakers at Collision 2018.”

Meanwhile, a conversation with Inkwell founder Manon DeFelice addressed the question of whether social movements can inspire diversification in the VC industry. She talked about how there are already over 700 founders who have taken the ‘Founders For Change’ pledge.

“What’s exciting is that diversity does lead to profitability. You can look at the McKinsey studies or the ones by Harvard Business Review for proof… It’s not just diversity in gender or in race, but also diversity of thought… (You have to ask)…do you have people that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds? … Really diversifying on all cylinders is super important.”

DeFelice is a former Manhattan DA in the sex crimes unit, who launched the Inkwell staffing agency because she said she saw many women leaving the workforce when they had kids. “This idea that you either had to work full-time in an office or not work at all, those options just didn’t work for a lot of people… we created Inkwell to start this third option, for senior-level talent to do really interesting work on a flexible basis. We’re trying to harness that untapped workforce of talent.”

The privacy dilemma

James Steyer, American child advocate and founder of Common Sense Media, and Tristan Harris, co-founder of the center for Humane Technology, are co-founders of the ‘The Truth About Tech’ campaign that aims to put pressure on the tech industry to make its products, especially those for children, less intrusive and manipulative.

“I absolutely believe that the work we’re working on is in the best interests of the tech industry here and globally,” said Steyer. “The public aren’t necessarily worried about their privacy rights and other stuff, but over time, the public comes to understand how this works. The tech industry, by following and being regulated in a thoughtful, responsible, common sense way…(will do better) in the longer term.”

Harris also discussed the ethical issues of social networking corporations that have access to so much of our data.

“It is an existential threat to mankind to have a supercomputer wired up to two billion people’s brains with asymmetric knowledge about how to exploit them with a business model that enables anyone to do that at scale,” he said. “When advertising with Facebook and using AI…(It’s like you have) the psychotherapist who’s listening to two billion people’s’ conversations, knows the intimate details of your mind, knows how to manipulate you, and then uses 2 billion people’s information to predict what will perfectly manipulate everyone else.”

He gave the example of FBLearner Flow, which learns loyalty prediction and when you will change your opinions about your loyalty to a certain brand, product, or service. “It knows when you’re depressed before you know you’re about to be depressed. It can predict that because it knows more about you than you know about you.”

Scaling with a larger enterprise

Ba Blackstock, the Canadian founder of the popular Bitmoji app, talked about his app users’ online identities and how they communicate using cartoon as a universal language. Since starting Bitmoji, he’s found that their app is surprisingly is cross-generational, especially great for long-distance dating, and is ‘Mom-friendly’ too.

Since Bitmoji was acquired by Snap in 2017 for $64.2 million USD, he said they have even more opportunities to work on powerful communications modalities such as the avatar. His advice to startups with a big vision? Don’t fear joining forces with a larger company that has more resources than you do. Get on board and grow with them.

The future of money with cryptocurrency

Speaking at a press conference, Joe Lubin, Canadian entrepreneur and co-founder of Ethereum, said he thinks money is constantly evolving in ways we might not expect: “Money was invented to facilitate barter, and as we move into a world in which we can tokenize many different things, whether it’s a song, or a volt, or kilowatt hours, or access to labor, we can now exchange things in trustworthy automic slots where there is no counterparty risk, and we’re exchanging digitally scarce things that have value,” he said. “…And so in these kinds of transactions, there will be no need for the facilitation of money.”

“There will probably be decentralized databases that are national in scope that are potentially run by central banks.”

Lubin said he foresees the emergence of more issue-focused ‘local villages’ that rally around plans to achieve specific goals and utilize tokens as the nature of money evolves. For example, he says that some groups may align around a vision to cure cancer, while others want to support a musical band, and they can issue their own tokens, trade their own tokens and incentivize people to work for the tokens because it has inherent value to them.

Lubin added that he expects the technology used to issue a nation’s money to evolve, comparing it to past bartering like trading goods into a paper monetary system. “There will probably be decentralized databases that are national in scope that are potentially run by central banks…and there will be many situations where we’re just exchanging different kinds of tokens for specific contexts.”

AI’s potential to impact businesses

During one panel, Roy Pereira, CEO of Zoom.ai, talked about the benefits of AI. “I think of it as more of an augmented intelligence, where AI is anticipating and interjecting at the right moments to say, ‘Let me do that for you’.”

The conversation indicated that AI could intersect with emotional intelligence, as Pereira spoke about how AI can provide useful contextual information. For example, you can ask an AI-driven assistant to help brief you for your meeting. So, rather than Googling a person to learn about them, the assistant will provide you with facts and give you a personality snapshot, plus provide advice on how to communicate with them to help facilitate a better conversation.

Musician Chris Leacock (aka Jillionaire of the group Major Lazer) said he sees AI as a powerful tool for artists, and he talked about the potential for “using artificial intelligence to determine new markets, or to determine how well a song will perform, how well will it do at radio, how well will it do online, and so on.”

Collision is coming to Toronto for many reasons

Brian Halligan, CEO of the marketing automation company Hubspot, called Collision a “beacon” for startups and creatives. “I like the vibe here and I’ve been through the entrepreneurship process and built a decent sized company myself,” said Halligan, who is considering opening a second headquarters for his Boston-based company in Toronto. He echoed the sentiment that Collision is making a good move and that Toronto is the right choice for the conference’s move.

Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit’s founder, explained the move to a new city every few years. “We are quite interested in new and great locations. It’s a very unusual model. For example, CES has spent 53 years in Vegas. The World Economics Forum will have its 50th year in Davos. South By Southwest has spent 34 years in Austin. So it is counter-intuitive, but I think our attendees like it.”

“From the very start, Canada, at the federal level all the way down to the city level, were very clear that what’s of interest to them is the lasting impact of the event.”

Toronto had large delegations at Web Summit and Collision for the last several years, and the Web Summit team has taken note: “Toronto led Silicon Valley in tech recruitment for the first time last year,” said Cosgrove. “Google’s godfather of AI, Geoffrey Hinton, is not based out of Mountain View, he’s based out of Toronto. University of Waterloo, University of Toronto are churning out incredible graduates. There’s a lot of companies being started in Toronto. There’s over 400,000 people employed in tech companies there already.”

Cosgrave also noted that there is a population of around 80 million people who live within a one-hour flight of Toronto. “The number of companies that have large offices there include Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Microsoft, the list just goes on and on. We’ll be working closely with all those companies, so I think we’ll have a tremendous impact.”

Cosgrave said Toronto could hope to gain about $147 million over the three years when the conference is slated to run.

“From the very start, Canada, at the federal level all the way down to the city level, were very clear that what’s of interest to them is the lasting impact of the event, that the event can provide a platform to Canadian companies, and that the event can act as a magnet that brings companies from all over the world to Toronto, that might end up doing business with Canadian companies, that might end up setting up offices in Canada, investors that might invest in Canadian companies.”

The Zoom.ai team, who works out of the OneEleven hub in Toronto, attended both Web Summit in 2017 and Collision this year.

“As a startup, the Collision Conference organizers take great pains to make sure you’re connected to the right people and will give you great exposure,” said CEO of Zoom.ai, Roy Pereira. Pereira and his team have had great success at conferences, having raised funding after meeting one of their investors, Evolution Equity, in Portugal during Web Summit 2017, which led to their latest $3.1 million round.

By the end of the event, it seemed there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the event coming to Toronto in 2019.

Feature photo via Twitter


Amanda Connon-Unda

Amanda Connon-Unda is VP of marketing at Nrwl.io, a front-end engineering and technical transformation consultancy that specializes building products for developers and training enterprise development teams in Angular, so they can build better software and achieve their broader transformation missions. Amanda has a proven track record as a marketing and culture leader, and at Nrwl.io, she works with engineering consultants who partner with clients in the telecom, banking and aviation space to help them build software like Google does, at a large scale.

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