Quick Notes From Laguna Beach (WSJ Live 2016)

As if working in venture capital wasn’t already a great job, my colleagues from my venture partner role at GGV Capital surprised me with an extra ticket to this week’s WSJ Live event down in Laguna Beach. It was also great to see some of my WSJ reporter-friends like Rolfe, Geoffrey, and others at work — though didn’t get to bump into Mims or Scott Austin, sadly! Despite some weather and Presidential tarmac delays, I made it down for all of Tuesday’s programming, ran into old friends, and made some new ones in a gorgeous setting — have never been to Laguna before, and even folks from LA commented that they often leave their own paradise to jet down to see the coastline a bit further south.

With a few days separation now, I wanted to capture the top three takeaways I gleaned from the event:

1/ The Future Bundling In Content Delivery Networks: This isn’t a topic I pay close attention to because my media sources are pretty narrow and defined, but I know for the majority of 330M Americans, they consume tons of media through cable networks, satellite, social networks, and more. The WSJ folks had sessions with AT&T and Time Warner to discuss their merger and new offering, as well as execs from Facebook to chat about how they balance self-expression against sharing too much sensitive information (such as questionable live video feeds). What occurred to me in overhearing these chats is that, when you step away from all the verticalization and mergers of carriers and growth of social networks, what we see is that the tech incumbents (FB, AMZN, GOOG) and traditional carriers (ATT, VZW) are on a collision course to deliver us content in a bundle. And, they could compete so much that it drives the price down so far, it will create huge new markets for new ad models and networks. Absolutely huge. It’s not a sector I know well, but there’s no doubt about the size of attention and money at play. (Personally, I think Amazon is in the strongest position with a strong Prime membership base that they can shove more services into and distribute Echo in the home to penetrate further.)

2/ The WSJ Audience Is Very Curious About China: From about 8am to 5:30pm, minus lunch, assume there was about four (4) hours of chatting with guests on stage. I’d say that of that total chat time, about 20% of it somehow touched on what’s happening in China. Tuesday kicked off with a 1:1 session with Jean Liu of Didi (see below), ended with a fun panel on financial markets with Benchmark’s Bill Gurley and Fang Bao of China Renaissance, who touched on the desire among investors in China to invest outside the country for RMB diversification, and in the middle, included a discussion with GGV’s Jenny Lee (who I am very lucky to work with) on the global ambitions of large technology companies in China (expect more overseas acquisitions for talent, brand, and chip- and machine-level innovation), as well as how it’s really business model innovation that’s driving the disruptive companies that are emerging from China — business models which are borne out of a different environment given the scale of China’s domestic market. The WSJ team organized a very tight schedule, so I’m guessing this was a carefully considered editorial decision to draw out new perspectives on China for their audience. In fact, this interest in China is one of many reasons I was excited about the opportunity to be a venture partner with GGV, as I can be slightly more exposed (second-hand, of course) to what is happening across the Pacific and learn from those who know it well.

3/ The Definition Of A “World-Class Operator.” You may have heard someone mention this adjective to describe a tech exec – “he or she is a world-class operator.” It’s a term that can just be thrown around without stopping to think about what that actually means. After I saw Jean Liu from Didi speak, it hit me — SHE is a world-class operator. She is someone who can natively operate in two large foreign markets, handle press, deal with employees, recruit execs, strike deals, and seamlessly move between extremely dissimilar economic and cultural environments without skipping a beat. So the next time you hear someone brag about so-and-so being a “world-class operator,” make sure that person can actually operate like Liu.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2017 Semil Shah.

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