2012 DCWeek’s keynote speakers dominated the Warner Theater stage on last Wednesday night, bringing undeniable energy (and admitted nerdiness) to downtown DC. Mayor Vincent Gray kicked off the event with a compelling speech about the rapidly evolving landscape for technologists and entrepreneurs in the nation’s capital. The vision he presented resonated with many in attendance: make DC the next big tech hub in the USA. The thousands who flooded the events over DCWeek’s nine day extravaganza leave little doubt that the DC Metro region is already alive with ambitious innovators and entrepreneurs.
The night’s keynote speakers were all impressive. Brian McClary, a social media analyst with Ford, explained that the key to successful marketing is to get people involved and emotionally connected to your product. For Ford, this meant creating a website where consumers could virtually build and customize their very own Ford Mustangs–from the trim to the rims. It seemed like a pretty simple concept, but as McClary noted, it got people to love Ford again at a time when they were losing brand recognition to competitors. McClary’s remarks made me think about people to love Ford again at a time when they were losing brand recognition to competitors. McClary’s remarks made me think about Praescient’s work, and consider how all companies, regardless of sector, must continually innovate and refine their marketing strategies.
A subsequent presentation from Emily Brew of the Girl Effect spoke to me on a different level. Founded on the idea that investment in the health, education, and well-being of girls in impoverished nations is the key to those states’ economic development and stability, the Girl Effect seeks to raise awareness and provide access to the resources that girls and their communities require. Those of us that have worked foreign policy, civil-military, or philanthropic endeavors know, as Brew made clear, that American innovation and technology are essential to the success of these vitally important efforts resources that girls and their communities require. Those of us that have worked foreign policy, civil-military, or philanthropic endeavors know, as Brew made clear, that American innovation and technology are essential to the success of these vitally important efforts.
My favorite speaker, however, was the charismatic CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick. Admitting that he started Uber so that he and “100 of his closest friends” in San Francisco could press a button and have a black towncar roll-up outside a club, Kalanick’s remarks offered a refreshing reminder that not all innovations need to be focused on solving the world’s hardest problems. Uber seems simple on its face: you download an app, send a text when you need a ride, and a towncar appears within minutes. The fact that Travis has two nuclear physicists and a PhD in mathematics on staff, however, suggests that the service isn’t quite as simple as it appears. And when he started the business, he likely had not anticipated the resistance he’d encounter from taxi unions.
Hearing Travis’s story made me reflect on the often disruptive role of technology. Praescient encounters this dynamic daily, as we help insert revolutionary analytic platforms into organizations that rely heavily on inferior systems supported by decades parties massively invested in the status quo. We believe that our elite government agencies deserve more. We may not offer sleek towncars to help our customers deliver their next Presidential Daily Briefing–we’re not that cool–but we can help make sure that the information being presented is accurate, timely, and a heck of a lot better than it was before we showed up.