Early Tuesday morning, I hopped in a cab and headed down to the W Chicago—Lakeshore for Federated Media’s Signal Chicago Conference. The event brought together more than 200 of the top minds in digital technology to discuss the theme ‘Marketing in Real-Time Conversation.’
I settled into the hotel’s 33rd floor conference room and spotted John Battelle, a visionary in the world of technology, Federated Media’s Executive Chairman, and the day’s MC. Everyone took their seats, the lights dimmed and the show began.
For roughly the next three hours, the best and brightest in the business spoke in 10-minute increments about new ideas, case studies and the state of the industry. It was riveting. A 90-minute lunch was followed with the same for the next three hours.
Here were a few gems from the startup world.
Entrepreneur after entrepreneur took to the stage to discuss new companies and how their ideas will change the future. The first to catch my eye was Bob Lisbonne, CEO of Luminate, a company that allows consumers to scroll over images and then link the image to a series of commerce sites to buy items contained in the image.
“From 1996 to 2011, so much changed on the Internet, but images have stayed the same,” said Lisbonne, adding that images are now a huge part of today’s society. “Ten percent of all the photos ever taken were taken in the last 12 months.”
The technology not only allows consumers to buy items embedded in the image (a hat on a woman, for example), it also helps identify geographic information, and even correlates purchasable musical tracks to photos of artists.
The next company to steal my attention was Shopkick. Co-founder and CEO Cyriac Roeding explained why location check-in apps aren’t enough for retailers to secure sales. Instead, “the app has to facilitate commerce,” he told the audience.
That is exactly what Shopkick does. Since its launch in August 2010, the company has partnered with retailers such as Target and Macys to place a hardware-honing device into stores. Consumers download the Shopkick app, and when they physically enter the store, the device (a small white box, not very noticeable) sends a message to the consumer’s smart phone. From there, consumers can redeem discounts and rewards in the form of ‘kicks’ at the register.
“The number one challenge for every retailer is foot traffic,” explained Roeding. “No one gives rewards for visiting. This is a rewards program for walking into a store.”
The idea has taken off and so far Shopkick is in 250 malls and 3,000 large stores.
James Gross is another entrepreneur who grabbed my attention. A former Federated Media staffer, Gross founded Percolate earlier this year as a site to help consumers categorize, or ‘curate,’ their news. For news junkies like myself, this is a perfect solution to a massive problem.
Case and point: I receive daily hard copies (I know, I’m ancient) of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and spend at least one hour per day scanning headlines. I then spend hours surfing Internet news sites for interesting reads, not to mention Facebook and Twitter feeds. Percolate searches for the news you want without all the work. You can train the site to hone in on what you think is interesting and then flag topics that grab you—thereby creating your own personal news feed. For a journalist: genius.
At this point, I started thinking…with all these startups and palpable energy, is there really a double dip recession coming down the pipeline?
According to Liz Ross, North American CEO of Mediabrands Ventures, the answer is no. When asked earlier in the day by Deanna Brown, CEO of Federated Media, for her general take on the economy, Ross said, “I think it will hold steady. I don’t think there will be double dip or triple dip. I think it is holding flat, but I do feel that the holiday season will be a huge indicator.”
Just before lunch, art collector and New York City gallery owner Jen Bekman took to the stage. She founded 20x200 in 2007 by mixing her love of the Web (she’s a former Netscape employee) with art. The site sells art pieces ranging in price from $20 to $10,000. According to Bekman, more than 140,000 prints have been sold to date.
How is that possible?
“We do it all by newsletters; e-mail is the killer app,” she said.
Bekman writes each newsletter, which creates an authentic feel to the business—something clients love.
“I still get e-mails from clients asking me to change their address,” she said. And instead of being insulted, Bekman takes it as a compliment that customers feel connected with the owner and the brand.
The last startup to catch my eye was AdKeeper. This is a company that allows Internet users to click on an ad and store it for later viewing. Scott Kurnit, famous for founding About.com, founded the company in 2010 and said it is going very well.
“The amount of kept ads are amazing; people love it,” he said. “We have a 4.6 percent click rate.”
When asked by Federated Media’s Brown why he decided to get back into the game again after such success with About.com, he replied, “It’s more fun to drive the bus than to whisper in the bus driver’s ear.”
Spoken like a true entrepreneur.