Sean Parker and Jim Breyer Predict the Industries Social Media Will Reinvent Next
“What comes after the revolution?” was the central question of the final session of the three-day Techonomy 2011 conference in Tucson, Ariz., this week, where conference host David Kirkpatrick asked Sean Parker of Founders Fund and Jim Breyer of Accel Partners to predict for an audience of tech industry leaders how the world will be different three to five years from now.
Their wide-ranging conversation gave the audience a chance to witness firsthand Parker’s extraordinary ability to expound with apparent expertise on any subject, and to glean what’s currently capturing the attention of Breyer, Forbes’ #1 ranked tech investor. (Contemporary Brazilian art, e-learning, and the arts and crafts market are on his radar.) Breyer has been a lead investor in Facebook, Brightcove, and Etsy, among dozens of other successful tech enterprises. Parker, infamous following Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of him in The Social Network, created Napster and Plaxo, helped build Facebook, and is invested in Spotify, Votizen, and Causes.
The two visionaries were in agreement that technology will continue to empower citizens, but whether businesses like Facebook will be able to avoid bureaucratization or how governments might use social data to monitor citizens remains in question. Parker, who said he’s “not a huge believer in direct democracy,” is exploring ways to leverage social capital to aggregate political power, effect social change, and influence governance. He predicted that voters wielding influence on politicians through social networks could reduce the value of campaign dollars, resulting in the election of lesser-funded politicians.
But it’s not just citizens who will take better advantage of the medium. Breyer gave evidence—from social-network-enabled crime fighting in Brazil’s favelas, to global skilled-laborer jobs training, to the 100,000 students in Stanford’s online machine learning class—of the expanding trend for governments, universities, and businesses to bring social media to bear on social progress.
His firm has already backed higher-education distance-learning companies in China and India, and is looking at others in Brazil. He’s also seeking ways for US professors and teachers to reach tens if not hundreds of thousands of students to build the skilled workforce the nation needs. “There’s absolutely no doubt in the next 5-7 years…the Stanfords, the Harvards, the MITs, as well as many other great US research universities, will be disseminating important content online at a fraction of what it costs students today to go to Cambridge or Palo Alto or other physical campuses,” Breyer said.
Parker and Breyer were also in agreement that social technology is catalyzing complete reinventions of entire industries such as media, entertainment, music, and art. If a media company executive is not spending several hours per day thinking about how to deliver entertainment experiences online, he’s not doing his job, said Breyer. “The social networks allow a degree of delivery and consumer experience that simply wasn’t there before…. There’s a lot of talk about social television, there are a lot of startups focused on it, and it is a huge opportunity. The ability for broadcast networks to understand in detail what to serve to the customer, and do that in a one-to-one way is extraordinary.” Topline entertainment companies might continue to grow, but fundamental new models will erode their margins, Breyer predicted.
Parker said he’s watched for 10 years as the four major record labels “have systematically failed to embrace any kind of interesting new models.” He accused the labels of being stuck in a “storefront mentality”—whether a physical store or iTunes—where customers make decisions absent any social context. “You can’t see what your friends are listening to, you can’t listen to what they’re listening to without first buying.” The music publishing industry is poised for a significant comeback, Parker said.
Breyer said other industries are ripe for reinvention too. Take art, for instance. “There are dozens of fundamental, wonderful Brazilian artists. There is no way to get to them in the U.S. without a very expensive dealer network where dealers often take half of the proceeds. Why in the world is that sustainable and why should that occur? If I like [Brazilian artist] Adriana Varejao, why isn’t it possible for me online to stay in touch with that artist, have other Brazilian artists surfaced, and not have these extraordinarily expensive middlemen who break down the economics of what an artist should receive?”
In fact, the “craft model” of self-employment in the arts is emerging off the radar of the national jobs policy conversation, Breyer said. He’s meeting college students who are deciding not to go to [work at] Facebook or Google, but to start their own craft- or social-oriented businesses that reach customers through nontraditional means, enabled by services like Square, Etsy, and AirBnB. “We’re seeing an explosion in that kind of employment. People are working from home or in small offices. It’s happening in the U.S. as well as China and Brazil and many emerging markets in a much more profound way than people think,” Breyer said.
“Could this flattening of the model of everything have a positive macroeconomic effect even on unemployment?” Kirkpatrick asked. Breyer is optimistic. The Etsy sellers aren’t just in Palo Alto, Cambridge, or Manhattan, he said. They’re in Bentonville, Ark., in the shadows of Wal-Mart, and all over the world, in areas as diverse as rural Brazil. “We’re trying to invest in companies that can make a huge, profound difference, not just from an investment and shareholder perspective 5-7 years from now, but when we look back have had a true global impact in terms of creating jobs and bettering the lives around them. And that is happening.” An appropriate endnote to a defiantly optimistic conference.
This entry was posted on 11/20/2011 by beckersbest. It was filed under Economy, Sales, Technology and was tagged with Accel Partners, David Kirkpatrick, Facebook, Jim Breyer, Parker, Sean Parker, Social Network, Votizen.