By Mike Montgomery
I recently moderated a sold-out panel on disruptive tech at Runway, a San Francisco-based accelerator. Runway occupies a massive space next to Twitter on Market Street, home to more than 60 startups focused on, as you would expect, disruptive tech.
My panel consisted of three heavy hitters: Andy Grignon, Will Pryor, and Larry Downes.
Andy Grignon was a member of the team behind the first iPhone. He’s a great storyteller — one story involved the decidedly NSFW nickname Steve Jobs gave him, a nickname Grignon embraced. (If you’re curious what that nickname was, CLICK HERE. Post-Apple, Grignon founded Quake Labs, a startup focused on making simple programming available to the masses.
Will Pryor, a senior engineer at Skycatch, was sitting in for CEO Christian Sanz, who was mining — literally and figuratively — for more biz offsite with a new customer in the mining business. Why the mining business? Because Skycatch makes drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which can offer construction managers a safer, and less expensive, way to map, explore and monitor progress. It can also — as attendees of last year’s TechCrunch Disrupt can attest — deliver tacos a la the 2012 hoax you may remember called Tacocopter.
Larry Downes, my third esteemed panelist, is an ahead-of-the-curve thinker on important tech issues. That description isn’t hyperbole. Downes wrote a book called Unleashing the Killer App, and he wrote it in 1998 — nearly a decade before the iPhone revolutionized our lives with its App Store. His new book, Big Bang Disruption, focuses on strategies for surviving and thriving in the digital era, whether you’re a startup or an incumbent.
During the panel, Downes shared some of the pearls of his book, including how video games like Pong disrupted the pinball industry much like smartphones led to the downfall of the GPS and camera industries.
Some brief takeaways from the panel:
Downes told the audience that there are three defining characteristics of disruptive technologies — better, cheaper, more intimate — and how in the past, only two of those characteristics needed to be true. Today, however, all three boxes must be checked. The product, in other words, can’t just be better. It also has to be cheaper (read: free) and connect with consumers in a personal way.
Grignon killed it on the panel. But then, he has a built in advantage — having Apple on his resumé. Given the ongoing fascination with Steve Jobs and anything or anyone he touched along the way, Grignon’s tales of the iPhone development process left everyone yearning for more.
Looking ahead toward the future, I asked the panel what we’d be talking about 10 years from now if we reconvened to again talk about disruptive tech. Pryor named embedded tech without hesitation. And he wasn’t just talking about clothing and contact lenses — he instead meant implants within our bodies. That certainly got the audience’s attention.
Also getting the audience’s attention was the question of who would own Uber in the future. While Grignon thought an IPO was the most likely, Pryor and an audience member both thought Amazon wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Downes’ response to the Uber question was more thousand-foot, as he pointed out that the beauty of disruptive technology requires taking the “anything can happen” point of view. It was a fitting viewpoint for a panel focused on the constant earthquakes disruptive technology can have on long-established industries.
All in all, the panel discussion was enlightening, challenging, and often hilarious. My thanks to Grignon, Pryor, and Downes for disrupting (sorry, I had to) their busy lives to join me. Oh, and if you’d like to have a drone deliver a copy of Downes’ latest book, CLICK HERE to purchase it.
If you want to sign up for the cool stuff Grignon is making, CLICK HERE.
And if you want a better way to manage a massive construction process (or a taco), CLICK HERE.
Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates.