LAUNCH is unlike any other conference marketing people normally attend.
Those who go expecting the philosophical chaos of SXSW or the celebratory glitz of Cannes, will probably be disappointed.
In fact, it quickly becomes clear that as the only representatives of the marketing community, the combined Karmarama and Unilever Foundry team - coming to LAUNCH to start our search for the Foundry Scaleup of the Year - are viewed with equal measures of interest and suspicion.
That attitude isn’t down to naked hostility, rather that this is resolutely a conference.
LAUNCH calls itself a festival, but it’s far too frivolous a title for it’s tone of extreme focus basically people who want to change their lives and the world around them forever.
Started by angel investor and refreshingly abrasive podcaster Jason Calacanis, LAUNCH is now in it’s eighth year. It is about start-ups and VCs securing and providing funding, but fundamentally it's also about the almost evangelical belief that disruption of the status quo will make the world a better place.
It’s about product, not the packaging as one VC said to me.
However, if you’re thinking that there is limited insight and value to be gained in paying attention to it , you’re probably wrong.
The product of having 200+ new start-ups plus stars like Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and Peter Thiel in one place make it a key indicator for future trends and humbling lessons for our own industry.
Firstly, here are three key trends we took away:
1) Socially responsible convenience
The promise of new technology has always been about convenience - an easier way to book a ticket, have something delivered, or consume content. The problem is that this ease of consumption has often come at the expense of the environment or local industry.
LAUNCH was full of start-ups who are trying to reduce the friction in our lives whilst also keeping one eye on sustainability and responsibility.
Serenti Kitchen have produced what they call the Nespresso of the food world, a machine that controls food wastage and portions whilst cooking your food for you.
In the same vein, coffee machine brand Blossom manage to win double hipster points for combining amazing coffee with the Internet of Things, wrapped up in ethical sourcing of their beans.
2) Data science is the new rock and roll
Whether focused on marketing or healthcare, whether hardware or software, no matter which part of the world they hailed from, every start-up we met got to talking about data 30 seconds into their pitch.
After the quality of the UI, the next most important thing to a potential investor is the cleverness of the data behind it.
One of our Foundry Scaleup of the year finalists Strap are a great example of that. Rather than develop another wearable hardware proposition, they’re aiming to become an invisible data layer between all of the wearable platforms, giving brands health and fitness data to drive trigger based marketing in their own channels.
3) Small social
There was a clear movement against the larger social networks in the air at LAUNCH this year, despite the presence of the very VCs who had backed the likes of Facebook and Twitter in the first place.
The emerging trend was for apps that allowed you to mobilise your closest friends around an event or night out, collect and broadcast content to that small group of friends around your shared experience and then expire the created group the morning after.
The best example of the trend was Rally,which attracted huge interest and no doubt investment.
They are the real world cousins of closed group and anonymous social networks like Whisper and Secret.
Over and above these trends, the most striking learning was about our own industry’s self-belief. The start-up and VC community isn’t without it’s detractors, whether that’s from the locals in San Francisco who claim they are being priced out of their city or from governments around the world who fear the alleged sharp tax practices of the tech companies.
However, despite those knockers, it is an industry built on optimism and an unshakeable belief that...
a) the world is made a better place by entrepreneurship.
b) the best product and user experience will eventually win out no matter how good your marketing is.
The winner of LAUNCH was Abra, a start-up that allows people in developing markets to act as Human ATMs and embodies that ethos perfectly.
In contrast, the UK ad industry often feels apologetic about the work we do, much more so than brands who are increasingly focusing on social good as core components of their products and how they are communicated.
It might be that UK versions of start-ups like FearLess (Alex Bogusky’s new social good agency) will give us some collective confidence.
However, I think the more we can build meaningful user and customer experiences for our clients and the more we can show how even pure awareness drives growth for everyone, the more self-confidence we can have.
Maybe not as much as your average Valley start-up, though, we’re British after all.
Lawrence Weber is Managing Partner Innovation at Karmarama and co-chair of the IPA’s Brand Technology Group.
Learn more about The Unilever Foundry and LAUNCH Festival.
Last updated 11/03/2015