CommonSense Blog

PreCommerce Thought Leader Series: Mike Edelhart of Pivotcon and the Art of Innovation

By Aaron Strout | Mar 02, 2015

mike edelehartAs I mentioned in our set up post for our PreCommerce thought leader series, we will be interviewing several of our speakers in advance of our events the week of March 9. First up is Mike Edelhart, CEO of Pivotcon.  For more information about our events during SXSW, go here.

If you don’t know Mike, he is the lead partner for the Social Starts moment-of-inception investment fund and CEO of the Tomorrow Project, producers of the Pivot Conference in NY. Mike is an experienced media and Internet start-up executive. Mike was Managing Director and founder of First30 Services, a launch accelerator for early stage companies. Mike has held CEO and executive positions at numerous start-ups including Inman News, Zinio,Third Age Media and Olive Software. Mike was a partner at Redleaf, a VC firm. Earlier in this career, at SoftBank, Mike directed content for the Seybold, Interop and Comdex conferences and launched new businesses.

Now onto the interview:

[Aaron Strout] What is innovation? How do companies adopt and scale within their companies.
{Mike Edelhart] We need to think about innovation on two very different scales. One is innovation within the norm: the better mousetrap. This happens all the time and can arise when companies pay attention to the details of what they do, solicit ideas for workers and best customers and operate obsessively at perfecting their internal processes. But there is a second, deeper kind of innovation. This is tech disruption. When fundamental new technologies–such as social and mobile today, and the IoT tomorrow–emerge, they create change slowly, but with inexorable force. Because they often negate long standing fundamentals, company’s can’t respond simply by being better at what they do; they have to learn to do something utterly new. That is the challenge companies face today: How can they strip down the house they live in and completely rebuild it in recognition of fundamental change, while still keeping the current business going? That is very hard and most businesses fail. Which is why tech change often ushers in new market leaders who approach what they do in radically different ways, ala Netflix and Uber. And we’ll see many more of those to come.

[AS] What do you do to keep your company fresh in the business?
[ME] We are an unusual business, being a moment-of-inception fund. Our job is to be out front of change. We compel ourselves to recognize that no company, especially a small one like ours, can understand everything going on in a complex, high-velocity world like ours. So we compel ourselves to radically focus and in our focus areas to see literally thousands of new companies, so we always have been context for making our decisions. The enemy is our personally held views of what the future will be. It doesn’t matter what we think; all that matters is what customers are doing and are likely to do. We need to stay single-minded on that.

[AS] What are your thoughts on the rising importance of Storytizing (using the art of storytelling via paid, earned and shared channels)?
[ME] Stories have been fundamental to human communication since we squatted in caves. They remain so today. In the old days, everyone was a story teller, but the range of impact of stories was quite small. More recently, stories could travel worldwide and have huge impact, but only at great expense and complexity, so the story tellers became a professional caste–TV and movie producers, authors and publishers, newspapers. Now, we see an era emerging where everyone can be a story teller again, the traditional mode returns, but with a worldwide impact that individuals have never hard before. We believe the impacts of this on media and marketing will be profound.

[AS] If you attended SXSW last year, what was your biggest takeaway?
[ME] I wasn’t there last year. But what I heard at a distance was that popularity has made the event so big and so noisy that only huge expenditure could get a company/product above the noise. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out this year.

[AS] What is a trend that you expect (or hope) to see talked about most at SXSW this year and why?
[ME] I hope to hear a lot about how companies now can and should interact directly with their customers/fan bases/employees in new ways. Value, in marketing, should flow directly to the people whose actions moves markets. The role of all the middlemen in the market–all media, all platforms, all channels–should be deeply re-examined. It can’t hold that a platform like Facebook can generate billions of value from the behaviors of its members, with none of that value flowing to them. That inequity must be changed and the rising generation of millennials seems determined to make that happen. Is business ready for this yet? I hope to get a sense of that from SouthBy this year.

We look forward to hearing more from Mike on March 12!