Greylock’s Reid Hoffman and Josh Elman Hold Court at Disrupt SF 2016
Not surprisingly, self-driving technology is front and center. “It’s clear that the self-driving revolution is upon us,” said Hoffman, who pointed to exciting opportunities on both the provider and creator sides. But with both legacy car companies and technology giants slugging it out for domination, Hoffman emphasized that competition will be ferocious. For Greylock, he said, it all comes down to the “uniqueness of talents and the uniqueness of technologies.”
Bucking the widespread Silicon Valley meme that “mobile is dead,” one of Greylock’s key premises is that mobile is alive and well. In fact, the VC firm has invested in fast-growing mobile app startups like Musical.ly, a video-based social network app that
has more than 100 million users and claimed first place in the iOS app store in 20 countries. Pointing to the success of Pokémon GO, Elman pointed out that mobile apps still have great potential to help people connect with each other in thus far unimagined ways. He said the use of augmented reality technology is going to result in “a bunch of transformative stuff” that gets people out of their seats and prompts them to explore the world around them. “I’m really excited about what’s gonna come there,” he said.
Like virtually everyone else in Silicon Valley at the moment, both Hoffman and Elman expressed deep enthusiasm about the potential of artificial intelligence. Greylock has already made several investments in AI startups, including Ozlo, an AI assistant that helps users find information on their phones, and Operator, a personal shopping app powered by a conversational AI interface. Matthew Panzarino, editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, asked whether small, scrappy startups will be able to compete against big players like Amazon that are aggressively pushing ahead AI innovation. To this, Elman said he is a strong believer in “lean” AI technologies that solve very specific category problems.
Elman emphasized that it is all about creating unique interfaces and experiences that truly make a difference in people’s lives — not just about having access to great technologies. As the first product manager of LinkedIn, which was co-founded by Hoffman, Elman pointed to LinkedIn and Facebook as great models. At their inception, both social networking companies depended minimally on science; rather, they aimed to help people connect with each other in new ways. Over the years, they’ve grown into leading technology companies that stand to challenge incumbents like Google and Microsoft, the latter of which ultimately acquired LinkedIn.
This is probably a great lesson for every startup participant at Disrupt SF 2016 — perhaps the main lesson from most Disrupt conferences. Solve an important problem. Create a unique experience. Attract users. Grow and prosper.