As if we didn’t meet enough billionaires on Day One of the Vanity Fair Summit, Day Two kicked off with Jack Dorsey (US$2.2 billion net worth), co-founder of Twitter and Square, teaming up with Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney. Dorsey replaced Steve Jobs on the Disney board, and it was fascinating to learn how the House of Mouse is embracing new technology. As Iger told it “the new wristbands we have at Disney World have RFIDs embedded—to get you on rides faster, pay for everything, even check into your hotel room.” Disney has issued 8 million wristbands since the trial started earlier this year, making the company potentially the largest distributor of wearables on earth.
Things came back down to earth with two female political leaders, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and California Attorney General Kamala D Harris. The latter discovered that 82 per cent of all prisoners in the US are high school dropouts, so in a controversial move, she threatened parents with prosecution for letting their children be truant. That state’s kids are now attending school more regularly. Got me thinking about how marketers can work harder on incentives for agencies.
On the female theme, we were treated to the importance of health and philanthropy from the 'Billionaire Wives Club'. Anne Wojcicki, wife of Google's Sergey Brin (although the two have reportedly separated) and Laura Andreessen, whose husband Marc wrote Mosaic and founded Netscape, made a powerful case for giving and transparency. Wojcicki founded healthcare company 23andme on the belief that “Everyone in this room has an online bank account, but I doubt anyone has an online health account”. The data is there, it just needs the US regulations to change. This is going to be the growth sector of the next five years.
The morning ended with six hysterical comedians—Judd Apatow, Mike Farah, Whitney Cummings, Scott Aukerman, Nick Kroll and Kumail Nanjiani—essentially telling jokes for 40 minutes. When they finally came to a point, it was best made through the line “The Internet is a hungry beast—you need to keep feeding it”. Content marketers beware: You need quality and quantity.
Next up, the co-founder and leader of one of the hungriest of beasts, Twitter, Dick Costolo ($400 million), made it clear that Twitter's goal is to serve consumers and advertisers not as a media company or a tech company, but as a true enabler of content. Of course, never mind the fact that he has recently received death threats from ISIS. How do you say “Help” in less than 140 characters?
The afternoon belonged to the screens that all advertisers are seeking out. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube (and Anne Wojcicki's sister), Richard Plepler, CEO of HBO, and David Zaslav of Discovery Channel talked at length about the challenges of network, cable and online video colliding. Discovery was proud to announce it was in 230 countries with its science programming, but Wojcicki seemed to top them both by noting that there is now 400 hours of video posted every minute on YouTube. After the recent acquisition of Maker Studios, YouTube also has talent such as Pew Die Pie, which delivers more than 35 million views for a single video—more than watched the World Series of baseball. Plepler of HBO made it clear that his company's focus is on quality, not quantity. “Our model is to build addicts, not eyeballs” he quipped. Following them , the creators of Mad Men, Orange is the New Black and The Good Wife all talked about the creative challenges of getting the best possible product out.
The penultimate session, Generation Next, saw the CEOs of AirBnB (Brian Chesky), Pinterest (Ben Silbermann) and Nasty Girl (Sophia Amoruso) talk about the challenges of starting a business from scratch. This summer, AirBnB had 425,000 people on one night in its rooms—more than Hilton or any hotel chain. As Chesky put it, “People once thought we had the worst idea in the world; now it’s known as the worst idea in the world ever, that worked”. There’s no magic formula for starting a growing business. Just align on a mission, find a niche and try.
The house was still full for the last guest, (Now Sir) Jony Ive of Apple, to talk with Vanity Fair publisher Graydon Carter on a whole range of topics for an hour. A typical day in his life? It starts with a two hour drive from downtown San Francisco to Cupertino (why isn’t he investing in a flying car?) . The best thing Steve Jobs taught him? “Focus. He was the most focused person I ever met.” Iis he flattered by the growth and similarities of China’s Xiaomi? “It’s not flattery, it's theft. Do you think I spend every weekend away from my family, grinding out a new design, only to have them copy it and feel flattered? No”. You can read the whole interview here.
After two days, we were left with three enduring thoughts. Jony Ive is truly a perfectionist. Elon Musk truly thinks earth is just a simulation. And only a man could truly brand something that is 5.5 inches the 'Apple 6+'.
Inspirations done, back to the real work.