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  • Writer's pictureYash Gad, Ph.D.

Recap of Austin Technology Council CEO Summit 2021

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Business leaders in Austin took an opportunity to join together for the restart of the Austin Technology Council’s annual CEO Summit. This group was excited about meeting each other again in person, and to start looking towards what’s next in the Austin technology community. I was pleased to join my partners in crime at the Next Practice Group, John Cunningham (Victory CTO) and Tracy Arrington (Brain+Trust), on the day’s first panel.

Panel #1 - From Clicks to Coins: Where Your Data is Headed in 2022

There were a lot of good questions that gave our panel opportunities to show how we take a problem and address it from our particular specialization (and why we work so well together). Cybersecurity and data governance was one such line of questions, that yielded Victory’s perspective on data security and plans for when employees leave, and Brain+Trust and Ringer’s perspective on data strategy and how teams need to lead from within, develop technology and security muscles, and cross silos to have open discussions about needs.

Another great question came from our moderator, who mentioned that he is always asked about firms that can help from an M&A perspective. Interestingly, it is something that each of us on the panel has experience with, but with our own flavors. John and the team at Victory approach the problem from an infrastructure, scalability, and security perspective for assessing a company's roadmap for the future. Brain+Trust can look at how their data is organized and used by all levels of the organization and is that positioning the company correctly. Lastly, Ringer has the ability to come in and pull back the curtain to assess the feasibility of the analytics and data science methodology behind the main IP, and see if there is vaporware or the next big thing.

Panel #2 - Thinking Finnovatively: Thinking about the Innovation in Fintech

The next panel had a lot of discussions about the innovations in Fintech. But the majority of the discussion was around broadening how businesses and consumers think about paying for goods and services, and where cryptocurrencies alleviate certain problems by stabilizing

profits or the sunk cost of production. In any Audience Architecture analysis that we have

done of the financial industry, Bitcoin and other cryptos invariably come up. Something for us to consider when looking at these topics in the future is the nuance between content focused on the investment and speculation side, and other content focused on using it as intended - “to buy” - and how businesses can start to adopt methods to accept those payments.

Panel #3 - The Great Resignation

The last panel focused on the Great Resignation, which is the trend spotted in early 2021 of more and more workers resigning from their current jobs. There is an interesting HBR piece that talks about the stats behind the phenomenon. The panel’s discussion focused on the why - which boiled down to disengagement of employees, dissatisfaction with compensation, and potentially better opportunities on the horizon.

With our team working remote for the last year and a half, I’ve taken a strong interest in making sure our team is engaged on multiple fronts. Not just to make sure I retain the extremely talented folks we have working here, but also to make sure that everyone is in a good mental place and is thriving both personally and professionally, not just surviving. Some of this has led me to notice sooner when someone is dissatisfied with the current work they are doing but may see a much better fit on a different side of the company. Other times it has meant taking a deeper interest in life events, how the pandemic or the weather in central Texas has affected families, and giving employees the time and space to respond to the things affecting them (ahead of the business).

One of the last things the panel talked about was the diversity of teams within a company. There is a great opportunity for Austin technology leaders to adopt diverse hiring practices, with diverse leaders at all parts of the process. Not just to pay lip service to DEI, but to understand that with that with diversity comes a diversity of background and diversity of thinking. Ringer Sciences has always maintained a majority female team, with both ethnic and age diversity. In many ways this has benefited our clients because of the very different perspectives our team may have of the same media content or language in a social media post, which yields very insightful discussions to fuel our analysis and recommendations. It is imperative that the Austin community lead through hiring practices and building a company culture that values diversity.

Keynote - Chat with Jim Breyer

The last talk of the evening was with Jim Breyer, the CEO of Breyer Capital. It was interesting to hear that businesses that are attractive to investors like Jim have founders that are not just in it for the exit but instead, have a clear vision and teams that are in it for the long haul. Another facet that seemed to peak Jim’s interest was companies that mix AI approaches and medicine, and companies that do R&D work with the government, particularly in areas of security or analytics. My fellow panelist Tracy and I were discussing the strong parallels because the firms within the Next Practice Group have naturally gravitated towards many of the same companies. Ringer has several clients who are within the intersection of AI and medicine, and we have also helped drive R&D initiatives with groups that work with the government.

Happy Hour takeaways

Invariably, the most enjoyable part of these events is the happy hour, where I love getting to know some of the other attendees and what is driving them (and their businesses) to succeed. I was approached by several folks who wanted to pick my brain on how to get started in using more advanced analytics in targeting, and how we could help in early conversations about data, customers, etc.. (in tandem with our friends from Brain+Trust or Victory). To circle back to our panel, I think what most people were taken by how fluid our conversations were, and how easily we riffed off one another for a particular problem. The way our firms (and the other firms at the Next Practices) fluidly work together is a great model for how to break down silos and talk across teams while still building specialization. And it was fun to show it off in real time for the Austin tech community.

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