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The Best Sage Summit Keynote Recap: 7-31-14

By August 1, 2014No Comments

Yesterday’s Sage Summit keynote, the last of the Sage Summit 2014 keynotes, featured a heated debate between Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs, a story-filled discussion about the “A-ha!” and “Aw Sh*t” moments in start-ups, an uplifting look at the state of small business, and a jaw-droppingly amazing vision of the future of data.

Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs

While you’d expect an informal debate between these two to be er, polarized, this debate was a bit more spirited than I think anyone expected. Karl, the “leading Republican strategist of our time,” (quoting Gabie Boko, EVP of marketing for Sage, who tried to moderate the discussion) and Robert, the former White House press secretary and longtime advisor for Obama, showed up on stage in sparring positions, and never lost their warring stance throughout the conversation. The two weighed in on hot-button issues for small and medium business owners:

  • Immigration reform
  • Affordable Care Act’s “50 rule”
  • Proposed minimum wage increase

Karl (can I call him Karl?) talked a lot. He talked loudly and forcefully about issues that he clearly cared deeply about, while Robert responded with head-shakes, laughs, and an impatient, constant tap of his foot. All the while, poor Gabie tried fruitfully (yet hilariously) to regain control of the conversation, but these two spin-masters just argued with each other over her interruptions.

Basically, it was just like watching them on TV except that for one brief moment, there was audience interaction. A man in the audience responded to Karl’s (rhetorical) invitation for someone to call out loudly from the seats if they had saved money on their health insurance. One man in the audience stood up and yelled that he had saved $10,000 on his insurance premiums… and Karl talked to him for a second but was ultimately dismissive.

“You all do have tremendous advocates in Washington… we’ve got to do what we can to help small businesses hire more people, put people to work, put cash in their pockets.” –Robert Gibbs

“Make your voice heard. Run for office. I’m sick and tired of having too many lawyers and not enough business people in office.” –Karl Rove

Jennifer Fleiss (Rent the Runway) Designer dress rental
Eric Ryan (Method Products) Innovative cleaning products
Ben Kaufman (Quirky) Builds & markets your invention for you

This panel of successful entrepreneurs was filled with stories about starting a new business, both the good and the bad. Each business owner explained both their “A-ha!” and “Aw sh*t” moments along their bumpy path to success.

“When I told my mom I was going to start a cleaning products business, she said ‘I’ve never seen you make your bed…’” –Eric Ryan

  • Jennifer needed to set up her website, and outsourced it to a 12-person firm… who turned out to be one (maybe two) people in “not much of an office”.
  • Ben talked about being $300,000 in debt (yeah, you read that right) and everyone telling him to just get a real job.
  • Eric talked about how all the store soap displays were leaking, and he rushed from store to store to clean the displays.

They all agreed that innovation was key to success, and stressed that companies need to hire curious people and have a company culture that fosters creativity.

Eric Schurenburg (Editor-in-Chief of Inc. magazine)

Eric shared stories about the state of the start-up. His main focus in his spirited, uplifting (and very well rehearsed) presentation was the value that entrepreneurs have in a supportive culture… and if our culture in America really is supportive to entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“Some of you here are old enough to remember when saying, ‘I’m an entrepreneur’ was a confession. It’s like saying, ‘I can’t get a real job.’ Now, ‘I’m an entrepreneur’ is like a pick up line.” –Eric Schurenberg

Through the course of his speech, he explained that while entrepreneurs are going through a “golden age” here in 2014, small business owners still have a lot of obstacles to overcome, such as:

  • Reduced lending
  • Severe job damage from the Great Recession
  • Insanely difficult task of starting and running a company

Dr. James Whittaker (Distinguished Technical Evangelist of Microsoft)

This incredible lecture was delivered by James Whittaker, who, interestingly, was the first computer scientist hired by the FBI (though now he works for Microsoft). Though the speech was a promotion for Microsoft products, I think it really did reignite the battle between Macs and PCs (or, rather, Apple and Microsoft, as desktop and laptop computers are now falling in popularity).

The presentation focused on the future of data, which James is very opinionated about.

“[Data] is the new wealth. It’s the new power.” –Dr. James Whittaker

He began his talk by comparing the Internet browsers of 20 years ago to the Internet browsers of today, and his comparison accentuated that, in terms of data retrieval, nothing much has changed. He called this method “hunting,” as in “hunting and gathering.” It was a compelling opener, and I gotta say, I agree that it’s a scandal that browsers haven’t evolved significantly. (Feel free to argue with me in the comments, by the way.)

James then continued his analogy by presenting the “gather” method of Internet searching: the app. He said that apps collect context-relevant data (because you only need a slice of the Web at any one time), but we need to gather the right apps so that we have the data we need when we want it.

As you can expect, he pointed out that we should be beyond the “hunting and gathering” method of data retrieval by this point.

The future of data, in his opinion, was where the Web brings information directly to you, without you having to go out and search for it. He used examples of PowerPoint bringing up relevant data for your slide presentation (right as you’re typing) and Outlook looking up relevant events on your calendar and bringing results straight to you (such as hotel recommendations, flight times, and concerts on nights you’re available). In his presentation, he was also able to demonstrate looking up contextual data with an eye-opening story.

“I got an email from my teenaged daughter,” he said. The email contained a request that he take her out to a local concert at a theater downtown. In an interesting twist, he pointed out that such a normal, run-of-the-mill email would mean that he now has a lot of work to do. He has to:

  • Investigate the band
  • Investigate the theater
  • Investigate the safety of the area around the theater
  • Find parking
  • Find nearby restaurants
  • Etc.


I hadn’t ever thought about my own Internet research that way, but he was right: just researching whether or not you should go to a concert is a HUGE endeavor.

In his “data economy” future, he predicted that the Web will automatically provide all this information for you so that you don’t have to search for it on your own. The answers will be brought to you.

It was fascinating. It was well worth watching if you have a spare 30 minutes.

The “data economy” he references is his idea of the future. Instead of paying for apps or data immediately, he says, we’d download them or install plug-ins for them for free, and then pay pennies each time we used them.

And I think, right there, that he just changed the future.

I’m so glad these Sage Summit keynote recaps provided value to you

According to the data, you’ve all really enjoyed these recaps. (If you missed them, check out the recap for 07-29-14 and the recap for 07-31-14). Thanks for reading them, and I’m glad I could help out. Of course, if you’d like to discuss any of these points, feel free to comment below, or just contact SWK Tech. Have a safe flight home!

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