SAE attends Collision 2021: industry insight from Che Pope, NE-YO and more

26 Apr 2021

SAE Institute attended Collision Festival 2021 from 20 - 22 April. The North American technology conference was packed full of informative talks and panels from a wide range of speakers — from David Beckham to Mark Ruffalo! Here are some of the key takeaways from the three-day event: 

DAY ONE:

Creating a new digital ecosystem 

Jeff Lawson (Twilio) and Paul Michelman (MIT Sloan Management Review) spoke about how the coronavirus pandemic forced many companies to allow employees to work from home. Additionally, they spoke about whether developers can be the next generation of managers. Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson said: “Companies are giant collections of systems, and lots of developers are naturally very good systems thinkers.” He also challenged the misconception that all developers are raging introverts — some developers thrive in a people-facing management environment. 

Marketing 2.0: How Amazon Prime Video innovated and pushed boundaries during the global pandemic 

Ukonwa Ojo (Amazon Prime & Amazon Studios) talked about how Amazon is trying to stand out against competitors such as Netflix and Disney+. She stressed that at Amazon, they are obsessed with the customer and is uniquely primed as the company has always been a storyteller first — Amazon got its start selling books! Commenting on the plan to bring big-budget films to the streaming service once cinemas reopen, Chief Marketing Officer Ukonwa Ojo said: “We plan to continue to bring theatrical level production value to our customers at home.” Talking about the importance of diversity, she said: “We want a truly diverse slate and we want to change the narratives and stories that are told.” 

Jumpstart your business on TikTok 

Nik Djukic (TikTok) talked about how easy it is to upgrade your TikTok account to a business account, and gave some tips and tricks for how to get started using the app. Group Director of Brand Partnerships Nik Djukic said: “Don’t be afraid to start by jumping right in.” He added: “The best content on TikTok is authentic and completely imperfect.” He interviewed the creators behind @lalahijabs and they said: “Each piece of content should offer value — even if that value is just making people smile!” 

Facebook’s vision for the future 

Fidji Simo (Facebook) talked about how audio is going to be a huge focus for Facebook going forward, with users able to host conversations that will either be ephemeral and disappear afterwards (as is the case on Clubhouse) or be able to be recorded and turned into a podcast within the app. Fidji Simo, Head of Facebook App, talked about the importance of creativity and women in tech. She said: “Creativity is a really critical thing in my life.” She added: “I want all the females in the world to have the tools to put their voice into the world… Women have a lot to offer, a lot to bring to the table and it would be a shame to miss out on their magic.” 

The actor David Scheider talked about the key to social success in 2021. He said: “What you need for social success in 2021 is authenticity and creativity.” 

Video games will take over the world 

Daniel Algre (Activision Blizzard) talked about how the studio adapted to the pandemic and how the games industry enjoyed tremendous growth throughout 2020. The CEO said: “Gaming has not only been a place people can be entertained… it is also a way for people to stay connected.” 

What’s next for social media marketing 

Tom Keiser (Hootsuite) took part in a roundtable discussion commenting on the future of social media marketing, as a number of marketers shared their experiences and observations about how social media marketing has changed to be more socially responsible and aware. Hootsuite CEO Tom Keiser said: “You’ve got to be relevant and timely with your messaging.” He added: “Less is more, which is not the traditional approach if you think of email marketing.” 

DAY TWO:

How can tech regain our trust

Mitchell Baker (Mozilla) and Katherine Maher (Wikipedia) talked about the ways that consumer trust in tech companies has fallen and how companies can repair that relationship. Wikipedia CEO Katherine Maher said: “All of us love and trust our devices… we tend not to trust the institutions that govern them.” 

Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker borrowed from Charles Dickens to talk about our love-hate relationship with our devices, saying: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

The two women talked about practical solutions to this issue; Katherine Maher said: “We need activism within the building space but we also need more from the legislatures, and economic incentives.” She added: “Questions of data portability and interoperability are as important as ‘how big is this tech company?’” 

Yet another golden age for TV? 

Talking about the future of broadcast television, Anchor and Managing Editor at PBS NewsHour Judy Woodruff said: “Audiences… are craving information they can count on.” The importance of the media during the COVID-19 pandemic was echoed by ITV News Editor Rachel Corp who said: “We are seeing record audience figures for our traditional television bulletins.” So if you’re interested in being a broadcast TV engineer, there’s never been a better time to kickstart your career! 

The Audio Revolution

Govind Balakrishnan (Curio) talked about the rise of audio, arguing that i) curation ii) quality and iii) convenience are the three things it takes to win with audio content. Curio Co-Founder Govind Balakrishnan said: “Technology is at the point where new experiences are possible — we’re seeing that with Clubhouse ‚ there is an explosion of experimentation happening in the Audio space.” He added: “The audio revolution is happening and it’s just getting started.” 

The new dotcom boom 

Julia Hartz (Eventbrite) spoke about the rapid business decisions Eventbrite had to make as the pandemic disrupted live events globally. While demonstrating the functionality of the Mmhmm app for making panellists appear as if they are in the same room as one another, she spoke about the ways in which she thinks the live events industry will bounce back. Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz said: “Never underestimate the power of humans who deserve something.” She added: “In the UK the government published a reopening plan and we’ve seen a tonne of optimism for festivals.” 

Talking about the rapid developments of new technologies and ways to host events virtually, she said: “Never before have we seen such creativity and ingenuity… there’s going to be something for everyone in the next era of gathering.” 

Lily Collins on activism and acting 

Emily in Paris star Lily Collins spoke about her experience of 2020, saying: “It’s been a really big year of learning, evolving and growing for me.” She revealed that she was as shocked as fans to learn that ‘Emily in Paris’ rhymes if you say it in a French accent, and revealed some teasers for what fans can expect from the new series while also detailing some of her activism and volunteering efforts in an interview with Glamour editor, Samantha Barry. 

The future of social media marketing

Back for round two, Tom Keiser (Hootsuite) spoke about the future of social media marketing. He said: “If you’re starting a busines today you start on social — that’s how you build your brand.” 

Commenting on the tremendous explosion of content creators making a living through TikTok, the Hootsuite CEO said: “Out of this pandemic a whole bunch of technology and innovation is going to emerge and user-generated content and platforms that enable and celebrate that are here to stay.” 

The year of redefining work 

Jason Fried (Basecamp) spoke about how his company has adapted to remote working, and how he sees the future of work now that so many people have experienced working from home. The author of Rework and Remote: Office Not Required said: “Working remotely is a different kind of working — it’s more asynchronous, it’s more trust-based. People can more productive remotely because there’s less distraction compared to the typical office space.” 

He added: “Burnout is a bigger problem than not doing enough work”, commenting on the difficulty of differentiating between your working day and your home life when you are sitting in the same spot all day. He spoke about ways that workplaces can foster a healthier balance, including having conversation channels where employees are encouraged to ‘sign out’ for the day — in the way that you would say goodbye to your colleagues while in the office. When it comes to onboarding new employees remotely, he suggests a buddy system whereby new employees get a ‘veteran’ buddy who can tell them how everything works, as well as a ‘newbie’ buddy, who has only recently joined themselves and can help the new employee feel at ease about joining a new company during a pandemic. If you’re a manager at an international company, he also suggested setting up virtual meetups or coworking sessions for your new employee so they can get to know people in a similar time zone — even if those people don’t do the same role. 

Let’s TikTok

Connie Chan (TikTok) spoke about the impact that TikTok is having on popular culture. Commenting on the viral Ocean Spray video that brought Fleetwood Mac back into the mainstream, Content Executive Connie Chan said: “We are impacting the music industry when it comes to bringing catalogue songs back into the mainstream.” 

She added: “TikTok creators are mini directors and producers.” It’s a great way for those thinking about pursuing a career in Film to get started — so what are you waiting for? 

Gaming: the future is in your hands

Walter Driver (Scopely) spoke about how more people than ever before are gamers — with a lower barrier to entry thanks to the abundance of free-to-play mobile games. He said: “We are seeing that people are spending more time on games than ever.” 

He added: “We are going to see people getting more comfortable in virtual or digital environments… it’s not going to be the OASIS from Ready Player One but it’ll be built around things people are passionate about.” 

Speaking about the rise of major studios creating mobile-first titles, he said: “The distinction between AAA and mobile is going away quite rapidly.” 

Whereas previously film studios used mobile games to promote their productions, now it’s almost the other way round with games eating up far more of consumer’s days than a movie does. He said: “Movie studios historically thought of mobile games as ancillary business… now it’s almost inverted.” 

DAY THREE: 

Google and Etsy’s vision for the future of work

Josh Silverman (Etsy) and Javier Soltero (Google) spoke about how their companies adapted to the pandemic, and how Google is offering and developing tools that allow teams to collaborate — whether organisations are operating remote, or hybrid, with some people working from home and others dialling in from the office. Google Workspace VP Javier Soltero said: “Work is no longer associated with our location.” 

Support from all sides: women in tech 

At a panel about the role of women in the tech industry, there were lots of insights from international leaders in the tech sphere. Uber ATG Chief Scientist Raquel Urtasun shared her passion for maths as a student, and said: “AI has the potential to transform everything we do.”

CapitalT Co-Founder Janneke Niessen said: “A lack of diversity… directly impacts the inclusivity of products and services.” 

In conversation with Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder) 

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone spoke about his role as company ‘morale’ man. He spoke about how Twitter was originally borne out of a failed startup — to begin with it was envisioned as a podcasting company. He said: “Missions are completed or fail — purpose is an enduring thing.” 

During a Q&A, he was asked his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. He said: “If you’re not emotionally invested it’s probably not going to work for you… Find the right people and be emotionally invested in what you’re doing so you stick with it through the tough times. If it’s something you’d really like to do for the next ten years plus, and you really want to work on it, you’re more likely to be successful.” 

SAE’s Marketing and Communications Officer Beth Kirkbride asked Biz what role he sees newsletters playing in the future of the app and he said: “If you look at things from a high level, people have long been showing Twitter what they want to do — they’ve been writing longer pieces, linking them from their Twitter and saying ‘read this’. They’ve been building followings — it’s natural to then say ‘Well if I have all these people following me I want to send them newsletters’. Email still really works — it’s old-fashioned but it’s a fantastic tool and really works. It’s not new, it’s old school and it’ll help even more not just with journalism, but any type of service that needs to communicate effectively.” 

The role of diversity in redefining music

Nicole Wyskoarko (Interscope) and Tunde Balogun (LVRN) talked about how important it is that diversity is reflected at all levels of the music business. LVRN President and Co-Founder Tunde Balogun said: “Black entrepreneurship has always been in the heart of the music industry — the issue is our share of the equity.” 

Co-Head of A&R at Interscope Nicole Wyskoarko said: “Seeing someone who looks like you in a role not only tells you that this can happen, but also for people internally in hiring positions, it makes them think of the next person in the role after seeing what you can do.” She added: “I think there’s a lot of work to do but those of us in these roles have to keep pushing… I want to see more Black chairmen, Black leaders at major labels, and I think we’re on that path.” 

Fanning the flames in music communities 

NE-YO was joined by LÜM CEO and Co-Founder Max Fergus to talk about the ways that LÜM (‘Live Undiscovered Music’) is helping connect independent artists to fans, allowing artists to grow, connect, collaborate and perhaps most importantly, monetise, in a world of streaming that typically doesn’t pay a lot. NE-YO said: “I’ve always been a champion of independent artists. If I had a chance to make someone’s dream come true, why would I not? LÜM allows fans to be a part of an artist’s journey.” 

LÜM CEO and Co-Founder Max Fergus pointed out: “Being a successful creator or artist doesn’t always mean going viral — sometimes it just means being able to pay your bills for long enough.” He envisions the platform as something that artists ‘graduate’ from once they are successful enough to reap the rewards from the major streaming services. 

NE-YO’S advice to aspiring artists was: “This is a job — you have to work to get your name and your music out there.” 

SAE’s Marketing and Communications Officer Beth Kirkbride asked whether the duo see TikTok as a competitor, or rather, something that complements their service. LÜM CEO and Co-Founder Max Fergus said that he sees the tools as complementary as: “Nobody is asking why people are using Instagram and Only Fans.” 

A new Wave of virtual entertainment 

Adam Arrigo (Wave) spoke about his background at Harmonix, working on the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, before detailing what it is that makes Wave different from other virtual entertainment services. He was joined by investors from Raised In Space, who spoke about what first attracted them to the company. Wave CEO Adam Arrigo said: “3D environments really are the social platforms of the future.” As a keen musician himself, Adam Arrigo added: “This is completely non-competitive to the live space — which will come back!” 

Democratizing the music industry

Grammy award-winning hip-hop producer Che Pope was joined by Maria Egan (Splice) to talk about the ways in which new products and services such as DistroKid, Upstream and Splice are making the music industry more accessible to all. Che Pope, who worked on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and has also worked with Kayne West on Yeezus, said: “The barriers of entry are so much smaller now… it’s exciting and I’ll never stop working with emerging artists. It’s the kid in their bedroom or the band in their basement — that’s always what inspires me.” 

TikTok and Liam Payne: a new Direction for entertainment 

Former One Direction member and solo artist Liam Payne was joined by Nick Tran (TikTok) to talk about the impact that TikTok is having on the music industry. Commenting on ‘sea shanties’ after Nathan Evans’ ‘Wellerman’ cover landed him a record deal, Liam Payne said: “Our whole industry is being put together by what’s on TikTok right now.” 

Global Marketing Director Nick Tran talked about the impact the social media app has had on the charts, saying that whereas before he struggled to identify most popular music played on the radio: “I realized after being on TikTok for just one month that I could turn on the radio and recognize every song.” 

Liam Payne was shocked to learn about the global feta shortage that arose from the viral ‘feta pasta’ trend that was popularised on the app, thinking that him and his fiance were among the few who had tried it. 


So there you have it! That’s a wrap on our coverage of Collision 2021 — it was a great event packed full of insights into the future of entertainment. One thing’s for sure, there’s never been a better time to be a creative. 

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