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Friday, September 26, 2008

Day Two - The Beat Live - On Innovation [or the lack thereof]

Apologize for the slight delay in posting my observations about Day Two of the Beat Live Conference in Cleveland this week.

I would like to say that this conference was really unlike the bulk of the conferences I've attended in this industry over the last decade. I told Jay Campbell that I thought that the candor shown by everyone (audience and speakers alike) was truly astounding in a public forum, but that perhaps it is because the Beat writes such honest observations of this industry to begin with. So perhaps their is no fear in telling the truth. That's the way it seemed anyway!

Day two of the conference focused on innovation, both in pricing and in functionality.

Jim Davidson gave a VERY entertaining presentation on a new model for the industry. Peppered with comic relief (thanks to the overabundance of adult beverages served the night before by our sponsors) and a $2 bill handed out to each attendee, Jim called for the industry to take a look at how we can set a baseline for the value offered at each point of the industry supply/value chain. He called repeatedly for the $2 transaction. I for one am dying to know what tool he used for the presentation. He showed one of my charts from my last book on the GDS centric industry model and actually blew it up on screen - into smithereens..... I'll have to remember to ask Jim for credit for the pre-explosion graphic! Anyway, thanks for the $2 Jim. I can use it to cover some of the $200 that Delta charged me to redeem my frequent flyer miles...

Patrick Grady from Rearden flew on the redeye to Cleveland to be on the "hot seat" on stage for 30 minutes of questions from the audience. Patrick is an impressive guy and my favorite quote was him saying that the "highest complement that anyone can pay him is calling him an entrepreneur". As an extreme entrepreneur myself, that was personally heartwarming! When I asked him how he raised money during the very tough economic times of 2000/2001, he recounted using his own funds to pay payroll and not taking a salary. Well, I can definitely relate to that one! Patrick no longer has such problems. Now he is just focused on innovation on the product front, armed with significant funding (e.g. more than $100m) from Amex and JP Morgan. At least today, those two financial service firms are still alive and going strong. My other favorite quote was Patrick saying that his product mission is to make his product "addictive". It is refreshing to hear an industry CEO frame everything around the customer, regardless of his motives. Thanks for the candor Patrick and for flying all night to speak to us.

The other panel of the day was the one that I participated on, Emerging Technology. For those who know me, you won't be surprised that I hammered home my favorite statistic about 85% of all travelers in the US being part of the drive market versus the 15% of the industry that flies. Most attendees of the conference remain obsessed (ok, focused.....) on the air traveler, even in selling other products like hotel rooms. The other panel members were Trip Davis of TRX, Cindy Heston of Thomson and filling in for Rajeev Singh of Concur was Tom DePasquale. I wasn't taking notes due to being on the stage, but I can tell you that I don't remember hearing about any innovations coming down the pike that knocked my socks off. That is, unless you count being able to get in your car and say "I'm tired" and "I'm hungry" and having the GPS know from your "electronic twin" that when you are alone you prefer a bed and breakfast and Thai food. Although I didn't name the RoadEscapes.com site and what we are doing with Panasonic by name (because I promised Jay no commercials!), I think most people knew what I was referring to. It is fun to be on the bleeding edge.....

To be fair, TRX is doing some interesting infrastructure oriented plays - using new technologies for aggregation of data, as is Concur and Cindy at Thomson is using user generated content in ways that make her travelers' lives easier. Everyone agreed at the end of the day that to get to innovation you have to have investment and a willingness to take risk. Oh and making our products addictive to the customer is a good thing too!

Dave Hilfman was an entertaining, if air centric host/MC and did a superb job of making everyone feel like they were a part of the dialogue versus just being talked to by the talking heads of the normal panels at other conferences. The audience under his guidance was even asking questions of each other. A nice refrain from the normal panel led banter. Thanks Dave.

Thanks so much to Jay and Tim of ProMedia for putting this together and the rest of the ProMedia team for making it such a pleasure. And kudos for picking Cleveland. I was a skeptic, but it was a very nice place to visit! I'm even going to take my husband back to see the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame!

Don't miss this conference next year!

Chicke
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