Davos disrupted

At this year's World Economic Forum, digital disruption was the talk of the town.

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live, work and relate to one another.”

These were the words of Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, as he set the agenda for this year’s WEF in Davos – part of what he described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

What was particularly notable was that discussion of “digital disruption” was not solely confined to those delegates from San Francisco wearing sweatshirts who looked by far the most likely to disrupt something (digitally or otherwise).

This year everybody was talking about it – right down to the CEOs of even the most dreary industrial manufacturing businesses. They were all talking about how “digital” is going to transform their businesses and industries.

With this backdrop, EM hosted a panel discussion at Davos with some of the great visionaries of the global Internet industry, including Hanna Aase (@hannaaase), founder and CEO of Wonderloop; Brian Pallas (@Brian_Pallas), CEO of Opportunity Network; Michael Chojnacki (@mikechoj), CEO of Closir and Egor Yakovlev (@Eyakovlev), founder of Tvigle. All examples of how digital is already changing the way we live, work and relate to one another.

Digital innovation and equality

We looked at whether digital innovation could help to reduce educational, geographic and socioeconomic inequality. In short, will technology be a force for equalizing? 

If technology lies at the heart of progress, one concern is that it will be in more developed markets – where technology is more prevalent and accessible – where we will see the most progress. Thereby extending further the gap between those in developed and developing markets.

But Hanna Aase gave a different perspective. There are important initiatives under way to effectively make the world a smaller (and more equal) place. Take Hanna’s own company, Wonderloop – a platform that allows people to create video identities online, giving people more opportunities to be seen around the world, even to those who can’t afford constantly to fly around the world. (Hanna has herself successfully adopted video into her own life, and famously became the first Internet entrepreneur to raise money via Snapchat.)

Disruption vs symbiosis

 ‘Can this idea truly disrupt’ – this, for many, has become the criteria for whether the idea can really take off; the criteria for justifying valuation multiples that in any other context would be unthinkable; the criteria for being “the next Uber”. 

But Brian Pallas made a compelling case for symbiosis. Opportunity Network is an international online business matchmaking platform where CEOs and investors share and connect to business opportunities But one of the keys to its success, Brian explained, was that they didn’t try to displace the role of financial institutions, but rather to enhance it by creating a value-added link in the chain. 

Brian summarized it succinctly: “If you want to go fast, go disruption.  If you want to go far, go symbiosis.” And the market seems to agree. Within just two years of its formation, Opportunity Network has already achieved a market cap of more than $140 million, and they are still only just getting started.

A future controlled by technology

Until recently, the tech guys were the people that sat in far removed, dark and smoky offices. And they only came out into the light of the wider office in extremis (e.g. when switching it off and on again had failed). 

But now companies around the world – from the widget producer in Indonesia to the latest start-up in Silicon Valley – are starting to look at these techy guys with new eyes. If Klaus Schwab is right, these may well be the guys that hold the keys to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Maybe in future Davos will not be the playground for billionaire CEOs, but rather the billionaire CTOs.

In short, everything is changing. For a bit of additional insight as to how, you can view a replay of our panel discussion here.

Image: Flickr.com/Robert Scobble





Tom Blackwell

Tom Blackwell is the CEO and co-founder of EM, a financial communications and investor relations consultancy focused on servicing corporates from European and Asian emerging markets. EM was created following the successful MBO and carve out from M: Communications, where Tom worked as the head of the UK agency's Russian office. Prior to joining M: Communications, Tom worked as a managing director of The PBN Company.