Leading with change: How 8 LA companies innovate to drive industry shifts

by Hannah Levy
March 14, 2019

Tech moves at the speed of light, making it borderline futile to keep up with every emerging development. Some advancements will stand out, but many more will become footnotes in the history of a much larger trend. 

Today we track those larger trends. To do that we’ve enrolled help from eight of LA’s hottest, techiest and most forward-looking companies. Here’s what they told us about the tech of tomorrow.  

 

Team at Releatable
photo via relatable

The next-generation growth of the global economy won’t be driven by knowledge or capital — it will be driven by creativity. This is one of the foundational beliefs behind Relatable, a marketing technology company that specializes in monetization for influencers. The company, which has outposts in Stockholm, Los Angeles and London, turns influencer marketing into a scalable media channel for their clients. Aron Levin, Relatable’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, joined us to discuss what’s next for the world of influencer marketing and what he sees as Relatable’s role in that future.  

To unlock the true potential of influencer marketing, brands need to center their strategy around the problems and challenges that creators have.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

We always strive to be 10 times faster, 10 times better and 10 times more efficient in our execution and ambition, which forces us to constantly rethink how we operate. Instead of getting sidetracked by what our competitors are doing, we focus our attention on where the market will be six or 12 months from now.

Our technology, which is focused on solving very tangible problems for our clients, is our number one differentiator. But, over time, emerging technology and innovation tends to become a commodity. We’re more focused on how we can leverage our experience and consumer insights to stay ahead.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Each year $700 billion is spent on advertising, globally. But brands are having a harder time than ever capturing the attention of a target audience. With attention shifting from traditional media to this need breed of creators, more media dollars than ever before are set to flow into influencer marketing.

We have this saying internally, about being “creator-centric.” It’s a simple but powerful framework. To unlock the true potential of influencer marketing, brands need to center their strategies around the problems and challenges that creators have. This way, they become much more than a paid partner, and their campaigns are more successful.

 

sweetgreen salads
photo via sweetgreen

It’s easy to overlook sweetgreen’s tech credentials — it’s also a huge mistake. The fast casual restaurant is serving up some of the freshest, most innovative technology on the market today, from a blockchain-enabled produce tracking system to a platform that covers everything from food orders to the length of in-store lines. Two of the leaders pushing that tech innovation forward joined us to discuss current foodtech trends and how sweetgreen fits into that larger picture.   

All of retail — food and beverage included — must be laser focussed on meeting the ever-rising demand for customer convenience.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

The next big trend in our industry will be around incorporating AI to craft great eating experiences. For example, we plan to use deep learning to drive our recommendations and personalization strategies. 
—Krish Krishnan, VP of Data and Analytics at sweetgreen 

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

All of retail — food and beverage included — must be laser focussed on meeting the ever-rising demand for customer convenience. For customers, this means designing adaptive digital ordering experiences that make it easier access to our food whenever and wherever they want it. 
—Dan Beranek, VP of Digital at sweetgreen 

 

The team at OnPoint
photo via onpoint global

OnPoint Global is an online publisher and service-based e-commerce provider that leverages original content and large monthly audiences to capture data and break it down into useful insights. If you haven’t seen their signature signal graph, you should. It’s pretty cool. We spoke with Neal Sainani, OnPoint’s chief product officer, about what trends the company has its eye on right now.

We think there is enormous value in using signal data to solve customer problems.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

Most signal data companies rely solely on third-party data to determine consumer intent. Through our growing network of owned and operated properties, we capture proprietary first-party data from millions of consumers each month. Our team leverages a mix of machine-learning technology, customer journey mapping, and a culture of experimentation to build actionable experiences.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Currently, signal data is primarily used for advertising and retargeting. We think there is enormous value in using signal data to solve customer problems as well. We are developing a series of “do it for me” services, leveraging first-party data, which will allow us to move into the multi-billion dollar, service-based economy.

 

Mobcrush team in LA
photo via mobcrush

Santa Monica-based Mobcrush is a video streaming company that allows gamers to broadcast, watch streams and chat in real time. The platform has received a strong reception in the gaming community and has gained support from powerhouse brands including Netflix, Activision, Sega and Paramount, as well as backing by VCs including Lionsgate Interactive and Evolution Media. Mobcrush’s head of product Eric Doty joined us to discuss how the company is setting the pace for innovation in the entertainment space.

Our dynamic platform and tools are filling an enormous untapped need for creators.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

We’ve focused heavily on serving creators. Our platform provides a set of free tools and features that enable any content creator — not just those with millions of fans and followers — to reach and grow an audience across all social platforms in real time, and make money doing it. On top of that, we’re creating tools that help brands understand the value of live content, such as real-time chat analysis tools currently in testing.

Our dynamic platform and tools are filling an enormous untapped need for creators. We leverage Nielsen ratings, reinventing self-serve ads and using our platform and tools to create the standard for ad placements in live streaming. Because of this, Mobcrush’s aggregate reach tops 1.5 billion.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Live streaming will continue to drive increased participation from creators and fans, as well as those who sponsor it, including advertisers and marquee brands. One of the biggest trends and market opportunities will come from the continued globalization of this exciting creator ecosystem.

We’re driving the growth of this trend by offering our tools to established but underserved markets like Asia, as well as up-and-coming regions like Brazil, and by partnering with best-in-breed partners around the world. Last month, we announced a major strategic deal with Yeah 1 Network, the number one multi-channel network in Asia, through which we are bringing our platform to some 160 million subscribers who generate more than 3.2 billion monthly views.

 

Team photo
photo via wpromote

Wpromote’s digital toolbox helps companies with search marketing, social, email and programmatic campaigns, and has been leveraged by small and medium sized companies and Fortune 500s alike. We caught up with Simon Poulton who leads Wpromote’s digital intelligence efforts, to hear about which trends Wpromote is tracking — and how they’re staying ahead.

Digital transformation shouldn’t focus on just automating the human process, but on finding new and innovative ways to achieve a goal through automation.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

At Wpromote, we’ve invested in developing a digital intelligence team that consists of developers, analysts and data scientists who focus on finding new ways to leverage data in several areas, including: automation of predictive lifetime value models, a solution that our data science team was recently recognized by Oracle for; and automated anomaly detection, a tool that integrates with Slack to detect variance from our predictive models across a variety of analytics and alerts our team.

We’re always looking for new areas where we can automate our processes, but doing it intelligently is the key. Digital transformation shouldn’t focus on just automating the human process, but on finding new and innovative ways to achieve a goal through automation.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

We’re experiencing huge, tectonic shifts in what the modern marketer is able to do using technology. One of the big trends that we have decided to focus on is the democratization of attribution technologies. We’ve been fortunate to partner with Facebook on this initiative and have developed some very in-depth models that we’re excited to provide to our clients.

As we look to the future, we’re investing in intelligent, data-savvy people more than anything. We know our industry can change in the blink of an eye, and that by investing in people who understand data, statistics and, most importantly, the insights that will drive business decisions is key.

 

Lumi packaging
photo via lumi

Lumi builds software that optimizes packaging supply chains for some of the internet’s favorite brands, including Casper, Everlane, MeUndies and FabFitFun. With a focus on sustainability, the company creates beautiful custom shipping materials and gives companies a higher level of transparency into the process than ever before. We spoke with Lumi’s CEO Jesse Genet about the future of shipping and Lumi’s role in it.

Lumi views software and data as the solution for optimizing the custom manufacturing and packaging industry.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

Lumi views software and data as the solution for optimizing the custom manufacturing and packaging industry, which hasn’t historically been much of a software or tech-orientated space. Manufacturers typically focus on all types of packaging and brands. By focusing on e-commerce alone, we can think about the specific needs of digitally native brands where their box is their storefront.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Supply chain transparency, sustainability, and what we internally at Lumi refer to as responsible manufacturing, will be the big macro trend in our industry in the next five or ten years. Most traditional packaging shops aren’t set up to supply transparency in this way. We’re building our software to expose critical information like how far products are traveling, what materials are being used, what capabilities and processes are used in facilities; things that we view as critical and which, over the coming years, will probably be expected.

 

Tech leaders' predictions
photo via wellhealth

A lot of people think about going to the doctor a lot like the DMV: It’s awful, but at some point you have to do it. Healthtech company WELL is on a mission to change that. The Santa Barbara-based team is working to reinvent the $3 trillion healthcare industry by putting patients first. We heard from WELL’s CEO Guillaume de Zwirek on the topic of healthtech and the industry’s future. Here’s what he told us about the changing medical arena.

It’s way too easy for tech companies to get distracted by feature creep and nice-to-haves.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

It’s way too easy for tech companies to get distracted by feature creep and nice-to-haves. We, on the other hand, have a single-minded focus on producing the best-in-breed communication solution that the market needs. We’re not going to get distracted by shiny objects. Along those lines, we’ve developed a state-of-the-art API and partnerships with major vendors, including Uber, InstaMed and Binary Fountain.

But there’s more to industry leadership than great tech. We’ve built a killer sales model with customer support that garners rave reviews and a team that loves coming to work every day, and those are absolutely key to our success.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

The next big healthcare trend is the one we’re working on right now: unified communications. If you went to HIMSS this year, you saw a lot of activity around communications and patient engagement. Many health systems are even hiring dedicated patient experience executives.

We’ve only just started to prove that when you bring vendors together to provide a unified experience, patients are more likely to engage and be happier with their healthcare overall. These are the early days of a big transformation in healthcare, and we’re going to stay hyper-focused on helping healthcare realize that future through best-in-class communications.

 

Zest FInance
photo via zestfinance

In 2009, a handful of super-talented Google data scientists split off to create a company of their own, one that would use machine learning algorithms to revolutionize how credit decisions are made. That company is Zest Finance. Today Zest’s cache of AI tools help provide fair and transparent credit to everyone. Douglas Merrill, CEO and founder of Zest Finance, joined us to discuss what’s next for his industry — and how Zest plans to stay ahead of that curve.  

We hire the relentlessly resourceful, the self-taught, the passionate — if you can show me you’re willing to go deep on a technical issue, I’m willing to teach you the skills we need for you to succeed.

 

How has your company set itself apart as a leader in your industry? What tech innovations have helped you differentiate yourself?

We were doing AI-based underwriting years before the industry caught on. People thought we were crazy. But the results were real. We’ve now helped some of the biggest financial institutions in the world switch to machine learning for their credit underwriting, including Discover, Ford, Synchrony and Baidu. We talk to dozens of lenders every week who are actively switching over from old ways of doing things to using machine learning.

We are passionate about our technology, but what we enjoy most is sitting down with customers and seeing them get excited about all the problems they can solve with machine learning.

What sets us apart? We hire the relentlessly resourceful, the self-taught, the passionate — if you can show me you’re willing to go deep on a technical issue, I’m willing to teach you the skills we need for you to succeed. And we hire people with diverse opinions and backgrounds in academia and industry because that’s how we check our bias when writing software.

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry? How do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

The next big trend is using AI to solve harder problems in finance, healthcare and transportation. These regulated industries require absolute transparency into “black-box” AI algorithms. Opening up that box is the problem we’ve chosen to solve, figuring out a way to make these really complex machine learning credit models transparent and safe to use. We continue to work on that problem and come up with better explainability tools.

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