The Davos of Messaging #BotorNot Conference


Last week, I joined marketing innovators from Estee Lauder, Mondelez, Blue Cross, Pepsi, L’Oréal, along with messaging startups like Snaps, Pypestream and SuperPhone at an intimate invitation-only summit on the future of messaging that was hosted at the lavish Hamptons estate of Michael and Margie Loeb (as featured in Showtime’s Billions as the lead character, Bobby Axelrod’s beachside mansion).

Hosted by Bonin Bough, the marketing genius who brought Mondelez back to relevance and a former marketing head from Kraft Foods and Pepsi. Bonin is renowned as the most connected and foremost-awarded marketing innovator. As the host of The Cleveland Hustles, the author of Txt Me (646) 759-1837 and a leading investor in the marketing space, Bonin has an incredible trove of data on the subject of messaging, AI and bots.

Mickey McManus on building the future of messaging

Mickey McManus kicked off the confab to not only educate us about “bots” and “machines” but rather to inspire us to think far into the future. As the pioneer in the field of collaborative innovation, pervasive computing, human-centered design and education, Mickey’s knowledge from a deep, scientific level of AI and the future of communication is second-to-none. According to Mickey, “bots today are terrible and messaging is getting there. But what is the future we are building towards? What is the big picture in 15 to 30 years? The flip phone for example, was described in Gene Roddenbury’s Star Trek dozens of years before the real flip phone was invented.” Instead of building bots and messaging features today, we have to build for the long-term vision of communication.

No holy grail solution exists

One of the day’s liveliest discussions was what I called the ‘Death Panel.’; Snaps, Pypestream and Superphone debated about messaging and how it’s changing the marketing ecosystem. Snaps’ Vivian Rosenthal said, “Messaging has surpassed social in daily active users,” and shared that they’ve recently launched with Marriott in the US. Richard Smullen of Pypestream, who boasted about having signed up more than five thousand companies, talked about the importance of messaging in healthcare while SuperPhone’s Ryan Leslie turned the panel into a race that he intended to win. He did a live audience poll to see who has either booked a hotel using a bot or used a bot to solve a problem. Not one hand rose with either question. Ryan single-handedly pushed Vivian and her “bots-are-the-future” company off a cliff, while simultaneously lighting them on fire as he alluded to the fact that (amongst an audience of messaging innovation leaders) not one hand was raised.

My big takeaway from the panel were the distinctions and the problems that the messaging players were solving. Snaps’ vision is automation like an interactive voice response (IVR), but for life. Pypestream hedged their bets on apps (a directly opposing viewpoint from Snaps), and SuperPhone just wants to run communication more effectively for celebrities (with a goal of engagement and ticket sales). There is little to no overlap in their ideas; all of them bring a unique, much-needed solution to a global consumer base that rely on messaging to live their lives.

Sage advice from SFX founder Robert Sillerman

In a separate talk, SFX Entertainment founder and the inventor of stadium rights Robert (Bob) Sillerman, shared his entrepreneurial advice, “Do what you love and make money while doing it. Have fun while doing it. If you aren’t having fun, why do it? I’ve had so much fun, and made a ton of money and regret nothing.”

Humanation is key

One of Bonin’s key discussion themes was the concept of humanation–the mixture of humans and automation. This is the same philosophy we at Teckst have. Automation is not taking over but instead, supplementing by improving in incremental steps, like training wheels slowly being lifted up until eventually it will be able to ride smoothly without help.

Bonin echoed the humanation concept again, we bantered back and forth, and then it was over. We got to showcase Teckst in our pitch session and we closed out the day for the summit with a line of innovators and fellow-startups rushing over  to talk about Teckst, Seamless ads and more.

In conclusion, the event setting felt more like a friends’ weekend than a summit. And while conversations about bots, messaging, customer service and marketing were to be expected, the depth of knowledge shared from all attendees felt much deeper than typical ‘small talk’ at many conferences. This was one of the most forward-thinking summits that I’ve attended – I would equate it to ‘the Davos of Messaging’ and I look forward to the next gathering.