In our second of three installments covering last week’s GeekWire Summit, we’re shifting our focus onto a key theme that surfaced throughout the conference: millennial-driven disruption.

While discussions about the millennial impact on business, technology and society has become de rigueur, the presentations that specifically examined how millennial-targeted businesses and engagement models are differentiating themselves in the marketplace were some of the most far-reaching and insightful of the summit. Featuring a sizable group that spanned visionary business owners and prominent technology journalists, attendees were guided through the upshots and issues of “online first” business models as they impact how we travel, commute and consume information.

The Sharing Economy

One of the most thought-provoking sessions explored the “sharing economy” — the idea that ordinary people can circumvent traditional ownership by renting out their car, house or other assets to a stranger simply by coordinating through online peer-to-peer services. Moderated by Scott Stanford, co-founder and managing partner of SherpaVentures, the panel included Jennifer Billock, CEO of Couchsurfing; Aaron Easterly, CEO of Rover; Kevin Petrovic, co-founder of FlightCar; and Brooke Steger, General Manager at Uber.


The ability to find and book services almost entirely through online interactions is not unique to the sharing economy, but it does signal a huge cultural shift that’s been enabled by mobile technology and powered by the core millennial values of sustainability and creativity. The conversation kicked off with each panelist describing how their respective companies are helping reshape how cities, where a large proportion of millennials work and play, function at a basic level.

The importance of mobility and social community were underscored throughout the session, with each speaker emphasizing how important it is for millennials and other users to feel confident in their transactions and how community reviews and filtering criteria help support that assurance.

The key takeaway of the panel was that the success of the on-demand business model is intrinsically tied to user satisfaction and customer service. Just like any brick-and-mortar company, the sharing economy requires repeat business from individual customers to survive: If a business is able to exceed user expectations consistently, the customer’s relationship with the brand evolves and becomes more integrated into their daily lives.

Evolving Journalism

The summit also broached how the public appetite for news has changed, influenced at least in part by the millennial preference for digital and mobile-ready content. Re/code co-founders Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, previously of AllThingsD, talked about the future of media and how outlets need to be entrepreneurial if they plan to offer great journalism while remaining financial viable. Overall, both Swisher and Mossberg stressed their positive outlook on the changing nature of media, emphasizing that readers are taking advantage of having more content than ever through traditional and digital mediums.


When asked if he had any concerns about the future of journalism, Mossberg opined, “I think it’s a really difficult time to be a publisher. I think it’s a great time to be a journalist.” He explained how digital options lower the barriers to publishing quite a bit, but he also warned that the erosion of the traditional editorial team (and their valuable oversight and support) is making the production of quality journalism as challenging as ever. He mentioned that going all-digital at Re/code has liberated the writing staff from the print publication cycle and helped changed the format of the magazine so that it’s more relevant and appealing to their audience.  

The team at Weber Shandwick Seattle is looking forward to seeing how technology continues to meet generational demand in the future and its impact on innovation, communication and our lives.

Make sure to check back on the Weber Shandwick Seattle blog tomorrow as we wrap up our three-part commentary on the GeekWire Summit!

Image courtesy of josef.stuefer.

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