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Technology executives gather for a VIP dinner at the GeekWire Summit Opening Night Party at Sullivan's Steakhouse this past Thursday.
Technology executives gather for a VIP dinner at the GeekWire Summit Opening Night Party at Sullivan’s Steakhouse this past Thursday.

What do you think will be the next big disruption in your industry? As a technology leader, how are you adjusting to make sure you take advantage of this coming change?

We posed this question to a handful of tech executives at a GeekWire Summit VIP dinner hosted by WE, the public relations firm formerly known as Waggener-Edstrom, last week at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Seattle.

The leaders offered up a bevy of responses depending on their given industry. Keep reading to learn more.

Sujal Patel, angel investor and co-founder of Isilon Systems, acquired by EMC for $2.25 billion in 2010

Sujal Patel

“Enterprise IT is in the middle of a transformation like we’ve never seen before. We aren’t changing one thing at once; we are changing every layer of the IT stack at the same time. At the infrastructure layer, your on-premise data center, your commercial hardware, it’s going out the door for cloud and SaaS.

At the layer of applications, it’s all about doing things in the cloud, doing things with software-as-a-service, embracing new ways of connecting business. At the layer of management and dealing with how you interact with applications, companies aren’t concerned about building little silos — they are figuring out how I leverage data so I can go connect one silo to another and generate business value.

Then, they aren’t visualizing on their PCs anymore. It’s on a tablet, on a mobile phone; it’s still on some PCs. Never before in IT have we transformed all of those layers of the stack at the same time. That has created a huge opportunity for startups to build value in the enterprise, which is what I’m excited about.”

Christina Lomansey, CEO of Modumetal, a Seattle startup that just raised $33.5 million to develop a new class of nanolayered coatings, claddings and alloys.


“I’m in metals manufacturing and as I look at the landscape, I think metal-laminated alloys are going to change the world for sure. But also 3D-printing, the concept of manufacturing and printing at your house, it’s really going to democratize manufacturing. We’re all going to become manufacturers of our own things. What that means in terms of creativity is that we’re going to be able to associate with production. It’s going to create opportunities we can’t even imagine today.

Modumetal CEO Christina Lomasney.
Modumetal CEO Christina Lomasney.

Manufacturing has always been such a centralized network — a little bit separated from our day-to-day lives — and the day that starts to change and people start thinking about design concepts and being able to realize them in real life, that’s going to completely change day-to-day things and also just the economics of manufacturing in general.

You sitting in your living room could change the design of an automobile to suit your personal taste, to try out some new aerodynamic concept, and you’re not going to have to wait for somebody else to come up with some large scale manufacturing technique to realize that. You think about the implications of bringing that much creativity to bear on an industry that really hasn’t changed very much in many generations, and it’s pretty darn exciting.”

Corey duBrowa, senior vice president of communications for Starbucks, which just launched mobile ordering nationwide.


“If you think about the history of Starbucks, for 43 years we’ve been about creating a third place. It was between your home, and your work, and people weren’t necessarily just buying the coffee. They were buying the experience, and still are doing that. But the smartphone has become the way in which our customers find our stores, the way they pay for their food and beverage when they get to our stores, and the way they communicate with one another when they are in our stores.

Starbucks order aheadThe disruption I forsee is delivering the third place to wherever you are, rather than making you come to the third place exclusively. It’s a very disruptive thing for not just Starbucks, but a lot of folks in our industry. You’ve seen us incrementally getting there. First there was, you can pay for this on your phone. Next, there was, you can order your beverage remotely, skip the line and pick it up as you wish on your terms. And I think the next disruptive thing is, we’ll find a way — whether it’s through our own means or through a third party — to deliver the third place experience to you where ever you are and find a way to reward you through your friend network for doing it at some type of scale.

Doing it with quality and care and the kind of thoughtfulness people have come to expect from us when they visit us is the challenge. That’s what I think is so disruptive about it, because it really does change the paradigm of our business as we’ve created it. But we know that’s where it’s going, so we are already on the way. We are building the backbone that will enable it to happen.”

Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner, a Seattle startup that builds online project management software. 

Liz Pearce

“In our space, which is really work, project, and resource management, I think that the big disruption will probably be around machine learning, and thinking about ways that software and computers can help us better understand ways to do work and apply that to predictive modeling. For us, we are leveraging our data warehouse to start looking at that early and thinking about how we can foray into that our products.

We are already predicting when you can complete your project, but there are other aspects to work management that machines can help us understand — individual behaviors around collaboration, specifically about improving the overall user experience.”

Melissa Waggener Zorkin, co-founder of WE, the 31-year-old PR firm best known for its work with Microsoft. 

Melissa Waggener Zorkin

“Technology has always been at the center of what we’ve been doing and we’ve always adopted it for clients as fast as we can because we have to be leading edge, just as they are. Today, I see that everybody can make a story now — everybody can tell a story, put it together, edit it, make it beautiful, etc. So for us, we keep ahead to make sure we’re the ones who are having them tell the story. We have to engage more people; we have to be channel agnostic; we have to think about every single thing that we can possibly bring out at any given point in time and then use that.

For us, it’s integrated communications. It’s no longer things like PR or just the intermediary — it’s all about stepping back and saying, what is everything we have at our disposal to use in technology to tell someone’s story. So instead of storytelling, it’s sort of story-making.

I don’t feel overwhelmed at all — it’s about time. I love that people who are our clients or partners can actually help us. It’s not just about one person. I not only embrace it, but I relish it because I think it’s about time.”

Mark Britton, CEO of Avvo, the legal advice startup that just raised $71.5 million

20151001_GW_Summit_Party_180markbrittonavvo11“There are three big things in consumer internet that I see. One, ‘verticalization’ is really interesting. There is a certain amount of fatigue around what Google can deliver. To the extent that you have a very real problem in what I’ll call a real vertical — financial, medical, legal, etc. — then you go: ‘OK, I have a real problem, I need to go to the expert.’ That ‘verticalization’ we’ve seen is coming on in a way that the universal broader search can’t attack.

Then, once people go to the expert, they want that expert to interact with them in real-time. With your smartphone, which is becoming the remote control for your life, people are getting trained to where they push a button and whatever information or content or real person they need, it’s immediately accessible. You look at our Avvo Advisor product — you push a button, and a lawyer calls you back in 15 minutes. We didn’t build that because we thought it was cool; we built it because consumers want it.

And then, mobile is everything. Half our traffic comes through mobile. People ask us, even in legal? We say, oh yeah, this is the remote control for your life.”

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