It’s this time of the year again. Early January. One part of the world is still in hibernation, the other half is chilling in the sun. Not so at the DLD headquarters: deadlines fly by, emails flood the screens, and the office is a hive – day n night. Nonetheless, Steffi Czerny, the Co-Founder and Managing Director, steps out of the tunnel and takes herself invaluable time for this interview.
It's like an incarnated magazine; different sections, readers, a publisher, advertisers. With only one major difference: the single pieces can talk to each other and interplay. This generates new knowledge and new matches are made. In this sense I'm a „Menschenverleger“, a people publisher (she laughs). But it’s more. DLD is an invitation-only conference. Hence our audience is as curated as the speakers and we really know everybody who is attending. This is a warrant for our unique communal warmth and quality. The experience and the interdisciplinarity are key. Everybody has blindspots. At DLD, we hope to connect the unexpected and stimulate. Patterns that connect?
In my analogue matchmaking, I try to understand the hidden patterns that connect people. Social behaviour seems random, but it actually follows certain lines. In the 18th century, philosophers explained and illuminated the world. In the 19th Century, the industrialists conquered and harnessed the globe. The signatory of the 20th Century was this dualism of ideologies. In the 21st Century, the means that define the world is data.
If data is the new oil, then the data scientist is the new alchemist. It’s not only the new raw material for business, it also triggered a new kind of sociology, capable of reducing complexity, unearthing underlying patterns and exposing invisible cohesion. Data brings us closer to the complex patterns of everything we do, it changes our perspective on our life, societies and values.
I have the terrible reputation of a great networker. Quite the contrary! At the end of the day, I am a non-social human being. I don’t really have the energy to socialise. I love hiking in the Bavarian Alps with my two dogs. I love birdwatching. But my energy levels are boosted by coupling. Money doesn’t interest me on a personal level either. But in my professional life, I love to create business opportunities. DLD groups the top-notch investors with business leaders, entrepreneurs and the creative class. Yossi Vardi says that DLD gets the ratio right between powerful, fun, and interesting people. And he is not saying that because he is our chairman (she laughs again). This balanced mix is my playground for connecting ideas and businesses. It’s the match-making and the deals that give me the kicks.
Among the many highlights, I am looking forward to the seminal panels about mobile payment, cyberwar, 3-D printing, and the future of search. Of course, all speakers are outstanding. Just to do justice to the question, some of my recommendations would include Albert-László Barabási, Scott Belsky, Zach Sims, DJ Patil, Rick Smolan, Peter Thiel, Zaha Hadid, and Hugh Herr. Also, I am very curious about the art session. This year Hans Ulrich brought together a goup of artists that were born after 1989 (the end of the 20th century; Eric Hobsbawm).
Over the course of time?
When we first started DLD in 2005, social networks have barely existed. When Mark Zuckerberg joined us in 2009, Facebook had roughly 50 million users. Today a world without social networks is indispensable and FB is populated by one billion people! This is just the most catchy story but there are plenty more in my basket. Another example: In 2008, Esther Dyson and Anne Wojcicki blew our mind in the field of personal genetic testing with their company 23andMe. Only four years later, the Do-It-Yourself biologist Ellen Jorgensen and Oliver Medvedik (Genspace) bring biotech to DLD with basic kitchen devices. I could go on and on... Marissa Mayer, the talks between Marko and Martti Athisaari, Esther, George and Freeman Dyson, or Sean Parker and Paolo Coelho.
What drives you?
My passion is to understand how the world is changing. And who drives this change? What motivates the people who push this change? How do they build the future? In this sense, DLD is explaining a certain vision on the world and how it can be crafted. A small group of people is influencing so much. It is a true microcosmos. These few digital masters and their offspring are affecting the entire connected world.
The Valley itself is a nice system. Sheryl Sandberg was at Google when she met Mark Zuckerberg at a christmas party at Dan Rosensweigs place. Shortly afterwards, she was recruited as COO at Facebook. Or Sebastian Thrun, the computer scientist and Google VP, who pioneered in driverless cars before he became director at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and co-founded the famous online education institution Udacity. Such vita is typical for the in-crowd. More generally, I believe the most important attributes for this fertile soil for innovation are the entrepreneurial spirit, the basic research, and the incredible trust and easiness.
It is a unique eco-system. But it’s not the only model. In the digitised world, the global pipelines of knowledge transfer and capital have made some locational factors less relevant. Other factors remain crucial. Munich actually has quite a lot of similarities with the Valley: an incredible hinterland, excellent universities, an economic environment that is capable of turning visions into products. And the libertine townsfolk. Munich might not have had bands like Jefferson Airplane or Creedence Clearwater Revival. Still, it was the place where Giorgio Moroder invented the disco sound in the 70ies.
In a fully networked world, being international goes without saying. We are touching base in upcoming hotspots like Istanbul, Warsaw, Moscow, as much as in the established nerve centres like Silicon Valley, New York, London or Tel Aviv. Our global tour creates an important reflux and strong links for us. If you take a look at the DLD13 programme, Sina Afra, Josh Weinstein, Keren Elazari, Borys Musielak are great examples of how this feeds back into our agenda.
The new website and the iPad magazine indicate the road ahead. One goal is to develop our media channel further. The knowledge we generate finally gets the platform it deserves. It pools the content that drives our speakers, our editorial notes, the DLD sessions and inspirational stuff we see along our way in a fun, dynamic flow. Basically, we picture our social graph. Our biggest asset are the excellent individuals we invite and the meaningful connections we create amongst them.
As Hans Ulrich Obrist, our long-time friend and DLD arts curator, says: „DLD brings together so many fields, that it has the generosity to always provoke the unexpected. The surplus of it often creates combinations, where the 1 + 1 = 11.“ So we keep on pushing it hard to maintain this equation.
*DLD13 is expecting 100 high-profile speakers and 800 influential, "by invitation only" attendees. Jointly, this unorthodox network of talent will discuss the hottest issues of today and tomorrow, and explore new (business) opportunities. The #dld13 topics include digital security/privacy, mobile payment, 3-printing, next generation of e-commerce, and search. *