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Social Influencer Series | Managing Director Glasswing Ventures, Sarah Fay

Social Influencer Series | Managing Director Glasswing Ventures, Sarah Fay

I was introduced this past year to Sarah Fay. I was transitioning from traditional media to martech and a college classmate connected us. Ironically, I had no idea that she was in the midst of her own personal reinvention as well - into the world of venture capital with Glasswing Ventures.

Sarah had a storied, two-decade career as a visionary advertising and media industry CEO leading the charge of digital transformation at Carat, Isobar and Aegis North America. She had a reputation as a true innovator who led the charge of early adoption of new forms of media such as Digital, Mobile, Social and Programmatic. In recent years, Sarah has shared her thought leadership and experience in the digital and marketing industries, serving as an Independent Director on the boards of several public and private technology and digital media companies. (Celtra, Social Flow, The Street, Women’s Marketing, Inc., and [X+1] acquired by Rocket Fuel for $230M) She has also participated as Board Advisor and/or angel investor to Adelphic Mobile, clypd, ViralGains, Ghostery, Namely, Mavrck, AdDaptive Intelligence and MOGUL.

It was an honor to catch up with before the AdClub's Women's Leadership Forum this past March.

Here is what Sarah had to say:

You helped launch Glasswing Ventures in 2016 - a venture cap firm focused on early stage start-ups with an emphasis in AI. What is about AI, in particular that excites you about the future?                 

The team at Glasswing Ventures, Rudina Seseri, Founder and Managing Partner, Rick Grinnell, Founder and Managing Partner and I see AI as a massive opportunity for investment and growth. Similar to the advent of the internet, AI will bring sweeping changes to how we use technology to enhance our daily lives and ways of doing business. The market is ripe for AI development and adoption as the connectivity infrastructures, as well as the vast data sources needed to implement AI solutions, are now in place. AI is ready to exploit that infrastructure after decades of continuous development. AI software is beyond the point of experimentation. Innovation in hardware graphical processing units from companies such as NVIDIA has completely changed the game in terms of available processing power and speed that can now be achieved on computing platforms -- in some cases, bringing 10X the speed that was possible before. This higher level of power, which is needed for the kind of data crunching that AI requires, is only recently attainable and affordable -- and, when applied, delivers results that cannot be ignored. The AI wave will be enormous, bringing trillions to the global economy. At Glasswing Ventures, we believe the case for a pure play investment firm focused on AI is clear. We are well positioned to help our investment partners capitalize on AI, and we bring a strategic advantage to our portfolio companies through our immersion in their ecosystem. It’s very exciting.

Today's Innovation, Tomorrow's Transformation. A simple brand slogan, but powerful. What does that mean to you? 

Through our investments, Glasswing is harnessing innovation and development in AI to transform behavior, business, and the world we live in – so our goals are ambitious. Hopefully you can guess this meaning through our branding: our Glasswing Butterfly logo is also a symbol of transformation. This butterfly is a real species with transparent wings – transparency is also part of our fundamental business philosophy – we operate transparently with our investment partners and our portfolio companies. 

For consumers, what are the little and big ways that their lives will be impacted by AI and what are the companies paving the way to get there?

I heard Sir Timothy Berners Lee, the inventor of the internet, speak on this subject, and thought he put it best when he said that we will look back on the initial digital era as a time when technology had progressed very quickly, and we had discovered many things that made our lives more convenient. But in the future, he said, we will look back on “a feeling of being handcuffed to our devices.” He predicted the need to access our computers or handheld devices in order to get what we’re looking for will be remembered as a clunky nuisance, and we can expect a time “when everything becomes more intuitive, and the things we want are more naturally embedded within our environments.” We are experiencing the early stages of this – where we tell devices in our environments what we want. Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Now, are all paving the way for this kind of experience and helping to change behaviors and expectations from consumers. Granted, these experiences are still rudimentary – we can expect technology to become much more capable and elegant in serving our needs. If you want to see what the next level of Amazon Echo looks like, check out the home robot Jibo, which incorporates voice and facial recognition as well as AI learning about its users’ likes and dislikes. This goes way beyond the devices that have been introduced so far. Driverless cars, customer service and assistant bots, getting information faster, even without asking – this is all in our not-too-distant future.

The focus has shifted to Customer Experience. According to Gartner 89% of companies will compete for their lives and futures by winning the delivery of Customer Experience - in digital, social and trust. How does AI factor into the modern delivery model?

If you ask me, the focus has always been about customer experience – in everything that has been successful. That’s why Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook (as examples) are all winners. AI will naturally be used to provide addictive experiences that bring convenience and even delight to consumers and workers. But we are in an early phase where UX mistakes using AI are still being made pretty regularly. I was listening to my news briefing from Alexa this morning, and several of the news pieces ended with the phrase, “you can read more about it here.” Clearly the news providers were simply translating their web site top line stories, and missed that Alexa listeners aren’t about to click on the link they suggest. It’s kind of humorous – and because I recognize this is new, I’m cutting the news providers slack – for now. We all know voice recognition technology is not yet perfect either. I can’t tell you how many times my car has responded outrageously wrong to a voice request, resulting in me using my shouting voice. Not a great user experience, but these things will get better over time. And the winners once again will be the ones that provide the absolute best experiences we all end up feeling we can’t live without.

What are the verticals of business that will leverage AI to business success. We see customer-service focused brands winning on social today. Who will win with AI?  

There is no particular vertical that stands out to me, because AI will have a significant impact on every vertical – again, very much like what we saw happen with the internet. A recent study conducted by Infosys demonstrates a high level of AI implementation across a wide variety of global organizations that is happening already.  For companies that are aggressively pushing ahead with their AI strategies, the study shows a direct link to accelerated revenues. These early adopters say experimentation is showing “hugely positive results,” -- AI is delivering on its promise. By 2020, these companies expect AI to contribute, on average, revenue increases of 39% while reducing costs 37%. That is transformative value creation, with disruptive potential for early adopters. The study also punctuates the fast pace of AI adoption. While just 9% of companies surveyed are deemed “Visionaries,” meaning they are already successfully deploying AI throughout their businesses and reaping the benefits, 21% are “Rising Stars” well along the path. The largest group is “Explorers,” at 38%, which consists of companies actively experimenting and expanding AI in the coming 12 months. Only a small minority of companies (12%) have no plans for AI. You can better believe with this kind of activity happening across industries that we will be encountering AI everywhere we turn in a matter of years.

Speed Round:

1 Celebratory cocktail –White wine with ice (don’t judge me)

2 Greatest accomplishment – Digital pioneer and proud mother

3 Go to social channel –Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn

4 Advice for someone starting out in technology – Be a sponge and collaborate.

5 Inspirational #hashtag – #BostonStrong – this is a hashtag that emerged after the Marathon bombing, a devastating tragedy. But the Boston community showed just how resilient, and supportive it was in the wake of a terrible event, bringing hope and healing to those affected. I am a long time Bostonian, and very proud of our city’s innovation, companies, and amazing business community. And I obviously think it’s a great place to live. 

My Twitter handle, by the way is @sarahfayboston.

Sarah Fay is the Managing Director of Glasswing Ventures. Sarah’s contributions to the broader community include serving on the Executive Board of the Ad Club of Boston, as Director on the Board of The Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) and as Board Advisor to Advertiser Perceptions.

 About the interviewer:

Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years of experience in the media industry and a wild ride in the world of tech start-up & social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX at Lithium Technologies, where he is the Regional Vice President of Sales for the East and Central. His mantra is - Brand Globally. Market Locally. 

e: markkeaney8@gmail.com or t: @markkeaney2pt0

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