Technology, creativity and values drive the new disruptors

April 28, 2015

panel on technology and creativityBrad Delson, guitarist for the iconic L.A. band Linkin Park, probably wouldn't have fit in well with the rock bands of eras past. "I was never very good at being drunk or listless," he conceded to an audience at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

Instead, Delson and his bandmates have channeled their energy — and the energy of many of their 67 million Facebook followers — into Music for Relief, an organization created to help fund disaster relief worldwide. They love making music, of course, but trying to make the world a better place "is the most important thing we do," Delson said.

Brad Delson, Linkin Park

Next up for the Linkin Park empire: Delson and bandmate Mike Shinoda are launching their own venture capital fund, Machine Shop Ventures.

The two sat on a panel of young entrepreneurs who were asked to define what drives them as "disruptors" in today's economy. Common threads, not surprisingly, were the desire for a strong bond with their customers, and a motivation to do societal good.

What's not a driving force: a need to make a huge short-term financial windfall.

For Payal Kadakia, CEO of ClassPass, the goal was to get more people off their butts. Her online company gives clients a choice of exercise classes and other activities at various fitness studios and gyms nationwide, for a flat fee, allowing them to build their own varied regime.

Kadakia sees herself as a facilitator of active lifestyles. "I want them to say 'yes'," she said of clients. That also involves listening intently to customer feedback, which technology makes easy. "Our customers tell us exactly what they want," she said.

Brandon Beck, CEO of online video-game company Riot Games, said that from the firm's launch nine years ago he saw a need to "break down the theoretical wall" between business and consumer, and allow players' constant feedback to help drive the company's development and products.

"There has to be a deep mutual respect for our customers, our players," Beck said. "It has to be authentic, or they can see through it."

Brandon Beck, Riot Games

At fashion-eyeglass company Warby Parker, cofounder Dave Gilboa said the idea for the business in 2010 was rooted in the belief that glasses simply cost too much. He estimated the typical industry markup at between 1,000 percent and 2,000 percent. "It didn't make sense," he said.

But Gilboa said it also was important to the founders "to do some good" in the world. That was the seed for the firm's program to get a pair of glasses to people in need for every pair customers buy.

Dave Gilboa, Warby Parker

All of the entrepreneurs also cited the need to treat their workers well, and keep them engaged not just as employees but as partners in building the businesses.

But do these business models work financially? Or as moderator Andy Serwer, editor-in-chief at Yahoo Finance put it, "Does it hurt profitability" to think about the greater good?

In the short run, the entrepreneurs said, it might. But in the long run, they said, they believed their models would be key to sustained financial success. If she had to worry about ClassPass's results from quarter to quarter, Kadakia said, "We wouldn't be here."