Howard Tullman, CEO of digital startup incubator 1871, was the keynote speaker at the third annual Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) Forecast in January 2014. CEC manages 1871, which is located in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. 

Tullman has founded 12 companies, including the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, CCC Information Services,, the Rolling Stone Network, Imagination Pilots, and Experiencia. He is or has been at various times “a serial entrepreneur, investor, advisor, art collector, teacher, lecturer, lawyer, (and) marathon runner.” called Tullman “the most accomplished, best-connected entrepreneur you have never heard of.”


After several insightful opening comments, including our expectations about the quality of our experiences and utility, rather than possession, Tullman organized his talk around six topics: niches, speed being the state of competition, connected devices, video “everything,” collaborative commerce, and wiki work.

His talk was never dull (he often employed, ahem, colorful language) and included observations and insights on major trends in technology and entrepreneurship from someone who’s been in involved in both for decades.

Key takeaways from the talk:

  • We are
    more concerned today with the quality of our experiences and the utility
    of things than with possession.
  • The “sharing economy”: we will use assets more efficiently and economically,
    saving time and money, and acting more responsibly.
  • Beyond
    interest graphs, the next level is to know where the consumer is going.
    Digital prognostics will supplant diagnostics and analysis.
  • If you
    are “stuck in search,” you are losing a step on the competition. Projection
    and prediction of online behavior matters.
  • Speed
    is most important today. Speed and not size wins.
  • Companies
    can make a personalized offer in the short time required to load a
    webpage. Think of this as the “shifting sands” underneath digital
  • Computing
    advances from “big guys” like Google are squeezing out smaller
    competitors. It’s great for consumers who enjoy mass customization, but entrepreneurs need to produce solutions for SMBs.
  • Wearable technology enables us in every kind of business sense and context.
  • Analog
    is moving to digital, and digital means video. Video-enabled communication
    is the default way we share.
  • For
    anyone under a certain age, the first screen is the mobile device. Video
    is how a lot of learning will take place. The world, including education,
    will adapt to this model.
  • Collaborative
    commerce is the idea that, if we’re sharing, we’ll be able to work
    together. It provides a powerful set of resources that people are still
    figuring out. Collaborative commerce will be become a bigger part of the economy.
  • Wiki
    work: the workplace is everywhere today and is no longer constrained by time and
  • Wiki
    work can pull together an enormous talent of people, recapture
    opportunities that were previously downtime, and increase the productivity
    of the whole country.
  • With
    the trend to crowd-sourced, individual work, places that create community,
    like 1871, will be valuable.

Opening comments

I spoke last year, much to the disappointment of the organizers of
the Chicago Auto Show, on how nobody under 35 cares about cars anymore. They were
happy to have me kick off the auto show! (laughter)

It had to do with this idea that we are more concerned today with
the quality of our experiences than owning and controlling things. And we’re
also more concerned with the utility of things, than about possession. If
there’s a single thing that is most exciting in this whole world, then it is

It’s this idea that we’ll use assets. We’ll use things in ways that
are efficient and will save an enormous amount of time and money, and become
more economically responsible and ecologically responsible—all through this
idea of the “sharing economy.”

Two years ago I talked about hyper personalization, the idea of knowing everything about everybody, and that’s
sort of old news, sort of table stakes. And then the following year I talked
about Facebook’s launch of the interest graph and this idea that it wasn’t enough to know about me, you have
to know what I’m interested in, and it’s a moving target.

So, interest, information, it empowers us. But now we are going to
move to the next level, which is, where are you going? Not just what you’re
interested in, not just who you are, but where are you headed? That’s the case,
those are the stakes.

[For example] Google now does a better job of tracking real estate
trends than the organizations in the real estate business. Google is more
effective and more accurate in terms of the next 90 days of the market.

If you are “stuck in search,” if you’re looking for results,
you’re actually losing a step on the competition. So the idea of moving from
diagnostics and analytics, to prognostics and projection, is where we are
going. Those are the kinds of tools that we are going to see, and those are the
tools that will put in our hands at exactly the right time the information that
we really need and value.

The audiences you want to reach

Niches—they are not small, they are highly curated and very, very
valuable, because they are authentic, if you do it right. The truth is that
they are interactive and have enormous value, because they tend to be the
audiences that you really want to reach.

Nobody wants to ship “tonnage” anymore. Everybody wants to ship to
people that matter, to people that are engaged, to people that are going to
consume and value your communications to them, and your products or services.

is the state of competition

not size, wins today. Speed “kills,” and speed is the
most important thing. And you know the world that we are living in today, you
can make dust, and be running ahead of people, or eat dust and sort of sit

[One example] is Safeway. Real-time pricing on an individual
basis. Does Safeway give me the best price for my Charmin? No. Why? Because I
love Charmin. So they give the best price to somebody who uses Kleenex, whom
they want to incent to use Charmin. And they do this at a speed that is

We’re in a position now, where in the time that it takes (roughly
10 to 30 milliseconds) to load a webpage we can fashion and perform a
personalized offer to the consumer, based on everything we know about you. So
think about that kind of time frame. Think about this as the “shifting sands” underneath
these kinds of conversations that are going on.

Another interesting thing that’s happening is, if you haven’t seen
the Google PLAs (Product Listing Ads), basically, they’ve upped the ante. They
have figured out that it is not enough to give you 22 million responses for an
inquiry. So what they are doing now is feeding back a much more particularized
set of information.

And this is really good news for us, as people seeking products.
Now, having said that, the other thing is that Google [is making it] tough for
small competitors, who don’t have the tools and the engines to let you do
this—to have your products be dynamically priced, imaged, supplied in real time
to people searching. The little guys are going to get killed, unless we as
entrepreneurs figure out ways to empower them with comparable tools, that is,
compete with the big guys.

And so, from a consumer standpoint purchases are going to get
better and faster and more particularized, but from a competitor’s standpoint
and from a product standpoint, it’s going to get really tough.

What that has permitted is mass customization. And what I want to
share with you about this is not that simple. But when you hear people talking
about “A/B testing,” where the game is going because of high velocity
computing, and because of the extent of the information we now have, think
about “A to Z testing.”

And during the last (presidential) campaign, one of the great
things was to sit next to Harper Reed and to watch him put up 20 different offers, and in a minute
and a half kill about 16 of the 20 offers. They could see which dogs were
eating the dog food.

So they would do these against tiny, tiny samples, across huge
sets of variables, and then they would instantly react and go deeper and longer
into the stuff that was working. But not after 12 weeks, or after three months
of a print campaign—they were in real time, in minutes.

So again, speed is the state of the competition. Speed is how the
game is going to be played.

devices empower us

idea that we are connected has more value now, not just due to devices, but
also due to wearables—devices that in every sense enable us, empower us in
every kind of business sense and context.

We are all tethered. But not only are we tethered to devices that
we think about, all of the devices around us are also becoming enabled and will
communicate. This is the Internet of Things.

One of the new things at Disney, and this is really interesting,
is MagicBand. Instead of a simple free app that would have committed your
phone to do this, they sell you this bracelet that you take home, and it’s
useless as soon as you take it home. But on property, it opens your room, it
pays for your goods, it identifies you, it moves you into the fast pass lanes.
Very powerful.

And it’s just one of many devices like this. Electronic leashes
will keep us from losing our cars. This is cool (on screen): these are
little tiny stickers you can put on anything that will GPS-enable and locate
those kinds of things.

And my favorite is actually this—has anybody in the audience not
moved? So if you’ve all moved, you all understand how that works. You give your
precious possessions to a bunch of guys with no teeth, and you hope at the
other end of the journey some of the stuff will be there. This is a fake little
box (on screen) that you add to your
moving load, and it sends GPS signals to you throughout the move so that you
know that the guy isn’t at some truck stop in Indiana for two days.

Video “everything”: The default way we share

Where are we going on video? “Everything analog” is moving to “everything
digital,” and digital means video. That’s how we learn, that’s how we share, so
more and more video. Basically, what you want and where you want it and when you
want it, everything will be on-demand.

We don’t talk about television anymore, because we talk about
video assets that are going to be distributed across all kinds of channels. And
you know, interesting enough, TV is not suffering, but it is sort of
selectively being depopulated. So in certain age groups, online viewing is
exploding, and TV watching is diminishing significantly. The truth is that for
anybody under a certain age the first screen today is your mobile device.

 We don’t talk about television anymore, because we talk about
video assets that are going to be distributed across all kinds of channels. And
you know, interesting enough, TV is not suffering, but it is sort of
selectively being depopulated. So in certain age groups, online viewing is
exploding, and TV watching is diminishing significantly. The truth is that for
anybody under a certain age the first screen today is your mobile device.

But we’ve discovered, and this is from the last Olympics—we expect
to run this analysis again. We discovered the good news is these devices are
completely additive. They don’t diminish the TV experience, they enhance it.
More and more of this is permitting us to do shorter and shorter
communications. We see video-enabled communications as basically the default
way that we share.

Again, how a great deal of learning will take place.
The kids who are in school, who think of school increasingly as a sort of
prison, they are doing their learning everywhere but school. So the whole world
is going to adapt to this model as we move forward.

commerce is powerful

commerce… this idea that [if] we’re sharing then we are going to be able to
work together. When you go back not so many years, the personal computer
permitted us for the first time individually to create powerful digital assets,
and when the web came along it permitted us to share those digital assets. And
then collaborative tools came along to let us work together worldwide. And
lastly, after all that stuff was created, Google came along and let us find it,
which turned out to be a fairly important thing as well.

commerce is] not taxable, or measurable. There are a lot of things that will
come where people are going to have to figure out how this works.

But for now it’s
powerful… [for example] one hour of translation on TaskRabbit. And look who these people are, look at who the
5,000 rabbits are on TaskRabbit. They are stay-at-home moms, they are retirees,
they are college students.

It’s a really powerful set of resources. It’s way more powerful
than something you could hire, than something you would want to hire. You want
to use these as a variable cost. So you can push out just about anything. All
of these are very, very powerful. You can hire an expert to help you raise
money, just about anything. And that’s just the beginning–we are going to see
more and more of this.

work: Beyond constraints

all know of Wikipedia. Wiki work is this idea that the workplace is everywhere
today and it’s so exciting because we are no longer time- and
place-constrained, we are no longer location-based, we can be working anywhere
in real time, and that’s much more important than places tend to be.

We are going to be able to pull together an enormous talent of
people: stay-at-home moms, PhDs, all kinds of people. [They] can join your
team, join your workforce, in really amazing ways because of connectivity and
because of the web.

And we are going to recapture opportunities while we are
commuting, when we’re stuck in places, all of these things are going to increase
the productivity of the whole country in very, very powerful ways. If you don’t
understand how big Wikipedia now is—70,000 people work for free for Wikipedia
these days.

And just to give you one example, I don’t know if many of you know
this. For about 10 years or more scientists were trying to solve a particular
protein issue connected with AIDS and couldn’t do it. And they pushed this
problem out to about 200,000 gamers. They solved the problem in about 10 days,
because they thought of it as a puzzle, they didn’t know it was science.
They said, oh wow, we just have to figure out how to do this.

More and more of us
are going to work for ourselves, this trend is going to just expand and
increase. That’s exciting in some ways it’s also lonely in some ways. And
places that create community, like 1871, are really valuable. And we are going to have more and more services that
are going to grow up and connect us to other services and connect us to other
businesses, [and not through] traditional channels.