How Jon Gosier ― serial tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, philanthropist and working data scientist ― finds time to sleep is an enduring mystery not even his insights can solve.
As the founder and General Partner of Cross Valley Capital, a Philadelphia-based early-stage venture capital fund, Gosier invests in “tech companies that yield exponential productivity outcomes through ingenious use of data, analytics and technology.”
From Art School to Africa
Gosier is no stranger to ingenuity: As an art-school-trained data scientist, his career of innovation and public service has led to awards and accolades from Time magazine, the Knight News Challenge and the Harvard Initiative for Public Health.
His disaster relief technologies have been deployed by the United Nations, the Red Cross and FEMA, and his landmark 2014 TED Talk has been viewed over 600,000 times.
As he prepares to host this year’s Pivot Conference, Gosier graciously made time in his jam-packed schedule to sit down with CMSWire to discuss how his love of data has shaped his career so far and where he sees it taking him next.
SOBEL: You attended the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) on a full art scholarship and then studied Telecommunications at the University of Georgia. You’re also an alum of the THNK School for Creative Leadership in Amsterdam and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. Can you share your journey from SCAD to being named one of Time magazine’s “New Faces of Black Leadership?”
GOSIER: “Very indirect” is the best way to describe my journey. I followed a path that didn’t even exist when I was in school. Data science and big data as we refer to them today didn’t really even emerge until around 2010, whereas I started college in 1999.
What lead me to data science was discovering a programming language called Processing shortly after college. I was using it for design projects when I discovered its potential for use in data analysis.
But my real love affair with data really took off in the course of working with companies like Google and the World Bank in Africa to develop data-driven solutions to disaster response and humanitarian needs.
SOBEL: As a TED Senior Fellow alum, you have spoken at hundreds of events all over the world. Your famous 2014 TED Talk coined the term “trickle-down techonomics” to describe the unintended consequences of technical innovation and how tech innovators can work to mitigate them. Can you explain?
GOSIER: My TED Talk was about how society shouldn’t blindly assume that tech is going to solve all of our problems. I made the point that just because something is designed with good intent, doesn’t mean it can’t produce negative outcomes.
For example, when the library system in Philadelphia was facing a budget crisis, it decided to reduce expenses by digitizing many of its books and moving them to the cloud. That sounded great ― check out books from home, do mobile research ― but the move was based on a very big and very incorrect assumption.
You see, Philadelphia has a disproportionately poor population and not everyone has access to the Internet, especially the mobile Internet. So the unintended consequence was to raise the bar infinitely higher for some of the kids who relied on those books to maintain a decent education.
SOBEL: In a WIRED magazine article on equity crowdfunding, you said, “Technology improves our lives and makes things more efficient. It brings lots of good. But we often get too caught up in the fancy aspects and don’t pay attention to negative outcomes … [and] mitigating the downsides.” Can you tell us more?
GOSIER: That particular article was about how financial systems should be adapted to be more inclusive but the same thinking can be applied to any industry or any type of innovation.
My thinking is rooted in a methodology I created called “outcome design.” It’s based on the premise that incorporating more thoughtfulness into the design or creative process up front allows us to mitigate negative outcomes that might develop down the line.
I’m fully aware that we can’t solve for what we can’t foresee, but not even making the effort to try is just plain reckless, especially when we’re talking about designing systems that impact or control the lives of others.
SOBEL: You founded MetaLayer in 2011, which Black Enterprise described as a start-up to help non-technical users perform data-driven research.” Sounds fascinating. Are you still involved with the company?
GOSIER: At MetaLayer, we developed a platform that made complicated data analysis tasks really easy to perform by non-technical people. However, I sold my interests in that company back in 2013.
These days I run Predictive Pop, which is an analytics product that media companies and brands can use to understand how best to monetize their content in a world that’s increasingly driven by streaming services and social media engagement.
With Predictive Pop, I’ve taken a lot of what I learned about data science leading MetaLayer and my previous data companies and brought those insights to a different industry and a different set of problems.
SOBEL: You're hosting the Pivot Conference in New York City on Oct. 29. The event is sponsored by The Tomorrow Project LLC and Momentum. Can you tell us a bit more about what attendees can expect?
GOSIER: The unique thing about Pivot is its focus on putting the world of media into a larger context.
The changes we’re seeing in the media industry aren’t happening in a vacuum. The media industry changes as society changes. We’ll be exploring issues like what changing demographics mean for the future of content distribution, how monetization strategies are changing and what comes next after mobile.
Since I’m really passionate about the intersection of tech and lifestyle, I’m personally excited to hear the thinking about how autonomous systems in vehicles will enhance our future entertainment experiences.