Be they retail developer or robotics expert, social media sage or money manager for the masses, these nine people are reshaping the way consumers see the world— and our industry.
This story first appeared in the March 11, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Jim Rosenfeld, president, J.S. Rosenfield & Co.
If the name of your store rhymes with map, Jim Rosenfield won’t budge no matter how much you plead to get a spot at the Brentwood Country Mart. The shopping center owner, who bought the 63-year-old Brentwood Country Mart in 2003 when it was 40 percent vacant, has restored it to full occupancy, and is in the pro- cess of doing the same for shopping centers in Montecito, Marin and Malibu, Calif. He has his guidelines and follows them assiduously. “We don’t just lease to the usual suspects,” he says. “We tend to lease to independently owned stores with kind owners and a high level of customer service.” An apothecary seemed like a good fit for the Brentwood Country Mart, so former Studio at Fred Segal buyer Marie Mason was given the go-ahead to set up her namesake shop there. Benjamin Montoya’s personal collection of more than 2,000 Ray-Bans helped convince Rosenfield that he’d prosper with an eyewear outpost. The results are indisputable. “We are nearly double the average sales per square foot that even some of the best shopping centers have,” says Rosenfield. “We try to create a charming space that is conducive to interaction,” he says. In other words, the future of big-box retailing might just be small.
Cynthia Breazeal, associate professor of media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder and director of MIT’s Personal Robots Group
The love affair between man and machine is getting serious. Cynthia Breazeal is the matchmaker behind the scenes. As a leader in the field of artificial intelligence and founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Personal Robots Group, Breazeal is working on social robots that can learn from people, interact with them and eventually improve their existence. When she was a graduate student, Breazeal developed Kismet, which she calls “the world’s first social robot.” Breazeal compares Kismet with an infant who doesn’t speak but whose face conveys emotions from happiness to anger. After Kismet came Leonardo, a more sophisticated, highly expressive robot. As robots advance, the objective is for them to have the nonverbal communication skills that humans have in order to relay feelings and desires. In a 2008 lecture for Ireland’s Science Week, Breazeal explained: “Robots try to relate to you [and] coordinate their states with your mental states to work as partners and do joint actions.” The real-world implications of human-robot synergy are endless. Breazeal’s group has been studying a robotic weight-loss coach that can establish goals for people and track their progress. She is especially interested in involving robots in child’s play, but robotic participation in everything from health care to consumer purchases is conceivable—and even probable.
Nicholas Felton, co-founder, Daytum.com
Nicholas Felton is a data translator for the numbers challenged. He’s not a statistician. In fact, the last time he studied math was in high school. Instead, Felton is a graphic designer who assembles data in digestible ways through charts, pictograms, maps and graphics so that people without advanced degrees can grasp its meaning. Felton, the co-founder of Daytum.com, is at the forefront of those who collate their daily data to learn about their habits. He has learned a great deal about how to package statistics by recording elements of his own life since 2005 and compiling the information in a Feltron Annual Report. Among other things, he read 17.8 pages, sent 15.9 e-mails and drank 2.7 alcoholic beverages daily in 2008. Felton likens the impulse of recording personal data to diary writing, and delights in the design challenge of presenting statistics comprehensibly. “They are not rigorous,” he says of casual statistics, “but there is a story-telling side to them that is ready to explode.” That potential isn’t limited to individuals. Companies hire him to sift through reams of data. He says they often have trouble arranging their data to answer important questions and hone in on useful narratives. Hired by CNN to analyze its Web site stats, Felton created a visual record for the last 13 years that led to the conclusion cnn.com had become a credible news source in people’s minds after 9/11. Organizing data effectively makes it become “not just a string of numbers,” he says. “It is something significant.”
César Conde, president, Univision Networks
It’s not a Leave It to Beaver world anymore. Univision is proof. For the first time in the U.S., the Spanish-language television network notched wins in the Nielsen ratings over all its English-language broadcast network rivals in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic last year. The man overseeing Univision’s programming ascent is César Conde, a Miami native of Peruvian and Cuban descent who became president of the media giant in 2009 at age 35 and is considered by many to be the heir apparent to chief executive officer Joe Uva. “Univision is one of the top five networks in this country regardless of language,” he underscored while speaking at Harvard University’s Latino Leadership Initiative last year. With an 80 percent share of the domestic Spanish-language television market, there’s little to get in the way of future Univision expansion. Hispanics are the fastest-growing and largest minority group in the U.S., accounting for about 16 percent of the population and expected to constitute one-third of the population by 2050. Conde, whose commitment to public service was cemented when he took a break from Univision to assist former Secretary of State Colin Powell as a White House fellow in 2002 to 2003, is keen on deepening Univision’s connections to the Hispanic community beyond entertainment. He’s outspoken about the need for Hispanic youth to graduate from high school (only about 55 percent do in the U.S.), and has thrown his weight behind Univision’s “Es El Momento” campaign to get that message out. But Conde is clear his primary mission is to drive Univision’s results, and he has ambitious goals. “Five to 10 years from now, if we continue to execute and have the growth that we think we are going to see in the Latino community in this country, it is within a pretty decent realm of possibility that Univision could be the number-one network,” he said. Leslie Moonves, be warned.
Dennis Crowley, co-founder, Foursquare
Dennis Crowley and Justin Bieber are hair twins. But they have much more in common than just dreamy bangs. They’re both on fire. Foursquare, the location-based platform Crowley co-founded, zoomed from 100,000 to 6.5 million users last year who “checked in” more than 381 million times at everything from bars to lunar eclipses. People check in by sharing their locations via smartphones, enabling them to collect points. Companies get in on the action by offering special rewards to Foursquare members. Jimmy Choo gave away shoes and Marc Jacobs handed out a few precious fashion show tickets. Foursquare users are anointed mayors of venues when they check in to those places more than anyone else. At one time, Crowley was mayor of many of the places he frequented—his office and local sushi joint, for example—but has been dethroned at them all as Foursquare’s popularity skyrocket- ed. Foursquare has managed to interweave people’s real social lives with technology. That’s a natural outgrowth of its original purpose, which Crowley explains was to find out where his friends were as efficiently as possible so he could meet them. In that way, Foursquare is sort of the anti-Facebook, which mostly involves people connecting with friends when they are alone staring at a computer screen. Though Facebook has begun to play in Foursquare’s location-tracking territory with Facebook Places, it may be Crowley’s understanding of the social scene and his head start in linking it to people’s mobile and online experiences that keeps Foursquare on top. Now, Crowley is dimensionalizing the experience, making Foursquare an active participant in their daily choices by, for example, suggesting places they might enjoy based on where they’ve been before. “It is like leaving bread crumbs for everything you have done in your life, and those bread crumbs will become smarter,” says Crowley.
If cool were a currency, Elle Fanning could be the face of its $100 bill. The 12-year-old sister of actress Dakota Fanning is the prototype for the modern celebrity who glides effortlessly between the worlds of film and fashion—and manages to stay relatable while doing so. She’s broken into hip showbiz and style circles, but isn’t above confessing a love for the Nickelodeon sitcom iCarly. Sofia Coppola’s movie Somewhere, which came out last year and in which Fanning plays the daughter of a famous actor, catapulted the blonde, porcelain-skinned preteen to “It” girl status. The uberchic fashion geeks Kate and Laura Mulleavy of the label Rodarte have taken her under their wing and cast her in two short films done for Nowness.com. Fanning won red-carpet plaudits for donning a knee-length Valentino Couture LBD to the premiere of Somewhere, and has worn Marchesa, Marc Jacobs and, of course, Rodarte, at other events. “I like mixing vintage with new,” Fanning told WWD of her style. Her beauty picks span the spectrum, as well. Last December, she divulged in Teen Vogue that some of her favorites are from Neutrogena, Dove, Kim Vo and Dior. Her movie career is equally as cross-genre. Fanning is as comfortable on the indie scene as she is in mainstream fare. She will soon be seen in a string of movies by celebrated filmmakers, including Francis Ford Cop- pola’s thriller Twixt Now and Sunrise, J.J. Abrams’ science fiction epic Super 8 and Cameron Crowe’s dramedy We Bought a Zoo. How cool is that.
Jaidev Shergill, chief executive officer, Bundle
In our capitalist democracy, people vote in elections periodically, but vote with their dollars every day. The results of the former are known to all. The results of the latter are a mystery to most. Jaidev Shergill is on a mission to pull back the curtain on how we spend money. As the president of Citigroup Inc.’s venture capital and innovation unit, Citi Ventures, he started Bundle.com, which forbes.com likened to a financial Census Bureau. Bundle.com was spun off last year. “Most people tend to keep their money successes and mistakes to themselves,” says Shergill, who gathers data from Citigroup, the government and other sources. “There is a lot you can learn from others, so we thought, How can we expose that to others in a very anonymous way?” Bundle lets users see how much money people spend on various things—shopping, food, health care, etc.—by age, zip code, income and household type. Shergill learned the $2,600 he spent per month on restaurants and groceries put him in the top 10 percent of Manhattanites. “I felt, Oh, boy, I need to normalize,” he sighs. Bundle also has its own restaurant recommender that rates restaurants with a loyalty score based on spending and visitations. Bundle is expanding the concept to cover a variety of merchants in New York and beyond. Eventually, one will be able to look up the spas of choice for people who earn more than $100,000 in Los Angeles, for example. Now that’s some serious consumer voting power.
Lights, camera, action. Jonas Åkerlund—well known for his music videos for songstresses such as Lady Gaga, Madonna and Rihanna—has burst onto the beauty commercial scene in one swift take. The Swedish director recently lensed the Dior Addict lipstick advertisement starring Kate Moss. The spot toggles between Moss readying herself in a luxe hotel room strewn with clothing, taking in a Dior show in Paris’ Jardin des Tuileries, and the car ride in between. The ad is multitextured, shift- ing between color and black-and-white documentarylike film images. As much as the hotel scene gives a sense of intimacy, Moss’ arrival on the fashion front bristles with a frenetic public mania. That versatility is typical of Åkerlund. For another recent spot, this for the Boss Orange men’s fragrance, he takes a totally different tack. Working with Orlando Bloom on a stage set where the actor is being prepped by a hairstylist and a makeup artist, Åkerlund left things unscripted and spontaneous. Åkerlund has also directed commercials for brands such as Sony, Ikea, Smirnoff and Adidas. His numerous art projects include creating and directing a circus, exhibits in Seoul and Frankfurt and photo shoots for publications such as Elle, Flair and V. Future vision, indeed.
Pete Cashmore, chief executive officer, Mashable
At the ripe age of 25, college dropout Pete Cashmore has figured out what many older and more experienced Web aficionados have not: how to make money as an online media property. He says Mashable has been in the black since he started the technology and social networking blog in 2005 from his small hometown in Scotland. According to the company, Mashable currently has 12 million unique monthly users and a staff of 50 divided between New York and San Francisco that generates 45 articles daily. Mashable is distinguished by a virtually unsurpassed ability to harness the interconnectivity of the Web and cultivate a highly engaged audience that makes the most of it. It has 3.4 million-plus users across a panoply of online social platforms that include Facebook, where its content is shared at least 40,000 times a week, and Twitter, where its content is retweeted more than 40,000 times daily. Talking with Vator.tv, Cashmore said: “We don’t think in terms of, Hey, can we monetize this social network right away? We think in terms of how we can bring more community into it.” To keep that community energized, Mashable is increasing readers’ power to handpick the news they want to consume. It recently launched Mashable Follow, allowing readers to subscribe to news on their favorite topics and easily share it. “Beyond personalization, curation is the next great wave in news, and empowering our community to choose the news of the day is the ultimate aim,” says Cashmore. Now, that’s news you can use.