There’s a lot of talk about the amazing things beacons will be able to do at retail level. And all of it is true – at least from a functional perspective. For the first time products will be able to directly interact with potential customers at store level. Physical spaces people spend time in will be able to interact with the people inside those spaces. Department stores, farmers markets, concert halls and football stadiums are all being filled with beacon technology. And it will give birth to a new era of pocket spam. I wonder if what we really need right now is more vendors shouting at us with offers we didn’t know we wanted? I doubt it.
So, here’s the startup opportunity for Beacons which few are focusing on just now.
How to stop them.
Yes, the spam filter equivalent for the intrusive beacon. And I know you’re thinking that this time it’s different, because it wont happen unless we allow push messages. But when was the last time you read all those terms and conditions for a web based service? Often we say yes to something before all the details emerge and when the world was slightly different. It’s our legacy decisions which get taken advantage of.
Often the market for the hotdogs around the stadium is bigger than what is on the main playing field. And there’s always less people watching that game while you set up shop on the sidelines.
In a very short period of time, opinions of anything can change. It wasn’t so long ago that these statements were made about the internet as a commercial platform:
- It’s for nerds. “Fine, you nerds can do what you want but normal people are never going to use this thing.”
- It’s completely decentralized, which means you can’t trust it. No business is ever going to do anything on it because businesses won’t work on an untrusted environment. There won’t ever be any e-commerce.
- There will never be any internet payments. No one will put their credit card on the internet.
- It’s an open-source kind of thing so there will be no Internet companies.
- It’s got all these technical deficiencies. It’s slow. It’s unreliable. It doesn’t work right. When you do a search, sometimes you get an answer back and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes when you dial in you get a busy signal.
- What happen if your ISP goes out of business? Then you can’t get back online.
- Once you get on the internet, even assuming you get on the internet, there’s nothing to do. There’s no content. Time magazine isn’t online, the New York Times isn’t online. It’s just a bunch of nerd stuff.
These classic soundbites come from Marc Andreessen in a recent interview while referencing those who think bitcoin will never be more than some kind of digital space oddity. While we are on the topic of economic change, it is telling to have a look at the market valuations of the top 10 internet companies. That is, companies less than 20 years old who could not have existed pre dot com. The US top 10 public companies now have an accumulated value of $1.168 trillion dollars.
- Google – $585 billion
- Facebook – $170 billion
- Amazon – $155 billion
- Ebay – $65 billion
- Priceline – $65 billion
- Yahoo – $36 billion
- Salesforce.com – $36 billion
- Twitter – $24 billion
- Linkedin – $21 billion
- Expedia – $11 billion
We can also add the upcoming float of Alibaba.com to this at anything between a further $120 to $200 billion.
This takes my mind directly to the potential of 3D printing, web of things and the solar energy industry. All of which are in their 1993 era. The only question remaining for entrepreneurs reading is this; What are you going to do about it?
Yes, I have been writing, just in other places. So here’s 3 recent articles I’ve put out there which could have been put here:
Back posting tomorrow – I promise.
Fake it till you make it – sure you’ve heard that. But have you ever seen a documentary showing it in action? Been a fly on the wall while people make dramatic transitions? There’s an old UK television show aptly called ‘Faking it’. It’s now been off the air for almost 10 years but has serious lessons for entrepreneurs and anyone looking to make a transition.
It is truly inspiring to see what is possible for most anyone with focus, hands on practice and coaching from experts. One of my favourite episodes takes country boy James Sawyer dressed in tweed who speaks with a toffy voice to become a street graffiti artist in a mere 4 weeks. The premise of the show is that his mentor has to get their student up to speed so that they can sit a test, and trick experts who have to pick the ‘faker. The test James had was to go through a live graffiti art contest (pitch if you will), against 3 other actual graffiti artists followed by an interview on the hip hop culture in the hope of to stooging the judges.
It’s worth watching and you can watch it here.
The thing is that we are all faking it, even when we are regarded as an expert in our field. None of us really know anything with absolute certainty. We guess, we estimate, we take a chance, we copy others and we just forge ahead. We should remember this more in life and forget the fear of being called out as a fraud. Most of what we do to make a living or build a startup is not life and death. Getting it wrong wont really matter that much, unless you are building airplanes and bridges. (Airplane and bridge building readers, please ignore this post.) The rest of us should start acting is if we can.
Every now and again there are movements which gather pace and very quickly form industries. Industries which have inevitability about them. Industries which are suited to the startup realm more than they are to corporate giants. Industries in which it is clear to see that a void will be filled and fortunes will be made. The kind of concepts that are who and when, rather than if and how.
The personal computer industry had this in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The the media industry was clearly going to be transformed in the 1990’s witht the dot come boom and right now the web of things is a big opportunity that most industries are failing to see, or at least act on. The thing that they are failing to see is that every product people buy is also going to become a tiny computer. So here’s a question entrepreneurs searching for an idea should ask themselves:
How can I turn product X into a computer?
The companies who already make product X probably know it to, but I seriously doubt they’ll do anything about it. Especially if the company was born before the internet. They’re likely to do what they’ve always done; try to make their product cost cheaper than last year, and maintain their market share. It’s what industrialists do as they return a profit to their shareholders while mitigating risk and changing incrementally – or only once the market demands change. Sure, their are more innovative established firms who’ll see this opportunity and act on it, but they’ll be in the minority. This means that the opportunity is a massive white space for entrepreneurs. A white space where you can turn your hobby into a company – by doing exactly what the question asks. Putting a computer onto a product you love. I intend to do it for surfing. And this isn’t some fanciful development years from now it’s already happening:
LIFX did an amazing job making web enable light globes to change the home.
The Moxie showerhead has a wifi enabled speaker inside it so you can rock out while bathing.
We’ve also seen connectivity on home locks, sports shoes, cars, and clothing, so why not milk cartons or cricket bats?
In fact, have a look around your home and office – look at something and that thing will be connected to the internet at some point in the next 10 years. Whether the connected technology will enhance utility, automation, the smart home, e-commerce or feed into the quantified self, it is going to happen. And the entrepreneurs may not even need to make the thing – it might be attached to the product others make. There’s any manner of ways it can be mashed up. And given that these things that will be connected to the internet already exist, with established markets, the exit potential is clear and simple. So the only question remaining is whether or not you’ll do it or watch while other entrepreneurs fill the void.
I recently saw a prototype for the Google self drive car – It’s picture is below and looks kinda cute / cool / weird.
Anyone who follows the technology world will know that Google have successfully driven their self drive cars without incident for more than million miles. But up until now, the cars have been retro fitted Toyota and Lexus’s – other companies cars they fitted their self drive technology to. This is a bit of a shift in the projects trajectory. The Google car, is quite It’s further proof that information, when distributed freely and easily changes the physical world too. That dramatic changes in information, have dramatic impacts on all things physical. But what it should remind business people is that we simply can’t know who our competitors are any more. In a world where everyone has access to all the major factors of production we end up with a global demarcation dispute. Non linear competition where brands and big businesses get blindsided by category newbies. We’ve already seen it in retail, music and media, and we are about to see it in every form of hardware and manufacturing. The established industries who should, could and would provide the next level of innovation probably wont.
Tesla is already around half the size in market capitalisation of GM and Ford after a few short years in the market. And as we can see by this post the auto industry better get ready for new players from the technology world – Google, and possibly even Apple. The auto industry would do well to remember that cars are about to become mobile lounge rooms, and all the high tech companies are already competing for the ‘lounge room’ in the house. Next they’ll be competing for the lounge room in transit. A preemptive sense of future irony right there. Even small players like Tomcar Australia (which I have an interest in) have proven you don’t need to own a factory to make best in category vehicles and disrupt an established industry base.
I also read yesterday about two absolute powerhouse Australian companies (both in the top 10) Coles and Woolworths better get ready for a new set of competitors. And while they mentioned a siphoning of revenue category by category, I believe they have a much bigger problem coming their way:
What to do with 1000+ stores when no one goes to a grocery store to get their shopping.
And no, this is not like discretionary retail which can be made a social, fun and entertaining experience. Grocery shopping is a chore and technology has a habit of removing chores from the human experience. Not many people run fast or lift heavy things for a living. And mind you, the word computer, was originally a job title, not a machine.
In the food industry there is a term called ‘share of stomach’. What share did the food company get of the stomach. Which is the type of measure which is used to assess the truth about who the competition is, and where the revenue threats lie. I feel as though every industry needs to develop their own ‘Share of Stomach’ metric so they can see the real change in their industry. Maybe all industries related to transport need to measure share of human movement? Self driving cars, aren’t just a competitive play against legacy auto industries, but it’s hard to see city car parks being a valid business when we can ‘send our car home to our driveway’ and get it to pick us up later. It also raises questions about what relatively new businesses like Uber will do when cars don’t need drivers? Chances are they’ll need to become a system which organises and delivers our cars?
Just like life, the real life threatening diseases are from entities our body hasn’t encountered before and built a natural defence against. At times like these, a tectonic shift, business would do well remember lessons from the natural world.
There’s a lot to know about time management, and even when we know it all, it’s pretty hard to implement. But if I had to impart a single thought on the subject of time management it would be this:
If the years seem to be passing quicker and quicker, it is because they are.
Yep, you read that correctly, each year we live is shorter than the previous year. That’s because everything we experience in humanity is experienced in relative terms. What we compare things to is what really matters. Our financial position, our height, our intelligence, our health… everything is compared to something. And so too are the years we live. The relativity of each year we live is a smaller percentage of the life we’ve already lived. This is why years seems shorter and shorter, and in relative terms, they are. For example, 1 year in a 10 year olds life amounts to 10% of the life already lived. While 1 year of a 40 year old is .25% of the life already lived.
For me this is a nice reminder that time is constantly running out. And we should make a concerted effort to get as much out of it as we can, even if that means we want more down time. The point is that we should make conscious choices on how we use our time, not just let it evaporate. I recently did a podcast on the topic of time management on the Beers Blokes and Business show. You can listen to it here.
And here’s one more doozy to close off with – you’ll never be as young as you are today. So get out there and make a ruckus.
In a classic case of economic externalities, privacy has become the hot issue in the Digital Industrial Complex. It’s the industrial pollution equivalent of the digital era. There’s a lot of attention going to startups which circumvent or avoid centralisation of their services, or use what is becoming known as Block Chain technology. In fact famed Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson is calling their 2014 fund the Block Chain cycle. In simple terms, startups in which the information is distributed across the network of users, rather than stored in the companies server farms.
It got me thinking about how what seem like minor road bumps can become the key factors which entirely disrupt companies and industries. Privacy could be the type of road bump which up ends businesses, whose infrastructure is based on an old method. That method being, centralised data aggregation and distribution. I’m talking about brands like Google and Facebook. Companies who at this very moment seem entirely infallible, simply too important, big and powerful to ever lose their position of dominance. Personally, I don’t think it will happen, because unfortunately most people have a level of apathy where they usually don’t care about a potential problem until it really becomes one. And even then they sometimes still don’t care – just look at the climate change issue. Why this is interesting is that the thing which disrupted the recording industry, the retail industry and many others was that the infrastructure they set up became a distinct disadvantage. I’m starting to wonder if internet based companies with centralised data systems are creating an infrastructure which isn’t in line with a shift which technology seems to wants to make happen. The shift to distributed data.
Some recent numbers on a search engine called Duck Duck Go – a privacy based search engine are interesting. It is growing rapidly. Here’s a description of what they do straight from Wikipedia:
DuckDuckGo is an Internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the filter bubble of personalized search results. DuckDuckGo distinguishes itself from other search engines by not profiling its users and by deliberately showing all users the same search results for a given search term. DuckDuckGo also emphasizes getting information from the best sources rather than the most sources, generating its search results from key crowd sourced sites such as Wikipedia..
Here’s a chart of the recent growth that Duck Duck Go has achieved:
While this search engine doesn’t operate on a distributed system, it is interesting to see how a slightly different proposition to the incumbent can have a lot of meaning to groups of end users. Yes, it’s tiny in the scheme of search, but this is how change begins. Every disruptor was insignificant at some point. And we’ve already seen the disruptors being disrupted. For example streaming music impacting iTunes business in the space of under 10 years. It seems like dominance occurs in shorter life spans now.
The key thing that we shouldn’t forget is that once powerful organisations can fall quickly. They seem infallible, untouchable. But the two things we ought remember are that companies like Ford once had a Google-like air about them and in a digital world the barriers to entry and dissemination of change are lower than ever.
It’s good to remind ourselves of what we already know. One of these things is the really important stuff which our financial position has no influence on. Here’s my top 10 list.
- Being a good family member: Integrity, love, caring, effort, understanding and being able to listen have no price.
- Our fitness levels: Having a gym membership, or exercise equipment is not a requirement. Walk, run, push up. Move.
- Eating health foods: The healthiest foods are the cheapest. Fruit, vegetables, raw oats, milk, water.
- Being happy: We’ll be as happy as we chose to be, right now. I know plenty of rich miserable people.
- Education: Library cards are free, all libraries have internet access. University courses are now free.
- Enjoying who we work with: If we don’t like who we work with, we can leave. We are not trees. Our roots are not fixed in the ground. Walk on.
- Giving: Sharing what we are lucky enough to already have costs nothing. Whether it is a physical good, advice, or knowledge. At the time of giving there is no price.
- Friendship: The to and fro of sharing life with a friend is a pure gift.
- Faith: Not necessarily the religious type, but the ability to believe in something, anything which makes the future a place worth arriving at.
- Work: The joy that comes from doing. The willingness to put in effort now, because it’s worth doing, not because of the reward.
Why did I decide to write this blog post? Well, last friday I had lunch with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. During the lunch I got to thinking about how there was nowhere I’d rather be at that moment. That no amount of wealth would change how enjoyable it was, or create a desire to be elsewhere. That moment was in itself one which existed outside of our financial construct. Turns out, that most of the important things do.