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?
Startup culture is becoming a big thing in the wider community. It’s seemingly graduated from a high tech nerdy subculture into a mainstream pop culture giant overnight. But is it really anything new? Or is it just a rebranding of small business as we knew it with some terrific superlatives and rockstar billionaire game winners to give us that Bruce Springsteen stadium rock ethic? Certainly the technology revolution we are all living through is significant. Significant enough to make it easier than it has ever been in history to start a business.
Net result is that startup culture hot. Just like grunge music was in the early 1990’s. Anyone with a pair of ripped jeans in a dive bar was in a band. And now anyone with a wifi connection and a laptop is launching a startup. The simplest way to remind ourselves that everything is a remix is to kick it old school and see how our new startup words stack up:
- Pivot – used to be called adapting to the market.
- Iteration – used to be called a product improvement.
- MVP – used to be a prototype or a test market.
- Growth Hackers – used to be what marketers and sales people were called.
- Truth North -used to be known as the single minded proposition.
- Runway – used to be known as the bank balance and how long we had left before going bust.
- Burn Rate – used to be a sign that this new business venture wasn’t going so well.
- Lean – used to be called doing things on a budget. (Oh, The pyramids were the first lean startup….. those pyramids were meant to be big square blocks but they ran out of materials, and just went with the pyramids instead – turned out to be a killer feature.)
We often forget that the thing we don’t like about something is also thing that makes it possible. The annoying part of something good, is usually what keeps it alive and provides us the gifts that surround it. One case in point is Youtube advertising. It’s so annoying isn’t it, to spare that 5 seconds before clicking out, or that entire 30 second advertisement you can’t even click out of – how dare they. What we ought do is imagine for a minute that Youtube never found its monetization model. Then what? Then it probably fails, doesn’t exist and instead of having pretty much all forms of education and entertainment on demand on any topic, any time, we’d be stuck with a few free to air TV channels, home shopping, and marginal pay TV subscriptions.
The cost of the benefits is rarely a heavy price to pay, especially with new technology and disruptive innovations which need to have lower barriers to inspire adoption. And speaking of disruptions – the advertising we have to endure is not nearly as bad as it was in the TV era. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that misdirected hate is both a waste of energy and a short sighted perspective.
Deep down it’s as if we humans know that the ultimate in intelligence is fallibility. It’s the imperfection that comes with emotion. Almost as though there is some kind of perfection in not knowing or acting dumb. This not knowing leads to curiosity and new paths, the fork in the road. The wrong path if taken, also has the potential to lead to serendipity and discovery.
To this point, these seem to be qualities which are not present in machines and computers – and therefore artificial intelligence. So far, a machine has not been built to fake it, pretend, be mean, not care, be irrational or even be wrong on purpose. The artificial intelligence we have so far doesn’t want to have fun or be selfish, other than in the movies and in music. It’s been a one sided coin, all head and no tail.
A recent article referred to a form of artificial intelligence actually passing the turing test. A Turning Test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. They claimed that by adding the element of not knowing things and making mistakes to the algorithm it helped the machine ‘win’. It seemed like an interesting take or fork in the road towards finding intelligence as we humans define it. I feel like this trajectory is where intelligence needs to go in order to get more ‘real’. But the thing it makes me wonder for business is what other things have we been doing for 60 odd years or so which need an entirely new tangent?
I’ve had a lot of stuff buzzing around my head for the last few years. My local readers get their share when we have coffee. Recently I’ve put together a manifesto from my mind in the form of my debut book: The Great Fragmentation – why the future of business is small.
It is being published with Wiley and comes out mid July. Here’s a picture of the cover below and below that I’ve got some offers for readers of startup blog.
The reasons I wrote the book was that it was my view that most of the business books these days are too thin. They have a single idea and just tell a number of stories and examples around that idea. I feel like the revolution we are living through is much bigger than that. I felt as though we needed a business survival manifesto. Something which assesses the entire change in the business landscape – not just a trend inside of it. My view is that all the barriers to entry are being removed. That there is a dramatic power shift happening. An industry and by industry fragmentation which can’t be avoided and must be embraced. That the playing field is being equalised because technology almost has it’s own agenda. And that agenda is to become cheaper, smaller, more distributed and more powerful – with humans as the beneficiaries, not necessarily corporations. But mostly this book is the intersection, of Anthropology, Technology and how these forces shape the Business world. You can read a little blurb about it here, or even pre-order a copy here. While I can’t be sure if this will be a best seller, I can guarantee you it will be a best reader!
If you haven’t already signed up to my blog via email, you can sign up to updates on the book (and other projects) by clicking here. Before the book is released I’ll have advance copies and other cool resources for your startup / business. These resources will be crazy good & available only to those who signed up. (including a couple of world firsts).
I really look forward to the scary part of hearing your feedback on my 200+ pages of having nowhere to hide and instead say: ‘This is what I believe, I hope you got something valuable from it’.
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.