The last decade or so has been paradise for entrepreneurs mainly because as the world shifted more online and on mobile devises there was so much low hanging fruit up for grabs.
Times are now changing. This is not to say that there’s no longer opportunities. There will always be. But now they are shifting to much harder problems to solve.
Much like any new revolution. When industrialization happened, anyone with a conveyor belt a-la Henry Ford’s could churn half-decent products out the door that would sell. Not for very long but they’d sell.
Today to compete in manufacturing you need state of the art equipment, R&D and people. And you probably need to be in China to compete on price.
The same is happening in technology I believe. The name of the game for the past two decades was getting content and inventory online and creating tools to make it discoverable. Starting with the browser, then directories like Yahoo and Craigslist, then search engines like Google, then social networks like Facebook and now Instagram.
Although these things look like they are radically different to each other in the grander scheme of things they all solve for the same problem. Discovery.
They enable a consumer to switch on a digital device and find things to buy, book, consume or dream about.
In the last 2 decades we basically invented the digital supermarket and the infrastructure it runs on, the digital railroads of the information age. We created tools to aggregate and organize inventory, overlay it with user’s content, we optimized the shelf space, the check-out process and everything in-between. Which is what the offline world – manufacturing, distribution and retail – have been doing for a century!
The next phase will be transforming how we function. What’s to come are tools that are integrated with our day-to-day that don’t just solve for discovery but in fact make discovery irrelevant.
The name of the game will shift from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’. These are much harder problems to crack and will be faced not just with technical challenges but also with on-the-ground intensive business development effort, partnerships and breaking through bureaucracies and regulation.
Healthcare is one example that’s just waiting to happen. The system is a mess. Is it possible that a better tool could exist to make healthcare accessible, affordable and integrated with our daily lives, proactively and personalized to us? Could we make use of the masses of pooled data out there to make visiting the doctor for a diagnosis redundant? Doctors should really be focused on therapy and treatment not on diagnosis. Machines and software that compute data will do this in the future without us having to remember to go in for a check up.
Like healthcare there are many other examples. Transportation is already being disrupted by companies like Uber and one of their main challenges has been and will remain to be for a while the bureaucracy and red tape in industries that are clinging on their last gasps of air with all they’ve got. In France for example the government is protecting the taxi drivers and prohibiting the roll out of Uber-like applications which in the end just make consumer’s life better. This is just ridiculous and quite frankly insane. I can never hail a taxi in Paris, and yet rather than focusing on solving a problem the government is protecting the status quo. Sticking to the past. I couldn’t function in NYC without Uber. Not as efficiently at least.
Manufacturing is another. I believe that eventually 3D printing will render a lot of manufacturing obsolete. We will be able to print products in our own homes customized to us, designed by us. The worlds’ future designer and producer is you and me – the consumer.
Which if one thinks about it makes a lot of sense. As technology progresses what it should do is put the power back to the consumer. Extrapolated to the Nth degree that means total freedom, total customization, total personalization . The customer is King. As he should be.
Already we are seeing hardware delivered in boxes so that you can assemble anything – from a computer to a toy yourself. I recently backed a company on Kickstarter that allows kids to create their own computer, called Kano. It’s a brilliant idea that I have no doubt will be disruptive. The world of LEGO and IKEA will trickle to digital devices which today are mystic black boxes to us. But why should the IKEA concept work just for furniture?
Everyone is asking what will disrupt Search. Who will tackle the goliath Google. I believe the answer is under our nose. The high street. Technology is not without a sense of irony it seems. Things go full circle. eBay has already started this convergence of retail with digital and play on hyper-locality with innovations like eBay Now. I think it’s the beginning of a new dynasty. The consumer will not need to go online to discover any more. It will be right there in front of us, integrated with our daily experience.
What’s better than going to Google and searching for something? Not having to do that at all! That’s the answer. It’s near impossible to beat Google head on in search. The only way is to make search irrelevant.
Now of course I don’t believe it will become 100% irrelevant. But the dependency on discovery will lessen as technology evolves to put the power back in the hands of the consumers.
The future consumer is not just a consumer. It’s a designer, producer and consumer all in one. We will conceptualize and build our own products and services
So founders looking for opportunities today should stop looking for the low hanging fruit. Take on big bold challenge that live in the future not the past. That go deep in the creation process and interface with people across multiple touch points not just the end consumption.
Pervasive computing – the trickling of microchips into wearable devices and attire are the new railroads of this new dogital economy. The infrastructure that it will run on. And big data, linked with software sitting in the cloud are the bandwagons that run on it.
The result will be a much more integrate experience. A mere two decades ago we needed to switch on a mainframe. Then a desktop computer. Then a laptop. Then a mobile device or tablet. If you extrapolate that trend in the future we wont need to switch on anything. We will have just one mode: ON. Everywhere.