Beliefs, bullishness and hunches
Introducing my nonvestment thesis
I’m fascinated by the concepts of judgement and timing. It’s a big reason why I find myself obsessing over the intricacies of the world of venture capital. A piece by Marc Andreessen on invention and timing from a few years ago really resonated with me.
“(Invention is) the process of a combination of lots and lots of smart people working the field over a very long period of time. And then it catalyzes, and that is where the magic is, and where the most fun part of this is.”
What Marc touches on is the fact that you don’t need to predict what technology will emerge — the reality is you see what’s coming from a long way down the line. But predicting the impact it will have on the world, that’s the thing that nigh on no-one can truly do with great accuracy. We can use historical data and make projections all we want, but one thing we have never been able to do is predict the evolution of human behavior — we are incredibly volatile and fickle creatures after all.
I’ve been pulling together a point of view on the future of technology(1), through the lens of ‘what would I be looking for if I was a VC’?
Why that lens you ask? Well, I find the pressure that VC’s face to be particularly unique, in that they see thousands of pitches, and have to cherry pick a few select companies to get behind. They have to have a strong view and be prepared to put their money (well, someone else’s money in most cases) where their mouth is. So, if I was investing today, what would I be looking for? What do I believe there is a clear market for? What do I see as genuine opportunities for innovation and change in the next 5 years?
Well, this is my ‘nonvestment thesis’. That is, an investment thesis from someone with no money to invest. I’ve framed each theme as a ‘how might we’, as not to get caught up in a particular technology or execution, and more focus on the type of question that a founder might be trying to answer.
I’ve also broken my thesis down into 3 categories:
- Beliefs — For these themes, it isn’t a case of if they happen, but when. I’ve seen enough to believe that these shifts will occur and that companies that exploit them will reap the rewards.
- Bullish on — I am close enough to these themes to have great confidence in them playing a big role in the future.
- Hunches — I’ve always trusted my gut. With these themes, something just tells me there is an opportunity if someone can find the right angle.
How might we make the world more accessible to those less able, and in turn unlock new revenue streams for businesses?
According to the World Health Organization, there are one billion people globally that suffer with some form of disability. These disabilities vary from individuals with mental health or intellectual disabilities, to those with illnesses that render them totally incapable of surviving without the care of another human being. I believe there is a wave of momentum which is both challenging the stigmas attached to disabilities, as well as sparking life into major businesses and corporations to make their products and services more accessible to those less able.
This wave will see a shift in investments made in accessibility from the odd philanthropic dollar, to major budgets dedicated to unlocking the custom of the disabled and their families. In the UK alone, it is believed that there are 212 billion ‘purple pounds’ to be spent (purple pounds being the term given to the disposable income of the disabled and their families). Research from the Department for Work and Pensions has shown disabled people find shopping the most difficult experience for accessibility, followed by the cinema, theatre and concerts, and finally drinking and eating out at pubs and restaurants. There is not a doubt in my mind that technology can play an instrumental role in radically improving the experiences in and around these activities.
Want inspiration? You should check out Doppler Labs, which I truly believe will radically disrupt the hearing aid market. You should also take a look at Wayfindr(2), which is transforming the way the visually impaired navigate the world around them.
How might we automate health and care coordination for everyone involved in a patients care?
As of present day, health and care coordination is in the broadest sense poorly handled. There are very few companies that do this well with real people doing the coordination, never mind automated by technology. The market for care coordination software is expected to expand at a 26.1 percent compound annual growth rate between 2015 and 2020, and addressing the needs of potentially 100 million people in the US alone. It’s safe to say Apple launching ‘CareKit’ is validation of that opportunity.
Care coordination is well poised to benefit from advances in AI in particular, especially in light of many recent advances in AI feeling more human. The human touch is an important part of healthcare, which is maybe why no-one has tried to get too caught up in using tech to do the job of a human being. A shift to automation won’t happen overnight, but anyone who can demonstrate the potential of artificial intelligence in care coordination is sure to be well placed to positively impact the lives of a hell of a lot of people, and make a hell of a lot of money.
Want inspiration? You should check out Caresync(3), which blends technology and humanity to effectively manage the variety of stakeholders involved in patient care. You should also check out x.ai, which uses artificial intelligence in a truly human way to manage the schedules of those too busy to do it themselves!
How might we bring families closer together, as technology seemingly contributes to driving them further apart?
The modern family is evolving. Technology has for years no longer just been reserved for the working parent — smartphones for 9 year-olds and multiple shared computing devices per household is the absolute norm. Yet this technology still focusses on the individuals, not the collective. As the very nature of family evolves in the next 10 to 20 years, I believe we will also see technology created that ties these families together.
A service that makes it easier for parents to raise their kids, by automating the scheduling and management of everything from regular doctor’s appointments to paying school fees. Platforms that allow multi-gen families to more effectively manage living under one roof, to split the costs of rent or bills. Platforms that can connect parents with their kids upstairs, or their own parents thousands of miles away in the push of a button.
The consumer electronics market is worth an estimated $1 trillion in 2016, and this spend will continue to grow beyond TVs and smartphones. This isn’t just about the ‘Internet of Things’. It’s about enabling families, whether under the same roof or under multiple roofs, to truly connect with each other and support each other in building a happy home.
Want inspiration? You should check out Nucleus Life, which is taking a radical new look at the wireless home intercom. Also, if you haven’t already, you should get to know the Amazon Echo, which is your amazing voice activated assistant. And finally, take a look at Jibo — which is looking to become the first social robot for the home.
How might we support retailers in exploiting and optimizing small and temporary retail locations?
Retail is on the cusp of a major sea change. Firstly, as rents continue to increase at a dramatic rate in major cities, it is becoming increasingly hard for your average retailer to make decent margins, or in some cases, justify staying open at all. Many retailers are now ‘rightsizing’ to address the shift in behaviors this is bringing. Secondly, the experience of digital commerce is transforming beyond the familiarity of a site with distinct category and product detail pages, and into experiences that are more human and build trust. For those yet to truly engage with digital commerce, the experience is becoming more akin to that of a physical store, by placing human interaction at the fore. And finally, fulfillment is becoming increasingly driven by technology, and as such the concept of one-hour delivery will increasingly become the norm.
The insinuation is not that retail is dead, however. Taking into consideration the above factors, I believe that the concept of pop-up retail will flourish — where small and even temporary spaces will be adopted by retailers, and will be flexible to their immediate needs. One day a space might be an immersive experience for their hero product. The next week it might just operate as a fulfillment center for the launch of that product. Retailers born out of this shift, or technology that facilitates this shift, is going to be big business.
Want inspiration? Check out Appear Here, which is the leading marketplace in the UK for short-term retail space. Also take a look at Enjoy, which is radically rethinking the consumer tech purchase experience by bringing the experts to your home.
How might we enable the traveling Chinese consumer to operate more seamlessly and effectively outside of their home country?
If you are a major consumer business, you will surely be aware that it will be the Chinese consumer that is responsible for your sustained growth over the next 15 years, and you will be thinking about how to accommodate that. China is a totally unique market, with behaviors and attitudes that are so different from here in the West, that it is imperative to spend time understanding the nuances of the market and it’s people.
But this isn’t about launching products and services in China. Not many western companies have successfully done so. This is about how companies might develop extensions of their own platform or service that is unique to the Chinese consumer. When outside of the country, Chinese consumers currently spend $229 billion per year, a figure that is projected to double by 2020. And an $8,000 per capita GDP is identified as the tipping point at which outbound tourism booms, which is a figure that China has just reached. So it’s only growing from here.
Products and services that facilitate a smooth transition into payments, travel and utility for this consumer group, especially if partnered with the relevant local platforms themselves, will be those in the strongest position to capitalize on this shift that will impact the globe.
Want inspiration? Take a look at Macy’s collaboration with Alipay — which attempts to build the bridge for commerce across borders. Also check out Student.com, which is helping kids from China get housing while attending college abroad.
How might we utilize Bitcoin (or the blockchain) to solve mass market problems, and make it more accessible to the mass consumer?
Much like the valuation of Bitcoin, interest in Bitcoin has plateaued in the past months. There are no doubt plenty of companies furiously building away behind closed doors, but it still remains to be seen the one company that will take Bitcoin mainstream. I’m personally excited to see a company take Bitcoin from a geeky platform for techies, to mass-market consumer brand.
In light of instant payments becoming the relative norm, and even in Europe the mandating that banks have to provide open APIs to 3rd parties by 2018, bitcoin will need to find a proposition and use case even more unique — it can’t just be about payments.
For example, there is the potential for Bitcoin to form the backbone of a mass market loans or even investments brand. Or maybe Bitcoin is just the appropriate tool to facilitate a new type of experience online? Whichever way it cuts, I am excited to see who can find a way to make Bitcoin less intimidating and accessible to your average joe.
Want inspiration? Coinbase and Abra happen to be a digital wallets, but they’re working hard to make bitcoin a little bit easier to engage with. I’m also fascinated by Chroma Fund — which uses the blockchain to offer a new approach to crowdfunding.
How might we improve the ratio of volume to quality in content discovery, by supporting content curators, creators and publishers with new ways to reach a relevant audience?
I’ve been doing some research recently around the discovery of content, and do believe that content discovery is something to be cracked. I’m obsessed with Twitter, and use it to find great material to read, although I then send anything I read there to Pocket, or to my email. It’s still a bit of a janky solution.
As more platforms that encourage content creation and support distribution emerge, the wealth of amazing content will continue to grow, yet we will still face the same challenges in finding that content. So many companies have tried, and many are failing, but something tells me we haven’t explored all options just yet. I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of people creating newsletters in recent months — for me indicating a desire from people to find a new way to establish their own brands and build their social currency. I’d be excited to see a new product that gives people that platform, and maybe eat away at Twitter’s dominance in that sector right now.
Want inspiration? Take a look at Nuzzel — which utilizes your social graph to curate the best content from your network. Also take a look at Revue, which is helping to automate the world of email newsletter assembly.
Why I’m fine with being wrong
It’s fair to say this is a real mix of both very specific and broad thematic concepts. It would be wrong to hang my hat on either end of the spectrum — because let’s be honest, where is the fun in that! Seriously though, I think a big part of building and forming personal judgement is not to be unfazed by the prospect of being wrong. Building pattern recognition comes from obsessing over the minutia, as well as being open to the possibility in the breadth of opportunity.
Being wrong is not just about how we learn, but about how we build our humility. I serve these thoughts out to the universe not just because I think it is important to have an opinion and to be able to communicate that opinion, but to also be challenged by my peers. I love the disparity of opinions and perspectives that help you see the world in new lights, and using those thoughts to help influence or shape my future judgement.
As such, I would love to hear peoples thoughts on the above, whether supportive or constructive. And if you are a business operating in one of these domains, I would love to spend some time getting to know you. Because I think what you’re doing is awesome.
- For context, I’ve been working in, on and around digital products and services now for 10 years. I’ve been part of launching products in publishing, commerce, retail, wellness, gaming, automotive and accessibility. I’ve worked both in-house, and as a consultant. I feel like after 10 years I’ve started to form a pretty interesting view on the role of technology in the world, and where it might go in the future.
- Wayfindr is a company launched by my current employer ustwo, and that I am currently working with.
- Caresync is a company that I am currently working with at ustwo.