CES as a proxy to let you know what I’m feeling in tech (Part 1)

Hi! Feel free to leave comments. I’m fairly reachable so if you’d like to connect please reach out as I’d love to hear your ideas- ideas@wildcat.vc :).

Every January all eyes are on CES, tech’s biggest distraction of the year. I think they do it that way so they can offset the loss created by Burningman every August. As Niko Bonatsos from General Catalyst tweeted: “We can’t do any deals this week. All of our associates are at Burning Man. Who will do the due diligence?” #vclogic

Well now CES is over, and I am pooped.

As you’ve probably heard by now Alexa “won”, Faraday Future dropped the ball but still managed to receive 64,000 preorders equating to $320 million dollars in deposits, LG made another cool TV, ODG showcased their sweet AR glasses, Qualcomm and Nvidia are doing amazing things including, but not limited to, this, this, this, and that

I could keep this list going until I’m blue in the face, but I’ll spare you the trouble and say there is a LOT happening out there, and we have a lot to look forward to.

The only space that still gets me is our good friend, the Internet of Things, or iOT. Let’s call the internet the “I” and the things the “T”. In my opinion the darling technology of 2015 has yet to find meaningful applications to connect the abundance of fragmented T’s, but I do see more and more attempts to bridge that gap ranging from hardware applications like a smart remote able to control all your connected products, to software solutions like the app Stringify that is able to tie your devices into a single interface platform on your phone. I don’t believe any one application has taken a stronghold on the market, but I’d love to see some sort of standardized protocol for the I’s across the T’s introduced aligning the big OEM’s and/or chipset makers to help facilitate these developments akin to what Open Connectivity Forum has cooking. Qualcomm announced a similar consortium for autonomous vehicles, which I’m excited about in the hopes of developing similar friendly practices for V2V communications and the like.

The killer use cases for iOT I’ve seen to date are enterprise apps deploying closed systems of thousands or even millions of their own sensors that subsequently tie back into a proprietary platform. Most of these platforms do heavy analytics for their customers and many times they incorporate advanced AI and ML techniques to improve the entire system in real time. Their use cases are typically targeted for specific applications, and I’ve seen some super exciting examples in a range of fields from autonomous driving, to freight logistics, to building management, and everything in between.

With 20 billion connected devices set to be in the wild by 2020, I hope more of these solutions come to fruition in short order. I’m also looking forward to what 5G has in store for us from a capability perspective for not just iOT, but for VR/AR, robotics, autonomous vehicles, etc. The question I pose to you is what venture backable startups are going to come in and create products and services to sit on top of it? We have a company in our community called C3IOT that could be what we all need to unify fragmented parties, but feel free to let me know if you know better. All feedback is good feedback.

Switching gears for a moment, you might be curious what we actually did while we were there? Not to worry, I’m happy to share a part of the story.

I’m pretty ADD so venture life works well for me with all the context switching, but CES is something else. This is my first CES and, for those of you who haven’t been, it’s full blown sensory overload. There are clearly two types of people comprising the 170,000- odd attendees: the people who know what they were doing and me. Fortunately after shaking so many hands that I rubbed off the top layer of my skin it’s clear to me that there are a lot of people in my situation, but it’s natural. There is a million square feet of showrooms spread across the entire city through multiple convention centers and every major hotel on the strip, so you can imagine it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed. I’ll let Travis Kalanick explain it best from a 2008 blog post from his pre-Uber days. I particularly enjoy the irony of his blog in the context of our new reality where you can’t go 2 feet without seeing them.

On Thursday afternoon I headed over the Las Vegas Convention Center for the first time in a cab, joke’s on you Uber! I’m coming from a 3 hour diligence meeting with a company I’m super jazzed about so my VC dopamine levels are at full tilt. I’m ready for this. All my prior training talking to hundreds upon hundreds of random people at Carnegie Mellon’s massive career fair year after year while I earned my two degrees there has trained me for this moment (those days were longer ago than I care to admit, but it was traumatizing enough that the lessons are still burned into my brain). Armed with Snap Spectacles so everyone can see how much I care about tech, I walk into the melee. *Feel free to follow me if you want to see more of the fun parts ;)*

Over the subsequent two days I’m running around like a crazy person trying to see as much as I can, learn as much as I can, attend as many parties I can, mostly ones that I’m not invited to because those are obviously where the cool kids are, and eat as much as I can. Trips like this bring out my inner fat kid (as noted in numerous baby pictures), and I can’t control myself. I hate clubs so I gamble instead- VC is just ‘controlled’ gambling right?! Through these activities I meet more people than even by walking through the festival itself- at it’s current size it’s frankly more of a carnival than a conference.

The highlights were the people I met and caught up with and the concert at the Gibson tent, but the lowlight was unfortunately the tech itself as I found the majority of the things I saw to be underwhelming- except for the car tech because that was incredible. 2016 was the year of the autonomous vehicle, and it showed with all the announcements.

As many of you know much of the real innovation is unfortunately hidden behind closed doors at big company’s suites and ballrooms at the fancy hotels like Bellagio, Aria, and Caesar’s. I had the opportunity to sit in on several of those conversations and I have to say I was blown away, but what the general public sees is a song and dance.

Let’s take the use case of consumer drones- does the 33rd or the 34th consumer drone company you see on display win the arms race against DJI? My opinion is that it’s a hard road ahead for those companies, but in theory nothing is impossible. In that spirit I commend startups like Nixie, Vantage, FotoKite (Winner of Techstar’s CES pitch competition), etc. for creating very cool tech, fighting the man, and, most importantly, trying to build hearty thoughtful products in the category of truly consumer drones.

My favorite application of drones is in the logistics and delivery space. I am super into what Zipline is doing in Africa solving a real problem, Mercedes’ partnership with Matternet, Amazon completing their first delivery in the UK combined with their fleet of exciting patents, etc. However, what I learned at CES was that I desperately want a personal drone that will help my commute between San Francisco and San Mateo so I can avoid 101 traffic, but they are few and far between. Today also happens to be my birthday so if anybody knows a guy I heard Larry Paige has a few things in the pipeline.

In the car space, Toyota’s Concept-I launch literally blew me away. If it’s real, and has a reasonable time horizon to be deployed, I will be extremely excited. I thought it was so cool that I even felt compelled enough to do my first Facebook live video. Some people I’ve chatted with about it aren’t as stoked as I am because it’s too invasive and because they enjoy driving too much, both are totally fair concerns. As someone who is paid to formulate an opinion of the future and find companies to invest against that vision, I understand that it’s a long way off before we are comfortable with that kind of technological integration with our lives. In that vein, I also recognize that it is one of the core challenges we have to overcome with AI as we develop these solutions and Toyota is not exempt from solving it.

I have more opinions on autonomous cars, AI, AR/VR, and iOT, but because I’m long winded I’ll spare you and save the rest of my tech predictions for another post.

A lot of the above is my opinion, but I know a few things with certainty:

  1. Hardware is hard and should be left to the professionals
  2. Three days in Vegas is too many days especially having just come back from a third world country
  3. I hope Medium rebounds mightily
  4. Never forget, United is a terrible airline

Shoutout to all the people who got stranded at McCarran yesterday. Safe travels today folks.

Part 2 forthcoming …

N

Budding Venture Capitalist, Lifelong Learner, Traveler, Eater….

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