What 2016 Could Bring Us

A few of predictions for the new year. Some might be right but given I don’t have a crystal ball, they could all be wrong.

  1. Shakedown Over Unit Economics. In the latter half of 2015, there was wide-spread discussion and emphasis on developing business models that are margin-positive on a per user/per customer basis. Now combine this with the thoughts that we might go into a recession in 2016 (to the tune of 30%, some saying as high as 55%)— there will be a shakedown of the haves/have nots. Investors will continue to favor upstarts with positive gross margins which will have ripple impacts: leaving those with weaker business models in a potential cash crunch; wide-based retooling of business models including price hikes/discontinuation of products; slowdown in OpEx and CapEx — ultimately slowing down growth. On the last point, the best companies will maintain/expand CapEx into a slowdown because their business model (economics) affords them such flexibility
  2. Slack Shows Us What Being A “Platform” is About. Over the years, many companies have come out with intention to be a platform — engendering development of products and services on back of their own offerings. To date (ex-Asia), it’s been relatively underwhelming because what’s said and what’s done has been contradictory. Builders put their faith in the platform operators only to get shut down when they become a threat. Slack made a promise to not burn developers and has even promoted their former Head of Platform, as VP of Product in what I believe to be strong follow-through of strategy. As the year goes on, Slack will be a model for building platform business, weaving the mantra into their product, culture, and way of business
  3. HI + AI = Redefined Intermediaries. I think we’ll see the increasing presence of tech-driven intermediaries in a variety of situations but in a redefined role (which is worthy of a more thoughtful post). The intermediary won’t simply be viewed as deadweight, extracting economics beyond the value they deliver. Instead, intermediaries will be aligned to the success of the user — a vested partner. Intermediaries can offer a variety of services, granted each one will require a specialization of sorts — think in terms of modules. As a result, it’s sensible to expect that an intermediary will ultimately be automated as a result of the efforts to develop a responsible AI. However, many of those modules will require training from people and in some cases, might need some level of human support for the foreseeable future (ex: personal styling recommendations). Most notable in 2016, will be the widespread introduction of messenger-based assistants from a variety of players: Facebook, Google, Operator, Slack, et al. Players will attempt to be the trusted provider of value-add services leveraging both human and artificial intelligence (until the latter is sufficiently built for responsible use)
  4. Augmented Reality Leads, Virtual Reality Follows. I think AR will lead the charge given that it’s more accessible to the masses without the need for specialize hardware. Case in point, the Sphero BB-8 toy’s video messaging feature or even the Google Translate app. Google Glass’ refocus on enterprise will help to offset the less-than-stellar consumer reception with valuable use cases in operations, transportation, medicine, etc. On the VR front, the Oculus release will be one for the books after several years of waiting. However, it still remains to be seen how all of our senses are engaged for a truly immersive experience — I need to feel like I’m sitting in Beaver Stadium with 100,000 other fans. How does one touch their surroundings? What about smell? Will we be able to interact with ourselves (ie: look at our feet)?
  5. Blockchain Goes Mainstream. While bitcoin has received the headline interest over the years, the value is in the blockchain and sidechain. Confidentiality, decentralized authority, transparency, security, fraud protection, low costs/frees, are among the advantages. I would expect to see a mainstream application to leverage these strengths to solve one of many problems: issuance of deeds, event ticketing, asset issuance, bill of lading/title, etc. I would expect that consumer will talk less about bitcoin and more about the merits of having counterfeit-proof tickets, low-cost title verification, or more affordable micropayments