Renee DiResta has a colorful past—from quant trader, to investor, to online activist, to author, she’s worn plenty of hats. And now she’s turned her eye to the problem of global logistics with startup Haven. “Global logistics has moved beyond human scale,” she said when we interviewed her about her upcoming talk at Pandemon.io next February. “Technology is going to shape the future of trade.”
We caught up with Renée to find out how technology is about to bring the biggest shift in shipping and logistics since the standardization of the shipping container. Which, no kidding, was a huge deal.
Pandemonio: What’s the best and worst thing about funding a hardware startup?
Renee: Hardware startups need more early funding than software startups because of higher overhead costs, which can make an early raise challenging. Early-stage hardware companies need to cover R&D, prototyping, design, and early manufacturing budgets. They typically need to produce small runs of early iterations for testing and customer feedback. Errors in design or implementation can be extremely expensive — it’s very tough to iterate cheaply.
However, skimping on early development costs can result in problems that are only discovered when the final product has been released to users — and that can lead to financially catastrophic recalls or returns.
One upside in the funding process is that hardware startups do a lot better in crowdfunding campaigns because potential customers are excited to participate in “preordering” or supporting a cool new product — so while the startups need more early cash, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from a dilutive venture capital raise. Good marketing and an inspirational story can help a company close a crowdfunding round.
P Uber made us rethink taxis. What’s making us re-think logistics and transportation?
R: For starters, the ocean freight provider industry is in a period of de-maturation. The carriers are not doing well economically, and haven’t been for several years, so they are now open to rethinking business processes that they’d held on to for decades. Since there is so much overcapacity (a result of larger ships and trade stagnation), shippers now wield the power, and know that they have a great deal of control over contracts and pricing.
This shift in market dynamics is encouraging both sides to look to technology to reduce operational expenses, and to more efficiently buy and sell capacity. This is an opportunity for tech companies to enter the market and create a new participation layer: trade technology built for the industry with the specific goal of modernizing global trade.
P How do social networks polarize thinking and hamper discourse?
R: Social networks generally orient in one of two forms: open, in which people drop in and out of conversations around fluid topics and have very loose ties (think Reddit, Twitter), or closed, in which people form longer-term persistent ties around real-world relationships or sustained common interests (Facebook, online groups). Both can lend themselves to filter bubbles, since the goal of the platform company is to maximize the amount of time that the users spend on the site (looking at ads, of course.)
To keep users there, platforms show them content that makes them happy, and usually that translates to content that they agree with. Ideally, they then re-share the content with their contacts or friends to increase their engagement.
Anyone can create content now, and self-publish to a blog. Social networks provide the dissemination platforms for everyone to share and amplify whatever they’ve created. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or accurate; the content that is most likely to be re-shared is often emotionally resonant and factually vacuous.
The net effect is that we are growing communities that are polarized, full of members sharing dubious content that reinforces the polarization. Debunking is extremely difficult: People who challenge shared content are often viciously harassed or ostracized, so there is little incentive for any given user to attempt to point out falsehoods and misleading posts.
Our social networks now specialize in creating communities of the like-minded who live in factually-suspect silos that not only to reinforce their biases but also serve to generate data for recommendation engines—which in turn recommend other groups or topics that may push users further down some pretty unfortunate rabbit holes. It’s become very easy to radicalize someone online. The specific issues and topics run the gamut, but the process is largely the same.
P Once we democratize transportation, what new industries become possible?
R: In terms of the transportation of goods, the greatest benefit is that streamlining freight processes means that we enable things to be made where they are best suited to be made, and grown where they are best suited to be grown — the cost of getting them from point A to point B is no longer the largest variable cost. We can reduce supply chain volatility, which allows companies to reclaim margins that they can reinvest into new R&D, or into taking their existing products into new markets.
Containerization revolutionized global trade — it had a more profound impact than any trade deal ever has. If we can improve the efficiency of buying and selling capacity, streamline shipping, and lower costs for shippers and carriers alike, we can enable companies to get their products to the people who need them for lower cost and increase innovation overall.
Join Renée and dozens of other leading thinkers and entrepreneurs who are building, and chronicling, the future. From connecting the world, to getting presidents elected, to transforming logistics, to inventing the underlying protocols of the modern Internet, each has been carefully chosen to shed light on a facet of today’s unavoidable digital disruption. Tickets are available now.