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Career Current Events Editorial Entrepreneur

Reasons for startups to be optimistic (My guest editorial for Startup Digest Tampa Bay’s newsletter)

I was the guest author of this week’s Startup Digest Tampa Bay newsletter, which was sent out on Monday. I was free to write about any topic that I thought subscribers to the newsletter might find interesting or useful, and I chose to write about reasons startup founders and members have to be optimistic even though we’re in a global pandemic and corresponding economic crisis.

I’d like to thank Techstars Tampa Bay, Startup Digest Tampa Bay curator Murewa Olubela, and Startup Digest Tampa Bay curator manager Alex Abell for inviting me to write for the newsletter!

Here’s “director’s cut” of my guest editorial, which has some additional information and ideas…

Reasons for startups to be optimistic

Rather than bore you with a long preamble, I’ll give your week a good start by getting straight to my point: The global pandemic comes with a global business crisis, and crises are where startups shine. Here are three reasons — each with a litany of sub-reasons — why startup founders and team members should be at least a little optimistic about the current situation.

1. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re living in a golden age

The first reason to be optimistic is that recessions have been known to hide golden ages. As far as the last recession is concerned, Thomas Friedman has a theory: That 2007 was “one of the single greatest technological inflection points since Gutenberg…and we all completely missed it.”

He made his point very compelling by listing what happened then in What the hell happened in 2007?, the second chapter of his 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late. I’ve compiled his list in the table below, expanded the scope to cover the years 2006 through 2008, and threw in some additional notes.

Looking at that time through the lens of the leaps in technology shown below, it seems like a golden age:

The leap Notes
Airbnb

In October 2007, as a way to offset the high cost of rent in San Francisco, roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea of putting an air mattress in their living room and turning it into a bed and breakfast. They called their venture AirBedandBreakfast.com, which later got shortened to its current name.

This marks the start of the modern web- and app-driven gig economy.

Android

The first version of Android as we know it was announced on September 23, 2008 on the HTC Dream (also sold as the T-Mobile G1).

Originally started in 2003 and bought by Google in 2005, Android was at first a mobile operating system in the same spirit as Symbian or more importantly, Windows Mobile — Google was worried about competition from Microsoft. The original spec was for a more BlackBerry-like device with a keyboard, and did not account for a touchscreen. This all changed after the iPhone keynote.

App Store

Apple’s App Store launched on July 10, 2008 with an initial 500 apps. At the time of writing (March 2020), there should be close to 2 million.

In case you don’t remember, Steve Jobs’ original plan was to not allow third-party developers to create native apps for the iPhone. Developers were directed to create web apps. The backlash prompted Apple to allow developers to create apps, and in March 2008, the first iPhone SDK was released.

Bitcoin

The person (or persons) going by the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” started working on the Bitcoin project in 2007.

It would eventually lead to cryptocurrency mania, crypto bros, HODL and other additions to the lexicon, one of the best Last Week Tonight news pieces, and give the Winklevoss twins their second shot at technology stardom after their failed first attempt with a guy named Mark Zuckerberg.

Chrome

By 2008, the browser wars were long done, and Internet Explorer owned the market. Then, on September 2, Google released Chrome, announcing it with a comic illustrated by Scott “Understanding Comics” McCloud, and starting the Second Browser War.

When Chrome was launched, Internet Explorer had about 70% of the browser market. In less than 5 years, Chrome would overtake IE.

Data: bandwidth costs and speed In 2007, bandwidth costs dropped dramatically, while transmission speeds grew in the opposite direction.
Dell returns After stepping down from the position of CEO in 2004 (but staying on as Chairman of the Board), Michael Dell returned to the role on January 31, 2007 at the board’s request.
DNA sequencing costs drop dramatically The end of the year 2007 marks the first time that the cost of genome sequencing dropped dramatically — from the order of tens of millions to single-digit millions. Today, that cost is about $1,000.
DVD formats: Blu-Ray and HD-DVD In 2008, two high-definition optical disc formats were announced. You probably know which one won.
Facebook In September 2006, Facebook expanded beyond universities and became available to anyone over 13 with an email address, making it available to the general public and forever altering its course, along with the course of history.
Energy technologies: Fracking and solar Growth in these two industries helped turn the US into a serious net energy provider, which would help drive the tech boom of the 2010s.
GitHub Originally founded as Logical Awesome in February 2008, GitHub’s website launched that April. It would grow to become an indispensable software development tool, and a key part of many developer resumes (mine included). It would first displace SourceForge, which used to be the place to go for open source code, and eventually become part of Microsoft’s apparent change of heart about open source when they purchased the company in 2018.
Hadoop

In 2006, developer Doug Cutting of Apache’s Nutch project, took used GFS (Google File System, written up by Google in 2003) and the MapReduce algorithm (written up by Google in 2004) and combined it with the dataset tech from Nutch to create the Hadoop project. He gave his project the name that his son gave to his yellow toy elephant, hence the logo.

By enabling applications and data to be run and stored on clusters of commodity hardware, Hadoop played a key role in creating today’s cloud computing world.

Intel introduces non-silicon materials into its chips January 2007: Intel’s PR department called it “the biggest change to computer chips in 40 years,” and they may have had a point. The new materials that they introduced into the chip-making process allowed for smaller, faster circuits, which in turn led to smaller and faster chips, which are needed for mobile and IoT technologies.
Internet crosses a billion users This one’s a little earlier than our timeframe, but I’m including it because it helps set the stage for all the other innovations. At some point in 2005, the internet crossed the billion-user line, a key milestone in its reach and other effects, such as the Long Tail.
iPhone

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs said the following at this keynote: “Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary new products…an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator…Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device!”

The iPhone has changed everyone’s lives, including mine. Thanks to this device, I landed my (current until recently) job, and right now, I’m working on revising this book.

iTunes sells its billionth song On February 22, 2006, Alex Ostrovsky from West Bloomfield, Michigan purchased ColdPlay’s Speed of Sound on iTunes, and it turned out to be the billionth song purchased on that platform. This milestone proves to the music industry that it was possible to actually sell music online, forever changing an industry that had been thrashing since the Napster era.
Kindle

Before tablets or large smartphone came Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which came out on November 19, 2007. It was dubbed “the iPod of reading” at the time.

You might not remember this, but the first version didn’t have a touch-sensitive screen. Instead, it had a full-size keyboard below its screen, in a manner similar to phones of that era.

Macs switch to Intel

The first Intel-based Macs were announced on January 10, 2006: The 15″ MacBook Pro and iMac Core Duo. Both were based on the Intel Core Duo.

Motorola’s consistent failure to produce chips with the kind of performance that Apple needed on schedule caused Apple to enact their secret “Plan B”: switch to Intel-based chips. At the 2005 WWDC, Steve Jobs revealed that every version of Mac OS X had been secretly developed and compiled for both Motorola and Intel processors — just in case.

We may soon see another such transition: from Intel to Apple’s own A-series chips.

Netflix In 2007, Netflix — then a company that mailed rental DVDs to you — started its streaming service. This would eventually give rise to binge-watching as well as one of my favorite technological innovations: Netflix and chill (and yes, there is a Wikipedia entry for it!), as well as Tiger King, which is keeping us entertained as we stay home.
Python 3

The release of Python 3 — a.k.a. Python 3000 — in December 2008 was the beginning of the Second Beginning! While Python had been eclipsed by Ruby in the 2000s thanks to Rails and the rise of MVC web frameworks and the supermodel developer, it made its comeback in the 2010s as the language of choice for data science and machine learning thanks to a plethora of libraries (NumPy, SciPy, Pandas) and support applications (including Jupyter Notebooks).

I will always have an affection for Python. I cut my web development teeth in 1999 helping build Givex.com’s site in Python and PostgreSQL. I learned Python by reading O’Reilly’s Learning Python while at Burning Man 1999.

Shopify In 2004, frustrated with existing ecommerce platforms, programmer Tobias Lütke built his own platform to sell snowboards online. He and his partners realize that they should be selling ecommerce services instead, and in June 2006, launch Shopify.
Spotify The streaming service was founded in April 2006, launched in October 2008, and along with Apple and Amazon, changed the music industry.
Surface (as in Microsoft’s big-ass table computer)

Announced on May 29, 2007, the original Surface was a large coffee table-sized multitouch-sensitive computer aimed at commercial customers who wanted to provide next generation kiosk computer entertainment, information, or services to the public.

Do you remember SarcasticGamer’s parody video of the Surface?

Switches 2007 was the year that networking switches jumped in speed and capacity dramatically, helping to pave the way for the modern internet.
Twitter

In 2006, Twittr (it had no e then, which was the style at the time, thanks to Flickr) was formed. From then, it had a wild ride, including South by Southwest 2007, when its attendees — influential techies — used it as a means of catching up and finding each other at the conference. @replies appeared in May 2007, followers were added that July, hashtag support in September, and trending topics came a year later.

Twitter also got featured on an episode of CSI in November 2007, when it was used to solve a case.

VMWare After performing poorly financially, the husband and wife cofounders of VMWare — Diane Greene, president and CEO, and Mendel Rosenbaum, Chief Scientist — left. Greene was fired by the board in July, and Rosenbaum resigned two months later. VMWare would go on to experience record growth, and its Hypervisors would become a key part of making cloud computing what it is today.
Watson IBM’s Watson underwent initial testing in 2006, when Watson was given 500 clues from prior Jeopardy! programs. Wikipedia will explain the rest:

While the best real-life competitors buzzed in half the time and responded correctly to as many as 95% of clues, Watson’s first pass could get only about 15% correct. During 2007, the IBM team was given three to five years and a staff of 15 people to solve the problems. By 2008, the developers had advanced Watson such that it could compete with Jeopardy! champions.

Wii The Wii was released in December 2006, marking Nintendo’s comeback in a time when the console market belonged solely to the PlayStation and Xbox.
XO computer You probably know this device better as the “One Laptop Per Child” computer — the laptop that was going to change the world, but didn’t quite do that. Still, its form factor lives on in today’s Chromebooks, which are powered by Chrome (which also debuted during this time), and the concept of open source hardware continues today in the form of Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
YouTube

YouTube was purchased by Google in October 2006. In 2007, it exploded in popularity, consuming as much bandwidth as the entire internet did 7 years before. In the summer and fall of 2007, CNN and YouTube produced televised presidential debates, where Democratic and Republican US presidential hopefuls answered YouTube viewer questions.

You probably winced at this infamous YouTube video, which was posted on August 24, 2007: Miss Teen USA 2007 – South Carolina answers a question, which has amassed almost 70 million views to date.

How did most of us miss all this? Friedman says that it’s because our collective attention was directed toward the credit crunch of 2008, which he calls “the deepest recession since the crash of 1929.”

Back then, everybody compared the financial collapse of that time to the stock market crash of ’29. Now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 2008 has become the new benchmark for economic catastrophe. As founders, entrepreneurs, and technologists, there’s a good chance that you’re already asking this question: Is there a chance that the current situation is also hiding a golden age for technology and startups?

In case you think that the golden age of 2006 – 2008 was just an outlier, here are a few examples from previous crises:

  • Thomas Edison founded the company that would eventually become General Electric during an economic slump brought about by the Baring Crisis and “the world’s first bailout”, whose effects were felt worldwide, and it took an international consortium and a number of Rothschilds to prevent an economic catastrophe. In the 1960s, one of the few companies in the 1960s making computers and operating systems whose influence extends to this very day (GE, along with Bell Labs and MIT, made Multics, which would inspire the creation of Unix).
  • The Tabulating Machine Company, which would evolve into IBM was born during The Panic of 1896, a sequel to the Panic of 1893. This was a time when the unemployment rate climbed as high at 15%. IBM is still a big player in mainframes, which are in the news again, thanks in part to the pandemic. 
  • Apple and Microsoft came about in the mid-1970s, just after the 1973 – 1975 recession, the oil crisis of 1973, the Nixon shock, and the end of the gold standard and Bretton Woods, and the start of the U.S. dollar being a fiat currency (a term that you’re probably familiar with with you even just dabble in cryptocurrencies). You’re probably quite familiar with what these companies went on to do.

2. Startups that last get founded during downturns

Putting aside the chance that I might be a victim of survivorship bias, there are a number of reasons why a recession or economic downturn is the optimal time to create or join a startup:

  • New situations create new needs: Just look at Zoom’s fortunes right now. What other needs has the “New Normal” created, in both the short and long term?
  • Available brainpower: With an economic downturn comes increased unemployment, which means that the talent you need for your startup is more likely to be available (this pool of people includes myself). This brainpower can be key to a startup’s success.
  • Available startups: If you’re not looking to be a founder and are looking for a place to work, you may find a number of founders looking to create their own company, often because they can’t find employment themselves.
  • Recession pricing: The price of goods and services tends to drop during downturns, which is an advantage to a company that’s trying to operate “lean and mean.” There may also be some savings opportunities in other developments, including the drop in interest rates and other economic stimuli, as well as companies selling off assets that startups may find useful. You may even find it easier to get coverage, as the media will be looking for some “good news” stories to tell.
  • Chaos: Your likely competition — large, established players — are probably in disarray or too focused on survival or reorganizing to take notice of you. A business that’s lean and nimble is better-positioned to navigate the changes that a downturn brings about, and better able to take advantage of the eventual turn-around.
  • Pressure makes diamonds: There’s no comfort zone in a downturn! A company that starts during one has a culture of resilience and grit baked into its DNA, and the lessons that risk and non-terminal failure during difficult times teaches makes for a powerful team. The “war stories” that come about from shared challenges also make for a loyal team.

A downturn doesn’t guarantee success for a startup, but it’s a crucible that can strengthen one.

3. We’re in the middle of a number of natural experiments

The final item in this least of reasons to be optimistic is that we’re in a set of unprecedented natural experiments — that is, we’re witnessing “what if” scenarios that are no longer hypothetical. In these scenarios, there are object lessons, opportunities, and problems that the right startup idea could solve or ameliorate.

  • Internet bandwidth: One of the major arguments that telcos have given us for bandwidth caps was that without this sort of control (they never mention the associated cash-grab), the internet would become so congested as to be unusable. With the pandemic, telcos have lifted bandwidth caps, and the internet still works, even with the additional usage from being home-bound as well as Tiger King.
  • Remote work: In recent years, Yahoo! and IBM famously ended their remote work policies, which led other, smaller organizations to consider doing the same. With “safer at home” measures, we’re all global participants in a remote work experiment, and to the surprise of doubters, it seems to be working. Remote work is likely to be a fixture of office life even after this crisis, and this change will create a need for new and expanded services and technologies.
  • Remote school: Just as working people are being subjected to a natural experiment, so are students and teachers, who are being thrown into the deep end with distance-learning tools and technologies. There are a number of challenges to overcome, such as  usability, adjusting teaching and learning styles, bringing it to students who can’t afford internet access or the right technology at home, to the disruption that this brings to students’ and teachers’ lives, and to the school curriculum in general.
  • Unemployment: I’m in this category, as one of at least 10 million people in the U.S. who’ve suddenly found themselves without work. What happens when this many people are jobless, in a world with ubiquitous connectivity and computing? Remember, the smartphone as we know it was in the hands of a small number of people in 2008, while 4 out of 5 adults in the U.S. has a smartphone today. How can a startup help them get back to work?
  • Additional online learning: You may have seen the advice in news stories or online: If you’ve been laid off, this is the perfect time to take an online course and “upskill.” With record numbers of people applying for unemployment assistance, we’re seeing a strong uptick in online course enrollments.
  • Business and government systems under strain: While the internet seems to be handling the increase in use, other systems have been put under strain by the pandemic. The hospitality industry has largely been shut down. Supply chains are being stressed. Our pandemic response infrastructure was already gutted before the pandemic struck. Our governments are unprepared in all sorts of ways, from a piecemeal response to the pandemic, to aging, COBOL-powered systems unprepared (and in Florida’s case, unprepared by design) to process the massive influx of requests for unemployment assistance. This sounds like a job for a startup!
  • Healthcare: The United States remains the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare. To my Canadian-raised mind, this is baffling; to many Americans, universal healthcare is an unaffordable luxury. The U.S. government’s ability to “magic up” trillions of dollars to stimulate the economy (or at least Ruth’s Chris Steak House) on incredibly short notice proves that if the political will existed, it could choose to bankroll universal healthcare. With 1 in 4 Americans expected to be unemployed and healthcare insurance generally being tied to employment, universal healthcare is no longer as “unthinkable” an idea as it once was.
  • 3D printing’s first mass test: We’ve seen 3D printing useful in one-off situations (including a time when they needed a specific kind of wrench on the International Space Station), but with volunteers creating large numbers of face shields, masks, and even ventilator parts and adapters, this is 3D printing’s first at-scale test. The lessons from this effort have yet to be learned, and what we learn could launch printing into its next phase.
  • Media and communications: This is the first worldwide crisis where publishers, from the largest media empire to individual vloggers, have become much relied-on sources of both information and misinformation. We’re not done seeing the full extent of their effects yet.
  • Social systems put to the test: The disruption of normal life, including staying at home to social distancing, has resulted in widely different responses, from science-based to conspiracy theory-based. The major social media players have put in some measures to fight the spread of accidentally or deliberately incorrect information. I have no doubt that even nation-states are playing the misinformation game; after all, the saying is “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
  • New political movements: The economic downturn of 2008 left a lot of people dislocated and in dire situations from which they still haven’t recovered, giving birth to a new populism, a willingness to follow brutish, xenophobic, and nationalistic leaders, and movements like Brexit and MAGA. What will this new situation — one brought about at least partially by the movements that arose after 2008 — bring?
  • Emerging cultures of control: I’m going to end this list on a slightly darker note, in spite of my general optimism. We’re already seeing signs of an emerging hygiene culture and an awareness of the importance of hand-washing, which is good. Perhaps there are startup opportunities that might come about from people being more aware of the power of microorganisms and viruses (viruses are technically “not alive”, and exist in their own category). More worrisome are other cultures of control, namely those of surveillance and authoritarianism, which are also rearing their heads during this crisis. Let’s take care so that the things we create don’t turn the world into another Black Mirror episode.
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Current Events Editorial

Thank you, Lilypad and Fintech!

I’d like thank Lilypad and its parent company Fintech for the opportunity to work with them as a mobile developer. I’ve enjoyed the past few months sinking my teeth into a massive codebase that drives their mobile app, which functions as an always-available sales tool for beverage alcohol vendors, from the smallest craft brewery to the largest global alcohol conglomerates. I also enjoyed working with a tight-knit, friendly team with ambition for miles and the talent to pull it off. I will always be grateful to them for taking me on in September.

Fintech created the first EFT (electronic funds transfer) payment system for the alcoholic beverages industry in 1991, and in the 18 years that followed, their system gained approval in all 50 states. Since then, they’ve built systems to improve the way alcohol is managed, priced, promoted, ordered, and sold. They’re a “work hard, play hard” place with a reputation for treating their employees well, and I’m fortunate to have seen that for myself.

Lilypad is a scrappy startup that was founded in 2013 and was acquired by Fintech in 2019, a few months before I joined. Their original application was a tool to help alcohol sales teams in the field, and has since grown to become a system that helps the industry manage the entire sales process. Lilypad’s customers run the gamut from the smallest kitchen-table craft breweries to global conglomerates whose products are everywhere — perhaps even on your shelves at home. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps at this company, and I was happy to be part of it.

Tap the photo to see it at full size.

One of the proudest moments I’ve had this year came in January while I was flipping through Beer & Brewing’s Brewing Industry Guide 2019, when I stumbled across a full-page ad for Lilypad software. By that point, code that I’d written myself had actually been incorporated into the app, and real customers were using it. My work fixed some long-standing bugs and added some much-requested features, and the rest of the team’s efforts, from sales to account management to product design and testing, took it the rest of the way.

While I did see the result of my efforts while testing the app, seeing the ad made it more real. I couldn’t resist taking the photo above.

Life in a startup is full of adventures with its fair share of ups and downs. We’ve just seen an unprecedented “down” with the global pandemic and ensuing economic situation. When faced with a challenge like this, it’s the companies who maintain their focus while controlling their spending discipline that will survive. When faced with such a predicament, it is the mandate of a responsible business to look at ways to stretch their dollar and cut their costs.

In order to ensure that there would still be a Lilypad at the end of the COVID-19 crisis, the company had to make some cuts. The Powers That Be at Lilypad and Fintech had to make a tough call, but they made the right one for the organization: they had to lay me off. My final day was last Tuesday, April 7th.

Things will get better. I have faith in my community, my industry, and people in general. Humanity is a team sport, and one that — once we get focused — we play well.

To those who were laid off along with me, please stay in touch, and if you need a favor, recommendation, or just someone to listen, I’m here for you. To my former fellows at Lilypad and Fintech who still have their jobs, count your blessings, and I’m also here for you. To everyone — watch this blog, because I’m going to be devoting even more time and energy to it, and there’s going to be a lot of useful information here.

Once again, thank you, Lilypad and Fintech!

While I’m here, let me point you to Lilypad’s curated blog series/ebook, Beer Sales Best Practices. It comprises experience-based advice from sales leaders of some of the best craft brewers around — CANarchy, Allagash, Left Hand, and Two Roads. If you’re in the craft beer industry, you’ll find the articles and ebook full of hidden gems and actionable takeaways that may reshape how you manage your sales teams, adapt in an ever changing market, assess the future of craft, and everything in between.

Are you looking for someone with both strong development and “soft” skills? Someone who’s comfortable either being in a team of developers or leading one? Someone who can handle code, coders, and customers? Someone who can clearly communicate with both humans and technology? The first step in finding this person is to check out my LinkedIn profile.

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Career Editorial Programming

Here’s a bragging right that no other techie has

Now that I’m looking for my next gig (my last one was a victim of COVID-19), it’s time to revive this video that New Relic released a few years back to promote their application monitoring service.

Titled We Love Developers, it features some of the brightest lights in the industry:

  • Matz: Yukihiro Matsumoto, creator of the Ruby programming language
  • Guido van Rossum: Creator of the Python programming language
  • Linus Torvalds: Creator of the Linux operating system and the Git version control system
  • DHH: David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails framework
  • Bill Joy: Co-founder of Sun Microsystems and creator of the vi text editor
  • James Gosling: Lead designer of the Java programming language
  • Sir Tim: Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web
  • Marc Andreesen: Co-creator of Mosaic, the first widely-used web browser, co-founder of Netscape, co-founder of Andreesen Horowitz
  • Woz: Steve Wozniak, creator of Apple
  • Rasmus Lerdorf: Creator of the PHP programming language
  • The Gu: Scott Guthrie, creator of ASP.NET, Executive VP of Microsoft’s Cloud and AI group
  • Sergey Brin: Co-founder of Google
  • Dries Buytaert: Creator of Drupal

At the end of the video, they wanted to use the image of a more “everyman” developer to represent you, their customer. Guessed who they picked:

My photographer friend Adam P. W. Smith (my old business partner; together, we were datapanik software systems and we worked on some pretty interesting projects back in the late ‘90s) took the picture back in August when I was visiting him in Vancouver. I’d arrived a day early for the HackVAN hackathon and was sitting in his kitchen getting some work done when he decided to get a couple of shots. He poured me a glass of scotch, set it on my accordion, which I’d set down on the chair beside me, and staring taking pictures.

Are you looking for someone with both strong development and “soft” skills? Someone who’s comfortable either being in a team of developers or leading one? Someone who can handle code, coders, and customers? Someone who can clearly communicate with both humans and technology? The first step in finding this person is to check out my LinkedIn profile.

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Editorial

Looking at Ben Evans’ “Tech in 2020” slides, part 1: Always bet on the toy

If you read only one piece of tech punditry today, make sure it’s Benedict Evans’ slide deck, Tech in 2020: Standing on the shoulders of giants. Evans is a partner at Andreesen Horowitz (a.k.a. a16z), and it’s his job to try and figure out where tech is going next. Despite being 128 slides long, the deck is a quick read thanks to Evans’ concise slide-making style. More importantly: There’s a lot of useful information in them! I’m going to spend this week highlighting some key lessons from this deck.

Today’s lesson: Always bet on the toy.

The S-curve is a recurring image in Evans’ slide deck. S-curves describe a process that starts off slowly, picks up speed in the middle, and slows down near the end. It describes a non-linear growth process that you’ll see everywhere, in both natural and artificial systems.

Evans observes that the adoption of new technologies tends to follow an S-curve. In the beginning, a new technology’s adoption is slow, as it’s considered too silly or toy-like to actually be useful. Then it hits a tipping point where it becomes the hot new thing, and adoption ramps up quickly. Finally, the market for the technology becomes saturated, growth slows, it becomes “old news”, and people ask “What’s next?”.

Consider desktop computing. When it got started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, desktop computers were derided as toys. The fact that the IBM PC was developed by IBM’s Entry-Level Systems division indicates that they thought of the PC was something to tide their lightweight customers over until they were ready for a real computer. We know what happened in the end: people in offices found all sorts of uses for PCs, they became ubiquitous, and now they’re boring.

On slide 7, Evans points out that the history of computing technology has been a series of S-curves, with each S-curve spanning a period of about 15 years. The image above shows slide 7, with annotations that I added to spell out the overall trend. With each technology, the following happens:

  • Size, cost and power consumption decrease
  • Ubiquity, use cases, and power increase

With that in mind, Evans presents four major categories of what could be “The Next Big Thing”, which are:

  1. Frontier tech
    • Quantum computing
    • New battery chemistry
    • Neural interfaces
    • Autonomy
    • AR optics
  2. Important but narrow
    • Drones
    • IoT
    • Voice
    • Wearables
    • Robotics
    • eSports
    • 3D printing
    • VR
    • Micro-satellites
  3. Structural learning
    • Crypto?
    • 3G / 4G / 5G
    • Cloud, still
  4. The next platform?
    • AR glasses?

Note that all of these technologies are easily dismissable as “toys”, “silly”, or “not yet ready for the real world” — for now. If you want to be ready for the upcoming 15-year S-curve, make sure that you’re keeping an eye on trends in these areas, or similar topics.