Why Everything Will Be Disrupted — And What Your Startup Can Do to Win

By Fusion by Fresco Capital,

Taken together, the evolution of technology, macroeconomic trends, and political shifts all point to the same conclusion: We’re nearing the end of a cycle. It’s only a matter of time before the industrial age disappears altogether, giving rise to the information age.

As we become even more submerged in this new fast-paced digital age, it’s becoming increasingly clear that everything will be disrupted sooner or later — even doctors and lawyers.

In the past, the old rules of economies centered on the concept of “choice under scarcity” — which is how “supply and demand” became a phrase everyone knows. But things are changing in the new economy. Now, it’s about “choice under abundance.”

Customers — in every sense of the word — have more choices than ever before. Consumers can compare a ton of brands in a few minutes, and companies have their pick of freelancers and contractors on a project-by-project basis.

For this reason, the job market is shaping up to be dramatically different in the coming years. In many ways, the gig economy is already here. But by 2020, experts predict as many as half of U.S. workers will be freelancers.

Beyond the change in the job market, we can also expect international barriers to break down further thanks to new technologies. Syrian refugees, for example, were able to get across Europe and find their neighbors and families thanks to smartphones, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

How can companies survive this changing business, technological, and economic landscape?

How Startups Can Win

Succeeding in this new age requires an immersion in the technologies and understanding of the economic implications inherent in the information age. Quite simply, companies need to prepare for disruption because it’ll happen sooner or later. Don’t hide behind regulation (e.g., San Francisco). You’ll eventually get burned.

If you’re a startup, go attack the areas where regulation meets technologies. While venture capitalists used to not invest in these battleground areas, that’s precisely where the opportunity lies these days.

Case in point? Uber, which is now valued at $80 billion.

The company lives in gray areas. In the early days, there was an argument as to whether the ridesharing company should be able to pick up and drop off customers at New York City-area airports. After the New York City Taxi Commission said that Uber shouldn’t be able to serve airports because drivers were uninsured, Uber ponied up money to get their drivers insured and cover costs associated with legal representation.

What’s more, when Mayor Bill de Blasio was threatening to cap the number of drivers Uber could have in New York City, the company released a feature on its app that showed how long it would take to hail an Uber if the proposal succeeded. De Blasio eventually capitulated. Uber had too much support to fight.

It seems quite plausible that the successful companies of tomorrow will all have an Uber-like policy that toes the line and tests regulations — giving customers what they want before politicians can take it away from them for the sake of the status quo.

Change Is Everywhere

Ten years ago, who would have thought that the restaurant industry could be drastically changed by technology? But here we are. There are manytablet-driven restaurants. As any restaurant owner knows, margins are tight. The use of tablets lessens operating expenses and reduces the frequency of errors.

Technology has also disrupted the coffee shop (well, at least Starbucks). Though in my opinion the Starbucks app leaves a lot to be desired, I still use it because it beats waiting in line.

Thanks to outsourcing software and platforms, higher-end jobs — like design specification managers and systems architects — are becoming increasingly available. This is great news for workers and companies alike. Engaged on-demand talent is closer than you think.

The economy has changed; this is your new way of looking at it. The more prepared you are for disruption — and certainly the more aggressively you pursue the opportunity to be the disruptor — the more likely your company will live to see brighter days.

Photo by flickr user Tsahi Levent-Levi

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Behind the Scenes at Nanosatellite Company Spire

By Fusion by Fresco Capital,

I first connected with Peter Platzer in 2012 during the early days of Spire, before any of the company’s nanosatellites were actually in space. We hit it off immediately, and very quickly this led to an investment by us at Fresco Capital. There are many teams with big dreams, but Peter and the Spire team are one of the few teams that consistently execute those big dreams. In addition to launching and managing a constellation of nanosatellites, the satellite-powered data company has built a truly global business with offices across Asia, Europe and North America.

Here’s a recent Q&A I had with Peter.


When most people think of satellites, they think of very large and expensive projects that only governments can afford. What has changed in the past 15 years and why?

Nanosatellites are about the size of a bottle of wine and since 2014, there have been more nanosatellites launches than traditional large ones. With nanosatellite being far more affordable, this has dramatically changed the number of space faring nations, companies, and even individuals!

The two biggest reasons for that is the integration of new technologies from other industries and the creation of the CubeSat standard. Components from smartphones, drones, and robotics have made it possible to build an incredibly powerful satellite in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the price — it is still quite a bit or rocket science, but simply by replacing the need for lots of money with the need for lots of ingenuity and brain, it opened access for innovation from the private sector to space. Secondly, when it comes time to launch, there are now opportunities to share a ride in almost every space-faring country because the standard form factor is now a well-known and accepted by over a dozen launch vehicles.

Image Credit: Spire Global

You are originally from Europe and have lived in both Asia and North America. How does that influence your perspective of which country or countries Spire considers home?

When I was a teenager I came to my father with my passport and said “I’d like it to say ‘Peter Platzer, citizen of earth”. This was the time before the fall of the wall, my home town being just 45’ away from the Iron Curtain. An avid reader of both science and science fiction this separation between me in wealthy Vienna and others just 45’ drive away made no sense. Since then I travelled to over 60 countries and worked extensively in 7 countries on 3 continents. Clearly this has deeply influenced my thinking, curiosity, and appreciation for different cultures, norms, perspectives. And while I don’t think that my background influenced my perspective on Spire’s ‘home country’ it has certainly influenced the type of problem I want to solve and the type of company I would want to start. So from the beginning it was very clear that Spire needed to be a global company, with global customers, global operations, a global talent pool, solving global problems. Its home country is Earth.

Image credit: Spire Global

The transformation of the space industry is likely be a much needed catalyst for job creation in the future. What should governments, schools and parents be doing to make sure that their children are well prepared for these new job opportunities?

The best thing that schools can do is to keep kids engaged with technology. We need people who can code, build electronics, and understand complex systems. Thankfully there are great minds in ed-tech, like Ardusat.com, working on this problem. We put an educational payload into every satellite because investing in children’s passion for science and technology is an investment in our future.

Image Credit: Spire Global

Anything related to space has a huge amount of global and national regulations. Recently, startups in other industries have been hurt by not following regulations. How do you approach the challenge of innovating in a highly regulated industry?

It’s always going to be difficult to deal with a highly regulated industry like aerospace but it is worth reminding yourself that the regulations were created for a reason. When we run into a roadblock, we talk with people. It’s often the case that no one even imagined a world with nanosatellites when they wrote the rules. So far we have found regulators to be very keen on understanding and supporting New Space, even though they often have to work with regulations that are anachronistic to today’s rapid pace of space technology development.

Image Credit: Spire Global

Many technology companies struggle with having diversity in the team. Spire, as a space company, is obviously working on some very advanced technology, so how does the company approach the issue of talent diversity?

Our approach to talent is to hire the best people and to build a heterogeneous team. Research has showed that heterogeneous teams consistently outperform homogeneous teams. Our team now consists of people from 18 countries and counting. It is also worth noting that from our perspective, diversity comes far more in the form of different personalities, approaches to problems, situations, desires, and aspirations, that differences visible on the outside. We measure diversity far more by the “content of the book” rather than “the cover of the book”, something that we think is often forgotten in the diversity debate.

Image Credit: Spire Global

What benefits do you think this new technology will be bringing to companies, government, and people in the next 1–3 years?

Nanosatellites are bringing about a sea-change in how much data is available from space to benefit mankind. Its like switching from a 1950 black and white silent movie to a 2015 4k 3D IMAX movie. Many of those benefits are yet to be discovered, but simply imagine a world were no airplane is ever lost again, global shipping is running on half the emissions because of route optimisation, our oceans are replenished in fish stock thanks to eradicating illegal fishing, and weather forecasts are as accurate as swiss train schedules, allowing you to never be late for a date (or miss a shipping to a customer). And those are just the areas that one company, Spire, is working on. We are certain that many more areas will be positively impacted by the wide-spread use of nanosatellites, similarly as the widespread use of the PC instead of the mainframe brought about the internet.


Thank you for reading!

Our portfolio companies including Spire are always on the lookout for top talent and also partnership opportunities. To learn more, get in touch.

Image credit: Spire Global

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Why You Should Start Experimenting with AR and VR Today

By Fusion by Fresco Capital,

Those of us paying attention all knew it was only a matter of time before augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) became mainstream. Now, thanks to the rise of Oculus Rift and Pokémon Go, we’re beginning to arrive at that point.

First, some brief definitions so we are on the same page:

  • Virtual reality is technology that generates a three-dimensional digital environment, tricking users into “believing” they’re inside that environment when interacting with the technology. MarketsandMarkets says the VR market will grow 57.8% each year between now and 2022. The market realized $1.37 billion in 2015 and is projected to bring in$33.9 billion by 2022.

If you or your company is in any position to create AR and VR products, now’s the time to get started. Even if you fail during your first attempt, you’ll get a head start on claiming as big a chunk of the AR and VR pies as you can.

I Couldn’t Jump

I am advising a company in the space, so recently I was lucky enough to visit an AR/VR accelerator and interact with the exciting new technologies that many businesses are building. I started playing with the Oculus Rift and thought it was pretty cool. I also got to try an HTC Vive (which I liked much better). Even though I knew what I was seeing was a digitalized environment, I wouldn’t “jump off of a cliff” when presented with the opportunity. It all seemed too real. Psychologically, I couldn’t do it.

My experiences, coupled with the media frenzy over Pokémon Go — which provides the first mainstream AR experience — have led me to one conclusion: you need to simply get involved and start building products now, rather than later. Because there’s really no such thing as failure in this case.

If you fail, it’ll probably be because the market isn’t big enough and the tech isn’t as popular as it will be one day. But you can learn from those shortcomings. And in two or three years when the market is booming, you’ll succeed because you’ll have learned a ton of helpful lessons while failing.

An Enormous Opportunity

Pokémon Go represents a breakout moment for augmented reality. But we’re still in the super-early stages of seeing the true power of the technology. It’s where mobile was when Michael Douglas was blabbing on an enormous cell phone in Wall Street.

So before you get turned off on AR because of how annoying you perceive Pokémon Go to be, it’s worth your while to consider how the technology can transform your company. If you’re a startup founder, there’s a good chance your first stab at AR or VR will be unsuccessful. But three to five years from now, you’ll be in one of the best positions to build the technology.

Need more convincing? F1 recently signed a deal that will allow its races to be streamed via VR devices. Racing fans will be able to see the course as if they were sitting in the driver’s seat themselves (which might be a way for racing to attract new fans — folks who previously couldn’t understand the sport’s appeal).

Despite these breakthroughs, there are very few masters of AR and VR technologies right now. Developers are going to AR/VR hackathons to learn more skills. The industry isn’t yet full of geniuses who are building the surefire next big thing.

But it will be sometime in the near future.

If you’re a technical startup person interested in the space, go out and start turning your AR and VR ideas into reality. While it might not be monetarily successful for you right off the bat, your efforts will undoubtedly help AR and VR technologies move forward. As an added bonus, you’ll become more intimate with the space — which should put you in a great position to claim a big chunk of the market through your subsequent AR and VR efforts.

First Photo by flickr user UTKnightCenter

Second Photo by Stephen Forte

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When to Hire A VP of Sales

By Stephen Forte,
VP fo Sales

My personal experience and more recently working with Fresco Capital’s startups has taught me that no matter how different each business and start-up process might be, nearly all new co-founders and CEOs eventually pose the same important, inevitable question: When do I hire a VP of Sales?

My response is always the same: When you really need one.

So, what does that mean?

Co-Founder and CEO Talent and Time Management

Most co-founders and early CEO’s prefer to focus their talent and energy on conceiving and building the new enterprise. The most successful CEOs come from backgrounds in finance and operations. Only 20% of Fortune 500 CEOs started out in Sales or Marketing.

Yet many company leaders also necessarily take on the crucial task of generating those early sales. While a CEO may excel at creating connections and relationships, few are sales experts and are typically overwhelmed with the task’s time commitment. So, during start-up and initial operations, when CEOs think in terms of building the company by building a stellar leadership team, they want to pass on those vital sales responsibilities as quickly as possible to a proven sales expert. After all, a good leader should hire other good leaders, right?

Not yet.

This Is Not The Time to Buy The Rolex

Although a new CEO and leadership team typically want to hire a proven VP of Sales from a very successful company, making a “Rolex” hire early in the company development — and paying Rolex prices for the talent — is not the answer. In fact, poaching an expert VP of Sales by offering a sizeable opportunity and compensation package is counterproductive.

Here’s why.

An extremely successful VP of Sales has become successful because they effectively manage a sales force. A new VP will want to replicate that success by building their new sales team and developing a sales process, complete with expensive sales automation tools. In the long term that is exactly what your company needs. In the short term, however, that is a potentially dangerous waste of resources for your new company during a crucial period. (Yes, I am saying that Google Sheets is a perfectly good CRM at this stage.)

While the VP of sales is putting together a team and developing long-term strategies, nobody is focusing on making actual sales.  Lots of money going out, none coming in. The results can be disastrous. The VP of Sales and the team are either fired, quit, or the company runs out of money.

Build Your Sales Team from the Bottom Up

There is a much better option. Build your sales team from the bottom up.

It may feel counter-intuitive, but the bottom up process is more logical and practical for new companies. It makes much more sense to hire a junior salesperson – someone who will one day report to the VP you eventually hire.

The junior salesperson is expected to be out there making contacts and making sales, which is – at this point in time – what the company needs. Look for someone in the industry with knowledge and experience, demonstrated success, and capacity to learn.

I know that the CEO is eager to offload the sales process, but recognize you will need to spend time mentoring your new hire, and plan to give them at only 25% of the labor the first month or two. Don’t expect them to do all your sales work — understand that the CEO may still want — or need –  to close these early, important deals and the new hire will only shadow the CEO for the first few weeks, growing into the role.

The point is that a co-Founder or CEO should be doing primarily what the CEO alone can do — especially in sales.

After the salesperson starts to take over more and more responsibility and sales start increasing, hire another junior salesperson and start slowly building your team. Most importantly, keep the team focused on generating sales. At this point, allow the team to start building a sales process and choose some tools that fit your environment.

Now You Need A VP of Sales

So, when do you hire the VP of Sales?

The answer is simple: Hire your VP of Sales when you’re generating enough sales for a VP to manage and your process is starting to strain at scale. That’s when you really need one.

That’s when it makes sense to hire a mega-talented VP of Sales with exactly the qualities and skills you need. That’s when you’re ready to recruit a proven, effective leader, someone qualified to create the big vision, continue building a sales force, make the strategic long-range plan, and facilitate the team’s success.

And that’s when you can afford to invest in the best VP of Sales you can find.

In the meanwhile, the “Bottom Up” strategy is a better short-term approach in terms of all primary company resources – money, staff, time- and it leads directly to stronger company success in the long term.

Stop Trying to Imitate Silicon Valley

By Stephen Forte,
HBO's Silicon Valley

 

Planners from all over the world try to replicate the success of Silicon Valley with varying levels of success. Everyone from New York City (Silicon Alley) to London (Silicon Roundabout) to Hong Kong (Silicon Harbour) to Moscow (Skolkovo) has mimicked Silicon Valley in an attempt to build their own version of the lucrative startup hub.

The problem is that Silicon Valley has unique features that have allowed the region to become the world’s center of gravity for innovation. Simply copying the things that allowed Silicon Valley to become such a success won’t work, as some regions have already discovered. The tech hubs need to play to their strengths and evolve in their own unique ways.

Silicon Valley’s Recipe for Success

It’s easy to see why governments want to create their own version of Silicon Valley when looking at the valuations the California region is blessed with. There are now at least 74 startups there valued at more $1 billion each. The total value of these so-called “unicorns” is $273 billion.

The reasons for Silicon Valley’s success are many and most of them can’t be easily copied. Geographically, the region is perfectly located near San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. Historically, Silicon Valley has experienced decades of success with well-established companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Fairchild Semiconductors, Intel, Tesla, and other esteemed companies.

In Silicon Valley, everyone knows somebody who has gotten rich off of stock options they think they’re smarter than…which in turn propels them to take a risk at a startup. Perhaps most important for the region’s growth is this competitive and creative culture that continues to allow so many companies to thrive. Not to mention, an endless supply of elite students from Stanford and Berkeley graduate (and dropout) each year to create the next crop of potential tech giants right in the Valley.

But this formula can’t be bottled upon and shoehorned in anywhere. The wealthy people in San Francisco might work at Google and the likes, yet in Hong Kong and New York, the upper class tend to come from finance, and in Los Angeles it’s Hollywoodhopefully you get the idea. This still doesn’t stop governments and business people from trying to replicate Silicon Valley without taking culture and demographics into account.

Being Unique: Playing to Your Region’s Strengths

Every would-be tech hub has its own unique characteristics and features that need to be taken advantage of. If you go to a Starbucks in Los Angeles, you’re likely to bump into a celebrity or similar entertainment personas. For Hong Kong or New York City, odds are high that you’ll fall into a conversation around recent market performance and SEC developments.

Playing to a specific region’s strengths helps lead to success. Modeling a hub exactly from Silicon Valley in areas that don’t carry the same characteristics becomes a major disadvantage. New York, Hong Kong, and London are better suited to be fintech startup hub than Silicon Valley. Los Angeles is better suited to be an entertainment startup hub than Silicon Valley. Playing to those unique strengths make more sense than trying to replicate Silicon Valley.

Fostering Growth

Government benefits are a welcome way to help foster startups, yet they’re only the baseline and not the endgame. All those helpful benefits (friendly tax policies, real estate deals, subsidies, incubators, etc) only go so far. The barriers of entry to create a tech innovation center in the vein of Silicon Valley are so high that these benefits are simply the table stakes. A bigger, greater hook is needed for regions to succeed.

Regions need to embrace what makes them unique and build off of that. With everyone trying to copy Silicon Valley, there’s plenty of room for new players with their own strengths. Any place that simply tries to do exactly what Silicon Valley is doing will pale in comparison to the original.

Don’t Waste Your Time on Startup Tourism

By Stephen Forte,

Going on a trip to Silicon Valley with your MBA program or government incubator? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that those weeklong Silicon Valley immersion programs are anything other than startup tourism. Spending a week visiting Facebook and Uber and attending talks and events, while interesting and potentially educational, will not teach you what it’s like to build a startup.

Sure, you might make some connections and come closer to figuring out what you really want to do for a living. But if you really want to benefit from a trip to Silicon Valley, you are better off reaching out to one of the several early-stage startups here and asking whether you can intern for a few weeks.

You’ll Understand How Startups Work

While immersion programs are designed to introduce you to the world of startups, they don’t go far enough when it comes to actually shining a light on the intricacies of Silicon Valley. Sure you can see the free food at Twitter, swimming pool at Google, and the hiking trail at Facebook, but that is like visiting Disneyland and thinking it is reality.

By reaching out to a startup instead and interning there, you will develop real relationships and potentially kickstart a career. You will understand how startups work behind the scenes, and you’ll be influenced by their way of doing business. Actual work experience is going to look a lot better on your résumé than spending a week hardly scratching the surface of the startup world.

Think of it like studying abroad. There are two ways to go about it. One is to study at a university where the classes are taught in English, you have no homework, and you can hop around to a bunch of different countries every weekend. You get a broad overview of another culture, but no lasting and profound understanding of it.

On the other hand, you could spend a year in another country, live with a host family, and learn the language. You’ll struggle and it will be challenging, but in the end you’ll have an in-depth understanding of that culture, and how it differs from yours. At the end, you’ll belong to two cultures, rather than just one.

It’s up to you, but I’d take the latter experience over the former any day.

You’ll Gain Unique Insights

When you attend a weeklong immersion program, you’ll get a light taste of what you could expect should you move to Silicon Valley at some point in the future.

But by interning with a company out there — and living and working in the environment itself — you’ll gain unique insights that you can’t get anywhere else. You need to experience them on your own, organically.

How to Find Startups to Work For

You might be wondering how you can actually get hired? Maybe you don’t have startup experience yet. Maybe you’re a developer who wants to work for Google, but you’ve only been coding for a year and you just don’t have the necessary expertise.

Head on over to AngelList, the best place to learn about which companies are hiring out in Silicon Valley. AngelList connects startups with jobseekers interested in working for them. The site provides you a clear view as to what you can expect should you land a gig (e.g., salary and equity is disclosed up front).

The best part? By sending out one application, you can apply to over 40,000 jobs in one fell swoop. Talk about efficiency.

How to Get a Startup to Hire You

Don’t think any startups will take you? Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Pitch attractive would-be employers a short project that utilizes your skills. For example, if you’re a communications major, offer to come in for two weeks to consult and intern with them for free, in exchange for a reference. Most startups don’t have any communications or PR plan, and are happy to take free labor.

Are you a political science major? Offer to come and do an analysis on the effects new policy or the upcoming elections will have on them. Think no startups care about this? Just ask Uber what they think.

If you don’t have any “practical” skills whatsoever? Offer to clean the coffee machines and work your way up.

Maximize Your Trip to Silicon Valley

Those weeklong programs aren’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve even hosted them before at my office in Palo Alto. But the payoff is much higher if you actually immerse yourself in the experience for an extended amount of time.

Remember, if you’re part of one of these programs, your trip doesn’t have to end once a week is up. Stay a little bit longer. You won’t regret it.

Photo by flickr user christian.rondeau

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Hardware Companies Are Really Software Companies

By Stephen Forte,

There has been an explosion of hardware startups over the past few years led by the Maker Movement and startup programs like Hax (where I’m an advisor). I’ve seen and worked with well over 100 hardware companies in the past five years. In that time, I have observed that hardware startups think differently than software startups. They shouldn’t. All hardware companies are software companies. The sooner they realize it, the sooner they’ll become successful.

Look at today’s most successful hardware companies. Apple and Tesla build amazing, innovative hardware. And at its heart, a Tesla is an iPad on wheels.

It’s okay if you don’t believe me. But I just upgraded to version 7.1 of their software, which includes self-parking and summon features. It means my car self-drives in parking lots. It’s not even software in disguise. It’s just software. They didn’t send me any new hardware, just an update over WiFi.

Software isn’t Second Priority

It’s tied for first. Obviously a hardware company needs an amazing design and has to worry about manufacturing. The economics of a hardware startup are different. But a great hardware solution needs great software.

If you were going to build the connected camera (as if your iPhone didn’t suffice), designing and engineering a perfect, beautiful camera wouldn’t be enough. People want to frame their pictures, or share them online. Your camera has to have a user-friendly social element or you’ve missed the boat. And if you don’t want to design your own social software, it needs to integrate deeply with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

People, including me, are spoiled. We expect a great software experience wherever we go. If you’re building an IoT product, it’s not enough to connect something to the internet. Users need utility from your software too.

Software can never be an afterthought.

This area is where hardware companies miss out. If they don’t prioritize software, they’ll be unsuccessful. I saw this happen with a company in the pet space. After their successful Kickstarter campaign, they delivered an awesome hardware solution with so-so software. Once they upgraded their software and then built an app that augmented the experience, they were able to draw in new users to their hardware as well as keep the existing customers who purchased their hardware more engaged. Lastly, the additional software opened up way more monetization opportunities besides the hardware. (Nobody besides Apple makes money on hardware.) Only once the company realized that software was the key ingredient did their hardware solution become successful.

What Separates Leaders from Followers

Most fitness trackers do the same thing. They count steps, measure progress, and suggest goals. But if you use a tracking device, I’ll bet it’s a Fitbit.

It should be. Fitbit has the best solution for helping you stay fit and lose weight. It’s simple to compete against your friends (and yourself) as you work towards fitness goals. I find myself walking more so I can catch up with my competitive friends. I take particular pleasure (and taunt them) when I beat my friends on the the leaderboard.

fitbit

Products are supposed to get a particular job done. The job isn’t to count steps, or else there’d be little distinction between the trackers. Fitbit has invested time, energy, and resources into building a data analytics solution to solve the real job: helping people lose weight. And why are they so successful? Because they invested in software that accompanies their hardware.

In my experience, I’ve never invested in a hardware company. I’ve only invested in hardware or IoT companies that are software or big data companies in disguise. It’s a massive differentiator.

Hardware’s Maturation

Consider this: Intel, a global hardware leader, has more software developers than Facebook. Intel is a software company that happens to produce hardware.

If it’s good enough for world-shaking market leaders, it’s good enough for your hardware startup. Go become a software company as well.

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How IoT Disrupts Traditional Business Models

By Stephen Forte,

The Internet of Things (IoT) changes everything.

That’s one of the least hyperbolic statements I can make. Existing businesses will be disrupted and their business models will be changed forever. In fact, IoT and the Lean Hardware movement are already a driving force behind why The Nature of the Firm is no longer a tenable thesis.

Let’s talk about why that’s the case.

Meet The Connected Dishwasher

Put yourself in the shoes of Philips, consumer products manufacturer. Philips makes dishwashers. One day, they’re going to throw a sensor and wifi chip into the newest dishwasher model and call it a “smart” appliance.

We’ll have the thing we never knew we needed: the connected dishwasher. (But trust me, I will buy one.)

It’s not so simple though. Philips can’t put some chips into an appliance and call the project complete. They need to design an app that consumers could conceivably use. Then, they need an API so that Smart Things or some other home automation software can control it.

Philips was a consumer hardware manufacturer. But with the connected dishwasher, is it still?? Or is it a software company? Is it an App and API company? Of course not. Philips will continue to build appliances and outsource that kind of work to someone else.

But there’s more work left. The dishwasher needs to communicate to the power grid if it’s going to be “smart” and cycle at the most opportune times. Does that make Philips a data communication company?

And what happens when the dishwasher needs servicing? Luckily, its sensors can determine when repairs are needed before something breaks. The dishwasher “calls” a service provider and tells them what part it needs. Or better yet, a technician could log in remotely and fix the problem with software. No in-person visit required.

Philips is now solving problems the same way Tesla “repairs” my car! Doesn’t that strike you as a big leap for a consumer appliance company?

Dishwasher-as-a-Service

I say “DaaS” only partly tongue-in-cheek.

Because when Philips walks down this path, it will transform how the company does business. Its existing models aren’t compatible with its business needs. The dishwasher company will become a service company.

Not only that, but Philips isn’t competing against its old peers anymore. The company enters a field where it doesn’t have any core competencies: home automation.

The consumer isn’t buying a dishwasher. In their mind, they’re buying another home smart device, no different from a new Beats Pill in their mind. Besides every other consumer appliance manufacturer, Philips now has to compete with Apple, Bose, and Samsung for the same top of mind and share-of-wallet.

The other dishwasher companies don’t seem like a big threat anymore.

Where Do We Go Now?

History repeats.

Today, we’re in a mobile-focused world. Before that, it was the web. Then PC, and then Mainframe. Right now, people think IoT is geeky. They believe it can change “infrastructure,” whatever infrastructure means to them. But what they don’t realize is that IoT is probably the driving force of the next era of computing. We already have more IoT sensors connected to the internet than people In the next five years, the number of sensors will outnumber people by a factor of 10.

Philips and companies like them will have their business models disrupted. They’ll walk down new paths, completely unprepared for the risks that they’ve introduced.

But that’s where the massive opportunities lay. Startups can fill the gap. Investors can finance them. Someone will profit from the demise of the Old Guard.

The next era is coming, and it will either be the IoT era or an era driven by it.

Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities.

 

Photo from: https://pixabay.com/en/network-iot-internet-of-things-782707/

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How Tomorrow Works

By Stephen Forte,

A few years ago I was sitting in a classroom at the London School of Economics debating unemployment with my nobel prize winning professor. The conversation was centered around another LSE nobel prize winner, Ronald Coase, who in 1937 observed in his scholarly paper, The Nature of the Firm, that firms exist in order to reduce transaction costs and take advantage of economies of scale. Barring external forces, firms will tend to grow larger and larger over time. This is the fundamental economic framework powering the world economy since the industrial revolution, driving corporate behaviors such as: corporate structure, the rise of M&A, and 20th century management theory.

A few weeks later, Ronald Coase at 101 years old, would go on a podcast and declare his 80 year old nobel winning thesis obsolete. No longer do you need to scale the size of a firm just to obtain efficiency, with modern technology and today’s demographics, you can capture the same value with much smaller firms. Companies will still grow to be larger over time, however, they won’t grow as large as they have in the past.

Since then I have been thinking deeply about what has broken down Coase’s theory which was the fundamental underpinning of the world economy since the Industrial Revolution. After several years of reflection on this, I have come up with four forces:

  • The rise of the freelancer economy
  • Millennials’ behaviors and impact
  • IoT and lean hardware
  • SaaS economics and the democratization of IT

The Rise of the Freelancer Economy

According to a report by Intuit, by 2020 approximately 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be working as freelancers. Another study predicts 50% by 2025. As more members of the workforce decide to freelance, the number of marketplaces to facilitate them will proliferate. In the past you would hire the reputation of a Brand. Tomorrow freelancers will build a reputation on a marketplace and the marketplaces will build a brand.

This trend will lead to more commodity based and strategic outsourcing. Commodity based outsourcing will consist of outsourcing HR, legal, accounting/finance, manufacturing, and software development. Strategic based outsourcing via the freelancer economy will outsource product development, design, and even management.

Millennials’ Behaviors and Impact

By 2020, Millennials will consist of 20% of the workforce, and by 2025, 75%.  Millennials were born mobile and digital; their behaviors will change the way companies interact with their customers as well as how companies interact with their employees. Everything changes from preferred methods of communications (messaging) to marketing (social media) to commerce (mobile first). Traditional management models start to break down with Millennials managing Millennials and selling to Millennials.

IoT and Lean Hardware

At the same time the Millennials are taking over the workforce, we will have 26 billion IoT sensors in production and connected to the internet by 2020. Cheap sensors and widespread availability lead to more big data driven analysis about everything from the lighting in your office, self-driving cars, the temperature of your home, to how your dishwasher runs. Abundant sensors combined with cheaper and small batch manufacturing will drastically change business models, pushing them to be more service oriented. Robotics and AI will eliminate most unskilled jobs, driving employment to be more skilled and knowledge based.

SaaS Economics and the Democratization of IT

While the move to the cloud has already begun, over the next few years, it will be massive. The economics of SaaS software has shifted the decision making power to the line worker from the management and IT. Since you can swiftly deploy cloud-based software within your organization with a free trial, cheap monthly credit card payment, and no physical installation, employees are now making the purchasing decisions, not the IT department. This is breaking down siloed data, enabling remote/distributed teams, and creating more capital efficient companies.

The Next 10 Years

As we enter the post-Industrial era, the dynamics of the firm and the workforce are going to change radically. As the forces that are breaking down Coase’s model only grow stronger, many companies are remaining stagnant. The success of a company no longer depends on growing larger, but now depends on being the optimal size in order to fend off the disruptive smaller companies. Google figured this out when it broke the company into smaller pieces and formed the parent holding company, Alphabet.

The larger this gap between big and optimal sized companies grows, the less chance there is of survival for companies trying to grow by growing bigger, opening up great opportunities for disruptive startup companies. Even more interesting is that this transformation will happen in the next ten years. How tomorrow works is radically different than it is today.

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Why CTOs Should Know Accounting

By Stephen Forte,

No one talks about how important it is for your CTO to learn the business side of things. That needs to change. If you’re a co-founder or senior executive at a startup or growth stage company, you need to be more than just an expert in your area. I know that’s asking a lot. Becoming an expert is a massive task. But it’s not enough. Each senior leader needs to be familiar with engineering, marketing, sales, and accounting if you want to maximize your chance for success.

 This concept has been popularized for non-technical founders for some time, through efforts like Mayor Bloomberg’s Learn to Code and Business Week’s magnum opus What is Code. But I’ll wager if you’re a CEO, you suck at social media. You probably don’t understand it, even though it’s the future of customer engagement. That needs to change. And this change needs to extend beyond giving non-technical founders technical skills. We need to help CTOs get business savvy.

Perform a Self Assessment

 If you had to take over any of your company’s functional roles (marketing, sales, etc.) for a short period, would you be able to lead effectively? If the answer’s yes, great. Proceed. But if not, you’ve identified a major need.

Things happen, and you need to prepare for contingencies. Not only that, how can you screen and hire the right person if you can’t speak the same language?

Non-technical CEO’s should code so they can:

  • Understand how the sausage gets made
  • Talk to their team with the right vocabulary (i.e. Agile, Scrum, and Kanban)  

If you’re the CTO, don’t you want to be relevant in business meetings? You won’t be as strong in marketing as your CMO, but you can add value and influence decisions.

If you outsource business decisions to your non-technical co-founder, there will be consequences. Best case scenario? You disengage from the business side.

Worst case: your disengagement leaves your CEO to feel lonely and stressed. And then one day, you wake up to a phone call from that person saying, “Hey, we’re out of money.”

Don’t let that happen to you.

Jump into the Business Side

 I love founding teams comprised of engineers because:

  • Less technical risk
  • Solve their own problems
  • Shared background with me

I’ve been a CTO many times in my career, and I’ve exited multiple companies. But heading back to grab my MBA still made me a better CTO.

I don’t think all developers should get an MBA even though, unlike many of my peers, I think there’s value in one. Instead, I’d suggest creating your self-study MBA.

Design Your Personal MBA

Here are my suggestions for a practical education that will make you a better leader in every functional area.

Accounting

 All techies should read The Essentials of Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers by Edward Fields (who was my Accounting professor in business school).

It’s not exactly A Song of Ice and Fire, but you shouldn’t want to put this book down. You’ll get familiar with:

  • Balance sheets
  • Income statements
  • Cash flow statements
  • Budgets and forecasts
  • Annual statements

I know. It’s dry. But the book is so necessary.

If you want to supplement it, take an online accounting and finance crash-course like this one at Udemy.

Marketing

 Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The book was published over two decades ago, but it’s still essential. Learn from real world case-studies.

And remember this lesson: if people don’t read your website or emails, they’ll never buy your stuff.

To improve your copywriting, try the great Gary Halbert’s Boron Letters.

Sales

 Sales makes the world go round. Here are two great books:

And finally, for our non-developer friends who’ve stuck through this:

Engineering

 Read the Bloomberg article What Is Code that I mentioned before. It’s an interactive history lesson that walks through everything developer and even delves a little into philosophy.

At the very least, you should get familiar with HTML & CSS so you don’t need to bother your developers on trivial tasks. Brush up over at Codecademy.

  You’re never going to be an expert in all of these roles. But at a minimum, you need to be conversational.

Have a bias for action and carve some time out for learning. Let me know how it goes.

* Image by Flickr user foam 

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