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Uber Does Not Equal The Valley

By - June 14, 2017

Uber Protest

Now that the other shoe has dropped, and Uber’s CEO has been (somewhat) restrained, it’s time for the schadenfreude. Given Uber’s remarkable string of screwups and controversies, it’s coming in thick, in particular from the East coast. And while I believe Uber deserves the scrutiny — there are certainly critical lessons to be learned — the hot takes from many media outlets are starting to get lazy.

Here’s why. Uber does not reflect the entirety of the Valley, particularly when it comes to how companies are run. As I wrote in The Myth of the Valley Douchebag, there are far more companies here run by decent, earnest, well meaning people than there are Ubers. But of course, the Ubers get most of the attention, because they confirm an easy bias that all of tech is off the rails, and deserves to be taken down a notch.

Such is the case with this piece in Time — painting all of Uber’s failures broadly as the Valley’s failures. And to a point, the piece is correct — but only to a point. While the entire Valley (and let’s face it, Congress, the judiciary, the Fortune 500, nearly every public board in America, etc. etc.) has a major race and gender problem, Uber has far more troubles than just gender and race. Far more. And painting every company in the Valley with the tarred brush of Uber’s approach to business is simply unfair.

To that bias, I’d like to counter with Matt Mullenwegg, from Automattic, or Jen Pahlka, from Code for America, or Ben Silbermann, from Pinterest, or Michelle Zatlyn, from CloudFlare, or Jeff Huber, from Grail Bio. Sure, their companies aren’t worth billions (on second thought, Pinterest, CloudFlare, and Automattic are, and Grail may be on its way), but they are excellent examples of game changing organizations run by good people who, while they may not be perfect, are driven by far more than arrogance, lucre, and winning at all costs.

It’s certainly a good thing that Uber has been chastened. There are still far too many frothy startups driven by immature, bro-tastic founders eager to “move fast and break things” and “ask for forgiveness, not for permission.” Kalanick and Uber’s fall from grace is visceral proof that they must change their ways. But the Silicon Valley trope is starting to wear thin. Let’s not forget the good as we excise the bad. We’ve got a lot of important work to do.

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The Internet Big Five Is Now The World’s Big Five

By - May 17, 2017

Back in December of 2011, I wrote a piece I called “The Internet Big Five,” in which I noted what seemed a significant trend: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook were becoming the most important companies not only in the technology world, but in the world at large. At that point, Facebook had not yet gone public, but I thought it would be interesting to compare each of them by various metrics, including market cap (Facebook’s was private at the time, but widely reported). Here’s the original chart:

I called it “Draft 1” because I had a sense there was a franchise of sorts brewing. I had no idea. I started to chart out the various strengths and relative weaknesses of the Big Five, but work on NewCo shifted my focus for a spell.

Three years later, in 2014, I updated the chart. The growth in market cap was staggering:

Nearly a trillion dollars in net market cap growth in less than three years! My goodness!

But since 2014, the Big Five have rapidly accelerated their growth. Let’s look at the same chart, updated to today:

Ummm..HOLY SHIT! Almost two trillion dollars of market cap added in less than seven years. And the “Big Five” have become, with a few limited incursions by Berkshire Hathaway, the five largest public companies in the US. This has been noted by just about everyone lately, including The Atlantic, which just employed the very talented Alexis Madrigal to pay attention to them on a regular basis. In his maiden piece, Madrigal notes that the open, utopian world of the web just ten years ago (Web 2, remember that? I certainly do…) has lost, bigly, to a world of walled-garden market cap monsters.

I agree and disagree. Peter Thiel is fond of saying that the best companies are monopolists by nature, and his predictions seem to be coming true. But monopolies grow old, fray, and usually fail to benefit society over time. There’s a crisis of social responsibility and leadership looming for the Big Five — they’ve got all the power, now it’s time for them to face their responsibility. I’ll be writing much more about that in coming weeks and months. As I’ve said elsewhere, in a world where our politics has devolved to bomb throwing and sideshows, we must expect our businesses — in particular our most valuable ones — to lead.

It’s Time For Facebook to Start Making Media

By - March 22, 2017

There’s only one company that can possibly spin media gold on Facebook. And that’s Facebook.

Round and round and round goes the debate — Facebook’s not a media company, Facebook’s not a traditional media company, Facebook’s a new kind of media company. Facebook’s gonna pay media creators to make stuff on Facebook! Wait, no they’re not. Wait, maybe they will make it themselves! Gah

We’ve seen this debate before — Google refused to call itself a media business for years and years. Now, well…YouTube. And Play. Twitter had similar reluctancies, and now…the NFL (oh, and college softball!). Microsoft tried, but ultimately failed, to be a media company (there’s a reason it’s called MSNBC), and had the sense to retreat from “social media” into “enterprise tools” so as to not beg confusion. Then again, it just bought LinkedIn, so the debate will most certainly flare up (wait, is LinkedIn a media company?!).

Truth is, with all these platform players, media is not only a crucial product, it’s the primary product. I’m not going to get into why in this post (I will next time, promise.) Instead I’ll predict that quite soon, platforms, including Facebook, will lose their equivocation and embrace content creation.

In the meantime, let’s talk about cute toddlers, shall we?

Here’s a video of two cute toddlers practicing for a future as nightclub promoters (or WWF entertainers, it’s hard to decide). It’s been watched nearly 70 million times on Facebook. In one day.

Did you read that right? Yep. 70 million times. In one day.

The video is two minutes long. Scores of “traditional” media outlets have somehow gotten access to the video, chroming it up with their own logos, music, and advertising. But the thing went viral on Facebook, and it’s Facebook that insured the kids got their 140 million minutes of fame (and counting).

Here’s the thing. There are literally dozens, if not thousands, of these kinds of media objects on Facebook every day. Sure, maybe they’re not all 70-million-views-in-one-day big, but nevertheless, they’re media gold. They spread all over Facebook, all day long, but what drives me crazy is there’s no way to find them reliably. There’s no media product on Facebook that curates these gems, there’s only media distribution. And as everyone in the Valley (and in media) will tell you, Product Matters.

So it’s time for Facebook to start making good media products. I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit a “Facebook trending viral videos” product at least once a day? Right? Search for viral videos on Facebook now, and you get dreck like this. I don’t know what angle these jokers’ are playing (I mean, there’s no ads there…), but it ain’t what Facebook, with their inside knowledge of what makes stuff go viral, could create.

Sure, there are a ton of “media” players trying to find a way to make a living on Facebook — and the entire media world is now fretting over how dependent they’ve become on the attention black hole Facebook’s become. But the truth is, only Facebook knows what’s really happening behind that 2 billion person curtain. Anyone else making shit for Facebook is running with cement in their shoes.

Facebook will never open up its ecosystem and let a million media flowers bloom. And the “media experience” on the site blows. Soon enough, they’ll have to fix it. It’s time for them to get on with it.

Predictions 2017: A Chain Reaction

By - January 06, 2017

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This is my 14th annual predictions post. And as I look back on the previous 13 and consider what to write, I’m flooded with uncertainty. That’s not like me. Writing these predictions is something I’ve always looked forward to – I don’t prepare in any demonstrable way, but I do gather crumbs over time, filing them away for the day when I sit down and free associate for however long it takes me to complete this post.

But this time, well, for the first time ever I have very little idea what’s about to come out of the keyboard. Honestly, when I consider the coming 12 months, so much feels up for grabs that I wonder whether it’s wise to prognosticate. Then I remember, it’s all of you reading these words who keep me writing in the first place – your encouragement, your wise (and sometimes cutting) commentary, and your willingness to spend a little time with me and my thoughts. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more – it’s always been how I make sense of the world, and this year, the world feels like it needs a lot more sense making. So I’ll be writing at least a few times a week going forward, starting with this uncertain post.

Let’s see what happens….

1. The bloom comes off the tech industry rose. Two years ago, I predicted that the tech industry would wake up to the power it had accrued and start giving a shit both about its impact on the world, and about the world’s largest problems, with climate change being the most pressing of them. That didn’t really happen, despite truly commendable philanthropic, social, and climate change work done by all of the “Big 5″ tech companies (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook). As of this writing, the technology industry is now the undisputed leader of the business world. Its power has concentrated into demonstrable oligarchy – beyond the Big 5, Uber and Airbnb are now being called to question because of their potential monopolistic, rent extracting behavior. But the industry’s philosophical outlook remains rooted in its days as a challenger brand. This can’t stand. 2017 will be the year the industry is cast as a villain – for its ravenous and largely opaque data collection practices, its closed and self-serving approach to its own platforms, and its refusal to acknowledge or address the very real externalities, particularly in employment, created by its products and services. Some of this backlash will be unfair – but that’s not my point. Society vilifies those in power who appear to be unfairly profiting from that power. And in 2017, tech will be that villain.

2. The conversation economy breaks out. This is certainly related to #1, if oddly oppositional. The Big Five will be in an all out battle to engage us through conversational interfaces this year. If you’ve been reading me for over a decade, you might remember my predictions around the “conversation economy.” I was a bit early (OK, a decade too early), but the technology and the consumer behavior/expectations are now aligned to allow for a breakout year in user experience to finally occur. This began in earnest last year with the hype around chatbots, and the ascendance of Alexa and Google Home, all of which followed on the heels of Google Voice Search and Siri. But what will really shift the experience will be the explosion of smart chatbots that actually get shit done – I’m with Kik CEO Ted Livingston, chat is the new browser. Combine smart chat with voice, and … well, we’ll start to see a new UX for the web. What’s the economic model for this new UX? Good question! But the key will be meaningful interaction between all these services, instead of attempts to create a vertically integrated, locked-down walled garden. But that will only happen if…

3. Open starts to win again. It’s dangerous to link two predictions, because if one doesn’t work out, the other is likely to fail as well. It’s even worse to link your first three… but what the hell. Tech’s hegemony is so great at this point, that the only way I can see it breaking down is through a return to the open standards which bequeathed us the Internet in the first place. 2017 will be the year that open starts to win again as a business model and an approach to creating a developer (and hence consumer) ecosystem. Google can and should be the leader here, given its core DNA, but I’m not sure that will be the case. Now, what do I mean by open? Well, interoperability, for one. It’s great that anyone can create a chatbot on Messenger, or Kik, or WhatsApp, but true innovation will come when anyone can create a chatbot that works with all of them, sharing data and user profiles across platforms. The same goes for the marketing industry – publishers and marketers alike should be able to consolidate and leverage data across all meaningful platforms, instead of cultivating different patches in every service’s walled gardens. The same goes for consumers, of course – I want to know what data is being used to mold the choices being laid out in front of me (including the ads, and yes, my f*cking newsfeed!). There will be meaningful demand from “users” to have more fluid and intuitive controls of their experience. And if my #2 holds true, then voice becomes a literal lingua franca, rendering platform lock in long-term meaningless, because jumping from service to service will be as easy as saying “Alexa, WhatsApp my pal Chris with the results of my Google search on open platforms.” This year won’t be a turning point in this battle, but it will show meaningful progress, in large part because…

4. Privacy will become a strong product category. These linked predictions are  certainly becoming a theme. But last year saw strong growth for a number of stand alone privacy products like Signal and Confide, and the inclusion of strong crypto into massive platforms like iOS (remember the FBI fracas?), WhatsApp and Google (via its new Allo and Duo products). Influencers like Fred and many others are predicting a boon in this field, and I agree. But it’s one thing to encrypt your messaging. It’s another to secure your entire online life. That kind of security is hard to do, mainly because it obviates much of the value of the data harvesting which drives convenience in the consumer tech world. But fear of cyber warfare, fraud, and over-reaching marketers and government will create huge openings for consumer friendly versions of currently opaque products like PGP, password managers, and the like. And it’ll also drive political and consumer pressure for more robust consumer control around algorithmically driven consumer experiences. Smart companies won’t resist this trend, they’ll encourage it.

5. Adtech has a ripper of a year. Wait, I just predicted consumers will pivot to caring about privacy, but I’m saying the adtech business is going to have a great year?! Well…yes. Embrace the contradictions, because adtech is ready for its second act. It’s really sucked to be a leader in the advertising technology industry – half of the media industry openly hates your guts, and the other half is convinced your days are numbered because of the Google/Facebook oligarchy. But they’re all wrong. Advertising technology is, at its simplest, the ability to apply data to a decision at scale. And the more open and free flowing that data economy becomes, the better and more valuable the companies which enable it become. If my predictions 1-4 come true, then this one will as well: Independent, high-integrity companies in ad/martech are going to have a banner (no pun intended) year, because they’ll tack into the resistance the large platform players have to the trends I’ve outlined above. Watch: Sovrn Holdings*, AppNexus, Acxiom*, Trade Desk, and OpenX.

6. Apple releases a truly bad hardware product. OK, this one isn’t really tied to the others, but I think Apple’s poised to not just have a boring year (as I predicted it would last year,) but to really lay an egg for the first time in a very long time. It may be their answer to Amazon Echo/Alexa, or Google Home/Assistant, or it may be a follow on to the watch, or perhaps something the company has had up its sleeve for a few years that it feels obliged to roll out given its essentially uninspiring last few years of product releases. But in 2017, the press and the public will find a tangible reason to turn on Apple, and the company will likely respond by reorganizing, repatriating its cash (to curry favor with the current administration), and keep buying its way into the markets where it has repeatedly failed (IE, software as a service, entertainment (NetFlix?!!), and possibly social media).

7. A Fortune 100 company will announce its intention to become a B Corp. Large companies are increasingly under pressure from employees, customers, and society to create value for more than just their shareholders. For decades, business was allowed to tax environmental, social, and societal resources in pursuit of profit. A new generation of consumers and employees are demanding that business ladder to more than simple profit, but rather, have a core purpose—one that makes the world a little (or a lot) better place. Of course, there’s already a corporate governance structure that encourages this approach to running a company—the Public Benefit Corporation, or B Corp. (I wrote about B Corps last year here). My money is on Unilever, which has already been publicly discussing such a move. Two dark horses: Walmart and GE.

8. President Trump leaves Twitter. Ever since Twitter launched, I’ve usually included a Twitter prediction. This one sounds crazy, but it strikes me there are a few ways this might plausibly happen. Perhaps Trump will come to his senses and stop trying to run the country through a series of tweets. OK, that’s not very plausible. More likely is Trump will end up in some kind of a feud with Twitter over something utterly ridiculous, claim he’s the only reason the service is viable anymore, and decamp for Facebook, Snapchat, or who knows, maybe VK (that’s the largest Russian social media network, FWIW). Or maybe someone slips a cure for narcissism into his evening flute of Trump Champagne….

9. Snap soars – then sours. I’m increasingly of the opinion that this company is going to force a total rethink of our online culture. In fact, I think most of us have no idea how over our skis we are when it comes to the power that Snapchat has aggregated. I’m not talking about typical tech power, like number of active users or advertising revenue. I mean the power of the platform to engage and exploit our pleistocene-era social brains. I’m not entirely sure Snap Inc. has fully grokked that power. But Snapchat feels like a step function beyond anything that has come before it. I watch my own children use it, and I’ve watched them fall in love with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and countless pretenders (though I’m keeping my eye on Houseparty). Nothing compares to what happens when a group of kids connect on Snapchat. It literally becomes their social geography, and that fact will be widely recognized by the business community when Snap goes public. But almost hand in hand with that will come the Snapchat backlash, as scholars, alarmists, parents and school administrators speak out about the impact the app is having on the structure of society. Spectacles? By the end of 2017, those will seem quaint. Side note: There’ll be an amazing science fiction novel that comes out in early 2017 whose main protagonist will be compared to Snap. And yeah, that’s a fix, because I’ve already read it…

10. Human connection commands a premium in the workforce. OK, OK, this has certainly been the case for all of history, at least – ahem –  for a certain kind of connectivity. But in an age where it seems every job can be replaced by AI or a robot (or both), we’ll see a shift in how society values previously under-appreciated jobs that cannot be automated away (or if they can, the automated version fails to deliver human connection). Think about jobs that are socially valuable, require direct human contact, but are currently very poorly remunerated: Teacher, nurse/home care aide, waiter, small business owner, musician/artist come to mind. In 2017, we’ll come to realize that we’re valuing the wrong things, and start a conversation about paying people to connect with each other – because if we can automate the other stuff, why the heck wouldn’t we value each other more?! Related: The conversation around Universal Basic Income (or my preferred term, the Citizens’ Dividend) will become white hot (it’s white hot in the Valley at present, but it’ll move into broader circles in 2017).

Well that’s ten predictions, which seems like a nice round number. As I review them, I realize there’s a pretty high chance I could seriously whiff this year. What do you think?!

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Related:

Predictions 2016 

2016: How I Did

Predictions 2015

2015: How I Did

Predictions 2014

2014: How I Did

Predictions 2013

2013: How I Did

Predictions 2012

2012: How I Did

 

Google Capitulates to Facebook’s Identity Machine: Is This Good News For The Open Web?

By - October 22, 2016

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Long time readers of this site know that once a year I make predictions, and revisit those I made the year before. But it’s not often I look back farther than one year to see if perhaps I was just a tad too early. It appears in the case of Google and personal data, I was.

In my predictions for 2015 I wagered that Google would “face existential competition from Facebook” forcing it to “connect its search and personal data to its Doubleclick asset.” This was a debatable prediction – Google had long prided itself on its privacy policies, and when it acquired DoubleClick, it canonized its stance with this line in its online policy“We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.”

That line is now gone. In its place is this: “Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”

Put another way, Google has capitulated to the power of Facebook’s online identity tsunami, and has connected all the information it has about us – our search history, usage of Google apps like Gmail, Docs, or YouTube, and our history of interaction with Google’s advertising business – so as to better target us on behalf of advertisers. Of course, this move also allows Google to  better compete with Facebook, which can target Facebook users – and now even non users – across the web.

Given I predicted this would happen, I’m not that surprised it finally did – in fact, I’m surprised it took this long. To its credit, Google has made the shift by asking its customers to opt in – but the process, as described in this ProPublica piece, was pretty opaque.

Pulling back, I actually believe this represents good news for the web, and for the evolving adtech industry. For years we’ve built an open web advertising infrastructure based on anonymity, even as Facebook leveraged its native advantages based on real identity. If we can get to the point where advertisers can actually know who they are communicating with, perhaps our advertising ecosystem will evolve to a place where it adds value to consumers’ lives on a regular basis, as opposed to interrupting and annoying us all day long. When that happens, Facebook’s implicit advantage – that it knows who we are – will become commodified, and perhaps – just perhaps – the open web will once again thrive.

Update: Google reached out with a clarification – here’s their statement on the change: 

Our advertising system was designed before the smartphone revolution. It offered user controls and determined ads’ relevance, but only on a per-device basis. This past June we updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices. Before we launched this update, we tested it around the world with the goal of understanding how to provide users with clear choice and transparency. As a result, it is 100% optional–if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged. Equally important: we provided prominent user notifications about this change in easy-to-understand language as well as simple tools that let users control or delete their data. Users can access all of their account controls by visiting My Account and we’re pleased that more than a billion have done so in its first year alone.

Where I’ll Be For NewCo Boston April 26-7 – Come Join Me!

By - April 19, 2016

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The first ever NewCo Boston goes off in less than two weeks, and I’ve been studying the schedule and making my picks for the companies I most want to visit. The lineup is insanely great – Boston is brimming with innovative NewCos, 79 of which will open their doors on April 27th. Thanks to our partners at MassTLC – you guys really know how to do it right!

Tuesday, April 26th, 6 pm: VIP Kick-off & Reception @ Hatch Fenway NewCo Boston kicks off at Hatch Fenway, a NewCo incubator that was once an industrial hub. Mingle, swill, and get inspired by host company CEOs, city leaders, and VIP ticket holders alike.

Weds., April 27th

8.30 am – HubSpot Long the leader in the new art of “inbound marketing,” HubSpot is one of Boston’s pillars. I’m looking forward to learning about the company’s unique culture. Yes, this is the company that Dan Lyons recently skewered, but I’m not buying his version of reality. The great thing about NewCo is you can see it for yourself, and I plan to do just that. Wish I could also go to: Oxfam America and CIC Cambridge.

10.30 am – Ginkgo Bioworks I’ve been fascinated by this company ever since I heard the term “organism engineering foundry,” which is how they describe their offices. I can’t wait to see what they’re up to – I sense it’s a taste of the future, right now. Wish I could also go to: Artaic – Innovative Mosaic  and Resilient Coders.

12.30 pm – athenahealth – I recently met Todd Park, one of the original founder of athenahealth, and I am excited to see how the company he founded (he went on to be the CTO of the US Government) is changing healthcare for the better. Wish I could also go: Emulate, Inc. and Carbonite.

2.30 pm – Wayfair – This top ecommerce site is thriving, and it’s expanding into new forms of merchandising, including VR. Co-founder Steven Conine will be leading a Q&A session, which are always fascinating at a NewCo festival – everyone in the audience is there because they want to learn about the company, and they always have awesome questions. Which I could also go: Freight Farms and Greentown Labs.

4.30 pm – clypd – I’m an investor in this video advertising innovator, but in their NewCo session, they’re going to focus on company culture. I’ve never seen their offices, but I hear there’ll be beer on tap, and by late afternoon, I’m sure I’ll have a thirst! Wish I could also go: Roxbury Innovation Center and Localytics.

5.30 pm – After Party @ GEM Lounge After a long day of killer Boston NewCo sessions, I’ll be hanging at the GEM Lounge, a Boston original with a very long stone bar, and plenty of libations. See you there!

Metaservices FTW!

By - March 07, 2016

Chiclets

Way back when — well, a few years back anyway— I wrote a series of posts around the idea of “metaservices.” As I mused, I engaged in a bit of derision around the current state (at that point) of the mobile ecosystem, calling it “chiclet-ized” — silos of useful data without a true Internet between them. You know, like individually wrapped cubes of shiny, colored gum that you had to chew one at a time.

I suggested that we needed a connective layer between all those chiclets, letting information flow between all those amazing services.

It’s happening. First, with deep linking, which has successfully integrated the apps, the mobile OS via notification layer, email, and the broader mobile and desktop web. And now with an emerging, multi-tasking layer of user command and control based on the simplest of interfaces: Text.

Check out Prompt, which TechCrunch aptly called “a command line for the real world.” Prompt is about two things. First, integrations with useful mobile services — the chiclets. And second, a simple, social, text-like interface that allows us to get shit done. Text Uber, get a car. Text Nest, turn your thermostat down. Text Google, get a search result. Text Facebook, post a status update. Text any smart service, get shit done.

Bots are at the center of this interface — simple, rules-based bots that take our commands, execute them, and tell us of the result. It’s not rocket science, and that’s kind of the point.

It’s great. It’s right. It’s going to work — but only if we remember the other side of the coin. Links should go both ways, after all. If Prompt and others like it want to win, they have to become a clearing house for both data going out — our commands — as well as data coming in. It’s one thing to tell our bots and services what to do. It’s another to allow them to talk to each other, and to instrument a platform that gives us control of how they might combine. Once we light that candle, the Internet will shift to another level entirely.

Mobile Gets a Back Button

By - January 12, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 6.32.45 PMI just opened an email on my phone. It was from a fellow I don’t know, inviting me to an event I’d never heard of. Intrigued, I clicked on the fellow’s LinkedIn, which was part of his email signature.

That link opened the LinkedIn app on my phone. In the fellow’s LI feed was another link, this one to a tweet he had mentioned in his feed. The tweet happened to be from a person I know, so I clicked on it, and the Twitter app opened on my phone. I read the tweet, then pressed the back button and….

Wait, the WHAT? The back button? But…back buttons only exist in a Browser, on the PC Web, right?

Yes, that used to be true, but finally, after years of chicletized, silo’d apps that refuse to talk to one another, finally, the chocolate is meeting the peanut butter. The mobile operating sysem — well, Android anyway — is finally acting like a big-ass web browser, only better — with sensors, location data, and other contextual awareness.

It doesn’t happen a lot, but thanks to deep linking and the inevitable need of commerce to connect and convert, it’s happening more and more, and it represents the future of mobile. The chocolaty goodness of the linked web is merging with the peanut-buttery awesomeness of mobile devices.

It’s about time.

Predictions 2015: How’d I Do?

By - December 28, 2015

ea8e9ff77d5d1332ef85b4eded4b28953aa4f64bEach January for the past 13 years, I’ve been making predictions on this site. Twelve months later, I pull back and review how those predictions have fared. I’ve already got a running list of predictions for 2016, but in this post, I want to handicap how my prognostications for 2015 turned out.

I made a total of 12 predictions in 2015, so I’ll run through each in turn.

1. Uber will begin to consolidate its namesake position in the “The Uber-ization of everything” trend. 

In essence, I predicted that Uber would launch delivery and logistics businesses in 2015. This wasn’t particularly insightful of me – the company had already launched two small pilots (UberEssentials and UberFresh)  in the Fall of 2014. But in January 2015, Uber killed UberEssentials, and for months, there was no expansion of either service. So was I wrong? Nope. In April 2015, Uber launched UberEats in four markets (since grown to a dozen), and this past October, Uber launched Uber Rush in three major US cities.  I think I got this one right.

2. Related, Uber will be the center of a worldwide conversation about the impact of tech and business culture on the world. 

Well, again I think I got this one right. And again, it was a pretty safe bet that the company would be the talk of tech and culture throughout 2015. A major proof, to my mind, was Rachel Whetstone’s decampment from head of Google comms to take a similar role at Uber this past May. For nearly a decade, Whetstone had successfully guided Google as it consolidated its position as the world’s most controversial and talked about tech brand (yes, yes, Facebook and Apple might compete for that honor, but we can argue that another time). But in 2015, Uber was the go to protagonist (and antagonist) of the tech conversation, from its incessant opportunistic fundraising to its starring role in critical economic, policy and cultural issues. I think it’s fair to say the company took pole position from Google, Facebook, and Apple in 2015.

3. Google will face existential competition from Facebook due to Facebook’s Atlas offering.

This prediction stemmed from my penchant for adtech geekery, and while I think it will prove long term true, I didn’t find a lot of proof that it came to fruition in 2015. Facebook made steady gains here, including the hiring of key Google adtech talent, but I think this one needs another year to prove out.

4. The Apple Watch will be seen as a success.

Well, you didn’t see this one coming did you? I’m usually an Apple naysayer (though I love the Mac), but I believed that the watch was a natural extension of the phone, and I still believe this to be the case. The results are decidedly mixed – Apple’s Tim Cook agrees with me, naturally. But plenty of others believe Apple’s foray into wearables was a disappointment. Apple doesn’t break out units shipped for its watches (a strong sign the company is itself disappointed), and estimates range from a low of single digit millions to a high of nearly 20 million. Given the paucity of data here, all I have is my gut, and my gut says, the Apple Watch was a push. Not a failure, not a success. Since I said it was going to be seen as a success, I think I whiffed this one.

5. And Apple Pay will not.

Long term, I think I’ll be proven wrong on this one, but in 2015, I think I got it right. This Fall, Bloomberg called Apple Pay “underwhelming,” and Cook’s prediction that 2015 would be “the year of Apple Pay” is widely seen as off the mark. However, I think 2016 will prove Cook directionally correct.

6. But Beacons will re-emerge and take root.

Ummm…my first reaction to this one is to cringe – beacons were not really top of mind for anyone in tech this past year. And try as I might, I couldn’t find proof otherwise. So, another whiff, at least for now.

7. Google’s Nest will build or buy a scaled home automation service business.

Well, no. Nest did launch a developer platform, which is related, but not the same. I still think this is a natural fit for Nest, but it didn’t happen in 2015. Whiff.

8. A breakout healthcare startup will emerge in the consumer consciousness

Well, does Theranos count? Because, well, I think it does. Not in the way I had expected, but still…give me half credit for this one.

9. A breakout mobile startup will force us to rethink the mobile user interface.

Oh man, we are so so so close here. Overall, my intent with this prediction was to say that in 2015, we’ll finally realize that it’s time to break out of the “apps and home screen” approach to mobile. And I really think that happened. Just so much great work happening here. There’s Google App Streaming, of course. And there’s Wrap. And this widely cited post from Intercom.io on the end of apps as we know them. And much, much more. But again, no one breakout mobile startup that acted as a forcing function. Alas. I’d say half credit here, right on the intent, wrong on the specifics.

10. At least one hotly-anticipated IPO will fizzle, leading many to declare that the “tech correction” has begun.

Ok, pretty much nailed this one.

11. China will falter.

My point here was that China could not keep growing the way it had been, nor would its endless cyber attacks on US and other corporate assets continue to go unnoticed. And in 2015, both were called on the carpet.

12. Adtech comes back.

My final prediction was that adtech would rebound by the end of 2015, after a terrible 2014. And while the public adtech stocks are still battered, I think I got this one right as well. Rubicon, seen as a bellwether in the category, is on an upward trajectory after hitting a low in September. AppNexus is once again looking to go public, and my sources with knowledge of the company say it’s doing quite well. And while I can’t delve into specifics, I’ve never been more bullish about sovrn Holdings, where I am Chair. The company completed an opportunistic financing round in 2015, and is positively killing it going into 2016. Overall, I think the world is going to figure out that adtech is about more than ads – it’s about creating an open, accessible processing and notification layer for the entire Internet. In 2015, adtech was definitely back.

So overall, how’d I do? Well, by my count, I got seven right and two half right, and whiffed on three. Not a bad year, to be honest – 8 of 12, for an average of .750. That’s at the upper end of my predictions, which usually come in between .500 and .750. I guess I’ll try again in a week or so. Till then, thanks for reading in 2015. I plan on writing a lot more in 2016…here, at NewCo, and on Medium and LinkedIn as well.

Have a great New Year, folks. See you in 2016.

Innovation Happens Everywhere Now: Barcelona-based Typeform Proves It

By - December 10, 2015

Over on the NewCo site, I’ve profiled Typeform, a Barcelona-based NewCo. Below is a short outtake from that piece, if you’d like to read the entire thing, head on over to NewCo, which is publishing more and more pieces on innovative new kinds of companies around the world. 

 

TypeFormMission

One of the best kinds of NewCos are those that are “hindsight obvious” – at first you don’t get what the big deal is, but after you spend a bit of time grokking the company’s story, it’s undeniable how much better their version of the world is than that which came before.

Such is the case with Typeform, a four-year old startup I came across during NewCo Barcelona earlier this fall. TypeForm’s co-founder and joint CEO David Okuniev spoke at the NewCoBCN kickoff event, and later came to San Francisco to visit our offices. His is a compelling NewCo narrative, the story of a bootstrapped company formed to scratch its founders’ itch, now scaling past 10,000 paying customers – all on the cloud-based SaaS model much beloved by Valley insiders. This narrative is so common in the Valley that what initially struck me about Typeform wasn’t its business model, it was its location. The company feels like a typical San Francisco Internet startup, but when you dig in, it’s unique.

First, the product. Typeform declares its mission in three simple words: “Make forms awesome.” Sounds pretty mundane, right? But once you get Okuniev talking about his company, you realize both how clever and compelling his company’s product really is. Typeform started when Okuniev and his partner Robert Muñoz, both designers, were working with a client who required a friendly user interface for an in-store promotional display. The task involved enticing customers to approach a Macintosh and interact without any prompting. Adding to the challenge and humor of the story, the client was a toilet company – not exactly the kind of product one readily discusses in a public setting. The partners created a friendly platform that elicited responses in a conversational interface, and the core of Typeform was born.

For the rest of the story, head to the NewCo site. 

DavidOkuniev

TypeForm co-founder David Okuniev makes a point at the NewCo offices in San Francisco.

 

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