Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for April, 2010

Billion dollar ideas for the next decade

Posted by shannonclark on April 23, 2010

What will be the next set of Billion dollar industries?

In the past week one of the biggest angel investors in technology, Ron Conway, announced that he has closed a new venture fund and he spoke to TechCrunch about what he sees as the opportunities for the next few years, the opportunities he will be investing in with his new fund. He identified three “megatrends” – the real-time data, the social web and flash marketing.

I agree with Ron that these are big trends and that there are many companies already pursuing them but still many opportunities in these areas for new companies to be created and to succeed.

However I think there are a number of other very large opportunities which will be huge in the next decade, opportunities which will transform not just entire industries but how we (and by we I mean people around the globe) live. Some of these opportunities may require massive investments and infrastructure which means that the winners in these spaces will likely be existing large companies that navigate the transition to a new business model though there likely will be opportunities for large, venture backed (and eventually public IPO backed) companies to prosper in these spaces as well.

I’m sure there are other, very large opportunities, but here are a few which I have identified.

  1. Full lifecycle manufacturing – products which are designed to be recycled and reused. Yes, physical goods. As Moore’s Law continues to move forward the pace of technological change is rapidly increasing, manufacturing is increasingly global and nimble yet climate change concerns, the cost of transportation and energy and many other concerns suggests a need to reevaluate many products. My prediction is that across products from cars to toothpaste design for full-lifecycle use will inspire billions of dollars in new products and industry opportunities. Businesses designed to take products after the initial purchaser of the product is done with that good and reusing those products, at scale, to add value and reenter the value chain. This is much much more than just “recycling” it is an underlying shift in design. Done well this is highly “green” but will also be highly profitable with lower costs, multiple revenue streams and ongoing, engaged relationships with customers over the lifetime of the product – whether it is a car or toothpaste or a laptop computer.
  2. Renewal products to extend the usefulness and value of goods. Cars designed just two years ago have technology components which are already massively out of date and limited (20gb disks for the media players in the car). Laptops and desktop computers are typically out of date when you buy them and new models come out from most computer companies multiple times a year. And while the trend for the past few decades has been to replace our electronic devices (and indeed much of our consumer society) on a frequent basis, I think there is a huge opportunity for a new business of retrofitting and updating a wide array of devices. This opportunity is two-fold. The big but complicated part is retrofitting current products – such as cars made in the past decade with modernized electronics. The even bigger opportunity is when the design of products starts to shift to be designed for ongoing upgrades. This has happened in software in the past five years – both desktop and mobile applications (and to a degree server based applications) are almost all now designed to have ongoing and automatically checked for updates which allows these products to upgrade over time. My first generation iPhone is still useful over 3 years later as a result of having been designed to accept significant ongoing updates both for the core software of the device and for the dozens of applications I run upon it (which wasn’t even an option when I purchased the phone initially!)
  3. Many pieces loosely coupled. This is a trend which exists online and offline. In place of monolithic products whether software or hardware the next decade will see many more opportunities to integrate small discrete items together in ways they may have not been designed to be combined or expected to be used. In software the rise of widgets, such as Facebook’s recently announced Social Plugins is an example of this trend. In hardware this trend is a bit slower but there are examples of it in action in the home entertainment center changes of the past few years – the rise of Internet connected devices other than computers within many homes. Most Blue-ray players sold today, for example, come with wired or wireless Internet access and along with the ability to play Blue-Ray disks the ability to connect to Internet delivered services such as Pandora, NetFlix Streaming, Flickr and more. I predict that there are billion dollar opportunities for increasing the types of devices that can connect with each other and for more combinations of hardware and software working together. Specific short term opportunities I see are around Bluetooth devices that are more complex than keyboards, mice or headphones. Eye-fi’s line of wifi enabled SD cards is a great example of how a second part added to an existing device, say a basic digital camera, can transform the functionality of that device.
  4. Hyperlocal but global curated experiences. At first this may sound like a contradiction, how can an experience be both hyperlocal and global? What I mean by this is the emergence of new retail opportunities which combine deep connections and relationships with the local community around the retailer alongside of a global perspective and sourcing. The emergence of Third-wave coffee roasters over the past few years is one great case study. (here’s a list my favorite coffee places  in San Francisco). This trend is not limited to small, nimble entrepreneurs, even large corporations such as Walmart with their recent major switch to sourcing most of the fresh food they sell locally to each store is an example of this trend. But in the next decade I think there will be a major retailing shift & opportunity where hyperlocal smart retailers who deeply know the needs and interests of their local buyers connect to a global network and source parts of what they sell from across the globe, curate these elements carefully and present specific to their community goods and services. In many cases building and finishing these goods locally but sourcing parts and raw goods on a global scale. But increasingly not just sourcing from massive global businesses but buying nearly directly from global producers. Third Wave coffee roasters increasingly buy their green coffee directly from farmers across the globe. These small scale local retailers are able to afford to send buyers around the globe to source their beans and are building highly successful (and highly profitable businesses). Four Barrel Coffee here in San Francisco recently was quoted in a New York Times article on Coffee in San Francisco that their retail business alone is generating over $100,000 a month with a 45% profit margin. Add to that significant margin a large wholesale business and you have a highly successful new business. 45% margins in a retail business can sustain significant growth.
  5. Global brands, local products. New brands and businesses across the globe will with ever increasing frequency in the next decade expand outside of their initial “home” markets into a more competitive global market. The brands which will prosper in this new world will be ones which combine the best of global sourcing with local connections, resources and awareness. In the media space large media brands will emerge that translate media generated in one country & language into another. Viz Media in San Francisco, for example, translates highly successful Japanese media properties (Manga & Anima mostly) into English and has had great success. TOKYOPOP in LA is one of the most successful publishers (in any media) in the US with many of the bestsellers each year from their highly successful English language manga.

There are many other industries which are likely to generate new billion dollar businesses in the next decade but which I know a bit less about – a few of these are Cleantech, Biotechnology especially around drug design,  and Renewable energy.

What other Billion Dollar opportunities have I missed?

Which of these opportunities should I expand upon in future blog posts?

And yes, if you are a venture fund or investor and want to work with me on exploring these ideas in greater detail I’m available…

Posted in customer service, economics, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

13 questions for Twitter and the Library of Congress

Posted by shannonclark on April 15, 2010

Earlier this week Twitter announced that they had donated a copy of their entire corpus dating back to the first Tweet to the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress tweeted the announcement and wrote about it on the LOC Blog. Historians, social scientists and many many other researchers will soon (if access if made available) have access to a truly unique corpus of data on a global scale about individual expression, reactions to real time events and much more. Yet there are a lot of questions and nuances.
A few that come immediately to mind.
  1. How are deleted accounts handled – both from the past and into the future? (As a historian I think they should – though this may be controversial – continue to be archived and preserved as part of a moment in time)
  2. Is it noted when an account changed ownership? (ie was established and then in the future was either lapsed and taken by another party once Twitter released it or was perhaps due to a court order transfered to another person – for example if it was deemed to have been infringing someone’s trademark
  3. Are accounts which are set private part of this corpus of data? Their announcement notes that this was a donation of “public tweets” but what about accounts whose status has changed over time? Are tweets which were made when an account was set private – but which was later set public noted as having been sent when the account was private? Or conversely are public tweets preserved if they were public when they were sent even if the account is later reset to be private?
  4. Does the corpus include the changelog of each account? ie could the “following” and “followers” of a given account be recreated at a particular point in time & later analyzed for changes over time (who someone was following / who was following them is not a minor matter at all for a lot of academic research questions – even just historical interest
  5. Are spammer accounts which were created & detected & deleted part of this corpus? On the one hand their presence would complicate a lot of academic studies (they would inflate a lot of studies – since many spammers spammed via retweets etc) but on the other hand studying false positives and relative ratios of “spammer” accounts to “real” accounts would be pretty interesting to study – especially as Twitter’s ability to detect spammers got better it would be useful to revisit moments in time (such as @aplusk & @cnn’s race to 1M followers) to analyze what percentage of their “followers” were spammers, what percentage were accounts that hadn’t yet & didn’t into the future see much usage etc.
  6. Will the corpus include Direct Messages? (which are private) but which are still pretty crucial historical documents in many cases. The DM’s to public officials for example could be arguably already required to be publicly disclosed.
  7. Will the corpus include elements of Twitter which are no longer part of Twitter (for example people’s Track settings
  8. Will there be an attempt by Twitter (or by the Library of Congress) to pull an Internet Archive move (or partner with them) to resolve:
    1. Links to images, videos, music and other media?
    2. URL resolution (both archive what the state of the page was when it was tweeted out – which may now be impossible to replicate) and especially at least resolving (when still possible) what a shortened URL resolves to
  9. Will the corpus include people’s Avatar images (which have in many cases changed over time), their bios, URL’s, Locations and Twitter website background and other settings? (not just private/public but have they linked a phone number to their account? have they set anyone whom they are following to be delivered via SMS etc)
  10. Will it archive Lists from the point when they were introduced? (and with Lists will it track how those lists were created over time?)
  11. Will the corpus include noting which accounts were blocking other accounts? (and when Twitter rolled it out when accounts were marked as being spam). In some cases people who were not spammers were marked as spam by a few users – I’m sure – and in some cases may have been flagged and later reinstated – will the corpus track stuff such as that?)
  12. As Twitter added features (and changed others) will the corpus reflect those changes? (Retweets for example and more recently a lot of changes around Geo data and very soon a whole lot more meta data for every Tweet)
  13. Will the corpus attempt to reflect other public faces of Twitter? For example logs of searches which people performed on Twitter or Who was on the “Suggested User List” at a given point in time or what was shown to users at “trending topics” over time – etc.
Lots of questions – but mostly I’m very excited.

I hope that beyond preserving what is, I think we can all agree, a very real historical (and ongoing) document. I hope that this move is just the first of many – this archive should be widely available at least to be preserved for the future and it should, I hope, be made available to lots of academic researchers in the near future.

In their announcement Twitter notes that there will be a 6 month delay in what is available, which I think is unfortunate, and they are restricting it to “non-commercial researchers” which I think is also unfortunate as the line between commercial and non-commercial is never entirely clear. I also believe that there are many non-obvious uses for this corpus of data in a wide array of research fields beyond serving as a historical document, this corpus could help many fields of study such as linguistics, AI research and much more.

Posted in futureculture, internet, networks | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »