Searching for the Moon

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

Archive for the ‘geeks’ Category

A few things missing in, most, coverage of Google buying Nest

Posted by shannonclark on January 14, 2014

ImageI’ve been following the acquisition of Nest by Google with a lot of interest and while there have been a lot of articles about the acquisition I think even the best tech blogs have missed a number of key points about this deal.

  1. Google Ventures is one of Nest’s major investors. The full details and specifics of Google Venture’s investment into Nest are not public but it has been noted that Google Ventures led two of the rounds of funding for Nest. As a result they are, most likely, a major shareholder and thus when this transaction closes a significant portion of the proceeds is likely heading to Google Ventures from Google (corporate). Google Ventures is run like a fund so this likely means a good return on that investment – but it is also likely the case that this fact helped Google be able to offer more for Nest than many other parties would have been able to (either for an acquisition or for another large round of funding. 
  2. The takeaway shouldn’t be that “home automation is hot”. Whether or not a given “sector” technology investing is “hot” is always a matter of debate, but it should be noted that while Nest is in the home automation space it isn’t only or even solely in that space, nor does that positioning really reflect what Google is likely trying to accomplish via acquiring Nest. Rather I would highlight Nest as being a successful example of a couple of key business trends.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Me and my son Avi

Posted by shannonclark on August 2, 2013

Me and my son Avi

A photo of myself and my son Avi just days after getting home from the hospital.

Much more to come and yes baby photos may show up here on this blog as well as on my personal feeds in social media. Since Avi’s birth I have been thinking a lot about the world that he is growing up in – and our role in creating that world for him and for everyone. I have long talked about the failure of our media (games, films, tv and books) to actually deal with technology as it is today let alone how it will be in the future. We are at a point in the history of innovation where changes have started happening faster than our imaginations can grasp. What is fictional and what is real is not at all intuitive or easy to remember – and what was “true” even just months ago may no longer be the case.

But and this is a huge but – this very failure of our collective imaginations are being used to drive business and political decisions as well as countless personal decisions every single day. And the impact of this disconnect is growing every day.

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Moving and Life updated

Posted by shannonclark on April 28, 2013

So I have been an infrequent blogger for the past few years – for many reasons, some work some personal, none really bad just been more active in other forums and haven’t had blogging inspiration. But I realized as I am in the midst of packing up our every belongings with my wife in preparation for our pending move next week that I havent’ been keeping my blog readers in the loop. 

So a few big personal bits of news, if you read me for technical tips, political views, food reviews or other matters feel free to skip this post and come back here for future posts. 

Okay for those who have stayed the highlights only updates from the past few years.

A year and a half ago I got married over Thanksgiving weekend here in San Francisco.

Married life has been wonderful and in July my wife and I will be adding to our family with the addition of our first child (we don’t know the baby’s sex and won’t until she or he arrives). 

Later this week we are leaving the “big city” behind and moving to East Palo Alto from San Francisco. While we are both urban dwellers at heart – I lived in Chicago for 16 years then San Francisco for nearly 7 years (with a brief 6 months stint in Berkeley, the one month in Oakland was actually a month in a bigger city than SF so doesn’t count for leaving the city behind) and my wife has lived in San Francisco for nearly 17 years herself so this is a pretty huge change for us both. But it is one that we are both very excited about – not lead because of the chance to be nearer to her family – and for the little things that are harder to have in a bigger city – like more than one bathroom – but which are quite helpful with a growing family.

After the move I hope to resume more active blogging – and will be spending some time gathering together my disparate online sites into a more cohesive whole. 

Posted in geeks | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Your Browser Alphabet

Posted by shannonclark on January 11, 2013

So a few days ago I came up with a fun yet revealing game – and asked folks on Twitter about it.

What is your browser alphabet?

That is, when you type a single letter what does your browser auto-complete to (if at all)? This may vary across the browsers you have installed and is, of course, based on your browsing and searching history in each of your browsers.

For me not every letter maps to a site and some more obscure letters map to sites I rarely use (but which are the only sites I use with any frequency that start with that letter). In my own case a few links, of sites I use the most, map to highly specific pages of a much much larger site. In most cases however the browser defaults to a fairly top level domain.

Safari (my secondary browser)

A is for accounts.google.com (yup, over Apple.com)

B is for bbc.co.uk

F is for Facebook.com

etc.

Browsers vary and a lot of this depends on what you have been visiting recently – but I think the full exercise can buy  revelation about what sites you actually spend the most time and may help you think about what you have been prioritizing. Sharing the full list almost certain reveals more of your self than most people would be comfortable sharing but I think it could easily be a very fun site/game to capture this info and compare it to others.

Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, internet | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review – The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Posted by shannonclark on October 12, 2012

Reading The Impact Equation at Blue Bottle Mint Plaza in San Francisco

Do you know how to make an impact? How to get heard? How to have your ideas shared with the world and have an impact?

My friend Chris Brogan along with his co-author Julien Smith have a new book, The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?, which will be published on Oct 25th, 2012. They sent me a preview copy and over the past couple of weeks I have been reading it at cafes and on the muni here in San Francisco. My copy is already dog eared and flagged with post-its for easy reference back to key points in the book.

TLDR review – pre-order this book and read it

First a few disclosures and admissions. One, Chris Brogan is a friend – not an old “grew up” with friend, but not just someone whom I follow on social media channels, he’s someone whom I have met in person many times and whom I knew years ago before he had books published and a speaking schedule that takes him around the world. Two, I haven’t (yet) read Trust Agents which is Chris and Julien’s earlier book. My stack of books to be read – for fun and for business including far too many by folks I know has been large and growing over the past few years and somehow I haven’t gotten to Trust Agents yet. Three, many of the people they write about in this new book (and I suspect in their previous book) are people I know friends from here in San Francisco and from the larger tech/social media/blog/podcasting world. Four, I don’t have the 1000’s of readers/followers/listeners of folks like Chris and Julien but I am as they say “a degree away” from many people who do – folks with millions of followers and a high impact on the world.

With all of that disclosed up front I have been inspired not just to write this review but to rethink a bunch of my personal projects (including this blog) and over the next few weeks and months I anticipate making many personal and professional changes inspired in no small part by the ideas of The Impact Equation. I can’t summarize their book in a few short paragraphs but I will summarize a few of their early and key points and discuss how I plan on addressing them.

To start with the equation itself (quoting from the pre-release copy but I assume this key part won’t change in the final print edition):

Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E)

Yes, that is, not surprisingly, the simple yet key fact that to have impact now (and in the past) you have to create – frequently, often and well. The full equation defines each part and the book illustrates each aspect of the equation. Contrast – a new idea has to familiar yet different enough to be noticed. Reach – the number of people you can get connected to your ideas. Exposure – how often do you connect with the people you can reach. Articulation – being understood and clear in communicating your idea. Trust – the subject of their previous book but still not entirely figured out – but why will people listen to you? And finally Echo – the feeling of connection that great ideas and impactful people create.

Fairly simple, fairly memorable yet also complex enough to warrant a full book (and I’m sure many more talks and presentations in the future for Chris and Julien).

On a person level my biggest takeaways from the book is a reminder to get myself back into the ongoing, frequent content creation business – that if I want to grow my own personal impact I need to create more content, more often, and more thoughtfully. Furthermore I need to think about this whether I’m going to continue being an independent consultant or if I join a larger organization. That while I may have some impact in my tweets, comments, email list participation and even events that I create if I were more thoughtful about my online (and offline) activities I could have a much greater impact on the world. With more thoughtful (and literally more frequent) effort I can have a far larger impact on the world than i do today. That I can take the conversations I have one-on-one today and still have that impact but also bring it to a far wider audience.

For some of this I will have to get out of my comfort zone – write more content, experiment with new formats for myself (video? audio?) and generate this content far more frequently than I have been for the past few years.

In each of the chapters of The Impact Equation Chris and Julien cover a mix of specific tactics (and the occasional exercise to get you thinking) as well as stories that illustrate their key ideas. Some of these stories are from business people they have met others are illustrated with celebrities they admire. But in every chapter they also focus on asking you to think about how this applies to yourself – how would you evaluate yourself on this dimension of their equation. I think most of these chapters and the book over all are compelling but not every chapter is equally strong.

The initial chapters on Ideas – on Contrast and Articulation are very good and have a lot of useful exercises for everyone. In particular they have a lot of great exercises around how to evaluate your own ideas and how to communicate them clearly.

The middle chapters on Platforms – on Reach and Exposure – however are a bit weaker. In particular I think the chapter on Exposure is the weakest chapter in the book. In part this is because Exposure is in no small part outside of your direct control. They talk in this chapter about the exposure that someone like Jimmy Fallon has from his tv show but they also talk about the impact of frequency on your exposure but the links and what will work best for most people is not entirely clear from this chapter (and it is perhaps not an easy thing to answer). They have a lot of great questions and a few answers but this chapter left me a bit unsatisfied. Yes, participating in the communities you want to reach is great advice (it is what I tell my clients in fact) but it takes more than just that to get great exposure of your ideas.

The final chapters on Network – on Trust and Echo, Echo – are perhaps surprisingly among the shortest in the book. The chapter on Trust is a revisit (per what they wrote, I haven’t yet read Trust Agents) of the topic of their earlier collaboration. The chapter on Echo (Echo, Echo) is nearly the end of the book and very important but also fairly short. It is about how your ideas resonant and connect. Very important but I think if they could have gone a bit deeper here the whole book would have “echoed” for me even more strongly. But that said they make some really important points in this last chapter leading to the conclusion of the book.

Overall as I said above my recommendation is that you go out and buy this book – in fact that you go preorder it now to be among the first to read it. I hope for my friend’s sake that it is a huge hit and given the quality of the content I’m sure it will be a successful book. More importantly on a personal front it has many parts that I will be using myself to make changes in the coming weeks to my own professional habits and practices and online (and offline) content.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, networks, podcasts, reading, reviews, working | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Things every geek household should contain…

Posted by shannonclark on July 24, 2012

My wife Usha and I playing games at Snakes and Lattes in Toronto on a recent trip

My wife Usha and I playing games at Snakes and Lattes in Toronto on a recent trip.

Clearly this is a list that is long and might differ by your particular interests but I was thinking this evening about the things that every geek household should contain (and realizing that my own household may be missing quite a few things…).

What additions would you have to my list below?

  1. A bag full of dice – the full array of d20’s, d12’s, d10’s, d8’s, lots of d6’s and some d4’s plus assorted classic or unusual dice
  2. Settlers of Catan
  3. A number of full bookcases with an array of great books – likely a wide mix of graphic novels, science fiction & fantasy novels, philosophy, history, technology and more. Geeks read and almost all geeks read widely and diversely (or at least did in college and kept their textbooks)
  4. A chess board and chess clock
  5. A go board (selling my cheap one, may need to find a better replacement)
  6. A shelf full of old and new boardgames – likely a lot of modern Euro games but also some classic “Ameritrash” games as well as childhood favorites (Stratego, some version of Risk, etc). Note that Monopoly, Sorry, Candyland etc aren’t required but probably Scrabble is. What other games would you say every home should own?
  7. Lots of decks of playing cards, well used and a full set of heavy duty poker chips (at least one)
  8. Wide selection of pens, markets, sharpies, crayons and more – basically most geeks could in some manner do double duty as a 2nd grade teacher – but they use their craft tools to draw out game boards or outline craft projects.
  9. A sewing machine (yes even male geeks should likely be able to craft stuff – i.e. cosplay, larp costumes…)
  10. More computers than humans residing in the home
  11. A game console (or two or three)
  12. A home network (or two)
  13. A set of tools to take apart computers and other gadgets (i.e. more than just a single basic screwdriver). Many geeks will also have a wide array of tools – power or mechanical likely including a soldering iron, a box full of electronics parts, lots of power strips, batteries and power supplies etc.
  14. A few current and few older gadgets – stuff like a FitBit but probably also an older X/O computer
  15. At least one digital camera other than on your smartphones (which perhaps goes without saying nearly every member of the household – at least all the adults and older children each already own). Mostly for being able to shoot video and higher quality images than you can with your phone but many geeks will also own a DSLR camera for more “serious” photography/videos. Perhaps many “real” geeks will also have microphones.

What else would you expect to find in a geek household? I’m open to suggestions from many different definitions/types of geeks. My wife and I are both geeks, though in different ways and between us we have lots of other highly geeky things – a kitchen full of tools and equipment (which we actually use regularly), shelves full of serious cookbooks, her room (and many boxes in our garage) full of her sewing and craft supplies and equipment including many machines, specialized tools and parts and pieces. Geeks tend to, in my observation, go overboard about their specific areas of deepest interest and passion – whether cooking, crafting, gaming (paper, board or digital), comics, books etc.

But so to I think there may be a superset of things that most (or at least many) geeks will own that perhaps helps define us. Curious if my list above resonates and what glaringly obvious things I’ve missed….

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Today I registered for the TechCrunch Disrupt

Posted by shannonclark on July 24, 2012

originally posted to my Google+ account – reposting here for posterity 

Today I registered for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon here in SF in September and I’ve started thinking about what I want to build. One thought is an application that builds upon what I started my first company, JigZaw (with a Z not the sell other people business cards company) to build – namely a really smart calendar.

But with a twist.

Instead of being a calendar – or even an online schedule/list of upcoming events (of which there are both lots and frankly nothing very great) this would be focused on a related problem – but with a very different UI and solution.

The core idea (which I’m posting here as I usually post ideas – I would be interested in building this and am planning on possibly pursing this, if someone else wants to build it do so though I ask for at a minimum some acknowledgement and would be interested in being involved, but I’m not claiming any kinda of IP on ideas) is:

Countdowns and Deadlines.

Countdowns are descending reminders about when something will start (such as 100 hours to the 2012 Olympics – though the units can be days, weeks or even years instead of hours or minutes). Mostly countdowns for an event would actually be a SET of related countdowns – for example “countdown to when SXSW panel submissions are open” along with “countdown to hotel registration opening”, “countdown to registration opening” and “countdown to conference starting….”

Countdowns are for events that haven’t yet happened/started

in contrast:

Deadlines are for an event/happening that has started and will end/stop at a specific time

Often a countdown will end and a related deadline will start (i.e. “Deadline for SXSW panel submissions”)

The idea for this application is that individuals could select countdowns and related deadlines to pay attention to / be reminded about in the app from countdowns and deadlines setup by other users (and/or by the company or corporate partners). These could be in LOTS of categories – release dates for movies or books, ticket sales for touring bands, festivals, sporting events, school related dates, sales at favorite stores (online or offline) and much much more.

Most countdowns and deadlines would be default PUBLIC though the option would be there for you to also track personal, private deadlines (work deadlines for example)

Alongside your view of pending deadlines and active countdowns you might also overlap reoccurring activities/goals/to-do’s (walk 10,000 steps each day etc) but this last feature is one that I think is optional and we might leave out in the first version.

Individuals would be able to add and share new countdowns.

Each countdown or deadline would be associated with both a description and a link to an related resource – ideally one that would reflect any future CHANGES to that event (i.e. extension of a deadline or postponement/cancelation of an event being counted down to)

Once you have selected a number of things to track and pay attention to this service would then be able to offer at least two compelling additional services:

1) Show you related countdowns/deadlines which you might want to also track – i.e. next year’s conference if you are tracking this year’s or the same conference/show offered in a different region. Over time this might get refined to learn which categories you care so much about that you want to know every instance of that event (PAX & PAX East for example) vs. more common events you might not care about every instance of (every hockey game played in the NFL for example vs the home games of your favorite team)

2) Show you PEOPLE you might want to meet/connect with due to shared interests. This might start with leveraging the Facebook social graph to show you shared interests across your existing friends (assuming you and your friends are both using this service) but eventually this might also help you discover others with many common interests nearby.

This service would likely list a LOT of events from sites such as Meetup which would be a really rich data source.

In terms of the business model(s) for this service I see many different options. One simplistic one is that non-humans wanting to have accounts (to create events) would pay for that right. (i.e. event organizers, companies running sales, film studios etc). This professional fee would scale in some dimension and would offer them a rich suite of tools and functionality. It would be available to “human” users as well at a reduced price assuming these features are of value to some individuals as well (i.e. folks who run a number of personal events for example – a musician for instance)

Other options: some affiliate fees on sales driven by this service – either links to online (or offline) sales or links that are to ticket/event sales directly. (in many cases however these would have to individually negotiated and aren’t all that high in many cases)

Direct sales of the mobile apps (debatable – a free app may drive more user growth and still result in greater revenues particularly if the professional/corporate layer was an optional in-app subscription purchase)

This type of application and web service won’t change the world – nor will it be a billion+ business but I can see how this could be a very nice profitable standalone business OR a rich addition to an existing web business. I also see how to build this affordably and in a way that should scale to quite large numbers.

(and I have many many years worth of past research and development that should allow me to build some really powerful and rich tools to power this service – to check links for relevancy, to automate the updates when data changes and eventually to also discover and search out related or new countdowns/deadlines)

So who is interested in helping me build this – either as developers or investors?

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Comics, Geeks and the evolution of media

Posted by shannonclark on July 18, 2012

If you didn’t already know this about me – I’m a geek and proud of it. I’m also an analyst and observer of business trends and for many years now one area I have been studying very carefully is the ongoing evolution of media an evolution which is occurring all around us on a global scale in ways that may change billion dollar industries (and already have). For the past few years I have been focusing on studying a variety of specialized niches both because they are areas that interest me personally and also because I believe that each niche offers insights into the future of the larger market. Individual creators and content focused businesses should study these niches for what is working as well as what is not and for the direction of things to come.

While there are many great examples here are a few specific cases across a variety of niches which I think are worth careful study. Hopefully these are also entertaining and enjoyable.

Comics

As the big two comics publishers Marvel and DC experiment with line-wide relaunches and explorations of digital content (see DC Comics on Amazon for example – note my Affiliate link is in there – that’s a link to DC Comics available on the Kindle where for a while at least they were exclusive) independent comics publishers have been doing some really interesting experiments. The web comic world for example has launched a lot of highly successful Kickstarter projects to fund the physical print versions of web comics (which are mostly available online for free) and the model of free-online frequent web comic supported in part by infrequent collections in physical form (or as paid digital collections) is starting to see some successes.

The comics site that I will be watching carefully over the rest of 2012 (and into 2013 and beyond) however illustrates some other relevant trends around the comics industry – namely that comics are a fertile source of new IP that leads into other media and increasingly creators are crossing between many different genres and media types to tell and explore their story ideas. This site is ThrillBent which is a collaboration of Mark Waid and Jon Rodgers. Mark Waid is a highly acclaimed comics writer and Jon Rodgers is the producer and writer of the fantastic TV series Leverage (and other projects in the past and future). Jon Rodgers is also a gamer (see below where I embed a video that includes him talking about his game playing).

Video entertainment

Increasingly there are entertainment options that are available on-demand from a wide array of options (physical media – DVDs/BluRay being the least useful option) and as this evolution continues to expand the 500+ channel cable/satellite TV model is increasingly under attack and likely will evolve considerably in the next few years. Just this year YouTube has taken a major step in generating eve more new ongoing content on YouTube via their program of channels many of which they are helping fund. My personal favorite is the Geek And Sundry channel which has become my regular video viewing on a weekly (and often daily) basis.

See this video from Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop series feature Jon Rodgers among other guests.

Shows like this may not garner the millions of viewers of the latest reality tv show but they are compelling and engaging and, in this case, highly geeky…

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Imagining the future – or why the tech press lets us down

Posted by shannonclark on June 29, 2012

This week in San Francisco is Google I/O where Google gathers together some 6000 developers and woos them with the devices and API’s of the future that Google hopes will happen.

In the past this hasn’t always worked, sure it included launching Android which has been, mostly, a success but it also included launching Google Wave which while cool was not a success.

This year it included launching a pretty interesting Android tablet (the Nexus 7), a beautiful to look at in-home consumer electronics device (the Nexus Q – notable for among other reasons being made in the US), new Chromebooks, a new version of Android that (apparently) finally solves many of the UI issues that mobile OS has been plagued with and a bunch of other new APIs and services for developers to leverage to build new products on top of Android and Google+ (and other products of Google such as Maps).

Oh and it also featured one of the founders of Google channeling his full on geek ID by taking to stage in a homage to Tony Stark (Iron Man for you non-geeks, most specifically the movie version of Tony Stark played by Robert Downey Jr in the current Marvel series of major films, less so the original comics version) anyway Sergey Brin channeled Tony Stark with his keynote demonstration of Google Glass (and Hangouts and less clearly the hacker ethos and money of Google) to pull off perhaps the best demo in tech history. It involve skydivers leaping out of a Zeppelin while live-streaming multiple feeds of images and landing on the roof of the conference center in downtown San Francisco.

But with all of that happening this week we still see a technology press that mostly misses where the future is going – finding it hard to imagine mythical “real people” using any of the products demonstrated by Google this week and further mostly focusing on the tactical achievements of one company or the other in raising money or launching some latest and greatest version of something.

Where has the imagination gone?

My reference to Tony Stark/Iron Man is a telling one – a small handful of major motion pictures in the past few years, starting back with Minority Report and more recently with The Avengers do take seriously the attempt to envision the technology of the near-future and illustrate how we may interact with that technology in the future.

In many ways the story of the 1990’s (and early 2000’s) was a that of a generation of geeks who had grown up on Star Trek making much (though not all) of the technology of their childhood imaginations reality. Starting with the communicators (which gave us the industrial design inspiration for Motorola’s flip phones) and leading up to tricorders (our modern smartphones are coming close though still lacking a few sensors out of the box – though increasingly you can build something akin to a tricorder if you try…. and our iPads (and other tablets) have inspirations from Star Trek as well.

But if you think of the iconic fiction of this generation you see little to inspire future generations, few explorations of the real possible impact of technology that could be possible in the future.

And almost noone even gets what is possible today right in fiction – across any medium.

What is possible – not possible as in some obscure military lab – but possible as in “you can order it for next-day delivery” is beyond the imaginations of our creators of today. Sure Google Glass’s small formfactor wearable computer is only just available for pre-oders (and not shipping until sometime in 2013 – 2014 for consumers) but other examples of wearable computers have been around for years now. Our nearly throwaway devices – smartphones available for free (when you sign up for service) have more power and processors and sensors than the computers of just a few years ago.

We have autonomous cars, flying vehicles and walking robots (in many sizes and shapes and styles0. We have 3D printers in the home capable of amazing things. If you can imagine it you can also now get it made and delivered to any part of the globe in a phenomenally short period of time. And people across the globe are exploring what it means for billions (not millions – billions) of people to have digital access to each other.

The number of cell phones on this planet is rapidly approaching the number of people on this planet.

Yet out fictions rarely think about what happens when billions of people can share with each other, when billions of people are reachable and can pool together – sure in “small” groups but when billions of people are connected “small” can be millions of people.

The core assumptions of most of our economic and political thinking needs to change to accommodate the real impact of pervasive connectivity and technology on the globe but our creators in whom we rely upon for images of the future have let us down.

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The business opportunities I see for 2012 and beyond

Posted by shannonclark on June 26, 2012

I see 1000’s of opportunities all around me for new businesses. A few are being pursued by my friends (and even family in a few cases) but most are not being pursued or well funded. Before I list a few of the opportunities which I see let me start with a few disclaimers.

I am not (currently at least) an investor – I don’t work for a Venture Fund or other investors and my personal net worth, such as it is, is tied up in my own company and family. I will mention here many companies and ideas being pursued by friends, invested in by friends and in some cases have family involvement – I’m completely not an unbiased observer of the tech world and do not claim to be one. That said I try to offer constructive criticism to my friends (and family) when asked.

Many of the opportunities I see and the ones I’m most passionate about are likely not the ones that you “should” focus on if you want to have the easiest path to getting funding in the current environment. I will be focusing on sustainable businesses (sustainable in the sense that they can keep going based on pulling in more resources than they expend on a regular basis – in a few cases also sustainable from an environmental perspective) I’m not focusing on what is “hot” or “trendy” or “sought after by investors at the moment”.

I can offer few guarantees other than that a) I will miss at least one billion+ opportunity and b) many of the opportunities I propose will upon being pursued lead to failed companies in many cases.

So disclaimers done here are some of the 1000’s of opportunities I see all around me. I think that many of these ideas could be pursued anywhere in the world – many of them are not limited to a specific geography or a culture (but some are) and these are not just for the “1%” though again a few of them are at least initially targeted at a luxury market. My goal is not to suggest the “best” businesses for the world – or to solve every problem across the globe.

That said I do also fundamentally believe that the best businesses are based on strong values and consistency (and honesty with all stakeholders). Businesses built upon fooling someone (regulators, investors, customers, suppliers, bloggers or other partners) will inevitably come crashing down – leaving destruction in their wake. Absolutely these can be businesses that give the impression of success (and in fact often generate outsized returns for someone – see many firms on Wall Street in recent decades or the stories behind many past booms and busts) but in the long run if your business is built upon fooling someone once that deception is revealed your business (and personal reputation) will likely suffer.

Businesses which are built upon a basis of offering great value to every party involved in the business (including the communities where the business operates) are businesses which are designed for long term success.

So where do I see opportunity?

  1. Streamlined and carefully curated local businesses.
    Far too many small businesses try to please every potential customer – they try to stock something for everyone, try to have a dish on their menu (if a restaurant) for every taste and occasion. In their efforts to please everyone more often than not small businesses (and for that matter big businesses) all too often please no one and furthermore invest too much in aspects of their business which will not pay them back (i.e. in inventory which will go unsold). Instead the successful new retail businesses which I see are most often those businesses which have very carefully curated what they sell – and thus who they sell to. Businesses that may offer only a very small selection of items – but which know those items exceptionally well, offer very high degrees of service and high quality products and experiences. Frequently as well these are businesses that do not try to be the lowest priced offering in their market, instead they have the confidence in their products to offer them at a fair but often high price.

    These opportunities are both for restaurants, cafes and retail businesses of all types. Look around your community and see what is missing. Most of these businesses are unlikely to be venture capital investments – but a few could be – see The Melt for example. Consider as well that most fast food businesses were very streamlined when they started (at least) offering just a handful of items and a consistant quality. While this has changed as many businesses have expanded around the globe it is a lesson worth revisiting.

  2. Curated eccomerce combined with a pre-order and limited edition philosophy.
    Online it is relatively easy to think about businesses that have seemingly infinite inventories – think Ebay,  Zappos, Amazon.com or indeed most of the eccommerce businesses started in the 1990’s. This model is indeed powerful but for long term profits it requires vast numbers of customers (to attract eventually a buyer for everything in your warehouses) and it requires fairly significant investments into warehouses and inventory (or in Ebay’s case a network of sellers that handle these issues).

    But there is an opportunity that I think too many investors are reluctant to invest in but which is a brilliant and long-term game changing model to consider – sell only a handful of items almost all of which you have pre-sold and which you limit the number of to command higher margins and minimize inventory complications. Think the model built upon many Kickstarter projects where 1000’s of customers have paid, in advance, for the products they desire. Now imagine a business that, mostly, only sells things that customers have not just said they are interested in but have taken the bigger commitment of actually ordering and paying for in advance. This business does require a lot of care to get the timing right – you have to know how long it will take you to make the goods you sell and you have to know what your prices will be in the worst case to ensure that you haven’t just sold your entire inventory of something new for less than it will cost you to make. But if you can get that right this model is incredibly powerful (and highly bootstrapable). It also is a model that can be highly sustainable especially if you are selling a product to customers who will likely come back to buy another product from you in the future.

    This model is seen today in a handful of mostly design driven businesses – Threadless, 20×200 but I think the opportunity is actually a lot greater and bigger especially as manufacturing networks shrink and capabilities increase globally for collaboration and production to happen faster and in smaller batches.

  3. Co-operative partnerships to create strong brands and great businesses as well as create compelling content.
    I don’t know of current examples of this idea but here it is.

    Historically great content was supported by a handful of brands that sold goods and services that had a wide market but limited differentiation (think soap companies that started the genre of “soap operas” via their support of early radio dramas). In the modern era however brand advertising on a national scale has become limited to only a handful of mostly very large businesses (still some soap companies, a few banks and insurance firms, car companies, soft drinks and beer companies, drug companies and only a handful of other industries). But at the same time content creation has dropped in cost in many places (other than non-reality show television series) with the proliferation of YouTube channels and other forms of online content across all mediums.

    I think there is an opportunity for a group of new companies to pool their resources and support great content that has a logical association with their businesses, targets a specific niche and which has a long term plan both for content creation and distribution – a plan that will support the business goals of every party involved. This is high risk to be sure as most content sounds better in theory than in practice and building an ongoing audience is never easy – nor is tying that audience back to each of the supporting advertisers/sponsors a trivial issue and this has to happen over a long timeframe and at a level that grows the businesses of every party involved. That said, I think that the opportunity here is massive – something has to replace the 30 second tv spot and the historical model of advertising based content (newspapers, magazines, radio and tv). The costs here also don’t have to be high – this could start with a YouTube channel type of model and indeed we are starting to see this to a degree with some of the current crop of YouTube channels – except that the content and the sponsorship/advertising support for the channels are not tightly connected to each other in the least (and in most cases seem highly random).

  4. Businesses that are not built on offering the lowest price but on offering incredible quality and exceptional experiences. 
    Yes, WalMart will not be failing anytime soon and sure everyone everywhere loves a great deal. But increasingly there is also a recognition that many “great deals” aren’t as good as they at first appear. Cheap clothes that you have to replace every few months quickly cost you more than clothes that will last for years. Food in large bulk containers that end up being tossed away unused and rotting and which contribute to higher health care costs are also not a “good deal” however cheap they appear to be at first. Instead I think there are lots of opportunities in building businesses that charge for the value they provide and use that to grow lasting business. This is a shift back towards quality and craft alongside the customization available at lower volumes. Companies such as San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks illustrate this model.
  5. Businesses that build tools and services that enable other businesses to prosper.
    Okay this is an old fashioned business, it is the modern variation on the don’t be a gold miner be the guy selling shovels and pickaxes. But more fundamentally it is about recognizing that there are in essence only two core types of businesses – those businesses that provide a core element for another business’ success (suppliers broadly speaking) or businesses that sell discretionary purchases that compete to some degree with all other optional purchases (whether optional purchases by corporations or individuals). The first category restricts your pricing to low enough that your customers can still leverage your offerings to in turn make more money from their customers. The second category allows for literally unlimited pricing (or more specifically “as high as the market will bear” but means your customers are likely fickle, more costly to engage with and your competition will continually emerge from new areas you can not anticipate.

    Amazon.com is an example of company that is trying to do both types of business – both be a supplier to 1000’s of other businesses – via both their Amazon Web Services technology offerings and via their Amazon Fulfillment services offering as well as other ecommerce services to 100’s of other businesses and of course as both a large scale consumer eccommerce company and as a publisher and consumer electronics company Amazon sells discretionary purchases directly to consumers.

What other opportunities do you see in the market today (globally or locally)?

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