You can’t manage what you can’t measure (or, How to enter the multiverse)

March 15, 2017

I just read a sci-fi thriller about parallel universes that may be a candidate for this year’s summer reading list. Part of the plot invokes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

In the past I’ve reflected on the impact of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in journalism, but this novel in combination with this excellent interview with Chris Anderson inspired me from another angle.

Quantum physicists have identified the principle of superposition, illustrated by the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger posited that a cat locked inside a steel chamber along with a quantum particle will remain in quantum superposition until it’s state is perceived by an outside observer.

In the novel, a scientist discovers a way to travel into parallel universes by using a drug that inhibits his ability to observe his state, thus allowing him to maintain a state of quantum superposition.

In other words, he overcomes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle by not collapsing the channel to parallel universes because his mind cannot measure the state.

So if the act of measuring something changes its attributes, what about the inverse?

In order words, can you change an object’s attributes without measuring them? I would agree with Chris Anderson that the answer is not much. In business parlance, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Or at least you cannot optimize the management of something without having the capacity to measure it. As an entrepreneur, how do you optimize your company’s growth if you can’t know the results of your actions?

In the digital world, where concepts like A/B testing, click-through rates, user acquisition costs, lifetime values, etc. are ubiquitous, precision measurement has now become commonplace. Using multivariable analysis on big data sets, one can determine how likely you are to click on an ad, whether you qualify for a loan, or what kind of movie you’re likely to enjoy next.

Experiment, measure, and adjust

The startups on whose boards I sit know that I’m a stickler for measuring: experiment, measure, and adjust is my favorite rant. Perhaps it’s driven by my fear that if we don’t make a habit of doing it, our competitors that do will eat our lunch. They will be running what people in robotics call closed-loop systems, while we’re running an open-loop one.

Now the amazing thing about the internet of things is that the proliferation of sensors will enable better measurement in the physical world. As Anderson puts it, “We are going to be able to close the loop in industry, agriculture, and the environment. We’re going to start to find out what the consequences of our actions are and, presumably, we’ll take smarter actions as a result.”

Mind-blowing.

Back by popular demand: Buy, Sell, or Hold

March 9, 2017

A year ago I played Buy, Sell, or Hold on a trip home to Silicon Valley (the logic being that not all but many global trends start in California). The post proved so popular that I decided to play the game again last week.

(For those not familiar with the game: Buy, Sell, or Hold? is quite simple. If <X> were a stock, would you buy, sell, or hold ?)

1. Buy, Sell or Hold on… Snap – Buy at the IPO, Sell on the short-term gains

Wisdom suggested that the investment bankers would assure a first day IPO pop whereas the business fundamentals would weigh down the long-term prospects for the stock. I blindly followed the advice, which paid off. However, this eagerly-anticipated milestone may not open the flood gates for tech IPOs as many VCs had hoped.

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2. Buy, Sell or Hold on… Paying extra for avocado – Buy

Until innovation in agriculture can reduce the water consumption of avocado cultivation in drought-stricken California, paying extra for guacamole is here to stay. The phenomenon has apparently reached prime-time with American late night talk show hosts finding fodder in it for their stand-up jokes.

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3. Buy, Sell or Hold on… The white alpha male – Sell

Consensus was that this beast’s days are numbered. Feels like each early morning Tweet and afternoon HR scandal corroborates this hypothesis.

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This week’s conferences on Mobile and Gaming trigger a nostalgic trip down memory lane

March 3, 2017

[Note: this is the English version of yesterday’s piece I wrote for Japan’s publication, The Bridge. The Japanese version can be found here.]

This week we have the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Both major technology conferences; both happening at the same time. So difficult to choose…

Although never a hard-core gamer, I can think of three video games which hooked me over the course of my life. Perhaps symbolically, each corresponded to a different stage of my life as well.

First there were the Nintendo Game & Watch devices which I collected as a young boy. My favorite was Fire, but I managed to amass games like Octopus, Helmet, Parachute, and then later the double-screened Game & Watches like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. My version of Fire still has the dents from when I hurled it across the room in frustration, but the others remain in practically mint condition. That’s how I know that Fire was my favorite. A stroll in Tokyo’s Akihabara district the other day made me realize how valuable these collector’s items have become.

In the modern era, a game consultant in Japan introduced me to GungHo’s Puzzles & Dragons in 2012. This mid-core smartphone game fascinated me in two ways. First, the combination of a Match-3 game with a dragon battle game represented a level of sophistication that I had never seen in the West. Additionally, the innovation around the gacha monetization technique opened my eyes to the business potential of mobile gaming in Japan. Although after five years PazuDora is finally in decline, the game is the most profitable F2P game ever. (Incidentally, I’ve written previously about the present-day threats to the gacha technique).

For the decade in between, i.e. around the turn of the century, the game that hooked me was Snake on my Nokia feature phone. Remember those old Nokia feature phones? A Nokia was my first mobile phone, and I must have cycled through half a dozen of those reliable devices during this period. That was of course before the smartphone revolution, back when we still used mobile phones for talking. Navigating through the memorized key sequence to Snake probably fell second only to checking voicemail among my daily routine.


The union of the snake is on the climb

Two major announcements broke this week for nostalgic fans like me: At MWC, HMD Global (which now owns the rights to make Nokia phones) announced that they are bringing back the classic Nokia 3310 phone. They announced the retro re-launch as a “One More Thing,” underscoring the only three things that matter: its battery lasts a month, it has Snake, and it has the Nokia ringtone.


And on the other side of the world, our portfolio company CoolGames announced that they’re bringing Snake into the new generation. CoolGames is launching Snake on Facebook Messenger’s Instant Games, a harbinger of the next form of disruption in mobile gaming in my opinion.

Perhaps I fit perfectly into the demographic motivated by nostalgia. I for one look forward to the return of Nokia’s 3310, to the return of Snake, and to how this future paradigm of mobile gaming will entertain us while still letting us hold on to the things we cherish.

 

One of the most basic errors in pitching a VC rears its head again

February 27, 2017

A lot has been written on why entrepreneurs who are pitching for VC funding should aim for endorsed introductions rather than sending unsolicited emails as strangers. I’ve even crafted some guidelines for entrepreneurs in How To Pitch Me (connect via one of my portfolio companies, engage with me on my blog, approach me at a conference even, etc.).

The other day I experienced the antithesis of this wisdom. An entrepreneur whom I did not know — I’ll call him “Jean-Michel” (not his real name) — sent me his pitch deck. I noticed that his background included a long stint at the same company where one of my VC partners had worked years ago. So I asked my partner if he had ever heard of Jean-Michel. My partner’s response astonished me.

First, yes, not only had my partner heard of Jean-Michel, but they had even worked together directly at one point. Additionally, his recollection of their short collaboration had been positive. Finally, my partner was completely unaware of Jean-Michel’s new entrepreneurial aspirations and current project.

So Jean-Michel already had a favorable, pre-existing business relationship with someone in our VC fund, but instead tried pitching me unsolicited, “over the transom” as a total stranger.

This incident led me to the following reservations about Jean-Michel:

  1. Jean-Michel missed an opportunity to increase his odds of a warm reception with our firm. If he’s not capable of stacking the odds in his favor during a fundraising process, how will he perform when pitching to clients, partners, and new recruits?
  2. Perhaps Jean-Michel wasn’t aware that his former colleague was now my current partner at our fund (after all, some years had elapsed since they had worked together). However, this means that Jean-Michel did not even spend 30 seconds to review our fund’s website.
  3. Alternatively, perhaps Jean-Michel was aware of my partner’s presence but deliberately chose to circumvent him. This deception underscores a naïveté that my partner and I wouldn’t talk with each other, leaving me scratching my head and leaving my partner a tad annoyed.

The disruption in mobile gaming monetization that few are talking about

February 21, 2017

With GDC approaching next week, mobile gaming is on my mind. Truth be told, I was never much of a gamer myself, yet the industry has always fascinated me from an investment perspective.

In 2016 we witnessed numerous noteworthy events in mobile gaming: the record-breaking success of Pokémon Go, the critically debated walking start to Super Mario Run, the demise of Flash games, the return of HTML5 with FB Messenger’s explosive launch of Instant Games, etc.

Earlier last year I wrote about a looming threat to the most powerful tool in Japanese game companies’ business models. This potential disruption seemed to receive little attention in the markets, yet I contended that it represents a potential ticking bomb for the mobile gaming monetization of the industry. I’m referring to the guidelines governing Gacha mechanics, self-imposed by the Japanese online gaming association back in Q2 last year.

The monetization technique of gacha has proliferated in Japan while remaining relatively unheard of until recently in the West. (It’s a mechanic derived from the original gashapon ガシャポン in which vending machines popular in Japan would dispense capsule toys at random. Here’s a more thorough explanation of the various gacha mechanisms).

Under gacha monetization, game companies target big-spending “whales.” The dependency of certain mobile games’ business model on whales cannot be understated. According to marketing firm Swrve, the top 10% of players contribute to nearly half of all mobile game revenues, and 48% of revenues come from a mere 0.19% of all players.

Due to a controversial incident where a “whale” player spent over $6,000 during a single evening in pursuit of a gacha character, Japan’s Online Game Association sprung into action.

In an effort to stave off more draconian government measures, the Association self-imposed a new regulation that established two significant constraints on gaming monetization: a minimum 1% payout ratio, and a maximum 50,000 JPY billed per player. Technically, these industry “guidelines” are not law.

I expected most game companies to adhere to these guidelines to avoid stricter government intervention.

Adhering to such guidelines would however drive a sword into the heart of one of the most profitable monetization techniques in history. For publicly-listed firms, I expected the corresponding hit to earnings to result in stock price corrections.

It’s hard to conclude definitively that such a sector-wide stock correction is taking place. Here’s why: several of Japan’s notable mobile games companies have not adopted the new gacha guidelines.

It will be interesting to see how established mobile games companies confront the new market environment in 2017.

12 employee incentives for your startup which hardly cost a cent

February 13, 2017

I like to preach that Silicon Valley no longer has a monopoly on tech innovation. Startup ecosystems around the world have emerged and have produced many game-changing innovations over the past couple decades.

Yet in one area several of these communities (not all, but many) remain in the dark ages relative to North America: employee incentives management.

Readers of my blog know that one of my recurring gripes is the regulatory difficulty in granting equity to stakeholders of French startups. France, however, is not uniquely guilty. The government in the Netherlands, for example, has made granting stock options in startups so fiscally unappealing that the instrument is useless.

Between bouts of complaining though, I had also promised to expand on some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years on establishing non-monetary incentives in venture-backed startups across Europe. Many of these lessons could be applicable to innovators in any geography.

A personal story

First, a detour into a personal anecdote. When I first graduated from university with a degree in Electrical Engineering, like most clueless 22 year-olds I didn’t know which career to pursue. I just knew that I didn’t want to become an electrical engineer for a living. This was in the 90s, a period in which the default career step for new grads who didn’t know what to do was… consulting.

Despite not really understanding what management consultants actually did, I miraculously received a handful of job offers from the main firms and decided to join one which seemed like the best fit for me. No offense to this firm, which is world-class, but within three months of my first job out of college I realized that I was not the best fit for consulting.

I began spending spare weekends (spare evenings were non-existent) with a former classmate brainstorming on new business ideas. The positive energy from these sessions drew a stark contrast with my day job. I almost resigned in anticipation, but then my employer pulled a jedi mind trick on me which completely shifted my momentum:

They gave me a prize.

The partners of our firm’s office presented me with an award of recognition for my purportedly extraordinary efforts on a client engagement. It was a glass trophy, with no monetary award attached, but a plaque inscribed with my name and the words, “extraordinary achiever” or something like that.

And you know what, it worked. This glass trophy (which probably cost a mere dollar to manufacture in China) re-energized my motivation and loyalty to my firm for another year. Crucially, I was presented this award during a quarterly all-hands meeting, on a stage to the applause of the entire office. This event motivated me more than any bonus or raise ever could have. Even when I try to look back on the occasion with detached hindsight to laugh, I can still sense some of the residual pride I had felt that day.

With this demonstration of human psychology as a backdrop, and in the spirit of spurring creativity among all company-builders reading this, here are a handful of ideas to attract, motivate, and retain your employees on a startup budget.

12 cost-effective ideas to motivate your team:

  1. Give awards. Recognize performance in a manner visible to the whole company. Prizes could take the form of inexpensive trophies, French Open or Stade de France tickets, Michelin restaurant vouchers, etc.
  2. Hold internal competitions. For example, create an 8-week internal hackathon comprised of cross-functional teams (1 salesperson, 1 developer, 1 designer) to produce a viable new revenue line for your company. Teams present their creation in front of the company at the end of the period. Allocate one hour every Friday morning on company time for teams to collaborate. Pride and ego will probably encourage teams to work on their project outside of company time. The winning team receives a prize, but the real winner will be your startup.
  3. Invite a star performer to join a board meeting on occasion (for those whom would enjoy this and not feel intimidated by it).
  4. Grant extreme flexibility in work arrangements: let employees work the hours they wish, from the location they wish, and measure them solely on deliverables, not “office time”.
  5. Create a warm and fuzzy office environment where employees enjoy spending time. Let employees decorate their own desk, provide free monthly catering from a company like GoCater (in France & Germany) or an original private chef experience with La Belle Assiette (I’ll even give you a 40€ voucher if you’re in Belgium, France, Germany, or the UK). Or consider relocating your office to a place like Station F. I recently visited one office that put a barbershop in a side room with a barber on-demand which I thought was really cool.
  6. Invite a visiting speaker once a semester, such as a Silicon Valley type on vacation, or a developer to talk about the latest techniques in Rails, or anyone that might be of interest to the staff.
  7. Be creative in granting job titles. Job titles cost the company virtually nothing yet can deliver immeasurable perceptual value to the employee.
  8. Give employees the latest iPhone. As with job titles, there’s an arbitrage opportunity here between the perceived value vs. cost of free smartphones.
  9. Hold periodic company retreats to brainstorm on strategy in a remote environment like a wine-tasting outing, a farmhouse, a kayaking trip, etc. The key is that everyone be invited to contribute to the discussion. You can abandon company hierarchy for a day.
  10. Empower your employees. Give them some autonomy and the ability to fail without repercussions. To the extent possible, allow them to control their own budgets up to a certain limit.
  11. Communicate as openly as you can about the opportunities and challenges facing your business. Twitter and Medium founder Evan Williams is frequently praised by his employees who remain fervently loyal to him. Keeping employees in the dark is a recipe for underperformance.
  12. Make your employees feel that they’re a part of something big. Treat your employees like fonctionnaires if you want to run your startup like a government agency and go nowhere.

 

Hatsu basho: Kisenosato finally breaks through

February 7, 2017

It feels appropriate to bring the relief of closure to a topic that I’ve referenced in recent pieces: the fate of Japanese sumo rikishi Kisenosato.

In Goeido’s perfect sumo tournament: when talent and consistency converge and Sumo in Kyushu: the lesson of killer instinct, I drew some broader lessons about the qualities of diligent work ethic and killer instinct.

In entrepreneurship as in sumo, I argued, the traits of diligent work ethic vs. killer instinct are uncorrelated virtues. The very qualities required for an entrepreneur to plod along meticulously do not directly translate into a take-no-prisoners mentality. Diligent perseverance is necessary to be positioned at the right place at the right time. However, when circumstances line up to disrupt a market, killer instinct will determine the winner.

Kisenosato exuded the first virtue: he won the most sumo matches in 2016 and consistently notched one of the best annual records in prior years. However, what Kisenosato possessed in consistency, he lacked in killer instinct. He always found a way to choke in late matches and thus never win a tournament championship. Kisenosato represented sumo’s perennial bridesmaid.

Until now.

Kisenosato dominated January hatsu basho in Tokyo, clinching his first Emperor’s Cup on the penultimate day, and beating the traditionally invincible yokozuna Hakuho on the final match.

Kisenosato finally conquered his demons. The Japan Sumo Association promoted Kisenosato to the highest grand champion yokozuna status by the end of the month, the first Japanese rikishi to reach yokozuna in 19 years.

It’s inspiring to see what people are capable of when they push themselves outside their comfort zones.

Act Globally, Eat Locally

February 1, 2017

By 2050, we’ll need to find a way to feed 9.7 billion people.

Current food production methods will not suffice. They’re too inefficient (it takes at least 9 calories of food production to produce 1 calorie of edible meat) and harmful to the environment (see Environmental impacts of farming). Many developed countries will even struggle to meet their Paris Climate Accord commitments.

Fortunately, some fascinating new innovations in agritech are emerging. Vertical farming, plant-based meats, lab-grown foods, drone-enhanced farming to name a few.

Japan is one of the most forward-thinking countries in this area. The government as well as a number of Japanese industrial groups are seeking to spur innovation in this domain. I’ve been solicited to help identify investment opportunities in agritech startups that are interested to explore the Japanese market.

Beyond finally learning how to distinguish a tasty tomato from a bland one, I’m still a neophyte investor in this domain and eager to learn more. Any relevant technology startups innovating in agriculture and interested in Japan are welcome to contact me.

Furthermore, Asia’s largest agritech summit will take place in Tokyo in May and is worth a look.

A day without AI is like a day without wine

January 23, 2017

As I mentioned in my predictions post, I believe 2017 will be a breakout year for deployment of Artificial Intelligence. By this I mean that AI companies will start to master the processes of expectation management and social engineering in order to bring AI across the chasm of consumer perception. Several VCs smarter than I am have made predictions along these lines, so I am by no means uniquely prescient. I also share the view that AI will become the new mobile, and accordingly have begun familiarizing myself with the variety of startups innovating around AI in Asia.

One such startup, for instance, has developed a clever application for deep learning to improve rice crop yields. By taking photos of their rice fields with their smartphones, farmers can obtain AI-driven analytics and disease diagnoses in real-time in order to optimize usage of pesticides, fertilizers, water, and energy on their crops.

This led me to thinking: would a similar application be appropriate for vineyards? For example, could a winemaker minimize pesticide usage based on an AI-informed recommendation of insect susceptibility? Or perhaps even the harvest date could be optimized? If this field is ripe for innovation, it would seem to me that a startup from one of France’s major wine regions would have some legitimacy in this area.

Happy to hear from anyone working on this.

Incidentally, my favorite venue for meeting AI entrepreneurs in Tokyo is the aptly-named Deus Ex Machina, a surf shop that doubles as a café (or vice versa). If you appreciate AI (or even just a well-balanced Gibraltar, albeit brewed by a human), Deus is worth a stop. If you bump into me there, I’m probably meeting with an AI entrepreneur, so please introduce yourself. However, please don’t “out” me as a VC since the staff of the Deus only know me as the California surfer dude.

 

More entertaining than nitrous oxide, but M&A was no laughing matter for AirGas

January 17, 2017

Even those who may not get excited about the stodgy industrial gases business but with a passing interest in the topic of M&A may find this story intriguing. It gives a glimpse into two hostile takeover defenses: the poison pill and a staggered board.

It’s also a tale that hits particularly close to home (if home is France) because the happy ending involves Paris-based CAC40 member Air Liquide successfully acquiring its American counterpart, AirGas.

Finally, as with any compelling story, there’s a victim-turned-hero: AirGas CEO Peter McCausland, and a villain: American giant Air Products (and arch-rival of both AirGas and Air Liquide).

The industrial gases sector is a textbook oligopoly. A handful of corporations dominate the boring but ridiculously profitable business of producing chemicals in gaseous state — largely oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, but also a basket of other gases like inerts or rare gases. Customers of industrial gases count almost every type of manufacturing business (semiconductors, automotive, food, consumer products, etc.) as well as service sectors like health care.

[An inside joke once shared with me by my VC fund’s LP, Air Liquide, went as follows. Q: How does the production of oxygen for the health care sector differ from that for the manufacturing sector? A: Slap a big “HEALTH CARE” sticker on the side of the oxygen tank and triple the price!]

Anyway, the industrial gases sector is slow-growth but predictable. Innovation usually takes the form of incremental cost savings initiatives. Profitability in this mature market follows general macroeconomic trends. The relatively low volatility and consistent dividend policies of this sector’s firms makes them a reliable bedrock of a long-term retirement portfolio. The only way these firms can unlock a step function in growth is via the rare acquisition of a peer.

Back in 2010, Air Products thought it saw some vulnerability in its U.S. rival and made a hostile takeover bid for AirGas at a value of approximately $5 billion. Remember, in 2010 the U.S. stock market was still early in its recovery from the financial crisis. AirGas chief executive Peter McCausland judged this valuation too low and resisted the takeover bid.

When Air Products persisted, raising their offer and upping the pressure, AirGas enacted a poison pill defense, which prevented parties from acquiring more than 15% without the approval of AirGas’ board of directors. Furthermore, AirGas had a staggered board, meaning that only three directors (out of 11) were eligible for election each year.

So Air Products escalated its battle on two fronts: a proxy fight and a lawsuit. Air Products lobbied AirGas shareholders to advance the annual meeting and replace the directors: three at a time but six within a four-month window. The lawsuit challenged the validity of the poison pill in a Delaware court. AirGas lost the first skirmish but prevailed in court in a controversial ruling, essentially granting the company more time to fend off the hostile bid.

In 2015, Air Products’ new CEO approached McCausland again with an aggressive stance to acquire AirGas by leveraging the support of some activist shareholders. The historical bad blood between the companies, reinforced by the new Air Products CEO’s menacing attitude, motivated McCausland and AirGas to seek a white knight.

They found their chevalier blanc in Air Liquide. Air Liquide offered and all-cash deal valuing AirGas at $13.4 billion (including its outstanding debt), more than double the highest hostile bid from Air Products.

It’s hard not to root for the AirGas CEO in this story. By resisting the hostile takeover, McCausland doubled the value of his company and found a friendlier acquirer.

Air Liquide proved far more lavish on price, paying twice as much as Air Products had offered. However, the complementary geographic coverage turned Air Liquide into a highly motivated strategic buyer. In contrast, the bad blood resulting from Air Products’ aggressive tactics impeded a constructive deal, probably at any price.

Reinforcing the rationale for this acquisition was the year-end merger of two other sectoral giants: Linde and Praxair, a transaction whose highest praise was “not the worst deal in the world” by the Motley Fool.

Finally there’s a moral to this story for all activist investors and meddlesome board directors: sometimes, even against your better judgment, management is right.

 

Experimenting vs Predicting

January 11, 2017

I am more inclined to invest in entrepreneurs who excel at experimenting rather than excel at predicting. I acknowledge the irony of writing this on the heels of posting a series of tech predictions for 2017.

Let me explain.

The act of making predictions is fun… and invaluable. It’s a prerequisite that entrepreneurs form a view of what’s going to happen in a particular market and build a company toward that vision (similar for VCs, by the way). Smart people are capable of thinking critically about their environment and accordingly, are good at making educated guesses about the future. While even the most brilliant minds are often wrong, they’re right often enough to make a difference.

The principal dangers with predictions are two-fold: i) wasting too much time ruminating so as to impede action (analysis paralysis); and ii) holding too steadfastly to our worldview while the market evolves. Changing our view means admitting we made an error. It’s a failure of sorts, and we’re wired to abhor being wrong. So we dismiss disconfirming evidence and embrace data that reinforces our view.

Meanwhile, as time progresses, the cost of reversing course increases. The stakes rise.

Experimentation, in contrast, has the expectation of failure baked in.

Adopting a mindset of experimentation is difficult because experimenting means admitting we don’t have all the answers. It means embarking on a series of paths where failing or reversing course will be necessary on multiple occasions. It means positioning ourselves to be wrong at some future point.

I submit however that experimentation is one of the most important habits of entrepreneurs, especially for those operating in a fast-paced sector like technology. Predicting the direction of change is one thing, but predicting the speed and specific form in which it arrives is impossible to do reliably.

By valuing experimentation, entrepreneurs are recognizing the complexity of social-technological-economic systems. Conducting a collection of small-scale experiments is the most efficient way to identify the best solution for the challenge at hand: be it related to product, pricing, positioning, business model, etc. Each failed experiment becomes an opportunity to learn, when the stakes are low, and enables the company to allocate more resources to the experiments that are working.

Entrepreneurs should espouse a culture of experimentation in their startups. In turn, their investors and boardmembers should foster an environment in which the founder feels safe to experiment and is not crucified for the inevitable missteps.

 

A few more predictions for 2017

January 7, 2017

I sincerely appreciated all the positive feedback on publishing my past predictions scorecard as well as on this collection of 2017 predictions from an exclusive all-women cast of investors. Thank you.

Some readers also prodded me to stake out my own set of tech forecasts for the year ahead. While I contend that the best insights came from my peers, here are a few more:

  • Mass consumers in the West will finally acknowledge definitively that Asia is capable of producing truly inventive new applications of consumer tech. My guess is that a breakout gadget like this “facial perfection” selfie camera in China will take off in the vanity-stricken cultures of most Western countries. With functionality embedded directly into the camera, this Casio automatically removes blemishes, slims the face, whitens the skin, and enlarges the eyes (perhaps a skin tanning function will emerge in the culture of sun worshippers).
  • The “down-with-the-banks” element to the fintech revolution will lose some of its luster. The saturation of fintech startups in Europe will witness consolidation, with the winners having already attained scale and found ways to partner with the banks rather than replace them; however, Japan’s fintech space will accelerate.
  • Agritech (or Agtech), in contrast, will ascend the curve of inflated expectations. “I can’t believe it’s not meat” substitutes and water-efficient avocados will attain widespread acceptance, taste great, and be less filling.
  • 2017 will be the year AI crosses the chasm of consumer perception. I cannot take credit for this prediction because a number of smarter VCs have made the same prognosis. However, I share the view that AI will become the new ‘mobile’. I also suspect we will see more surreptitious acts of AI, such as the recent stealth play of AlphaGo in the online Go community.
  • The invincibility of the app stores will soften, with the pendulum of centralized vs. distributed IT architectures swinging back. Streamable ‘apps’, HTML5 light versions, and integrations of mobile applications in other creative ways will emerge as a viable alternative to the tedious mobile app on-boarding process.
  • Kisenosato will win a sumo championship. He is the only ozeki to have never brought home the Emperor ‘s Cup despite being the winningest wrestler of 2016.

Happy and healthy new year to all. がんばってください。!

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