The next, next frontier

Entrepreneurs always look for the next wave to ride, where massive value can be created for founders, investors, and consumers. We’ve seen several of these waves in recent decades.

07.02.2018, added by infoShare

Dave is the co-founder of Outrank and Positively, building software to bring companies closer to their customers. He previously created and let AngelList's startup recruiting platform, and co-founded two social app startups. Here is his article published in the 2nd edition of "Grow with Tech" magazine by infoShare: http://growtechmag.com/

Entrepreneurs always look for the next wave to ride, where massive value can be created for founders, investors, and consumers. We’ve seen several of these waves in recent decades.

The first was the widespread adoption of broadband, which led to the blossoming of the social Web and the founding of giants like Facebook and Twitter. Thirteen years after Facebook started, over 2 billion people now use it every month. We’ve never seen companies at this scale before.

The second started with the App Store on iPhone in 2008. Though we still call them ‘phones’, we now use our pocket computers for countless home and business tasks, most of which were difficult to imagine in the days of the iPhone 3G. Less than a decade later, almost 5 billion people have smartphones. We’ve never seen a platform with this reach before.

In 2017, we saw an already competitive market intensify. Facebook, Google and others soaked up an increasing amount of attention and advertising revenue. The cost of servers, storage and other technology needed to start companies continued to fall, while salaries continued to rise as companies competed for talent.

All this competition has led to an arms race: Startups have to fight hard to find, and keep, their customers. Sites and apps have become cluttered with widgets and calls-to-action, pop-ups and pop-unders, as companies fight for an edge. While many of these practices work well now, consumers will become accustomed to them over time, and they’ll get saturated, like the Facebook News Feed and mobile push notifications before them.

Because competition is so brutal, startups continually search for new ways to get and keep their customers’ attention. In 2016 and 2017, we saw a wave of momentum around chatbots—for a moment, it seemed like they were the next big platform. The Economist magazine called bots “The Next Frontier”, the New York Times covered how “Big Banks Bet on the Next Big Thing: Financial Chatbots”, and others wrote blogs with headlines like “How Bots Will Completely Kill Websites and Mobile Apps”.

That didn’t quite happen. Websites and mobile apps haven’t been killed yet; in fact, many bot companies have pivoted or shut down, and Facebook recently retired its personal assistant bot, M.

Bots aren’t the next platform because of the fundamental limitations of conversational interfaces. First, a lack of discoverability – how do I know what options are available to me, especially with a voice interface? Second, the limits of natural language processing – I can’t count how often I repeat myself to Alexa. Finally, there are few applications where voice or chat offer a much better user experience than a standard web form.

To be clear, bots aren’t ‘dead’. We’ll almost certainly see some widely-adopted bots, either through voice interfaces like Alexa and Google Home or on platforms like Facebook Messenger. But many founders are moving on, continuing the search for the next frontier.

The next, next frontier seems to be blockchains and cryptocurrencies. Their rise into the mainstream over the last year has been astounding. Like chatbots before them, the headlines are sensational: the Times speaks of ‘The Bitcoin Boom’, where markets are in a ‘frenzy’, while the Economist says Bitcoin's ‘rise seems unstoppable’.

Even though I've owned Bitcoins for a few years now, I completely missed how deeply these technologies would resonate with the mainstream. Most of my ‘holdings’ (if you can call them that) came as wedding presents, prompting serious questions from my wife. And though I’ve worked with folks who are deeply passionate about crypto, I never caught the fever.

Of course, people have different motivations for getting excited about blockchains. Some are looking to create the next iteration of the Internet; others are looking to get rich quick. We’re in a strange time where almost everyone, including some of the biggest promoters of blockchain technology, acknowledges that we’re in a bubble, and yet the bubble floats on.

Regardless of what happens in the short term, the blockchain will almost certainly be the foundation of many world-changing technologies. Maybe the killer blockchain app will be decentralized banking, or new insurance instruments. But if history is any guide, it’ll be something that seems obvious in hindsight (like hailing a ride with your phone) that was hard to see in advance.

That blockchains will be big seems such an obvious prediction that it barely counts. So I’ll make another prediction for 2018: I expect to see many more innovative ‘weapons’ in the arms race to get and keep customers. The brutal competition in the market isn’t going away: Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are fighting to claim more and more of their respective markets. Startups will have to fight even harder to break in as all the current widgets and emails and pop-everywheres will slowly lose their efficacy. Entrepreneurs will be forced to find the next, next, next frontier, just to survive.

One final prediction: Regardless of whether you’re building the Next Big Thing as a bot on the blockchain, or the New Old Thing as an enterprise SaaS company, I predict that creating a profitable business will continue to be the best path to success. There’s always going to be a next, next, next frontier. By creating a profitable business, you’ll survive long enough to see it.

More articles evaluating 2017 and predicting trends for 2018 in "Grow with Tech" magazine no 2 http://growtechmag.com/


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