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Memia Labs Monthly Digest March 2017

This month: 
// Quantum Computers Using DNA Storage
// (Don't) Tax The Robots 
// The Useless Class 
// The Astounding Cosmos

Here’s our monthly summary of what Memia Labs has been reading and thinking this month at the confluence of future technology, business and society.

This selection of links is taken from our the regular Memia Labs Premium* subscription service – if you’re interested in more information please get in touch.

Ben Reid
Consulting Director
labs@memia.com

* Memia Labs Premium is a monthly service for Memia customers.
Sign up for our regular updates at
 http://memia.com/labs/

Back in 1997, French director Luc Besson (accidentally?) imagined DNA-based memory: in this scene from his flamboyant film The Fifth Element, Supreme Being Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) was reconstructed from her orders-of-magnitude-more-complex-than-human DNA – with her memories perfectly intact right up until the moment she had died (in an exploding spaceship, natch). This month, scientists have discovered how to fit the maximum amount of data in a single nucleotide, leading us into a future of DNA-based storage, potentially powering the next generation of Quantum computers (not to mention built-in backups for our minds…).

AI…

Full stack vertical AI startups actually work – in amidst all the AI hype 2017 will be the year of breakout successes from a handful of vertically-oriented AI startups solving full-stack industry problems.  http://www.bradfordcross.com/blog/2017/3/3/five-ai-startup-predictions-for-2017

…and Robots (they really mean AI)

Taxation without representation? Tax the robots says Bill Gates (…you what!?!). Don’t tax the robots replies the Economist. Why? Because robots will take these 5 jobs (but probably not these 5).

Everyone’s talking about

Homo Deus
414JWlgTXGL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This podcast with author Yuval Noah Harari are well worth a listen to get an overview of the themes explored. A clear exposition of the potential near future when humans may no longer the most intelligent beings on the planet. His phrase “the useless class” is particularly sobering…

Azeem Azhar: https://soundcloud.com/exponentialview/homo-deus-a-conversation-between-yuval-harari-and-azeem-azhar

 

 

Miscellaneous Tech

Welcome to the fog computing era OpenFog Consortium Releases Landmark Reference Architecture for Fog Computing http://insidebigdata.com/2017/03/07/openfog-consortium-releases-landmark-reference-architecture-fog-computing/  (but how open is this Cisco-led standard when you have to register to download it…!?).

Hard drives of the future could be made of DNA, just like Leeloo  https://www.engadget.com/2017/03/03/DNA-hard-drive-storage/

In fact, asks Wired, What if quantum computers of the future used hard drives of DNA? https://www.wired.com/2017/03/quantum-computers-used-hard-drives-made-dna/

Global Tech Industry 

Taking your SaaS product upmarket – Enterprise features are common across the board, this is a great resource https://www.enterpriseready.io/

The Human Condition

I usually describe myself as a “destination, not a journey person”. Unfortunately for me, apparently Happiness Is Always Seeking Something More
https://qz.com/684940/neuroscience-confirms-that-to-be-truly-happy-you-will-always-need-something-more/

You’re a different person at 77 than 14
https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/02/07/longest-ever-personality-study-finds-no-correlation-between-measures-taken-at-age-14-and-age-77/notepad

Tensors, Tensors, Everywhere

So What Exactly Is A Tensor Anyway?
https://hackernoon.com/learning-ai-if-you-suck-at-math-p4-tensors-illustrated-with-cats-27f0002c9b32#.52x3aphbu

Getting cosmological

Finally this month we are seeing ever more astounding visualizations of the cosmos in which we belong. Ever since Hubble Deep Field discovered previously unimagined depth to the universe in 1995, our understanding of our nano-nano-nanoscopic place in the universe is continually reinforced. The universe seems to be layered in multiple orders of magnitude there to be explored and understood. Enjoy these if you haven’t seen them before.

It all started here with the iPhone app Cosmic Eyehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfSNxVqprvM

Laniakea – our home supercluster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rENyyRwxpHo

(In)sanity

On March 25th spare a thought for me when I will be taking part in the inaugural Breca Wanaka Swimrun event: 42km of trail running and 8km of swimming in the freezing cold depths of despair that is Lake Wanaka, New Zealand.

Assuming I make it back from that in one piece, more in a month’s time.  :-)

Comments, feedback, suggestions? Email labs@memia.com

 

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“Overtaking Lane” Strategy For Digital Disruptors

Disruptive companies need to check their surroundings before overtaking.

wing-mirror-motorbikes

Three Types Of Company

There are three types of companies in the world today:

  1. Dinosaurs: Traditional companies who are facing digital disruption in the marketplace driven by fast-changing technologies. These “cold blooded” businesses struggle to effect change – they are stuck with stodgy, outdated delivery models and immovable cost structures – but still enjoy significant revenues from their established customer base. There are increasing examples of formerly successful businesses who failed to react to changes coming and paid the price – Kodak, Blockbuster, Yellow Pages, the entire newspaper publishing industry…the list is long and getting longer. Established company lifespans are getting shorter:
“Since 2000, 52% of companies in the Fortune 500 
have either gone bankrupt, been acquired or ceased to exist”
  1. Innovators: There is also a new group of businesses who are successfully leveraging new technologies into their existing business models and are successfully transforming themselves for the new digital age. To name a few: Disney, McDonalds, GE, IKEA, Starbucks, Air New Zealand. These businesses typically hire a dedicated Chief Digital Officer – an experienced digital expert who can take the lead in a permanent cycle of change and break down traditional internal silos. They will be fast to learn from disruptive competition and also to leverage their incumbent strength to protect market share and adapt to wider change as it happens.
  2. Disruptors:  And then there are the fast-growing disruptors – those nimble, ambitious businesses who are using new digital technologies to effect a wholesale restructure of a traditional value chain – and in the process putting the old dinosaurs out of business. There are huge opportunities ahead of today’s disruptors to achieve a landgrab from established industries. But there are also risks in the timing and resourcing of tactics, together with anticipating the retaliatory defensive moves of incumbents.

What are the options for the leaders of today’s fast-growing disruptive business to keep looking up and ahead at the opportunities and risks – while keeping effective hold on the operational controls to steer firmly to the envisioned future?

 

Making Time For Strategy Is Hard When You’re Accelerating

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to get there”

Digital Disruption is not just about the underlying technology – this is just an enabler of the changes brought about in the wider economic value chain. A business with a technology advantage needs to solve wider problems in order to effect a successful disruption strategy.

But think about typical fast-growing companies today – made it to a few million dollars revenue, growing 100% year on year, problems hiring people fast enough, projects are constantly under-resourced and running behind, sales are stacking up and needing even more resources next year, another round of capital to raise….the Board and CEO have their hands full just keeping the engine running. Over time, this can lead to strategic deficit – a blindness to the landscape changes that are happening around the company at just the critical moment when clarity of vision is needed.

Put simply, many fast-growing companies struggle to find space to fit strategy into their business cycle – leaving them vulnerable to missing external marketplace change risks and – more importantly – opportunities.

Some of the key challenges are summed up in the following quotes:

“We have our technology vision - pulling together a strategic plan is a distraction”
“The CEO is too busy running the business”
“The strategy will just sit on a (virtual) shelf”
“The tech industry too fast-changing, by the time you’ve written a strategy it’s out of date”
“There are lots of strategic plan templates and tools out there - none of them apply to our business”
“We can’t articulate our key success metrics because we’re disrupting the marketplace”
“Large strategic consulting firms don’t understand high growth tech business and cost too much”

“Overtaking Lane” Strategy

Digital Disruptors, like any business, should map out a clear strategy to guide their route through a changing market over a period of years, enabling them to overtake and accelerate away from incumbents. This change will be slow at first, like pushing a boulder continously uphill until, if successful, finally the business reaches a tipping point where there is clear momentum and the market dynamics change in the new entrant’s favour.

A useful metaphor for the four phases for disruption is “Overtaking Lane” Strategy:

On-Ramp

Focus: Startup

  • All the learnings from the Lean Startup movement apply here – Customer Development, Customer Validation, Customer Creation, early Company Building.
  • It’s hard work getting a company off the ground, but the real work’s only just beginning.

Check Surroundings

Focus: Early Momentum, Preparation

  • Gaining market traction, starting to win deals against incumbents.
  • Go-to market is still “pre-chasm”, wider market acceptance is building but not there yet.
  • Identify the competition: dinosaurs, innovators and watch out for other disruptors coming up fast behind you.
  • Strike surgically where you have a clear advantage. Stay away where you don’t.
  • Check that your business is prepared and ready for what’s coming up.

Overtake

Focus: Direct Competition

  • Ride the wave of change through your value chain as the mainstream market rapidly comes around to your way of thinking. Pick off your dinosaur competition rapidly with your clearly superior offering. Leave large innovators alone.
  • Anticipate retaliatory defensive actions from incumbents.

Accelerate Away

Focus: Scale and Defend Market Share

  • You’re now recognized as a market leader in your newly restructured value chain.Keep investing in innovation at scale, investing in defending your hard-won market share and building out features which maximize the advantages of your new platform.
  • You are now the incumbent!

Fundamentally: Strategy Shouldn’t Slow You Down

Disruptors shouldn’t need to slow down on their execution to build effective strategy into their business operations and get on with overtaking the competition. It just needs a lean and agile approach to the early strategic review and setup, together with an ongoing cadence of regular reviews and disciplined measurement.

Bringing in an experienced strategy facilitation resource can speed up the delivery of the right sized strategic framework and choose the right planning tools. (Here’s a great resource of roadmapping tools  I like to dive back into from time to time).

A typical 1-year programme to embed strong strategic practices into a fast-growing business is shown below:

Month 1:

  • 3-4 Half-day workshops with Board, CEO, Exec Team.
  • Define clarity of Purpose, Vision, and competitive position.
  • Clearly understand how the market dynamics and value chain will change if you are successful.

Month 2:

  • Develop what success looks like: achieving the vision. What KPIs will you measure? How will you measure them?
  • Define KPIs and targets.

Month 3:

  • Define strategic initiatives – what do you need to do to reach the targets set?
  • Plan the resourcing to these initiatives and schedule the highest priority ones into a roadmap for the next year. (You can even treat this exercise as you would normal Agile planning for a Scrum project – define quarterly strategic “Sprints” and a backlog of strategic initiatives.)

Months 4-12:

  • Diligently measure KPIs and report against them regularly – at least every month.
  • Hold quarterly half-day strategic progress reviews.
  • Keep a close eye on the competition but don’t get distracted.
  • Aim to keep the strategic plan refreshed and looking out at least 3 years ahead.

The outcome of this investment in strategy gives the Board and Management the clarity of vision, timing and control to confidently steer and accelerate the company to success against a rapidly changing competitive landscape.

Fundamentally: don’t be afraid to continuously refresh and iterate the Vision and KPIs as the company makes progress. – strategy is something we “do”, not just write down!

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10 essential reads for doing Tech Business Strategy today

I’ve been helping quite a few software and tech businesses with strategy development, forward scenario modeling and business planning over the last year and a common question which comes up is “what reading would you recommend to find out more?”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more of a skimmer of web articles than a long-form reader and I very rarely make it to the end of any business book – though I do like to keep things on my Kindle to dip in and out when I need to refer back / when I’ve got time to read on the plane.

[Also I find that it’s often in sci-fi where the best ideas about long term technology trends get explored and surfaced as tangible outcomes – and although these concepts aren’t often directly applicable to today’s businesses, they help to extend the mind as to what *could* be possible.]

 

So anyway… the 10 books, blogs, newsletters and articles below (some old, some new) have helped form my thinking about how to understand and *do* effective tech business strategy against a constant background of exponential, disruptive change. Enjoy. :-)

1. The Startup Owner’s Manual – Steve Blank and Bob Dorf

startup-manual-cover-280

Not a book about strategy at all – in fact, the “Lean Startup” movement of which Steve Blank is the progenitor is arguably “anti strategy”, advocating as it does rapid iterative experimentation and exploration to find that elusive product-market fit. There is more practical wisdom in Lean Startup guru Steve Blank‘s book than in most others put together. Fundamentally, don’t build it until you know they’ll come.

2. Good to Great – Jim Collins

Cover_Good_2_Gr8

The classic timeless book which teaches about getting the right team on the bus first and then building a great, long lasting, business. Essential, uplifting reading.

3. The Singularity is Near

The-Singularity-Is-Near

Technological change is accelerating. Ray Kurzweil’s seminal work from 2005 seemed crazy at the time – but now his law of accelerating returns is generally accepted as underpinning the increasingly rapid changes we are seeing in the tech industry and society generally.

4. Crossing the Chasm– Geoffrey Moore

Crossing The Chasm Cover

Another classic text, focussing on the strategies and tactics for marketing technology products. The book leads from its opening definition of a Market:

“A set of actual or potential customers
for a given set of products or services
who have a common set of needs or wants, and
who reference each other when making a buying decision.”

…to define the technology adoption lifecycle and how there is a “chasm” between the “early adopters” and the “early majority”.

Chasm

5. Both Sides Of The Table – Mark Suster

bothsides

Entrepreneur turned investor Mark Suster’s blog provides insight, experience and purpose to guide tech entrepreneurs everywhere in the world.

6. The Business of Venture Capital – Mahendra Ramsinghani

BusinessOfVC

So much of today’s tech business is driven by VCs, it pays to know what drives them. This accessible guide is a great primer to the way the Valley works.

7. Exponential Organizations – Salim Ismail et al

exo

Salim Ismail hails from Singularity University where he has seen on a daily basis the impact of new exponential technologies on the business world. For example, Instagram, the classic “ExO” sold for $1Bn with only 13 employees. This book is the result of researching around 100 “exponential” companies across the world and looking for patterns in their data – and then creating a how-to guide: How can you build a new business with these principles? How can you retrofit these ideas into large organizations? The book introduces the IDEAS SCALE framework to identify the most common attributes of these “ExO”s:

exponential-organizations-why-new-organizations-are-10x-better-faster-and-cheaper-than-yours-and-what-to-do-about-it-32-638

 

(Reminder: SingularityU NZ is happening in Christchurch, New Zealand this year 14-16 Nov).

8. The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen

innovators dilemma

Another classic text: Clayton Christensen’s book argues that today’s successful companies put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet their customers’ needs in the future, leaving them open to “disruption”. A whole subgenre of business books has been written taking one side or the other of this argument…

9. For Entrepreneurs by David Skok

felogo

David Skok, VC at Matrix Partners is the granddaddy of SaaS. His classic 2012 article SaaS Metrics 2.0 – A Guide to Measuring and Improving what Matters is arguably the cornerstone of how the SaaS industry benchmarks itself today. His blog For Entrepreneurs goes wider and deeper and is a rich resource of writing to understand the software industry, tech business strategy and marketing.

10. Big Bang Disruption by Larry Downes and Paul Nunes

HBR Big Bang

This forthright Harvard Business Review paper from 2013 shows that disruption can come from nowhere and wipe out incumbent businesses – required reading for doing business strategy in the 21st century.

Bonus no. 11 – I’ve recently become an avid reader of the Andreesson Horowitz weekly email newsletter – a curated eclectic mix of what the folks at @a16z have been reading this month, at the bleeding front edge of tech, business and societal change. Sign up here: https://a16z.com/

Bonus no. 12 – This slideshare from RadiantMinds software (acquired by Atlassian in 2014) provides a whole practical roadmapping toolbox that I love to dip into from time to time.

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“Driving On The Curve” – digital disruption presentation June 2016

It was my pleasure to give a short presentation on Digital Disruption and Technology Strategy to a friendly audience at the Results Group yesterday evening – my slides below. Key messages:

NZ business needs to develop a stronger posture towards [digital] disruption (other than ignorance / indifference…):

– more technology industry experience at board and senior management levels
– see disruption coming: invest now to better understand disruption risks, timescales and opportunities
– incubate ideas to explore these themes without spending vast $$$
– develop strategies to address disruption before it happens to you

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SingularityU New Zealand is happening – 14-16 Nov

SUNZI’ve been following the development of Singularity University and the former Singularity Summit globally for years now – and thanks to Christchurch-based New Yorker // rainmaker // infinitely renewable energy source Kaila Colbin, New Zealand will be one of the first venues outside Silicon Valley to host a SingularityU Summit event.

Amazing opportunity for our small, *high growth potential* (in every sense of the word growth…) country to plug in to what’s happening at the forefront of global technological and societal change and make a substantial investment in the future of our country and the world.

Premier global events like this don’t happen in our neck of the woods too often…get your tickets now, I say. :-)

 

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Introducing the Meta 2 – *Real* Augmented Reality in 2016

An occasional blog entry…I’ve been researching virtual / augmented reality productivity paradigms for a while now and just came across this TED talk from February (just released) from Meron Gribetz, co-founder of Silicon Valley-based Meta Vision.  Watch it and let the reality sink in: follow the “path of least neural resistance”…Pre-order the development kit here for US$949

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Shivon Zilis’ Machine Intelligence industry landscape 2.0 – updated for 2016

1400px-MI-Landscape-2.0-R9_update-31f507e4ce5f56e6cc06ee0b60bb6690

Last year I covered a few of the developments happening in the Machine Intelligence (MI) space and in particular referenced the seminal work of US-based Canadian VC Shivon Zilis. She has recently updated her MI landscape analysis for 2016 in a new article: The current state of machine intelligence 2.0 which makes for essential reading. This is a really valuable primer for the rapid developments happening in the global industry right now, not least because it provides hundreds of real-world examples of how MI is now being applied commercially. In addition, Shivon’s accompanying article Machine Intelligence In The Real World is equally valuable as it starts to break down the nebulous world of MI into distinct categories (do you remember when the all-confusing “Cloud” became IaaS, PaaS and SaaS…):

  • “Panopticons” Collect A Broad Dataset
  • “Lasers” Collect A Focused Dataset
  • “Alchemists” Promise To Turn Your Data Into Gold
  • “Gateways” Create New Use Cases From Specific Data Types
  • “Magic Wands” Seamlessly Fix A Workflow  (this one resonates well with me – as a happy beta customer of Clara my time spent on diary management has reduced considerably!)
  • “Navigators” Create Autonomous Systems For The Physical World
  • “Agents” Create Cyborgs And Bots To Help With Virtual Tasks
  • “Pioneers” Are Very Smart

Both pieces are well worth a read and provide a valuable jumping off spot into deeper material for evaluating commercial MI opportunities.

 

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Introducing… the Big Idea Canvas – a more accessible business model canvas for startups

big_idea_canvas

Recently my serial entrepreneur friend and colleague Peter Montgomery introduced me to the “Big Idea Canvas” from Paul Ahlstrom – based upon the Nail it then Scale It methodology the Big Idea Canvas is a worksheet to help you think through critical startup questions, evaluate and expand your startup idea.

Download for free from http://www.nailthenscale.com/the-big-idea-canvas/

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Startup Weekend Christchurch – only 14 sleeps to go!

Only 2 weeks to go until #SWCHCH – very close to sold out so if you were meaning to sign up and haven’t yet, now’s the time!

Nice seeing Memia’s logo alongside other sponsor luminaries on the poster!

IMG_20150417_180732

 

 

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3 tech trends shaping the future of software – Augmented Reality, Machine Intelligence, Blockchain

I’ve been doing a fair bit of tech strategy work recently and there are three key software tech trends that I’m following closely right now. [And yes, wearables and IoT are up there too, just slightly less interesting. 😉 ]

Augmented Reality

magic-leap-elephant_w_600

OK, so the tech industry moved forward leaps and bounds in 2014 – one Magic Leap in particular. This Augmented Reality startup raised an astonishing $US542M round of funding led by Google. The vision is spectacular – and the dynamic light-field display technology behind it is still fuzzy – perhaps we’ll see the early hardware hitting the market in 2018 timeframes? There’s a great round up of the company history on Gizmodo: How Magic Leap Is Secretly Creating a New Alternate Reality – well worth a read.

Microsoft-HoloLens

Also Satya Nadella’s regrouping Microsoft recently took the wraps off their latest AR advance – Hololens – apparently the Minecraft demo is amazing. Good to see Microsoft back innovating again after all this time…

The implications of AR finally fulfilling its promise go right to the heart of the traditional user interface – no longer will productivity applications be restricted by (touch)screens,  keyboards and mice – the ability to interact with a full range of information in 3D overlaid real / virtual space has profound implications for how data is organised, presented and manipulated in future. Lots of opportunities, particularly in the Enterprise software market, to meet with the hardware when it arrives.

 

Machine Intelligence

artificial-intelligence-1

Another major trend during 2014 was more evidence that Machine Intelligence Will Eat The World. Leading the field is Numenta’s founder Jeff Hawkins who has had a prolific year of presentations during 2014 describing how the Hierarchical Temporal Memory model – based upon reverse-engineering the human neocortex into software – will become the predominant model for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. There’s a fascinating recent GigaOm interview where he likens the current AI research field to the early days of computing – when multiple platforms gave way to a single dominant approach.

superintelligence

He also recently put forward a counterargument The Terminator is Not Coming, The Future Will Thank Us to Nick Bostrom’s more pessimistic outlook in SuperIntelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Really good read, recommended).

Other notable Machine Intelligence pioneers are a string of AI company acquisitions by Google including Deepmind, a British startup co-led by Kiwi Shane Legg, Vicarious Systems and IBM’s Watson team, now HQ’ed in New York.

shivon-zilis-Machine_Intelligence_Landscape_12-10-2014

US VC Shivon Zilis recently put out a really useful Machine Intelligence industry landscape which is a who’s who of the main players – essential reading for the sector. She is particularly insightful that the time is ripe for MI to provide a whole new class of opportunities for software vendors to add value to their existing product stack:

“If I were looking to build a company right now, I’d use this landscape to help figure out what core and supporting technologies I could package into a novel industry application. Everyone likes solving the sexy problems but there are an incredible amount of ‘unsexy’ industry use cases that have massive market opportunities and powerful enabling technologies that are begging to be used for creative applications ” – Shivon Zilis, Investor, Bloomberg Beta
 

The applications for MI are only just starting to surface – self-driving autonomous cars is perhaps the earliest example showing how this technology will fundamentally disrupt existing economics, business models and lifestyles.

mercedes-f-015

Not only does Machine Intelligence provide a whole new class of medium-term opportunities for software firms – people are starting to openly discuss its fundamental implications for humanity’s future. Enlitic founder Jeremy Howard absolutely nails it in his talk at TEDxBrussels: The Wonderful And Terrifying Implications of Computers That Can Learn – including an absolutely awesome demo of training up an AI to learn car pictures in 2 minutes.

And once again, I’d highly recommend watching Mark Sagar’s demo of BabyX at 2014’s TEDxChristchurch – mindblowing.

Blockchain

bitcoin

Finally, while 2014 was the year that Bitcoin technology went mainstream, people are starting to think about other applications for the underlying Blockchain technology. Basically the blockchain is a public ledger of all transactions in the Bitcoin network – which critically provides trust based upon mathematics rather than human relationships or institutions. There are already a large number of copycat digital currencies – however an early example of the technology’s wider use is Ethereum, a blockchain-technology-based platform and programming language tightly integrated with a new Ether digital currency. Ethereum raised US$12.7M in the Ether pre-sale back in September.

VCs are betting hard on this space – and although the economics of Bitcoin are still being debated, the underlying insight is that ANY financial or business transaction which previously relied upon centralised human institutions to maintain trust can potentially be transformed using a distributed blockchain-derived technology.

So, three major technology trends which will affect any software business looking to keep their product stack current in the medium term. How is your software business planning to capitalize on these opportunities?