Conversation with Steve Ballmer at Saïd Business School (Oxford)

An hour of gold.  We are lucky to be able to watch this kind of stuff for free.

Books I’m planning to read over summer

In the last few months I haven’t had much time to read however now that it’s the end of the year, I’ll have some time to catch up on some books I’ve had on my Kindle, Nexus and iPad.

A few  books from some of my favourite authors (Gladwell, Lewis, Fried) have been published recently so I plan to try and get through as many of them as possible over the holiday break. Here’s what’s waiting to be read on my Kindle app:

What books are on your reading list?

The incredible versatility of quadcopters

Like 3D printing, I believe that these machines provide a glimpse into the future. I’m not sure what their exact practical applications will be, however in 20 years I am certain that they will be everywhere:

Tesla

Lately I’ve been reading up about Tesla Motors, the automotive company founded by PayPal Co-Founder, Elon Musk.

I’ve been thinking about the automotive industry over the last 12 months and I’m convinced it’s an antiquated industry. Being in the tech business I am fortunate enough to make it my job to learn as much as I can about the future of software, technology and the connected world. Every day I see software entrepreneurs and inventors progress in leaps and bounds however when I get into my car I feel like I’ve gone back in time. My car is not an old car. I bought it in 2008 and I have all the gizmo’s such as bluetooth, reverse sensors, GPS, hands free, voice activated dialing and so forth, however I still feel that my car is antiquated compared to my computer or iPad.

Given the advancements in the world of software and “the internet of things” I am blown away that only one car manufacturer has been able to use software to make the automotive experience significantly better. That company, of course is Tesla Motors.

What Tesla has done is nothing short of astonishing.

  1. They have built a car that is 100% electric (no fuel at all)
  2. They have build an ‘operating system’ that is used to control every facet of their vehicles from a touch screen
  3. They are rolling out charging stations across the US and Canada creating a huge barrier to entry

Every few years an incredible company is born that ends up changing our world. Microsoft and Netscape did this in the mid 90′s. Google did it in early 2000. Amazon did it to books and retail, and later AWS. RIM followed shortly after, then Apple came along and blew RIM out of the water.

Tesla is one of these transformative companies.

Not only are their cars electric, they are also controlled entirely by an API. The 17″ touch screen in the dashboard sends API commands to a computer within the vehicle that triggers events to ‘do stuff’. Unlike my car where I flick a mechanical switch and push a button to turn on the airconditioner, the Tesla has a touch screen. For example if you want to open the sunroof, you ‘drag’ the sunroof open on the touch screen and the roof begins to open above your head. The electric engine is cool, but so is the thinking that has gone into reinventing the car.

If I was the CEO of Mercedes-Benz (or Ford, or any other automotive company) I’d spend $50m on an ‘acqui-hire’ tomorrow to snap up a hot shot software team in Silicon Valley capable of creating an operating system which could be used to control their vehicles.

Within the next 5 years, every car should have a ‘Tesla” style 17 inch internet connected touch screen embedded in their dashboards. We should be able to download apps to install them in our cars, and all components should be controlled via an API. This will sell more cars than larger engines.

Click to enlarge this image of the Tesla dash:

Network effects

Tesla also has network effects. Tesla is currently installing charging stations across America and Canada to enable customers to ‘Super Charge’ or ‘quick charge’ their cars on busy routes across these countries. Tesla charging stations could well become the new ‘petrol station’ and once enough of these exist, it becomes very difficult for other car manufacturers to roll out their own versions of these proprietary charging systems. As Tesla’s technology improves and prices drop (which they will), consumers that want to save on gasoline (who doesn’t?) may be forced to buy Tesla cars as Tesla would have the most mature charging network of any car manufacturer. I can envisage a world where we are all eventually driving Tesla’s because its the only electric car manufacturer that has a pervasive network recharge stations. The result is a Tesla ‘eco-system’ which I’m confident has the potential to do what Apple did to mobile phones, to cars.

Silicon Valley

The innovation that has come out of Tesla could only have been executed by a Silicon Valley entreprenuer.

An Israel company named Better Place tried to invent the electric car. They did this in conjunction with Nissan however after billions of dollars of investment the venture has yet to amount to anything of significance. I’m not 100% sure why it has not worked out, however I suspect that one of their problems would have to do with their decision to partner with an existing automotive manufacturer. In order to innovate on the combustion engine you need original thinking. The engine was invented over 100 years ago and radical change requires someone who is able to challenge the status quo.

Unfortunately, Nissan was an incumbent trying to be something they are not. We’ve all seen this one before in that Sony did not have the foresight to create the iPod, and if they did, their brand did not have the cult status of Apple.

It took someone from the outside world of music, movies and cellular phones, to change the industry and Elon Musk is the guy that is doing this in automotive.

API

What Elon Musk is doing to the car is what Steve Jobs did to the phone. Jobs used ‘software’ to reinvent the phone. He built an operating system for the device (iOS), added some sensors, then opened up its capabilities via a set of APIs.

Here are two examples that show you how a Tesla vehicle can be controlled via the command line of a MacBook:

Tesla is an amazing company which is just getting started and I can’t wait to see where they are in 20 or 30 years time!

Interview with Mike Moritz, Chairman, Sequoia Capital

This is a great interview with one of the most prolific veterans of Silicon Valley. Enjoy:

 

 

Learn to code

You can read my views on ‘MBA vs Learn to code‘ here. It has been the most read article on this blog by a long shot. This morning I saw this video on Michael Fox’s blog and thought I had to reblog it because it is so great.

Where I come from when someone doesn’t know what they want to do in their career, their parents push them into commerce, business or banking. If you’re open minded and not sure where you want to go or what you want to do, my opinion is that you should learn to code. If you can code you can actually create stuff.

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of our future. You’re going to look like you have magic powers compared to everyone else. - Gabe Newell (founder of Valve)

I  come from a highly technical background as my strengths and passions lie in infrastructure, design and architecting systems however code is where the rubber meets the road, and I don’t code, although I wish I could. Learning to code is on my bucket list.

Watch this:

The year in review

Just over a year ago I decided to found my second company. I spent the first half of 2011 travelling and wasn’t sure what I’d do after exiting Lind Golf. In between mountain biking, hiking and exploring South America it became clear to me that I wanted to do two things:

  1. Start another company
  2. Solve a big and audacious problem via globally scalable solution, and see it all the way through.

When I came up with the idea for BuyReply I vividly remember thinking how balsy it was to believe that I could actually see this concept through to the point where had a stable working product and do it in less than a year with pretty minimal resources and no programming capability.

For an entrepreneur, the only thing harder than being an entrepreneur is not being an entrepreneur… so I took the plunge into the startup world for the second time. I took a chunk of savings from Lind Golf and hired the best development team I could find. I made them a product roadmap that spelled out exactly what to build and supplied them with 468 photoshop layouts of every screen of the platform, both mobile and web versions, and somehow we made it happen…

Earlier in the year, a friend of mine sent me this Ted video. For the first part of 2012 I felt like this guy… Then I found a co-founder, hired a few people and got the interest of customers and investors:

We wrote our first line of code in January and over the last 12 months have worked tirelessly to bring our awesome product to life. For the first 6 months of 2012 our team spent 16 hours a day coding, designing, testing and building the core of BuyReply. There is always the “ramen noodle” phase at the beginning of a startup and the first 9 months of 2012 was just that. It’s the time when you bury your head in the sand and build the foundations of your product. We spent much of 2012 in this state whilst also building relationships with customers and partners along the way. My development team was checking code in at 4am day after day, week after week. They did an an incredible job and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made… However we’re just getting started – 2013 is going to be even more eventful as we close our first funding round, grow our team and tell the world about our product. If 2012 was about building BuyReply, 2013 is largely going to be about building our profile, and getting the marketplace to know that we exist!

So to all of you out there, happy new year and good luck for 2013. Keep chippin away!

The importance of physical proximity

I often hear from other entrepreneurs its important to operate out of Silicon Valley, or that you need to be in New York if you are serious about your business. Entrepreneurs often say that you are at an unfair advantage if you are in physical proximity of your customers, partners and investors however I never bought that. I thought that it was enough to have a good product and build relationships over time that would grow the business globally.

I’m writing this blog from New York having just spent the last few days in the city doing business. I am convinced now that in order to be a player, you need to have a presence where your target market is because if you do, things can happen really quickly.

In the last few days we’ve bounced between some of the largest corporations in the US, all of which are in a radius of 1km. We had two meetings with two different companies in the same building yesterday. When someone e-mails you for a meeting, you can be in the lobby of their building within 10 minutes. When they call you back for a second meeting, they know you cannot be that far away.

The pace that you can execute when you are on the ground in New York is something I’ve never thought about in the past, but have just experienced. If you are in technology, the same can be said about Silicon Valley (our next stop), and if you are in media or finance, the same can be said about New York.

Even though we build things on the internet, the reality is we still need to do business in the real world and thats all about meeting with people and making things happen. Once you have critical mass, you can put your office on Mars and it won’t make a difference but until you get there, you need to be able to hustle in person.

I’ve been to New York many times in my life but this is the first time I’ve experienced the convenience of physically proximity first hand. It can make a huge difference.

Power to the creators

There is a huge shift that’s happening and it’s happening fast. Creators of intellectual property are becoming more powerful as their dealings with customers become ever more direct.

This is a very, very powerful theme.

So where is this happening?

It’s happening in Apps. The app store is giving creators direct access to billions of smart devices where their ideas are accessible with the click of a button.

It’s happening in publishing. Writers now have the ability to self-publish and distribute books via Amazon and the kindle. They can bypass the publisher who used to add value via print and distribution. They can bypass the printer as books are now digital. Every computer, Kindle, Android and iOS device is an e-reader. Think about that. Today anyone can write a book and get an audience and if it’s a good book, it will be amplified by the social network and millions will find out about it.

It’s happening in retail. Shopping mall owners are getting bypassed by the web. The Internet has fragmented retail. We have a mall on our desk and in our pockets enabling creators to deal directly with their customers.

Creators are being empowered by platforms such as Kickstarter. Investors are being bypassed as consumers are willing to pre-order products in exchange for a product without creators giving away equity. This speeds up innovation significantly.

It’s happening via blogs and YouTube. Last week YouTube announced that anyone can now charge viewers to watch videos and streams. This extends the economics of a pay TV network to YouTube, however YouTube has no physical boundaries or infrastructure other than servers. Soon we’ll be watching boxing matches on YouTube for $20. Or we might pay to watch a comedian perform from their bedroom for $5. And there might be another million people watching with you, and paying as well. $5m for a 1 hour show from a bedroom? This kind of stuff is what lies ahead of us, and the social network will be the amplifier of it.

Creators are surfacing via the social web. Look at Caine’s Arcade. I stumbled across it via random tweet. That little kid accumulated a college fund of over $150,000 in 4 days. Why? Because he created something awesome and the Internet decided to shine its spotlight on it. The Internet changed his life, literarily overnight.

The Internet and social graph is like mixing oil and water. The valuable stuff always rises to the top. The best creators show up on Twitter.

All human creativity starts as a dream. As a spark of imagination, and those brave enough to pursue their dreams deserve to be rewarded.

It’s the creators who are doing the dreaming, thinking and doing. It’s the creators who are often taking the biggest risks, and now the power is shifting to where it should be. To the hands of the creators.

Power to the creators.

Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to Amazon shareholders

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos starts his High Orde...Jeff Bezos is one of my favourite entrepreneurs. He is well known for his long term thinking and willingness to reinvest profits to innovate and build over the long term. Amazon started as an online retailer however today Amazon is as much a tech powerhouse as it is a retailer.

Two incredible bets he has placed that are paying off in spades are the Kindle and Amazon Web Services.

His most recent letter to shareholders came out on Friday. I read it every year. You can read it here.

Two of my favourite quotes:

“The most radical and transformative of inventions are often those that empower others to unleash theircreativity – to pursue their dreams,” writes Bezos. “These innovative, large-scale platforms are not zero-sum – they create win-win situations and create significant value for developers, entrepreneurs, customers, authors, and readers.”

I am emphasizing the self-service nature of these platforms because it’s important for a reason I think is somewhat non-obvious: even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation. When a platform is self-service, even the improbable ideas can get tried, because there’s no expert gatekeeper ready to say “that will never work!” And guess what – many of those improbable ideas do work, and society is the beneficiary of that diversity.