How technology weirdly solves the problems it creates

The erudite Kevin Kelly says that the solution to problems caused by technology is more technology. And I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to think that regression might be the solution, but once we realise that technology is literally its own organism, with its own agenda, then we can pretty quickly come to the conclusion that the best way to fix things is to work with the world and its natural trajectory. And technology, given it was invented by natural beings, is simply a force of nature.

I was thinking about what something like the Pokemon Go phenomenon could do if such gaming mechanics where put to positive use. Then weirdly I asked the barista in my local cafe what he did on the weekend and he said he did a fair bit of walking – 50km’s to be exact.. I said, oh cool, do you go up to the mountains or along the river. To which he replied just around the suburbs, no where specific. I said that’s interesting…. and then he finally admitted he was chasing Pokemon.

It got me thinking about digital technology being partially blamed for the obesity epidemic, especially in children… and most likely that digital technology is the solution too. Pokemon Go is one way to get kids moving, but maybe the new Lilly Drone (seen below) or some other kind of Dronian Angel could be used to watch over and follow kids as they move around town. Maybe they can walk or ride to school again as it may alleviate some safety concerns? Who knows?

The point is, we need to open our mind to real problems emerging technology can solve. How it can bring back some positive patterns of the past (walking to school) and invent entirely new possibilities. I think it is exciting.

If you want to read the best book in recent years on this topic, then be sure to get onto KK’s latest effort – the Inevitable. I savoured every word.

The future of stealing music and everything else

Before technology allowed for recorded music, it was a pretty difficult thing to steal. You’d listen to the medieval minstral and maybe sing it to yourself after they’d left town. Heck, I’m sure that’s what they wanted. In those days, money only happened when they we’re ‘in the room.’ But then music changed…. it was something you could listen to when the musician wasn’t present.

When we entered the magnetic tape era, it become relatively easy to copy or ‘steal’ music for the first time. When I was a teenager there were a few ways of making copies of music:

Tape it off the radio: Wait patiently during the American Top 40 for your favourite song to come on, and hope like hell the DJ doesn’t talk over the top of it and screw it up. It was annoying to hear their voice each time your re-listened to it.

Tape it off the vinyl record: Have a friend who had the money to buy the record and tape record it onto your tape. We’d often do a swap – buy one record each, and tape each others – it was very give and take. A bit like the web should be – let others access your files while you access theirs. The basic economics of trade – by sharing we both had more.

Tape it off a tape: The old school double decker tape recorder – put the tape in and make another version off it.

Steal it from a music store: Heck, I’m sure some people did this, in those days it was the only way to get a perfect recording. All the other methods above had quality issues as the copies were imperfect, until…

… we entered the digital age. All of a sudden anyone could make a perfect copy, from perfect strangers. Napster…. Limewire…. Kazaar……Pirate Bay…. Youtube. Some got shut down, but the music never stopped, and the battle is still alive. It’s a battle people selling recorded music will never ever win. The technology is an organism with its own agenda. So what happens next when there is no device or host of the music?

“What – no host? What are you talking about Steve?”

20 years from now you’ll have a chip with petabytes of standard holding capacity. It’ll be attached to your body, and most likely inside it permanently. It will be an extension of our brain capacity in much the same way as our notebooks, libraries and computers are today. Except, it will record everything perfectly. It won’t just be what we interpret, it will be an exact copy and it will be inside us. Every sound, every song, every visual, every movie we ever hear or see will be on recall on demand for us to re-listen to and re-watch on demand. We only need to be exposed to it once and we’ll have a perfect copy, forever.

Will that be stealing? 

It will be difficult to police, because the technology will arrive and be implemented into ‘people’ before most industries realise the implications – especially those pertaining to copyright. When our technology merges with our biology, when it becomes part of our permanent memory and experience how can it be stopped? How will corporations even know what we are holding in our organic data banks?

The connected augmented human

The reality is that all biology and technology is built upon the concept of ‘copying’. Everything from single cell organisms, to our DNA, to manufacturing, to emergent technologies. Copying is ‘the’ feature, not a bug. Any business model built on this idea that all copies are controlled by the originator is flawed. It’s a business model that worked for a blip of time for humanity during the 20th century – it was the anomaly. If any business wants to survive in the future, it should be built around the idea where things getting copied is what you actually want.

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The tradeoff Startup founders must never forget


So, we’ve just nailed our MVP and we are getting some real traction.  Next we’re going to raise capital, get some funding. We’ll probably go to the Valley as it’s easier to raise there. The valuations are more generous. We’re super pumped, finally getting our startup off the ground.


I thought you were an entrepreneur? 


What are you talking about? Of course I am – didn’t you hear what I just said?


Yes, but here is what I heard….  That you’ve finally got something people want, you’re probably solving a real problem and you’re on your path creating value for others, and eventually yourself. But in this process, you’ve got caught up in pop culture. You’ve forgotten that a big part entrepreneurship is independence – creating your own path. So, you’re off to raise money and get caught up in someone else’s objective – that of the venture capitalist. The same group of people who’d rather see you fail trying to build a billion dollar company,  than help you build a $10 million company. Their business model you see, is based on the former, not the latter. 

Venture Capital - the downside

If there is anything startup founders should remember it is why it’s worth doing at all. Startups are hard, and rarely a path to riches. Entrepreneurship is more about exploration and freedom than money. If you want to be rich, there’s more chance of that happening being an employee of a company that already has a billion dollar valuation.

In both cases: a funded startup or being employee – you’ll compromise control. In that case you may as well have the certainty of money that goes with stock options and employment. If you want to be answerable to anyone other than your customers that is.

It’s a rare event indeed when the deal terms favour the founder. Real entrepreneurs find ways to make money independently with that anti-modern thing called a profit. For every example of an entrepreneur succeeding with funding, there are 99+ that do not. It’s a bet I’d never take unless the VC came knocking on my door and / or I could maintain total control and independence.

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What do Google and George have in common?

Famed venture capitalist Marc Andreessen is known for doing lots of things; he invented the first graphical web interface, he said software is eating the world, and his motto is that he has ‘strong opinions loosely held’ – which I dig. We all ought to be able to change our mind when new information arrives.

And let’s face it, new information is arriving daily with new possibilities to match. Take this recent quote from Andreessen:

“One guy can now build a self driving car. We recently backed a founder who had built his own self driving car. Literally, one guy can now build a self driving car. Ten years ago this was like a DARPA Funded Grand Challenge Research Project. Five years ago this was a team of a thousand at Google. And now, it’s George. It’s one of those things (AI & machine learning) that looks like it’s about to tip, there is one George today, and a thousand Georges tomorrow.”

George & his self driving car

He was referring to George Hotz above.

The insight for entrepreneurs is that the pace of change is faster than a linear human mind can cope with. That idea or technology that you think is just a little too early probably isn’t. The most important thing in society, economics, business and Government today is the law of accelerating returns. And this is just one example of it in action.

If you you’d like to learn more, there is a rare opportunity to attend Singularity University in the Souther Hemisphere. An SU summit is being held in Christchurch this November. I’ll be there absorbing everything I can – why not join me? More details are here – I imagine it will sell out quick given the 2 year plus waiting in the Silicon Valley Campus.

A simple Amazon strategy every business can implement

Jeff Bezos Genius

The future is a pesky little thing to predict. Much of it will surprise us no matter how well versed we are in emerging technology. A lot will change 10 years from now in ways we just couldn’t imagine. But, some things won’t change, and it is easy to know what these things are. So much so that this is a key question Amazon leader Jeff Bezos bases large parts of business strategy on:

“What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?…. You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time…. In our retail business, we know that our customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want a vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says; ‘Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”

And it is clear to see that while they use technology to make these things possible, the future is predictable and something Amazon or any business can build their strategy and infrastructure around. Jeff said this 4 years ago at the Amazon Web Services forum. With 40% of that 10 year window expired, and I’d say it’s all still true. Seems he has predicted the future, just by flipping the question.

So the only question remaining for your business or startup is this: What things can you be working on that just won’t change?

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How to Start Small to Grow a #MASSIVE Company

One of my totally favourite projects is working with Pollenizer getting startups off the ground and doing corporate venturing. The biggest challenge many entrepreneurs and pretty much every big company trying to get internal startups going is understanding why small is beautiful. Unless the initial business is small enough to test, weird enough to get attention, and easy enough to try in an analogue fashion, then we’ll never get off the ground. We need to think #antiMASSIVE first.

Here’s some of my thoughts on the topic.


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Is this the worst product innovation ever?

Wetsuit business suit

If the Quiksilver bedding wasn’t enough, Quiksilver have done it again and introduced possibly the worst, most ill conceived product in surfing history.

The Wetsuit Suit. Yes you read that right, a wetsuit designed in the shape of a business suit. I can only hope that this is some kinda hoax – and even if it is, it surely isn’t worth the effort and ridicule?

The first question that comes to mind is why? Did someone not get the memo that the water is a place we escape the corporate grind.

The second question that comes to mind is why? It would simply never perform as well as a skin hugging wetsuit designed specifically for surfing, or a fitted Hugo Boss.

The third question that comes to mind is why? It takes all of 5 minutes to change out of a wetsuit…. but that’s right, Joey Corporate Surfer must too important to waste even 5 minutes.

The fourth question also happens to be why?  I imagine it will be super comfortable wearing a wetsuit as the salt dries and itches your skin and you’ve got sand up your bum during a power meeting with your boss in your Quiksilver work wetsuit….

Why, why, why? It is incomprehensible. Maybe the Private Equity firm Oaktree Capital  Management who took over the company this year knows why? They’d want to, or the $600 they invested to take the company out of bankruptcy (it still has $300m debt) might be kinda hard to recoup.

This folly was best summarised by Surfer Magazine:

Don’t you just wish you never had to change in and out of that stinky old wetsuit of yours? Well consider your prayers answered! Presenting the oh-so-literal wet suit by Quiksilver. Because how many times have you wished you could just live in one outfit for the entire day? And seriously, who wouldn’t want a soggy crotch while sitting though a budget meeting? Well, logistics aside, this is happening. Quiksilver Japan is apparently onto a market that the majority of us had no idea existed – which consists of businessmen who wish they could just go straight from the water to the conference room all while looking like colossal tools? Sure!

With all the incredulity aside, it shows a company who doesn’t know their customers at all. A company out of touch with why they originally succeeded. A company which is focused on the wrong side of where work society and technology is taking us.

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