How the Tech World Turns

With Facebook buying Oculus Rift (a virtual reality startup that produces virtual reality “goggles”), it’s apparent that Zuckerberg is trying to stay ahead of the tech curve. What FB will do with Oculus remains slightly unknown, but the Oculus team has up to $300 million in incentives to hit certain milestones. I’m imagining that FB will attempt to capitalize on virtual reality as the new platform and its social and advertising revenue opportunities, while still keeping users active on PCs and on mobile.

This seems outlandish and slightly far-fetched, but after working at a tech startup for over the last year, you start to understand how quickly tech evolves. From the creation to testing to market acceptance or denial of a new technology can be a relatively short time. We at Narrative Science have been working to perfect artificial intelligence for years. The advances we’ve made have been astounding, all while getting a fair amount of press. But if people can’t use your product everyday, they assume you’ve failed. Until one day your product ends up in the hands of consumers who finally understand how they leverage your technology. My point, because people haven’t been able to use the Oculus Rift or Narrative Science for that matter, it’s easy to scrutinize the technology.

The second industrial age in upon and the rate that software is progressing is astonishing, rates we’ve never seen before. At the beginning of this second machine age, FB realizes how important it is to have a hand in the latest, possibly game-changing tech. Although people can’t see it now, FB will help bring this technology to the masses, while putting a few dollars in its pocket.


The Second Industrial Revolution (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing from an earlier post, the effects of this second Industrial Revolution won’t appear overnight, and when the shift is in full swing, new jobs will be created to “manage and maintain the machines.” In this post, we’ll take a quick look at what the possible economic effects could be.

In a world of machines doing entry level quality work, economic inequality could soar in such a world, but unemployment would not necessarily spike. If governments refuse to allow jobless workers to fall too far below the average standard of living, then you’d hope the minimum wage would rise steadily, and ever more workers may find work unattractive. On the other hand, the higher the minimum wage rises, the greater the incentive to invest in capital that replaces labor. Any new jobs that would be created would require skills and education that many mid-wage workers lack and this could contribute to a growing economic inequality.

So while technology might eliminate jobs in some older industries, as long as new technologies generate major new demand meeting new needs, the net effect does not mean permanent unemployment. Clearly some new technologies such as the driverless car will, indeed, address major unmet needs. In this process, specific jobs and specific occupations will be eliminated. This may increase economic inequality for a time. And the new opportunities will require new skills and new business models; these might be difficult and slow to develop. Nevertheless, this view of the future differs sharply from the predictions of a dystopia with permanent mass unemployment and ever-widening economic inequality. Yet the data show that the first wave of computer technology has displaced workers, not replaced them.

As long as technology continues to address major unmet needs, machines do not determine our fate. Just because machines take over some human tasks, that does not mean the end of jobs. We do, however, need to figure out how workers can develop new skills and how entrepreneurs can create new business models to generate the new demand that will provide growing employment.

P.S. – Learn how to code (for the hundredth time)

Why I Chose to Work at a Startup

About 18 months ago, it was either Wichita, KS, Minneapolis, or stick in Chicago. The first two would have been great jobs that would have paid handsomely. The latter was a risk that I felt I could only take now, while I don’t have a wife and kids (and didn’t pay handsomely). I chose the latter, and couldn’t be happier with my decision.
I would argue that technology has never moved faster than it’s moving now. This opens up opportunities to work with new technologies and apply them to current systems,  processes, or business functions. The challenge of changing the way businesses function with new technology turns out to be such an abstract and difficult problem to solve. Striving to solve this problem and ultimately make the company successful is what drives people who work at a startup. The never ending search to solve this problem forces you to be a jack of all trades, which is why I love what I do. So here are my top reasons why I enjoy working at a startup and hopefully I can convert some of you.
1.) I’m emotionally invested
Aside from having equity and hoping to have a very lucrative payout via IPO or buyout, I find myself “drinking the kool-aid”. Some weeks when a prospect doesn’t sign a contract, you think you’ll be out of a job next week. Then when a big prospect signs a contract, you think it’ll be a matter of weeks before you’re on your yacht in the Mediterranean. Being emotionally invested in what we’re doing and how we’re trying to change the landscape of business gets me excited to go to work everyday and attempt to solve a problem that has never been solved before.
2.) I was sick of being a “number”
I’ve had jobs before where I just felt like if I left tomorrow, they’d just hire someone else to do the same thing. Regardless how much impact I tried to have, or how successful I was, I was caught  in the “corporate sludge”, impossible to get out. It was hard being motivated to go to work everyday. I felt like I could just punch in and punch out everyday, and that’s all I had to do; was just put in my time to work up the corporate ladder. And that’s what I want to stress, go somewhere where your voice is heard and you’re not just clocking in, expand your horizons, or go somewhere where you believe in the company’s mission. It will make waking up on Mondays much easier.
3.) Expanding my skill set
The things I’ve done to help “keep the doors open” are things I wouldn’t have done anywhere else. If you would’ve told me I’d have been project managing, product developing, involved in product strategy, doing client projects, coding, prospecting for clients, sales pitches, and doing User Experience testing all in a day’s work, I would’ve thought you were crazy. All of these are very transferable skill sets, especially in the new age workplace. By now, I can’t imagine going back to a company where all I did was one specific function.
End rant….
P.S. – If you feel like you can’t expand your horizons, make it a personal goal to learn something new every year. This past year for me it was computer programming. The knowledge is out there. You just need to be hungry enough to Google it…..

3D Printing Is Pretty Neat….And Is KickStarting A New Industrial Revolution

I’m sure by now everyone has heard all of the controversy surrounding the 3D printer. If you haven’t, click the link. In summary, you can now print out a functional gun within the confines of your own home within minutes, and there’s no way to trace it. Despite the poor PR of the technology, we’re already doing amazing things, but all the media can talk about are the guns.

Since the gun debate is at the forefront of this new technology’s growing pains, let’s quickly think of some solutions to this issue. Now, the ethics surrounding this technology is something that investors funding these startups will seriously need to consider if they want to put their money to work in the technology right now. It’s unfortunate that such an innovative technology has been put to use in a less than ideal way via printing guns (if America gets invaded by Zimbabwe, then I’m all for printing guns!) But right now I feel the 3D printing industry is at a crossroads, before the snake eats its own tail, so to speak.

–  One route could be a new standard in the industry that mandates all printers record their printed items and that data is shared/monitored (Feel free to invent this monitoring technology and advocate for its standardization. Then pay me royalties when you’re done.) This will create the “safety blanket” industry pundits, investors, and government officials would like to see for such an open-ended new technology.

– Another route could be government intervention of some sort, where 3D printer manufacturers are only licensed to build printers with certain capabilities. But, we all know how well the government runs its operations.

Either way, I feel the industry needs to put its foot down, separate the bad guys from the good, just so one bad apple doesn’t ruin the whole bunch. Aside from the gun issues, the 3D printer is allowing us to do things we’ve never been able to do before, in medicine and in manufacturing.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening in medicine. Recently, someone created printing material made out of stem cells, and what they created (I mean printed), was a human ear. The process was eerily simple. A doctor took a picture of a child’s ear, uploaded it to the 3D printer, and printed out an ear all within 15 minutes. Now the ear had to be left for the stem cells to gestate and grow into skin cells. In fact, ,there is a  company called Organovo that’s leading the “bioprinting” revolution, primarily specializing in customized prosthetics. Currently, many firms and entrepreneurs are racing to create life-like prosthetics that you can feel and maneuver with brain waves, just like a normal body part. (insert some off-color joke about mass printing black penises here).

I personally think that medicine will reap some of the greatest benefits at the early stages of this technology. Manufacturing on the other hand, I believe won’t be adversely affected for some time, call it 15 years. Until these machines are able to produce at the speed and efficiency of multi-million dollar machines/plants, they won’t have much efficacy. But that one day will come. For now, the only place manufacturers will feel an impact is any prototype manufacturing. With 3D printing, entrepreneurs will be able to quickly have a physical prototype of their product, at a fraction of the cost and time, cutting traditional manufacturers out of the picture. So, yes, 3D printing is currently a “bad fit” for some manufacturers — but that doesn’t necessarily mean its a bad fit for everyone. One of the technology’s more promising traits is its ability to offer people customized versions of mass manufactured products like phone cases and cups. 3D printers free manufacturers from the demands of one-size-fits-all manufacturing, which is why it’s got so many fashion and toy companies interested.

If you want to put your money to work in what could possibly the technology that leads to the next Industrial Revolution, DDD, SSYS, and XONE are opportunities. These three companies recognize the low barriers to entry into the industry, that’s why 3D printer manufacturers have been getting bought up at a record clip by these three.

Just like any new technology or disruption to industry, there will be hurdles to jump before the innovation really hits its stride, finds its market, and into mainstream adoption. This industrial revolution 3D printing I mention is going to start will take some time, mainly to iron out the wrinkles. Even if you think 3D printing’s prospects are bleak, who thought AirBnB (the whole sharing economy) would have been as widely accepted. Or Uber, Lyft, etc, etc. Each of these three successful ideas (after being around for 3-5 years) are still ironing out the wrinkles. AirBnB is running into legal trouble with many states now as legislation prohibits paid stays without the original paying tenant under 30 days. Uber and others ride-sharing companies are hitting legal bumps as well.

My point with this is although 3D printing might seem “doomed”, innovation presents new challenges around the way we think and challenges how our economy is governed via the rules we have in place currently. With each of these concepts: 3D printing, room sharing, and ride-sharing, these small legal hurdles will be jumped as governing bodies will see the benefit to the consumer (hopefully). Unless someone with deep pockets in a particular jurisdiction is will to lobby for no change, then we might some less than stellar adoption of these innovations.


P.S. Microsoft just announced that Windows 8.1 will have software to enable consumers to more easily create and print 3D objects. They definitely want to take out the technical skills and advanced knowledge of CAD to create these objects. Breaking down the barriers to allow people to focus on being creative, instead of technical.