My latest column in FastCompany: If the growth so far is astonishing, the big boom is yet to come and the next evolution of cloud will be driven by connected devices and growing presence of sensors in our world. (My complete column archive is available here.)
As part of my post Roadmap chillout weekend efforts, I went to meet a friend at Terroir, a wonderful, quirky and charming wine bar in Soma district of San Francisco. They were playing a record that sounded vaguely familiar — it was potent blend of Bollywood, electronic dance music and trip hop. I thought it was Dj Shadow or Dj Cam — but instead it turned out to be Dan the Automator. And the album was called, Bombay The Hard Way – Guns, Cars & Sitars.
The cover art on this album is perfect example of 1970s Bollywood kitsch. The music of my childhood, remixed into the music of my youth — it was such a wonderful journey down the memory lane. I remember watching the movies, the songs and the dialogues. I even remember most of the scenes too. Funny how mind remembers so many things you think you have forgotten. I am guessing that is because there was a sense of harmony in those movies and their soundtracks. During the pre-Internet era there was a distinct language to films in Bollywood that made them memorable (both in a good and a bad way.)
Anyway, the album which first came out in 1998 and was big part of the Indian-Electronica fusion movement is still fresh and funky — make sure you put this on your listening list — yes, Spotify has it. My favorite song is still, Theme from Don.
Aereo! Fab! Just like that over $400 million in investor money seems to have gone kaput, just like that. When I read the news of Aereo’s bankruptcy and Fab’s rumored sale, two things stood out for me:
- It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, or how wonderfully designed your service is — in the end execution is what matters.
- The non-technical risks are actually much higher in today’s highly networked society.
Fab, in its second incarnation as an elitist and design driven commerce curator was an interesting proposition. It served a real purpose but in the end like most companies of its ilk (Groupon, LivingSocial), i.e., companies that expect you to keep buying stuff face the reality that there is only so much you can buy and so often you can buy. The volumes and margins, despite all the talk of technical efficiencies, run smack into the reality of people’s wallets. Fab is rumored to be in talks with PCH International to sell itself for about $15 million, which is quite a comedown for the company that was valued at over a billion dollars a few months ago.
“E-commerce is a b**ch,” said Fab CEO Jason Goldberg in an onstage interview at Techcrunch Disrupt London, though I don’t quite know why then his spin-off, Hem, an online furniture store going to be a place where one will stop by to buy, but that’s another story for another day. Fab’s initial success and the ruthless charm of its leader allowed the company to keep raising money — about $330 million — at a furious pace, at ungodly valuation. So in order to justify its valuation-driven existence, company did things that were unnatural and its problems were then compounded by execution failures.
My takeaway from Fab’s flameout: The mercurial leaders who can often create heat around a startup can also lead it to spontaneous combustion — but that’s a risk one needs to assume, especially when betting on those who want to create something from nothing.
If Fab was not so fab behind the scenes, Aereo was a company that didn’t make much sense to me. For me Aereo was a technology-driven short term arbitrage attempt. They had developed a “cloud-based, individual antenna and DVR that enabled you to record and watch live television on the device of your choice, all via the Internet,” something I didn’t know I needed till they told me. Well, apparently I wasn’t alone — at the end of 2013, a mere 77,596 people had signed up for the service in 10 cities. Not a ringing endorsement in my opinion, but then I wasn’t really one of those 77,596!
That said it apparently had developed a keen antenna technology and it worked somewhat better than TV Everywhere — its true value proposition wasn’t something I fully grokked. I became an early convert to the on-demand video revolution — as early as 2006 — and from that perspective, watching broadcast television hasn’t been something I even consider. Whenever I talk to the consumers of tomorrow, they all talk about watching something on YouTube or Netflix or something like that.
Still, watching them tussle with the broadcasters in the courtroom has been a good reminder that non-technical risks — legislative, judicial, philosophical — are new to technology industry and will increase as technology starts to influence our social fabric even more. In the case of Aereo, a weakling in my opinion, the dying gasp of a dying business model was strong enough to crush its soul and turn the lights out.
My takeaway from Aereo bankruptcy: If as an entrepreneur you are taking on incumbents and the old order, you need to factor the non-technical risks in your battle plans, for technology is not enough to solve all the world’s problems!
PS: I think both those companies failed the “will I miss them or the service they provide” test!
Sometimes, just sometimes I have some understanding how a musician or an actor must feel after a performance. There is a definite emotional high that comes from the anticipation of going on stage and then performing in front of an audience. You are zeroed in on giving the best you can during the time you are on stage, after all people have paid good money. But when the show ends, your body and mind revert to the original state of being.
Same goes for conferences and other events! To host a good event, you have to be switched “on,” paying attention to little things — not only what everyone is saying on stage, but how to incorporate the feedback on the social web. I always think of our conferences as like hosting a dinner party — hard work, but satisfying. I don’t know how the creators feel, but for me the days following our conferences leave me feeling a little tired, blue and mostly melancholy. Not only does the body lack physical energy, but also the emotional energy.
I am indeed looking forward to a slow weekend, of generally doing nothing and perhaps reading a book about another time and another place — Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
Roadmap 2014 is a wrap. Katie (my co-chair) and I are grateful for all the generous support from our speakers, our backstage team, our editorial colleagues and most importantly all our attendees. Over next few days, I am going to unplug a little and take a step back and process many learnings from the event. It has left me refreshed, and a little clear about what comes next. Here is an easy way to catchup. These are some of my favorite quotes from the Roadmap 2014:
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Katie & I are hosting Roadmap 2014, our design conference for the fourth time. You can follow along here for all the live coverage. I have hosted about 25 events as part of Gigaom, and every single time, the night before I can’t sleep. I like awake – excited, scared, worried and just worked up by anticipation. Last night was no different. I slept a little, and then woke up to a glorious sunrise. I had my first cup of tea, wrote this post and now getting ready to head to the beautiful SF Jazz Center for the proceedings to begin.
Everybody on the Internet has heard about SuperAmit. I was one of the many people who cheered for him when he was battling a rare cancer (Acute Leukemia) and enlisted the help of social web to find a much needed marrow transplant. He is also well known for starting PhotoJoJo — a beloved San Francisco photography and imaging space — less shop and more a beacon of creativity. Pretty much every friend (younger than me) I have in San Francisco has met Amit — except me.
Last afternoon, Naveen (who is visiting from New York) and Helena told me that Amit was leaving town for a very long time — he was embarking on an open ended journey, first to Europe and then to India. So we ended up meeting for a quick dinner and talked about everything — like him growing up in Connecticut and me growing up in Delhi, where his family comes from. We have both kissed the afterlife on the mouth and have lived — and perhaps that is why I felt a deep desire to connect with him.
We have both managed to tame the social web to our needs, versus us bending to the dopamine addiction. We have learned to value things that matter a little bit more than we did. I am glad to find someone else who doesn’t want to waste life on mediocrity and shallow people. It seems our medical experiences have shaped a lot of how we live — respecting our time, the most. We both know how little we have of it, and how quickly it can be erased. Amit’s journey is a journey of discovery, both of himself and of this amazing planet we live in. His journey is my living fantasy. I hope to hear about it all when he comes back to San Francisco— but even if not, I know he will either blog about it or share those amazing photos on his Instagram and on the way he will influence and change lives.
Au revoir Amit!
A former San Franciscan living in Barcelona, Dani Z writes:
Cities are like systems, encouraging and shaping behavior by creating situations which are taken for granted and eventually perceived as ordinary, even obvious.
Barcelona creates a framework that encourages easy socialization: cheap, delightful and plentiful restaurants and cafes, a high density, relatively compact city, walking routes that are so beautiful they are destinations within themselves and public spaces that don’t require you to buy anything to stay all make it easy to spend time with people… and so people spend more time with people, which is turn makes them happier.
North American cities…even San Fran to some degree… are by contrast isolating experiences that discourage socialization by forcing it to revolve around a costly consumer experience and by making it so hard to achieve: people are spread out and there are no easy ways to mitigate the physical distance. Cabs aren’t cheap. Transit is mostly not great. The roads are congested.
From what I read: good urban design & city planning should give as much importance to sociability as the aesthetics. I don’t think most (not all) apply the “emotional quotient” to designing physical experiences. How many city planners think about the happiness of its citizens. You can see it in San Francisco’s current frenzied, rampant & unplanned growth. The city is becoming decidedly less social. No wonder we need on-demand services such as Postmates, Munchery, Google Express and all other conveniences of urban isolation!
Pentagram’s Emily Oberman shared the design lessons from 60 years of Late Night TV (and their logos) with FastCompany. A worthy Read!