We base our funds around deep research and evaluating lots of new companies. As a result, we can discern trends in tech and human behavior, sometimes long before they become widely recognized. Here are some of the most impactful trends we see right now:
Merchant prince and media king: One person. In the past, media and merchandizing were two separate universes. Media kings got rich and powerful by telling and selling tales. Merchant princes did so by creating, acquiring or selling goods. Now, though, these two worlds have conflated. Jeff Bezos and his twin moves into media (Washington Post) and physical retail (Whole Foods) from his digital retail base isn’t an anomaly. The best economic base now and in the future for telling stories will be directly creating product sales.
Ads are becoming increasingly anachronistic. The best impeller of digital product sales is also, increasingly, being a great storyteller. In digital merchandising, the story, the community, is more important than inventory, which increasingly can be created on the fly after buyer interest has been expressed, or even co-created in the moment with the participation of the buyer. So, storytellers and merchants are becoming one set. And the kings of each will, more and more often, be one person.
Influencer marketing steps toward market of people data. We are active investors in companies that deliver or support influencer marketing. Right now, brands can rank, rate, see the impact patterns of, contract with and build campaigns around influencers in arts, sports, entertainment and other prominent areas. This is one of the current expressions of the conflation of media and merchant described above. We see today’s influencer marketing as but a teeny first step toward a much more important emerging capability. In the not-too-different future, the activities of all of us will be known and ratable against those of everyone else. It will then become possible to make markets in the current and future behaviors of everyone along any axis. What can I bid for 10,000 October fathers-of-the-bride? What is the market cost of a basket of January US high confidence car buyers? What is the value to you of access to cosmetic alpha females who impact the buying of the women in their neighborhood?
Advertising has always been a weak simulacrum for direct access to real known buyers. Soon, it will be possible to direct information right at buyers. Media, which was the channel for roughly approximating buyer populations, will be outmoded by the ability to access buyers directly. We think marketing will increasingly look like Wall Street. Media will be the middle man who gets cut out here.
We’re becoming nodes on the WW network. In the 1990s, when the Internet emerged into consumer awareness, the worldwide network ended at the desktop. Since the early 2000’s, the worldwide network has extended to the phone in my pocket; it is with me now in far more places and is a larger part of my existence at work and at home. With wearables, the worldwide network, being directly applied to my body, is now with me all my waking hours. In emerging sleep tech and ambient tech, we are seeing the world wide network extend into those nighttime hours and into presence throughout our physical space (Hey, Alexa!). What will come next, we feel, is the extension of the worldwide network into our bodies through ubiquitous sensors (brain wave headphones, smart sleep masks, cars that can tell we are drunk) or nano-networks we swallow and that array inside us.
This extension of the network into us means there will be no space between the worldwide network and our bodies and brains. We will become nodes on the network. This will produce an explosion of data far beyond anything we have seen to date. It will also create a host of unprecedented ethical issues. And, it will demand a fundamental re-architecture of the network to handle these loads and issues. Today’s internet structure will crumble under this pressure.
Blockchain matters, but not for the reasons you’re hearing about right now. The biggest impact of blockchain isn’t currency. It’s that the blockchain structure appears to contain ideas essential for the new worldwide network structure the world of us-as-nodes will demand. Universal availability of ultra-personal, always-on data will demand extreme high trust. It will also require much more two-way economics than today’s financial system. The network will need to “pay” us for the economic value our data produces and we will need to pay for products and services we value derived from our data in concert with that of millions of other people. Today’s blockchain is too slow, too insecure, too limited to fully achieve these aims. But its fundamental structure of distributed trust, consensus, and anonymity represent the most likely tap root for tomorrow’s trust technology.
Tech will predict and alter future behavior. So much talk in marketing today is about capturing people’s past behaviors. Facebook, for instance, is founded on that idea. But we see looking backward analytics as already nearing the end of their centrality. Soon, technology will be able to predict, at the individual level, most likely future behaviors. And, tech will even be able to produce specific behaviors in particular people through sophisticated application of personalized neuroscience inputs. Will this produce Elysium, or Skynet? We don’t know. But we can see it shaping us, scientifically, in front of us.
What these trends have in common is that they are expressions of the remarkably different worldview and behaviors of the rising generation. The tech isn't leading them into the future; they are leading the tech. It is a fascinating and fundamental process to be a part of. We are optimistic about the future today's young people are creating, and proud to do our bit toward supporting its emergence.