In a unique way, moment-of-inception investors dwell in the future. When we put money in a company it is with an eye toward achieving value 5-7 years ahead. That is our action horizon. An investor who doesn't have a well formed view of the tech and business contours out that far is never going to produce much value for LPs.
But, to be effective actors in the 5-7 years timeframe, investors have to cast their eyes much further out than that, into that nether region on the edge of sci-fi, the murky middle future. This isn't for taking action, but to have some feel for where knowledge and relationships may best be developed for the long haul.
Here are some of the misty futures we see gleamings of when we look forward:
THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD. Throughout human history, hierarchies have held sway. Nine levels of heaven. Private to General Officer. File-hard disk-server. Transport to Interface. Current ideas of government are hierarchies. Corporations are expressions of hierarchy. This concept is fundamental. But this may be the last hierarchical generation. Increasingly, through technology, matrices are becoming superior to hierarchies. Uber has no center. Neither does Bitcoin and the BlockChain that underlies it. Mesh networks are stronger than hierarchical networks at resisting attacks and incursion. We are seeing the early stages of a top to bottom remaking of how society is organized and how humans work together for the greater good.
NO LOCAL MARKETS, HYPER-LOCAL MARKETS. Another expression of the center not hold is in how markets work. Today, markets are also organized upward in a structured way: your house, your block, your town, your metro area, your region, your country, etc. But what we are seeing ever more strongly in social/mobile is simultaneous movements toward the two extreme ends of this structure. On the one hand, every company now exists in a world market. Two kids in their dorm room, using raw materials from Africa and machine from Europe can manufacture goods to be delivered to customers in China. Working groups span continents. Whole organizations have gone virtual and global. The importance of national markets, regions, and the like is being overtaken by universal globalism. At the same time, analytics is making it possible to address smaller and smaller markets. Your tribe, your family, your block, your house -- and soon your body -- each can represent a unique market, with its own needs, wants, requirements and decision makers. We see business moving toward being both bigger and smaller than today.
LIVING SMALL IS GETTING LARGE. We take this as an axiom that growth is good. Economies must grow. Profits must rise. Living standards must improve, with ownership of goods as the measure. Millennials, however, are turning that shibboleth on its head. They are favoring owning less. Living smaller. Being motivated by and seeing value in behaviors beyond traditional economic measures. Could we see a future where the best economy isn't the fastest growing, but the most efficient and therefore the fastest shrinking? Will we be measuring Gross National Purpose in the future? It is no longer an unthinkable thought.
IMPLANTABLE TECH ALREADY EXISTS, SO THE REIGN OF KING MOBILE WILL BE SHORT. Mobile rules today. Mobile will rule for some time to come. But the pretenders to this throne already walk the Earth. We think mobile will be overtaken within no more than a couple of generations by implantable technologies. We won't need to carry around computers or phones because our bodies and brains will be computers and phone -- and much more besides. Already, digital laminates exist that can “paint” a smartphone screen on a human arm. We have smart tattoos in the lab today. Smart dust, swallowable nano chips that self-organize into networks inside a body are subject to experiments. A movement is a born that views digital prosthetics as a form of progress: A legless person with cyber-legs isn't disabled, but hyper-able; a blind person with all-spectrum implants isn't sightless, but super-sighted. In this view, when the singularity comes, the superior digital systems that take over from us will be… us.