The rise of chat bots and the fall of apps

It once was cool to build a mobile app and many startups in the past had built successful businesses with them and a minimalist web site. Now the chances of a new mobile app, creating mindshare and enabling a spot on a person’s home screen is next to impossible. We’ve reached peak app and new style of apps called chat bots are taking mindshare.

App stores are flooded, the majority of apps are rarely downloaded or found for that matter, as they do not rank.

It’s now harder than ever for a developer to build an app, that will replace the staple set of apps, a user does have on their devices. The frontier has changed to chat apps that have a conversational style interface either using text or voice (think siri). If you are building a new mobile app, stop! and reconsider how you are going to reach your target audience.

These new chat apps are leveraging existing instant messaging apps and agents on websites. Increasingly also APIs are being created and exposed to allow developers to interact with well known personal assistants like Siri. Some may argue that the interaction between human and computer is frustrating. I’d agree, having occasional back and forth sessions with Siri, to dial on my iPhone, a person I call regularly. However the situation is slowing improving as machine learning/AI technology improves behind the scenes.

Many will argue that we are not seeing anything new, that it is just the same technology and approaches that have been around for ages. The quest, as such to pass the Turing test where a judge can not determine if he or she, is talking to a machine or a person.

I think we’ve reached an inflection point, where a new class of conversation chat bot is being enabled by the gradual and constant exponential evolution of computing technology, sharing of open source component technology (such as natural language processing) in conjunction with the ongoing to quest to provide individually tailored answers to people’s own question through understanding the explosion of data available online.

This is also backed up by a dramatic increase in tech news coverage regarding startups in the US and with training/conferences covering this area.

So forget building a mobile app and start building a chat bot!

 

 

Switching off from Aussie innovation for the time being …

The slow dawn of reality has crept into my thinking, that what I’m presently witnessing, is the rise of politically correct innovation within Australia. That is, that there is a rush on, to be positioned, to secure funding and “innovation wash” existing service offerings, ready for when government programs come into affect.

My high hopes for an ideas boom have been dashed somewhat of late. Not so much from the intent, but from the reality, that the intent does not match reality. There is significant education (dare I say re-education) required.

Let me show you what I mean.

If we look at the innovation website Business.gov.au. (their definition here ), it basically suggests, that innovation is about change. It follows:

What is innovation?

Innovation generally refers to changing or creating more effective processes, products and ideas, and can increase the likelihood of a business succeeding. Businesses that innovate create more efficient work processes and have better productivity and performance.

Now if we look at the wikipedia innovation article  it suggests, The term “innovation” can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.

Innovation is a new idea, or more-effective device or process.[1] Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.[2] This is accomplished through more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are readily available to markets, governments and society.

So from my perspective the first one, is inwards looking, about the term innovation (as in thats an innovative idea) to do business change or continuous improvement.

I’ve often argued that changing a business process to make it more effective is not innovation. However if that idea, is bought to market, as a new product or services offering, then it is innovation ie there has to be diffusion into a market or society.

Now if we look at the slick new marketing or education material (your viewpoints may differ on this) being produced by National Innovation & Science Agenda Australian Government it refers to how Australians have been good at Ideas, but now we need to get better at commercialising –  turning those ideas, into new products or services.

As you can see, there is a long road ahead, with a lot of jargon presently such as “Ideas Boom”. It will take some time for people, to agree on what things mean (even though they have great definitions available now) and to reach consensus. Then decisions will need to be made about how much capital is to be made available and under what investment thesis it will be allocated.

There are a lot of people shouting about a number of things surrounding these topics and if your not shouting the politically correct message too then no matter how novel and disruptive your idea or invention is, it may not benefit from the “Ideas Boom”. If this is effecting you, jump on a plane and go to Silicon Valley or elsewhere that may be appropriate.

I keep hearing about the lack of opportunity here in Australia, in many fields on podcasts I listen to occasionally. On those podcasts, when people ask eminent panel members about their thoughts on the subject, invariably, their answer will be that we do hope you stay and help drive the next generation. It always surprises me, assuming that these persons are in tenured positioned, how devoid their responses seem to be, from the reality of needing money (or some may say capital) and support to do so. Its this later bit, that’ll take so long to grow here in Australia. It may also require a generational change. The notion of not taking risks in some is the antithesis of what is required in an “ideas boom” era.

So I’m thinking of slowly fading away from observing and commenting on all of this, until I need something concrete from it. Presently it all seems to be a nice discussion, but discussion is after all discussion and not tangible outcomes.

 

Nick’s tips for Silicon Valley

For Silicon Valley you need to find meet ups/events. That’s where people network.NASA cap smiling oct 2015

During the day a lot of persons are working on site in the large campuses of the tech companies. Traffic is fairly heavy on the main routes in the early morning with people still heading into work after 9 AM.

The wider Bay Area is really massive. Expect some decent travel times and I’d suggest on the first trip getting a hire car. I’ve used the CalTrain to get from San Francisco out to Mountain View. The people at Enterprise Mountain View are really friendly. If its your first time driving a left hand drive, the roads are also a little less busy than say San Francisco. So you can practice on side streets. Remember driver in the middle!

San Jose is a city that many, in Australia, would not of heard of. It has the highest per capita earnings of any city. Fuelled of course by tech. Theres not much to see there but its worth at least a visit.

Mountain View. I’d say is the heart of Silicon Valley. It has many of the well known tech companies head quarters.

Places to have a look at or around Mountain View:
– Red Rock Coffee Mountain View (peeps use it as a place to work)
– Hacker Dojo http://www.hackerdojo.com – they have tours on Friday nights etc you need to work out whats on via meetup
– Apple HQ, 1 Infinity Drive Cupertino
– Drive around Stanford Uni (really hard to get a park before 4 PM)
– NASA Ames Research Centre – small visitor centre with a shop
– Moffatt Field http://www.moffettfieldmuseum.org (get a few selfies in cockpits)
– Google HQ – driving near there might see a Google Self Driving Car. Theres a shop/visitor centre but think its only open Tue-Thu
– visit the Computer History Museum (well worth the time)
– Facebook HQ (nothing to see besides the campus and the FB like sign out the front)– Intel HQ has a good museum
– Yahoo, eBay etc all have office spaces but are pretty boring

A little bit off the beaten path  is finding Steve Jobs Garage and Hewlett Package Garages.IMG_8432

Nick’s tips for San Francisco

Ok .. be prepared for a mix in San Francisco. Your going to have homeless people all over the place with rich affluent tech people alongside. Its a big contrast. A big issue in the city is gentrification. Having said that, there are lots of really cool places but they might be a little hard to find. IMG_8149

Try foursquare app or trip advisor. The apps really do work here. They are your friend.

For the touristy type stuff, I head straight down to http://www.pier39.com/ and look at the sea lions. Then I jump on a one hour harbour tour. They all go by alcatrez and under the Golden Gate. This way I really know I’m in San Francisco. The other clue is the waft of dope floating down Market st. Apparently its legal to smoke for medical purposes in California, just your not supposed to do it in the open.

Its hard to get onto an alcatrez tour at this time of year (October as I write this), if you haven’t booked in advance. However some people like Alcatrez, others don’t. I’ve yet to get on the rock but it still fascinates me when I go by it, on a harbour tour.IMG_8160

Pier 39 is next door to Fishermans Wharf – restaurants etc. Try https://www.boudinbakery.com/ they are famous for their clam chowder in a bread bowl. I have breakfast at Boudin the first day in San Francisco now and go for the traditional egg and bacon brekkie.

Another good thing to do is to hire a bike and cycle over the Golden Gate bridge – its not hard. Most catch the ferry back from Sausalito (be weary of the time of day as big line ups to get on the ferry). If fogged in maybe choose another day or wait for it to clear. Plenty of bike hire places around $7 per hour.

If you want to hop on the Cable Car, I’d avoid doing it at power/market st turn around near IMG_8279union square. Lines are always long. Try doing it next door to Fishermans Wharf at http://www.ghirardellisq.com/. One of the first stops is the top of  Lombard St. Could walk down it and then catch the cable car again🙂

San Francisco is next highest densest populated city after New York. I think the population itself is about ~750K. The broader bay area is massive – highway 101 is the main route to Silicon Valley. Theres heaps of meet ups and events on during the week. Its also a bit cheaper to stay then San Francisco. However not much to do around Silicon Valley (unless you want to work) – its really suburbia with massive campuses.

To find events use meetup,com or eventbrite. More then likely you’ll find an event that interests you like close by (SF and wider Bay Area). Distances outside of San Francisco are deceptive, so you really need a car or use say the caltrain/BART and uber.

ohh I  nearly forgot about the maker movement in SF http://www.techshop.ws/tssf.html – see if you can get a tour.

Theres also startup house nearby setup by australians. has bunk beds for $25 per night .. think i’m a bit over that lol but many people think its great.

The above is a slightly modified version of an email, I sent to a friend, explaining about what to do in San Francisco. If you have some other tips or if your a regular traveller to San Francisco, I’d love to hear about what rituals you now have.

Safe travels and happy exploring.

Deflect, defer elsewhere and finally block – councillors answer to innovation

No one likes to be blocked on twitter. My first reaction to being blocked by William Owen-Jones, a local Councillor on the Gold Coast, was that he’s a sore looser and I had won. He’d just thrown in the towel. I was sort of rejoicing. However, there was more to this, I must have really hit a few bad nerves. This happens when cultures and what one values as important are worlds apart. Tweets_with_replies_by_William_Owen-Jones___WOJgoldcoast____Twitter

As can be seen in the photo, attached to this article, William Owen-Jones threw this blocking straight in my face. I never swore or called him bad names and tried very hard not to be rude. I asked questions and responded to tweets directed at me. I’m not really sure that this is acceptable behaviour for a public profile – which can be seen here.

One may also argue, that this blog post, is doing the same thing – throwing it back in his face. However, I’ve been thinking for a while, should I write it or not. Clearly, I’ve decided to do so, because the little online incident shows just how much work is required in the city I live presently, being the Gold Coast Australia, to change attitudes. There is no real tech/entrepreneurial culture here, outside of a small few pockets; whereby those presently classified as leaders have had little, to no real exposure to an innovative tech culture based around startups; nor to large groups of techies & programmer types.

Twitter is the place where you can communicate with persons that you normally wouldn’t. In the case of an elected officials, twitter acts as a conduit through which those persons can engage more readily to find out what constituents needs and wants are. But this works both ways in that constituents can find out the machinations behind the public office. When a public official blocks – it just says, don’t talk to me unless you agree with what I’m going to tell you. For intelligent and inquiring people, thats just so wrong.

I, like so many other techies, in Australia, have been amazed over the last decade or so at the very conservatism in our leaders, at all levels in public and private sectors, regarding technology and innovation. It was the later, that I was really pushing the councillor on. I wanted to know what the local council was doing and how they intended to respond to the recent statements by Australia’s new Prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull that innovation is at the forefront of Australia’s economic agenda – opinion piece can be found here. An excerpt from Malcolm’s speech

“We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us. We’re not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it,” Malcolm Turnbull said during ministry announcement speech.

What I found was that I was deflected to things such as a press release to run for office (yea right) Tweets_with_replies_by_William_Owen-Jones___WOJgoldcoast____Twitter

Or I was deferred to other levels of government.

But I wanted to know  “what the local Council policies were?” and “What were they doing?”. Unlike other councils around Australia e.g. Sunshine Coast , there appeared to be no policies. There also seemed to be no understanding of what or how local council, in particular the GCCC, will play a potential role (or like to see it).

It also became clear, that what innovation meant was not well understood by Will – he deferred to some BRW (Business Review Weekly), an Australian publication, definition as “change that adds value”. Thats just continuous improvement. I referred him to Clayton Christensen and disruptive innovation. However that was lost on him ….. no response.

There was no distinction between old school internal enterprise IT and innovation (R&D, entrepreneurship and commercialisation of novel IP) that I could perceive. They seemed to be the same thing??? This really surprised me.

I tried to suggest its time to stop following and to start leading. Clearly by pushing for answers and calling BS on him, I just highlighted his ignorance.

I feel quite strongly, after seeing so many colleagues and associates leave the Gold Coast, for greener pastures, that the GCCC needs to address this question of innovation in a more professional, thought out way. The existing approach is just ticking a few boxes. Old players are protecting turfs (and budgets and reputations).

Its time for some renewal. They can’t just keep blocking it out!!

Renewed Australian tech innovation – will it keep our best and brightest home

There are apparently 20,000+ Australian tech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area. They left Australia, as there is limited ability to pursue what they are passionate about here. The government and business environment, hampered by conservatism and a risk adverse culture, stifles their creativity and throttles funding for early stage commercialisation.

The Australian tech entrepreneur community is rejoicing this week. Finally we have a Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull who is a friend. He is placing innovation and technology at the forefront of Australia’s political agenda. Its a brave move, with significant inertia in all levels of government and business needing to be addresses. Can it be overcome? Will anything change?

These are hard questions to answer succinctly in this post. My initial rejoicing, the same as others, has been quickly bought back to one of the usual lethargy about pursing activity in Australia. The Australian business executive, politicians and government people, appear to be IMHO, living in this dream world, that they have nothing to fear about technology disruption. I believe this, like many other entrepreneurs to be a misguided view.

In the past, Australia as a country, has had economic success from primary production and resources. The last decade seeing a mining boom, fuelled by Iron ore, being supplied to China, producing significant wealth. It enabled the economy to ride out the GFC (Mk I & Mk II). However unlike in other parts of the world, it didn’t clean out inefficient businesses. Its too much to go into the detail here about how technology in the US, reduced the need to rehire to same employment levels and beyond once the GFC was over. They just kept the same number of employees as they recovered i.e. they became more productive.

Australia has one of the worst productivity ratios of any OECD country. The economy now is fuelled by banking and property (Sydney and Melbourne prices have not burst and the ratio of house prices to wages means many simply will not own one in their lifetimes). But this thinking that bricks & mortar, property is a safe bet, permeates throughout levels of execs be it private or public sector.

There are generations in the Australian work forces, that have never bought to market novel invention, which is the crux of innovation. Such that if you try to have a meaningful discussion, they block everything out. They just don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to talk about it. Even worse they think its SEP (Someone Else’s Problem) so they’ll just sit back and wait to find out. In my eye, its just so wrong.

There are major issues ahead for the federal government, and I keep hearing that communication will be a key part of any policy. Yet I fear, that as an economy we do not have the time or budget to re-educate/bring along these people. Most just like things the way they are now. If we leave it that way, our lifestyles will continue to suffer and the real value of our wages will also continue to decline.

Whats to be done with them? As a nation do we just increase welfare and accept that unemployment will continue to rise?

It does sound harsh, but the smart ones, have already left our shores (Many more want to follow but can’t for various reasons). They won’t want to come back to work with people, that just don’t get what they are talking about. They’ll want people, that can openly debate and discuss the matter at hand, in an intelligent way.

If we invest more in innovation, science and entrepreneurship in Australia, will we attract any of the 20,000 back. Maybe a few, but that’d be natural. Having visited the Bay Area a few times, I feel that the government has a lot of work to even start to come close. Presently it just appears to be euphoria – we’ll need to see actual dollars being invested and attitudes changed. Hopefully, a new batch of political leaders will also be installed to help pave the way. So it’ll take a while.

What are the startup pitches like in San Francisco?

There is a seed funding bubble in the Bay Area they keep telling me. I wanted to get a glimpse of what these startups are pitching. Plus learn a little about what questions investors ask of them.

IMG_6105

An opportunity presented itself with my March 2015 US trip to attend a Startup Pith Day & Mixer event with VCs, Angels and Entrepreneurs. It was organised by foundersspace.com and hosted at Morrison & Foerster LLP on Market St, San Francisco. After networking a little, I decided to grab a seat. Glad I did, as it was standing room only really. The venue was at capacity.

The format of the event was a five minute intro by the founder about their startup, followed by a Q&A session with investors. I’ve forgotten the exact number that pitched but there were maybe a dozen or more.

Before that started, each investor in the room, was invited to give a brief overview of themselves or their fund with 1 or 2 questions from the audience. I was surprised that a number of mainland Chinese VC funds were in the room. There were a few entrepreneurs of course, asking leading questions to see if they could entice them to invest now in their ventures. It was all done with good humour.

Each five minute intro started with a teaser about the business concept or vision that led into the person stating his/her name and company. Further explanation of the concept was then given. No slides or visuals were used. It was just the entrepreneur standing up and talking. A facilitator then invited questions from the investors panel.

This was the part that interested me, “what would these investors ask?”. I had gathered from their introductions, that there was a mixture of Angels and VCs on the panel. With some of the VCs, now favouring smaller funds.

The startups were on the whole consumer focused and largely mobile apps. It appeared that the majority were from outside the US. Some of them were looking to take their initial success in home markets and use that as the basis to expand into the US.

So the investors, were mainly asking questions about how the entrepreneurs understood US market fit with their offerings. It was that simple. I suppose with the limited time they had, they couldn’t ask much more. I don’t think I heard any questions about their team and ability to execute. Nor, what it was, that the entrepreneurs were looking for, from an investment perspective to see if there was a match with the investor’s investment thesis. In hindsight, I suppose these startups, were coming out of an incubator/accelerator, so there would be a range, that they could guess.

These guys and gals had obviously been coached well. Except in a few cases, they confidently answered the investors questions. Sometimes, they restated the investors questions, such that it fitted their answers they had prepared.

I did ask myself, would I invest myself in any of these startups? Or would I want to find out more information about the startup? One would assume, if you approached them there would of been an opportunity statement that they would of given out.

It was an eye opening event for me as nearly everyone that presented had market traction (somewhere around the globe). But from my perspective, I had trouble valuing what that market traction was worth!