Innovate for the Inevitability

I don’t consider myself a futurist, however I do enjoy thinking, learning, and discovering about new possibilities that will fundamentally change the fabric of society and our day to day lives. Elon Musk famously talked about “Accelerating the Inevitable” as a reason he set-out to create Tesla and SpaceX. For Musk, he believed Electric Vehicles (EV) were as inevitable as is a manned mission to Mars. His motivation wasn’t to create a company that generates huge profits for shareholders, but rather to accelerate what he believed would happen at some point in the future. Both Tesla and SpaceX have pushed new boundaries in innovation and have fundamentally accelerated the Inevitability of EV’s and space travel to Mars and beyond. Whether Tesla and/or SpaceX become market leaders in these categories is yet to be determined, but what Elon Musk and other mavericks like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos has been able to achieve has and will accelerate their vision of inevitability in how they view the future we will experience and live.

If you think about the future and what will be inevitable, you can quickly see how industries will be disrupted, how new types of companies/innovations will be needed, how our society and daily lives as we know them will be effected (positively and negatively) and the types of products and services that could deliver new types of value to fill these voids.

For example, it’s inevitable that we will have automated EV’s in 10 years or less, and within 20 years it’s likely our cultural norm will be to travel in automated EV’s exclusively. So what could this effect and what are other inevitabilities?

  • From concept to production an EV can take as little as 2 years to develop compared to a combustion vehicle which takes around 5 years. This is mainly because the number of components, moving parts, and complexity to manufacture are far less than that of a combustion vehicle. The supply chain, dealership model, and supporting industries (service centers, parts, gas stations, etc.) for combustion vehicle are all going to be disrupted and/or destroyed with the rise of EV. New types of suppliers and new types of infrastructure will be needed.
  • Automated EV’s will be safer to drive and will dramatically reduce/eliminate accidents and fatalities, affecting laws that require us to travel in an automated EV’s in most urban areas (if not everywhere). In fact we may not need vehicle insurance companies in the way we think of them today; and you might not be allowed to drive a non-automated vehicle on roads, much like you are not allowed to ride a horse and buggy down Peachtree Road (in Atlanta) like you might have 100+ years ago, or down a major highway. Think about that, you’ll have to go to a special track or designated area to manually drive a vehicle, just like you have to ride a horse at an equestrian or a designated horse trail.
  • You think we’ll need taxi drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers, etc. anymore? You think we’ll actually buy a car anymore, or will this all become a utility we pay a monthly subscription to use? Companies like Uber and services like Zipcar are in the perfect position to take advantages of these inevitabilities. How many industries will be affected, who will be able to evolve and innovate quickly? What happens to all those drivers? How will society change? How much more will we embrace a “shared economy” (car pools, shared/rented parking space/charge stations, etc.)?
  • The experience in an automated EV and our daily commuting routines will be dramatically different than they are today. We might have a bed, shower, a makeup table, or a coffee table in an EV. OK, maybe not a shower, but who knows how we’ll spend our time in an automated EV. If soccer mums/dads don’t have to shuttle kids from school to dance lessons, to baseball practice, run errands, etc. but rather the automated EV handles those chores, what do those folks spend their time on instead? What types of products and services need to be created to fill these voids?

Pretty crazy when you start to think about the inevitable changes in our near future and the opportunities for new startups and/or how companies need to innovate at a faster pace to stay relevant, provide continuing value, etc.

Here are a few other inevitabilities to think about.

  • Arable land and cheap farm labor will run out – Hydroponics, technology driven farming methods will results in new products and services that eliminate/disrupt widely used traditional farming technics. In-fact automation in farming equipment is already here, from robot harvesters, to ground sensors providing mountains of data that are analyzed and provide instructions to automated vehicles to water/provide nutrients to specific areas and analyze the optimal yield and harvesting periods. The emerging companies and evolving companies (John Deer, etc.) of Aga-tech is pretty amazing. Understanding data and automation will become the norm for future farmers. How are we educating this new breed of farmer?
    (Disclosure: I’m an investor in PodPonics)
  • Clean energy will be cheaper than oil and gas – Just check out Bloom Box if you haven’t already. We’ll be generating power we sell back to the grid, changing the dynamics of supply and demand for energy.
  • Universities won’t be able to keep up with the demand for new skills at the pace of inevitable change in industries and society – As an example Coursera is already challenging traditional four-year degrees and the quality of the courses you might experience in some lesser known schools. The pace and growth of startup accelerators like Y-Combinator, TechStars, 500Startups, etc. are creating a new way for startups to learn about business, operations, product design, marketing, sales, and investments; are these the new business schools? Companies like General Assembly are able to train folks in modern coding techniques a lot faster than some of the best technical colleges, does this provide a better value than university?
    (Disclosure, two startups I’m invested in went through 500Startups, Cooleaf and Hublogix)

porters-five-forcesI could go on, but I hope you can see how “the inevitable” can inform what types of innovations we can focus on and help accelerate these certainties. By looking at the macro level of inevitabilities, we can then look at a specific industry that’s going to be effected and use analysis frameworks such as Porter’s 5 forces to determine what might happen to existing customers, power of suppliers, power of the buyer, new entrants, and substitutes. This type of analysis can really help shape the future needs of a startup, re-position your company/products/services to take advantage of these inevitabilities and/or protect against them.

I’ll leave you with one final reflection; I met with a young entrepreneur this week and outlined my view (this blog is essentially what I discussed) of how I look at a startup and the inevitable trends they can solve against, not just the current here and now of the product/service they are typing to build. He sent me an email to thank me for the time and also summarized very well the direction and way I wanted him to think about his business. I’ve quoted him here.

Wow — thank you for your time today.  Your thinking blew me away, especially your comments on inevitability thinking. Here’s what you taught me:  

I need to think about my business at a macro level and ask myself a few questions: Where is my market heading? What are the implications of these trends, and how can I position my startup to address tomorrow’s problems? In the words of Wayne Gretzky, I need to “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

You’ve totally expanded my thinking. And I’m grateful.”

It’s extremely rewarding for me to hear how my random thoughts/conversations can influence entrepreneurs and/or friends to look at their business differently. I’ve been fortunate in my career and life to have been surrounded by amazing people that have helped me shape opinions and my general worldview. To those folks and articles I read, I thank them for expanding my thinking.

What disruptive inevitabilities do you see coming down the pipe?

One thought on “Innovate for the Inevitability

  1. Fantastic article Raj.. got me thinking of the changes in our future and how to work our businesses with that in mind. Your thinking is big and innovative as well as visionary… hope u can mentor more entrepreneurs to think your way… perhaps u should write a book or run a consultancy business based on this and make a difference? I have also sent u 3 emails with ideas to further expand your thinking in flow with your skills, love of people and experience in your career now and visionary view… u have already done so much but the potential u have is so great for ur future that u have only scratched the surface! But above all, always go forward in total balance of family work n life… good luck!

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