I am constantly inspired, worried and empowered by the change I see happening around us. It seems we are at a place of amazing opportunity, yet many of the technology decisions we face right now will ultimately lead us down two very different paths.
On the one hand I see a social shift towards privacy and personal freedom, for example, Tim Berners-Lee’s call for an Internet Bill of Rights. On the other I see evidence of surveillance and control beyond what is healthy in a democratic society. When I was recently asked if I thought all the changes would lead to greater freedoms or more control, this quote came to mind.
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than an attempt to introduce innovations. For the leader in the introduction of changes will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.”
~ Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince and The Discourses, 1513, Chapter 6.
Over the past few days I have been watching the amazing coverage and polar reporting on Ello the new advertising free Social Network. The reporting is split between positive and all the reasons that it can’t survive before it has even had a chance to get started.
Why is it over before it has begun? I think because we tend to look at the future from the vantage point of our current existence. For Ello the two reasons reported it won’t survive is a belief that a sustainable business model in social can’t be achieved unless “you are the product”. The second reason is because they took a minority amount of funding from FreshTracks Capital a VC firm based in Vermont, USA. As one of the VC’s was quoted
“We practice venture capital in a way that very few people practice it. We’re really small-town venture. We’re patient, we have long exit horizons, we’ve had some successes, we’ve been around for a while. This is not Kleiner Perkins.” – Cairn Cross
It doesn’t matter that the founders, who hold a majority stake of around 82 to 84% of Ello, come from successful entrepreneurial backgrounds, or that they that they used their own values as a foundation to select who and where the investment funds came from. There is a crazy assumption that investment automatically means selling out. This from one of the founders:
“We’re talking about 400 grand we took from super-lefty, forward-thinking Vermont guys,” Our investors are just about the least evil people you’ve ever met. We have shareholders and a board, but how better to keep your founders in check than a manifesto?”
Having been on this journey for the past few years I would like to challenge that both are actually possible and constitute the next wave that is needed and wanted. This need is not limited to individuals. Business models are broken, organic growth for many sectors is non existent, the surveillance economy is creeping people out and big data doesn’t have all the answers.
I am not making an argument about what the future holds for Ello, but I am happy to argue that there is a new breed of investment, philanthropy and innovation around what might sustain the next wave. There is an increasing group of founders, angels and investors who see the old models as broken. They know that privacy is the new black and that paying for a product is more sustainable than being the product. These are the founders and investors that will help bridge the old to the new.
I think what routinely happens in medicine, research and social justice can happen in technology. In these sectors there are endless examples of money and time flowing to causes that have touched the lives of investors and supporters, particularly if it resonates with an individual’s social conscience. Who hasn’t lost a loved one to cancer, or witnessed a friend navigate a life-changing event and felt compelled to do something to help? Our humanity compels us to give under these circumstances without the same expectations we place on time and funds in other parts of life.
I am not so naive to suggest that technology investment won’t require a return. However I think the shift is happening and evidence that playing for the longer term can be more rewarding than the current flip-it and cash out model.
I believe this is evidenced around us in the wave of change across our connected lives. I see evidence of individuals, investors and organisations looking to invest their time, money and personal efforts in architecting this shift.
Look around at the shift that is happening with founder & investment funds across privacy and data ownership. The following are just some that I know personally or follow, I am sure there are so many more worthy of joining this list:
- Smartphone & messaging (Blackphone & Wickr)
- Peer 2 Peer networks & use of the BitCoin block chain & Ethereum)
- Personal clouds (Bosonweb & Onexus & Cozy Cloud)
- Personal data stores (Mydex & Personal)
- Data trading initiatives (Datacoup & Glome)
- Life management platforms (Meeco)
- Social Networks (Ello & SGrouples)
- Citizen Data Empowerment initiatives (NordicDei)
What these ventures and people share in common are founders and teams with a vision backed by personal investment, communities giving time and money and/or investors that believe in the shift that is happening.
Exit or maybe the journey is the new destination
As Ello states, they don’t have an exit strategy. Maybe we are returning to the days when the journey can be as important as the destination? Were the great inventors and founders of the past only concerned with flipping everything they invented? Might changing the way society functioned, creating new forms of value or championing rights have motivated them? There is an amazing reward in seeing what you create find a place and purpose in the world.
Not everything can be reduced to monetary binary value. What about the public good or greater good? What about the generations to come? If we only ever considered the return on investment for everything then would we risk falling in love, or having a family? We don’t do these things because they make a lot of economic sense; we do it because the experience is the reward.
Trust and risk
One of the Tweets on this subject this week read:
— Gry Hasselbalch (@mediamocracy) September 25, 2014
Maybe it’s my temperament or hard-learnt life lessons, but I think trust and building trust in people is really critical right now. I totally agree with @mediamocracy that we need sustainable systems, however these systems won’t magically appear.
Building sustainable systems will take people, people who trust. We need architects, technologists, legal minds, a social conscience, and ethicists. We will also need investment; investment for the long term that serves the many, not the short and the few.
A society grows great when old men and women plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. -Greek Proverb
Ethereum is an amazing example of a leap of trust required in both people and the emergence of a sustainable system. Ethereum recently raised an estimated 60,102,216 ETH (Ether) the equivalent of 31,529 BitCoin or USD$18,439,000. This is an extraordinary result in a short period of time.
We purchased Ether during the raising, and we purchased it on trust. We like the philosophy, from what we have seen we like the passion and commitment of the founding team. We love that it is peer2peer and we love that they are challenging existing models and norms. However the future is a total mystery? We want to see them succeed and we have high hopes for their success, but it is still trust+$$+time.
It takes trust. It takes people. It takes investment. It takes time.
It is people and thought leadership that is forging the architecture, prediction and practical application of the shift that is happening. People and organisation that inspire like the following:
- Privacy by Design
- Doc Searls & Harvard Project VRM
- Fred Wilson
- Brian Grimmer
- Peter Vander Auwera
- Corporate Rebels
- Martin Kuppinger
- The World in Beta – PwC UK
Investing in the future
It was year ago that I was back in Silicon Valley and told when presenting the Meeco prototype “Google won’t let you build it because if companies like Meeco are successful you will threaten the business model”. Weeks later I was in a conversation with our now venture custodian talking about the future I believed will emerge.
Thankfully it was his belief in the 4th Order Effect that resulted in “exactly why I want to invest in the future”. From his perspective the evolution of the net can be mapped in four orders.
- Send – the birth of the net and first user case
- Search – the birth of search engines and the explosion of content
- Social – the birth of networks and the integration of our personal lives
- Self – the birth of the next wave and the reclaiming of our identities.
Throughout each of these evolutions there have been pioneers, risk takers, mavericks and investors. If we are going to exclude investors from helping us make this shift then we may fail to capture the emergent social and financial buy-in of current and future generations. The rise of crowd-funding is the people’s shift to be part of building something.
I witnessed the Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is good’ 80’s & 90’s. However, that is not the world I see around me today. So often when I walk into a meeting I find the ‘person’ and not the ‘suit’ in the conversation. I leave inspired by the parent, geek, athlete, volunteer, renovator, social activist and intrapreneur – and that’s just a corporate meeting.
Maybe it’s because Meeco is forging new ground and it seems novel? Maybe the idea that people are not the product resonates personally? Maybe it is the opportunity to create new and shared value models that inspires a sense of possibility? Regardless, what I see around me are people who would like to see things shift. I see a different social contract emerging. I see leaders who understand that sustainability is about balancing planet, people, purpose and profit.
When did we become so boxed in by the rules of the last generation? Who said we couldn’t rewrite them. Who says philanthropy, venture custodians or early believers can’t help us achieve our vision?
The world is more AND than OR
If we are going to evolve models we will need to speak to the hearts and minds of different groups. Early adopters don’t mind anarchy and are usually up for a revolution. Here we find the pioneers, the ideologists, those that don’t mind the pain for the gain. Theirs is the energy that fuels change and helps make the new normal, normal.
We build too many walls and not enough bridges. - Isaac Newton
For the mainstream we need to find ways to enable people to ease in. Revolution and anarchy might look great on HBO but it is hard to do alongside getting kids to school, paying bills and just wanting life to be easier or more convenient. Things need to be familiar enough that adoption is not overwhelming, yet new enough that the effort to change feels worthwhile.
As to the Machiavelli quote; the remainder of the population either won’t care of will be too busy fighting for the old models.
For me, I am inspired by all the great work I see going on around me,…and the hope that history will repeat itself by way of a little revolution along the way.
This post was composed whilst being inspired and driven by this song.