Thursday, December 22, 2011

Software design vs Hardware design

Recently, I designed a circuit for a home project. It got me thinking about the differences between circuit design and hardware design. In hardware design, we operate with a set of discrete components, furthermore our design is constrained by: time, money, space, availability and power. Based on these constraints we would find well defined functional building block (components) and function by function construct a device that produces the desired output, given a particular set of inputs. This process is iterative, the design of the system follows the same process and any of the sub-systems. In some ways the constraints and the fact that inputs and outputs are well defined (making system design the same as that for sub-systems) makes the design process uniform and relatively easy. I was amazed at how deterministic my circuit design was as compared to software design.

In software design, we have become overwhelmed by the number of components, the complexity of the inputs and outputs, computing power is not and issue and time and money are not that easily measured a-priori (as they are in circuit design). The effect is that software projects are often not well constrained, can explode in complexity and the system design process may differ from the sub-system design process. Initially computer scientists tried to solve this project by creating objects, that were meant to be functional units that had inputs, outputs and state (thus mimicking electronic components). In reality they are more complex than discrete components, as anyone can design them, they take any number of inputs, they have an infinite possibility of states and have very complex outputs. It requires a great deal of discipline to constrain a software project in the way that a circuit hardware design project is constrained. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does Entrepreneuship Stimulate Economic Growth ?

Most people I speak to, seem to think that it is obvious that entrepreneurship is one key to economic growth. This is a very modern view-point in that the entrepreneur was never really considered in neo-classical economic theory.  I don't however believe that the answer to this question is as obvious as most people may think.

Economic growth is measured by a nations Gross domestic Product (GDP) which as the name suggests measures the economic output of the nation. So there must be some production or output for this domestic product to grow, this implies that the workers of the nation are adding value to some resource which previously had a lesser value (if any). This might be digging a huge whole and extracting diamonds, which are then polished and sold, or it might be using intellect and some intellectual property which is then sold around the world. Either way, no matter how you look at it, something has to be created or some value added.

If a nation has a large percentage of entrepreneurs who are not especially productive or successful, there will not be much economic growth. In fact they may be using important human and other resources in a very unproductive manner and ultimately do more harm than good. For one thing, unsuccessful entrepreneurs place a burden on the administration system (processing bankruptcy for example) they also eat up valuable opportunity cost (they could have been doing something productive in the meantime). Furthermore in nations where entrepreneurs are not especially innovative, i.e they simply replicate what already exists, they simply saturate the market with more of the same - which is not sustainable in the long run.

For entrepreneurs to contribute to sustained economic growth, they need to be more successful than not and produce a some kind of "net productivity". The role of good government is thus not only to stimulate entrepreneurs, but also to help them be successful. So some co-ordination and collaboration is essential for this to happen.



Friday, August 5, 2011

Mobile, past, present and future

There is always a debate whether one can predict the future looking at the past or whether the past simply constrains our future thinking. I think both future looking and analyzing the past are useful activities in prediction.

Thinking about my career working as an engineer with mobile technology, starting in 1997 with the Motorola M301


A number of key technological elements have improved significantly over the last 15 years:


Battery

The m301 had a stand-by time of a few hours and talk time of about 20 min, the battery was large and heavy and had memory - charging a not-fully-discharged battery would lead to loss of performance. The official specs quoted the battery as "Included NiCad battery gives 12 hours standby or 70 minutes talktime". 

NiCad batteries soon gave way to NiMh which had twice the capacity of the Nicad. Then came the Lithium-ion which produced the same capacity with about 30% less weight. These technologies all served to increase the battery performance and reduce the size and weight of the battery.

Screen

The m301 is quoted as having "LCD Screen including a 2 line backlit Information Display", these limited character black and white displays have given way to high resolution color touch screens. The 1997 Motorola StarTac had a 4 x 15 monochrome display. 

Processing power

Phones around 1997, used the Intel 386 chip with a processor clocked at about 20 MHz  (see some specs here ) of course importantly, vast improvements have been made in power management and consumption which means that modern processors are not only smaller and faster, but also use less power than those of 1997. The apple iphone 4 uses a 1Ghz A4 processor which can run HD video for 10 hours (as a comparison - see this report from Jan 2011).

Component size 

Companies like MediaTek  are developing mobile chipsets which integrate many modern mobile functionality (wifi, bluetooth, duel/tri band, edge etc)  into one chipset and furthermore are designed to easily run modern OS's like Android. This is not only bringing down the component size of mobile devices, but also reducing power consumption and cost.

Data

Data is the key to offering a wide variety of applications to the consumer. A number of aspects are important, the storage capacity of the device (to store files) and the bandwidth available for download. Since the m301 networks began by adding GPRS which provided download data rates of 56-114 kbit/second, later Edge (max 473.6 kbit/s) and Evolved Edge (1 Mbit/s) where replaced by the roll-out for 3G technology which had data at the core of the protocol design. Modern HSPDA provides data rates of up to 42 Mbit/s. Thus mobile data rates start to rival previous generation ADSL. Moving forward 4G technology offers 100Mbit/s up to 4 Gbit/s for low mobility users.

The future


The big question is where do we go from here ? It is quite evident that R&D organizations will continue to improve battery capacity vs size and weight. Components will continue the trend to offer more processing power for less circuit board real-estate. Screen technology will continue to improve offering enhanced user experience. Mobile networks will continue to offer higher data rates (subject to capacity and investment) . All this means that increasingly we will access the Internet from our mobile devices.

Some things that we can expect:

  • Mobile devices become ever more integrated in our daily lives (join the debate AndroidGizmo )
  • Mobiles are used for payments (parking, supermarket, theater, cinema etc)
  • Gaming on the move become more mainstream
  • Continued advances in Location based services
  • Virtual reality browsing (things like Layer )
As the mobile devices becomes more powerful, it is conceivable that it becomes our primary electronic device, slowing replacing the PC, TV , Sat Nav and Gaming console. Plug in a keyboard and monitor (you have a PC), connect a screen and satellite decoder (your TV) or you charger in your car (satnav).

Beyond that, as form factors become smaller and more powerful there is no reason why mobile devices will not become integrated into standard items of clothing and fashion. Sunglasses for example or some device that clips onto a part of the body. GPS in combination with motion detection would make the user interface easily controlled by the body as opposed to the keypad for many applications. We could expect to see the mobile being split into units. One purchases a controller unit, a separate screen (which may be in you glasses), Separate GPS or multimedia modules. In some ways this what happened with the original home computer prior to IBM compatible PC's. Initially everything was integrated, later the marker demanded configurable peripherals - a centralized unit with many add-on's.

If we think of the next generation mobile device as a Controller unit with a number of interconnected modules, delivering differing services (e.g screen, gps, gaming options etc), we can start prediction developments in software applications to take advantage of these more specialized connected modules.









Other interesting links

The History of the mobile
Wiki 4G





Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beware of the pivot

A new term that is bouncing around the start-up world, is the term "pivot" which basically means to change direction or concept. Most entrepreneurs will change their initial ideas in some way at some time - this is in general part of the process of realising an opportunity. As one starts in the quest to develop a business, all the answers cannot be known prior to starting, for if they were known it would be easy - like following a recipe. Alas for most of us this is not the case, we have some notion of what things will look like and then embark, perhaps with a degree of ignorance on a journey.

Lately, I have had a number of clients or colleagues ring me up and exclaim with great exuberance, " we have pivoted !". I must say that this alarms and surprises me, changing direction should be part of the entrepreneurial process, but not an end in itself. The goal is not to pivot, the goal is to make your business a reality and if you should have to change direction along the way, so be it. But to exclaim and rejoice about the act of changing direction is not something in itself to rejoice about ! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Monetising a website

The question of how to monetise a website often comes up. In most cases my clients have interesting content and have gained reasonable traffic in the order of 30 - 100 k unique visits a month. The issue then arises, how to take the next steps to monetize the website (generate revenue).

I categorize monitization into a series of categories, each building on the previous in terms of time and complexity to achieve and manage:

Lazy day, dream away

Here one the website generates revenue simply by placing adverts from one affiliate network or something like Google AdSense. Once the correct code has been added to the website and the account set-up there is little or no work (aside from maintaining the content - and making sure one gets the traffic). The returns here are typically low. However, one can expect to generate 100`s of pounds a month, if not more.

Lazy day, optimize

With some work on making sure your adverts are as relevant as possible to your target audience, some additional revenue might be generated. This involves correctly setting up keyword triggers and possibly using multiple affiliate networks, constantly scouring for the best deals. I.e those clicks that would generate the most revenue for your website. This requires slightly more work and attention and some more in-depth research and experimentation. 

Not so Lazy, Becoming a salesperson

Next in the level of complexity and possible returns is to sell premium space on your website. Naturally there is a cost associated and one must be sure that the investment yields the corresponding required return.  Naturally depending on the complexity, niche, reach etc of your site - you can structure your sales in a number of ways. In the simple case automated online advert placement - in the extreme a dedicated sales and after sales team. In this category you may mix affiliated networks with dedicated sales.

Even Less Lazy, Becoming Sales Focused

Next up is becoming wholly sales focused, so all revenue from dedicated advertising sales.

Starting to Work, Adding value

A further step would be to start officering value added services, the sky is the limit as to what these may be. But usually some kind of subscription in exchange for information or relevance. Most often you would still maintain sales of advertising space.

Working, Offering a product

Here there is some value add to your advertisers and clients and furthermore you are offering a product. A physical product related to your website or a webservice of some kind. This requires that you develop or source the product, have a CRM system - possibly a way to ship and bill etc.

Back from the Virtual, going physical

Lastly you not only are selling advertising space, some value added services and some products - but you also have a physical presence. I.e your business is not entirely on the Internet. Many traditional business start this way and later develop websites - few websites develop a physical presence. However, if done may add a competitive advantage and grow the brand.








Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The start up eldorado

Many blog posts I read and forums on entrepreneurship are filled with hype and half-truths. In many ways it reminds me of stories of gold digging over 100 years ago. Lured by the promise of fortunes, thousands of young men (and I assume woman) trekked in search of riches. Myths became reality, and the very few success stories soon fueled an entire industry around prospecting. Suppliers, transport, gold-exchange etc.

In many ways, I see the same thing happening around me - there are pitching events, workshops on how to attain funding, buzz-words and book-lists. The hype also elevates otherwise ordinary people to god-like status - a twenty something VC worker, a pitch event organizer etc. I recently saw a post asking for the best book on start-ups. Thats like asking what is the best TV program in the world. For one thing, the conception of what a start-up is and in fact what an entrepreneur is differs from person to person, from economy to economy. If you trawl the academic literature you won't find anything very coherent in terms of definition. These are in fact people who have dedicated their professional lives to studying the topic. Whats more, there is hardly even a mention of the entrepreneur in a vast majority of economic theory !

Secondly, while would all love to understand and know the traits of the "perfect entrepreneur" - despite thousand of research projects, many flawed articles and dissertations, the results are totally inconclusive. In truth we all to quick to forget about the context. Different times require, different skills and traits and so do different types of businesses etc etc. Would Alan Sugar make it in todays world or what about Donald Trump or Richard Branson ? The answer is "who knows, maybe, maybe not".

Instead of searching for that horde of gold, the percentage game (borrowed from golf or tennis) would be to do your research, speak to people, network and plan, plan, plan. Most businesses take a long time to build (in fact most never really grow), understand this and keep moving forward. There are no magic tricks, no courses, workshops or golden rules. When you have accepted that, you have made the first big step in becoming and entrepreneur (whatever that is for you)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Microchip Android development kit part 1

I recently obtained the Microchip Android development kit, this is the fist part of my attempt to get my development environment working :

You can join the debate and knowledge on Android and mobile peripherals, development, potential, business models etc at AndroidGizmo .

My Attempts at developing an application have come to a temporary halt as I try to find a way of getting Android 2.3.4 or above installed (currently 2.1). I am trying to find a solution on villainrom

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The inner game of business - 3 lessons from tennis

I recently read "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey. I found the book very interesting and the results on my tennis game have been profound. The basic thesis is that our conscious mind in being critical of our own performance is actually hindering our game. We should work at developing confidence, eliminating self-doubt and internal criticism. Unlike most books on betterment, this book does not advocate positive thinking, which according to the author is the other-side of the negative thinking coin. Positive thinking, can lead to disappointment or a sense of needing to maintain an unsustainable rate of success. What is needed is calmness, and a quiet mind.

Having started a number of business, I wondered how the insights from this book could be applied to the entrepreneur or existing business. Although I do not believe there is a set of personality traits that make an entrepreneur successful, certainly if we view the process of starting a business as a game there are lessons we can apply from the game of tennis. 

The Game of business

The first lesson, is to accept that business is a game, that should be taken seriously but not too seriously. In the words of Herb Cohen "you gotta care, really care, but not that much !".  Having this attitude will allow you to view you business with a detached objectivity and not be emotionally attached to the outcome of events that are often out of your control.

The second lesson, is that for a tennis player to play to the best of his/her ability he or she needs to diminish the self-critical voice and try access all the experience and training that lies within. This requires the player to relax, only when the muscles and mind are relaxed can one play to the best of ones ability. This is how great champions manage to play at their best in critical situations, not by tensing up, but by relaxing. Entrepreneurs are often very stressed, worked-up with large ego's. Sometimes this is helpful, especially when bringing a seemingly crack-pot idea to market. However, being able to relax and control ones stress levels and emotional participation is a skill which would serve us all well. It also perhaps teaches to focus on the things that matter, and not to "flex the muscles" unnecessarily.

The third lesson: When you are playing a game of tennis, it is important to relax during the point and play your natural shots, do not over analyze what you are doing, trust that it is correct. Of course after the game you may want to pick up new skills, again these can be learnt if relaxed. In tennis it is between points that the mind wonders, and we hear expressions like "come on you idiot !", "how could you miss that!" etc. These are not productive ways to ensure performance. Likewise, in business when we are busy in meetings or with tasks and objectives, there is little time to be self-critical - we can tackle these tasks with an inner relaxed confidence (at least that is the goal). However, it is when we are not busy, when we are thinking about, next steps, planning, tomorrows meeting etc. that the mind is even more wondering. It is during these times that we need to exercise the most control (like a tennis player between points). Find something to focus on, something calming and try to relax into it. Ideas come, like great tennis shots when we are calm and collected !
One thing to try in the office context is to focus on things like your colleagues body language - maybe even notice the items on all the desks, how they are positioned, how many there are etc. The goal being to relax and clear the mind, enabling peak performance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The return of the 6 dimensions for a Online start-up

I am still pondering the usefulness of this developing model. The six dimensions which I beleive are the key to attaining some traction online are:

  • co-operation
  • communication
  • incentives
  • standardization
  • co-ordination
  • collaboration
 If we take a look at facebook, as an example:

  • co-operation : the interface encourages people to comment, discuss, help and share information and events.
  • communication : at the core of the website there are different forms of communication.
  • incentives : there are a number of non-monetary incentives to participate ones facebook communities - recognition, acceptance, social-connection, sharing etc. For businesses there is branding, reach, connection to the client base.
  • standardization : the experience is standardized, moreover via the API other platforms can connect and facebook applications can be integrated. This promotes diversity and growth.
  • co-ordination : this is perhaps slightly more obscure, but lets say the platform facilitates the co-ordination of ones communication and interactions in a useful manner.
  • collaboration : by sharing users are encouraged to collaborate on various levels - personal, social, business etc ... e.g "help me spread the word"
If we were to analyze other popular online e-commerce websites, platforms and tools. we would find that they facilitate most of these 6 dimensions. I am still developing this model and would like to hear your thoughts on the above ....


Dimensions
fb
twitter
Groupon
Amazon
Fuzzyyellow balls
Co-operation
X
X
X
X
X
Communication
X
X
X
X
X
incentives
X
X
X
X
X
standardization
X
X
X
X
X
Co-ordination
X


X
X
X
Collaboration
X
X
X
X









Friday, June 17, 2011

Internet start-ups dog or cash cow

My dog Max might take offense, if he could at being associated with failure. In particular he may take offense at being associated with failed Internet start-ups. Having said that, he has a lot in common with Internet start-ups. He is undeniably cute, as are many Internet start ups, he attracts a lot of attention - especially when out and about (in the park) and dispute all th attention and fans that he has, he costs me money and does not generate a penny ! Luckily I have invested in him as a companion rather than a business ...
Max the puppy  

The debate is on, are we in another tech bubble or not ? I agree with Steven Blank we are certainly in a bubble. For me the indications are more heuristic than scientific. I see young "entrepreneurs" running around using words like "social media", "traction" and "pivot" - most of them cannot define these terms and when I ask "what is your business model ?" - I get either a blank stare or a garbled collection of buzz words which I cannot comprehend. Yet, amazingly some of these "entrepreneurs" are being funded by "experienced investors".  Granted that the extent of "craziness" is not on par with the 1990's Internet bubble, however the over exuberance displayed towards mobile applications or social media is frightening.

Jumping on the bandwagon are a whole host of companies organizing pitch events, networking, workshops on getting funded etc. Many (not all) of the people running these workshops have never themselves managed to successfully start a company (that does not prey on entrepreneurs) - else why would they go to the trouble ?

The Internet start-up reminds me of setting up a market stall. My parents did this for years and I know from experience that it is one of the simplest of business to set-up and very hard to make real money from. All you do is find some collection of product for cheap, get a table (and some chairs - optional) join a market and then you try sell your products slightly less cheap to the foot-fall passing by. Likewise, it does not take a genius to set up a website or develop a mobile app. If you don't know how, you can hire some developers in Easter Europe for a couple of bucks and hour (pocket money). Being very easy to start, makes it very common and makes the success rates very small. So almost all Internet start-ups are dogs - they might be cute and fun, but be careful of investing in them !

Having said all of that, I distinguish between Internet start-ups and businesses that start with a strong Internet presence. Google for example is a marketing company, almost exclusively online. Amazon is a retailer which is based online. If you could create a business (no matter how competitive the market) and when answering the question where are you based - answer, online. Then you have a business on the Internet as opposed to an Internet business. For example, "we are a telephone company based online" - Skype or , "we are an auction house based online" - eBay. Whilst not all such companies are making profit, they at least have the "chance" of making it by virtue of a definable revenue source.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Delivering a website

From my years of consulting, software development and start-up businesses I have noticed common pitfalls that organizations have in designing, developing and delivering websites. Here are some common pitfalls and my suggestions for how to avoid them.

1. Web is fashion

One of the great advantages of the web, aside from dynamic content, is the ability to easily change layout and branding. This, however also creates some challenges. Organizations should realize that a web presence is an ever evolving thing, and websites themselves will come in and go out of fashion. Each industry has it's own fashion and it's own fashion cycle. Some industry web fashion cycles are faster than others.

2. Change can be managed, if you keep the pieces

Since website will change over time, it is very important to understand the process by which a website should be designed and understand the key artifacts that should be delivered. If the process is not understood, delivering a website can be extremely time consuming and costly, if the artifacts are not understood each iteration of the website will effectively be a new delivery.

The basic process for the delivery of a website is : design, develop, deploy

However, the design phase has some development, and the development phase might have some design. The deploy phase may have design and development. So let's break this down further.

3. Design Process

The design of the site is the phase where stakeholders decide and agree on the elements that the site should contain, how they are presented to the reader and the functionality provided. A design brief should be created which specifies the intended use, the industry and a verbal description of the general look and feel of the site. A functional specification should be created if the site has any functional complexity - this details exactly the way in which the site operates, the data stored the pages and navigation etc.

The design brief would be passed to a designer, who creates a mock-up of what he/she thinks the site should look like. It is usually a good idea to give the designer a mock-up of what you think the site should roughly look like - there are a number of tools on the market to create mock-ups like the following:

This mock-up was created by Balsamiq

This is only the start of an iterative process and most of the time the designer will need to revisit the mock-up a number of time before finally arriving at a mock-up that is liked and accepted by all the stakeholders. So, when negotiating with a designer make sure that the agreement has ample provision for this iterative phase of the process. There is simply no way around this !

Any designer should only be employed, if they are also responsible for the design implementation of the website. Most websites designs are implemented using CSS. One common error is to get a designer to produce a mock-up of the site and then get someone else to do the design implementation. The danger is that the designer creates something that is difficult or nearly impossible to implement. Remember, that
unlike paper, there are limitations to how things can be laid out on a website. The layout is defined by some code that informs the browser how things should be drawn (which is why there is an element of development in the design). When a designer delivers the final mock-up and then proceeds to do the implementation, they in general will create all the imagery using image design and manipulation software which works with graphics in a format called Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). This is a file format that is not normally displayed on a website, however, serves as the master for the graphic elements. Once the graphic is created, the image can easily be scaled and saved to a common web format (Jpeg, gif, png etc). It is critical that in any design contract you specify that all imagery not only be delivered in their final web format but also in SVG (master copies). This enables you to later make small changes to the imagery on the original master, instead of trying to manipulate the lower resolution web artifacts. For example, say you wanted to place your logo on a 5m banner if you had the SVG you could do so without loss of resolution, if not you would have to scale say a 100x100 pixel graphic and each pixel would land up being 50cm wide (very ugly indeed) !

a rough mock-up of the design/delivery process and deliverables would look like the following :



4 Development

In general most organizations do not concern themselves with the particular technology that is used for the website development. This is often seen as "too technical". Bear in mind, that the technology used is
important for later maintenance. For one thing, if the technology is obscure, you will find it difficult to find people who are able to edit and manipulate the website code. Some technologies exhibit better performance (in terms of speed) than others. I don't want to go into an in-depth discussion of the merits of each technology, but some care should be taken to understand the advantages and disadvantages. Also note, that it is always better if the website code is hosted on a server under your control. If you leave the code on a server administered by the developer, they can hold you to ransom for any changes. As part of the development contract you want them to deliver copies of all the code, the database schema (the tables and fields in the database), configuration files and deployment instructions (how to set up the website if you had to hire another development teams etc). Ideally you should make sure that you could recreate a working version of the website on a new server if your developers are hit by a bus !

5 Deployment

Many of the issues where covered under development, but to be clear, ideally you should know how to deploy or redeploy your website and less reliant you are on 3rd parties the better. Also you should
always monitor performance, not all servers are equal and usually cheap is cheap for a reason. Your users are not going to want to hang around while your website loads.

6 Marketing & SEO, Social Media

While online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) etc are vital to getting your website ranked in search engines and attracting web traffic, there are many agencies out there who will fill you with
buzz words and fear. None of this is rocket science, do not succumb to buzz words and hype. Make sure you clearly understand what you are getting, what the value is to you. If you decide to hire an agency
try negotiate a performance related pay scheme. Buzz words are great, but we all really want results !

There are a variety of online marketing strategies, the basics are:

  • create some compelling content that keep user interested
  • use your network to drive people to your website (by constantly encouraging people to visit your website to see new content etc)
  • If you have a budget, purchase keywords that will be associated with searches that are relevant to your website - be careful to not overspend !
  • try ensure that when users arrive at your website there is a call to action - i.e signing up, giving an email address etc.
  • find any way you can to spread the word, without becoming annoying
  • get other sites, blogs, forums etc to have links to your website - either negotiate with them or search for relevant places where you can place a link to your site (again without being annoying)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Mobile/Tablet future as I see it


I see a future where everyone has a tablet/communication device - which is in some way biometrically activated, i.e can only be activated by a single individual. This device is used for everything, from communication to setting devices in the home, plotting car journeys and paying the bank.
Due to increased electricity and gas prices, not to mention fuel - algorithms run that ensure efficiency, heating, cooling and water usage. Traffic is routed in optimal ways via communication with centralized control centers through the tablet/communication device. Travel is very much a recreational activity with remote working and login standard practice. The tablet/communication device forms tha basis for work, social and home life. Plugging the tablet into one or more controller interfaces opens communication with the car, the home or the work place. The Internet as we know it, is only one small component of our daily interactions. Know we are able to communicate with all devices in our possession, which will evolve to become more intelligent and configurable (if not human like).
Whilst connected into the office VPN, the toaster informs that the toast has reached the desired temperature and will be ready in 2 minutes, the coffee machine asks if it should start making a latte ? You decline the latte but go get the toast - or have it deliverred by a homebot. The garden monitor informs you that it is the optimum time to begin watering and suggests that the sprinkler we turned on for 10min and 25 seconds, you accept after checking in real-time your current water balance and account. A warning flashes that you have left a light on downstairs, with no-one present in the room and the light will shutdown in 30 seconds. 


Most of this technology alreay exists in some form or another, there are two main reasons we have not as yet adopted it all in the way described above. Firstly, there is a cost issue - however cost of electronic equipment is constantly falling and fall further with critical mass. Secondly, we have not had a unified controller - and with it a unified protocal for all devices to communicate seemlessly. As we approach these two major hurdles, the above description will become a reality.
So things might look a little like this in the not too distant future

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What is the potential market for Android Peripherals ?

This is a recent thought I posted on AndroidGizmo

Whilst it is still early days in the Andorid peripheral space - there are only three listed manufacturers of development kits - which are needed to prototype and device. And furthermore, it seems as if these devices are either sold out or not available. It is still interesting to speculate on the types of devices that may emerge.

Could we even have Android devices dispensed from a vending machine as in the  Arduino vending machine  ?

Firstly, we can expect to see standard PC peripherals now made to support Android devices. this includes:
  • External Disk storage
  • Joystick controllers
  • Webcams and multi-media devices
  • Mice and input devices
  • Wireless controllers for other devices

Consider that for the first time we will be carrying a fully fledged computer running a very mature Linux operataing system, in our pockets. This means that we could use this device to control a whole range of things that we previously needed expensive computer harware for. This has applications in field testing, logging data, connecting, updating control devices and equipment. The business applications are plan to see. Issue your field team with Android devices and have them interface into a whole range of equipment on the move. Imagine a scenario where your plumber comes over and plugs his Android into your bolier, runs a diagnostic test, produces a report and subsequently fixes the problem.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Patterns in Business

For many years as an engineer, I have used patterns – which loosely defined are common approaches to solving common problems. For example the MVC (model-view-controller) pattern is commonly used when trying to solve the problem of separating data from functionality and the view of the data (whether this is the best approach is questionable, but it is one common approach).
Patterns appear in an organizational context in for example “Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development” by James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison. In this book, they set out common problems that occur within software development teams and present common patterns for solving these organizational problems.
When starting a business, we are often confronted with a series of problems to solve. What business model should we adopt ? When should we look for premises, how and when should we grow etc ? One way of tackling these issues is to look at how others have done the same in the past and formulate a series of patterns that we can follow.
For example, how should I sell my new server software ? I might look at JBOSS and realize that they obtained success by making their software open source and carefully tracking users and following up with support services and other added-value offers, or I might look at Microsoft and decide to develop a sales team and sell the software on a license basis. Each of these patterns has it’s pro’s and it’s cons.
In many cases the patterns we need to move our start-up forward are out there, so there is often no sense in re-inventing the wheel. In other instances we may need to use a combination of existing patterns to create a somewhat new pattern.
Very, very seldom do we need to innovate to such an extent that we create an entirely new pattern. Most business even more simply copies existing ways (patterns) of doing things (see for example GEM report on entrepreneurship).
My advice would be, before you leap, have a look around at what similar organizations have done and are doing. Always look for patterns that you might be able to follow or adapt to your situation.

Dimensions of successful tech start-ups

I spent some time in the past studying growth in business, of course there are a continuum of opinions on this topic, however, seven dimensions stood out for me. Growth (economic or otherwise) happens when these dimensions are in place: cooperation, collaboration, communication, incentives, standardization and co-ordination.

Successful Tech start-ups, consciously or otherwise have elements of these six dimensions in their business model (or user interface ). Take Facebook, for example, the interface fosters cooperation and collaboration it facilitates communication and in some ways stimulates competition. The incentives are physiological, but exist and by allowing developers to plug into their platform they have standardized the platform. All this is well co-ordinated and hence it is not surprising that they are on a growth trajectory.  The same dimensions can be found if we analyze Groupon, Twitter, FoureSquare, Google and others....

Whilst I realize this model is not complete, I would be interested to hear views on this .... are there any other dimensions that do not fit into the 7 listed above. Or do you have a strong opinion about this assertion ?


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beware of Myths

Some years ago I shared a house with a group of day-traders. They operated on the NASDAQ every week day, playing the day trading game remotely. The deal was they traded and received payment for profits they generated and the number of transactions they made - they company providing the system and the funding took a percentage of profits and cut them off when losses where too high. Most days these guys lost money, occasionally they made some. I became interested and realized that there was an entire industry of websites, books, DVD's and training around how to make money. I kept hearing about this "one" guy who was making a fortune. Each day there were new stories of the heroics of this individual.


I began thinking, if I was recruiting day traders and building an industry around the promise of riches, what would I do ? The answer of-course is "I would create a myth" - create some super-hero figure who achieved magical results and all those that follow aspire to be and be like. Now I do not have proof that this guy does not exist or even that he does not exist in the way made out, but I am reasonably sure the stories of his gains are not wholly true.

Recently, having been to a number of events in the UK (London) start-up community, I see the same or similar myths being used to create a booming industry around the promise of start-up riches. While I think there is a lot of great work being done, there is also a cult-like hype that simply is misleading, dishonest and a form of profiteering. Whilst I do not think that the people running most of these companies are dishonest ( I believe they think they are doing a good deed ). Prospective entrepreneurs (myself included) should be very weary. There are too many buzz words, to many recopies for success and far too many myths !

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Web2.0 and beyond , productive, unproductive or destructive ?

I have had a great week. I have been an investigative reporter, spotting such anomalies as gravel for the train tracks in B&Q packaging and misleading statistics on the train (see posts below). I have also been playing with some fantastic technology. The wonderful augmented reality browser for smartphones called Layer. I sat through a great presentation of a new consultant for hire/resource type company called MinuteBox which I thought was a truly great idea, I have just finished playing with Lockerz , what a great idea !



Having done all of this, I lay in the bath and began to feel slightly concerned. Because not only have I not really been very productive (whilst playing with these new found ideas), but I began wondering how productive some of the great Internet start-ups really are ? It reminded me of a paper I read some time ago by the economist Buamol, who looked through history and found that there were really three types of entrepreneur in any given society. One who is productive, the output of his efforts contribute to society, one who is unproductive - outputs do not contribute and yet another who is destructive (like a criminal) - outputs harm society.

Many of the great ideas that our VC friends are investing in, seem like great ideas - no question. And I am sure there is money to be made. The question however is, how many of these ideas can be termed productive entrepreneurship ... as a society we must be striving to produce and as investors we should be weary of the profit maxim without production ...

I guess this is real Bath-tub economics !

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