(this post will take about 10 minutes to read)
The days are long but the decades are short
I turned 30 last month, and it got me thinking about time.
More specifically, it got me thinking about time horizons.
As a bit of background, I listened to a podcast a couple of weeks ago, and whoever was on the show said something that resonated with me. They said that overachievers and high performers usually go through life in a series of sprints.
They train, they sprint, they rest, they reassess.
Speaking as a founder, I think it’s true. To build something that truly has the chance of becoming my “life’s work” or to actually “put a dent in the universe” it’ll most likely take 5-10 years. Just look at all the brand name startups, and the founders behind them. Unlike the media like to report, they’re typically not an overnight success.
When I look at my group of friends who have been successful in launching startups that either got sold, are now profitable, or require less of their time. They all enjoyed a year 1-2 years rest after almost a decade of building. The itch then returns, and they’re ready to solve the next problem.
Framing it like this means I’ve probably got 3-4 sprints left in me (obviously there should be more if I’m being optimistic — but, I really don’t plan on doing my “life’s work” when I’m over the age of sixty).
For my next sprint, I want to be a tad more methodical about how I approach it, ultimately deciding what to focus on. Hopefully (deliberately) stacking the odds more in my favour.
Up until now I’ve mostly been in the right place at the right time (thankfully). Thinking about it, I actually hit the jackpot — I got to build digital products over the past decade, which was for sure a “boom time”. And during which, technology progress (hardware, software, adoption, etc) was unprecedented.
So, how do I go about settling on a specific focus?
I know that I’m still passionate about building stuff (more than ever, in fact). I know that I want my mission to manifest as my own company – mainly for the freedom and accountability. Finally, I know that I’ll continue to solve problems with technology (AI, ML, internet, etc.).
So I that just leaves me to decide upon an industry?
Well that’s really the crux of this post.
I gave myself a challenge — predict how certain industries would evolve over the next decade, with the end goal of helping me understand how I could start to contribute to that evolution.
I should say I didn’t attempt to describe everything that I think is going to happen within an industry — I just scratched the surface. Some of the ideas might be wacky; but that’s exactly what I should be looking for according to Chris Dixon in a talk of his ‘Good ideas that look like bad ideas’
I’m planning on taking these initial insights and immersing myself with experts in the field — discovering opportunities to launch something together with them. So if you are interested in any of the things I’m talking about below, please do hit me up on Twitter @ScottTaylor.
Glance at the headlines and it’s clear to see that we really are living in exciting times. Now, more than ever, founders are focused on helping us understand our bodies, our minds and, overall, a better general picture on our health.
Whether it’s understanding our genetic make-up, becoming more present through mindfulness, or taking a sample of blood (at home) with next day diagnosis, the list goes on, and on.
Health is obviously pretty important to everyone.
We all want to be healthy and live as long as possible, surely?
As for my specific interest, I had skin cancer in my early twenties. I’ve also struggled with gut health most of my life (probably due to the antibiotics from cancer treatment). Add to this burnout toward the end of my twenties (after launching a bunch of startups), means that I’m also attuned to the realities of mental health.
I’d like to try and make an impact in these areas.
From a knowledge standpoint, what can I bring?
Well, we’re seeing progress in applying machine learning and AI to a whole host of problems. For example, Google’s lung cancer detection AI outperformed 6 human radiologists, and brought diagnosis potentially one year earlier. This is just one example (and one branch of AI) — there’s progress being made daily on a whole host of fronts.
Jumping to the year 2029 — what do I think the typical person will experience in their day-to-day lives that they don’t now? I think they’ll have a continuous pulse on the make-up of their body.
Tests that used to be expensive, cumbersome and taken annually (if at all) will be a daily habit. Think along the lines of what the Apple accomplished with their Watch and ECGs. This means earlier detection, and better chances of curing illnesses — meaning an increase in overall lifespan.
With all these measurements there’ll also be vast amounts of data to crunch. By applying machine learning and AI, we could uncover subtleties that may be game changers for some of the biggest killers (heart disease, etc.).
Focusing on the gut for a second
It seems like every other day an article is published about the importance of the gut for optimal health. And for good reason. The gut truly is where everything begins and ends. It is the interface between the outside and inside of the body. When something is in the digestive tract it is not really considered in the body until it enters the blood stream.
I recently read a book, Brain Maker, in which the author made it obvious to me that the gut is going to be an exciting focus over the next decade, specifically microbiome (the bacteria in our gut) diversity. An area that has long been neglected and thought to be rather isolated.
There is a major paradigm shift happening which is changing the focus from how food affects us directly, to how food affects us through our microbiome.
In 2029, people will be able to clearly understand what they need to be able to function during the day to get their best performance (both mentally and physically). Through new and innovative measurement techniques, a specific diet and regime could be created.
Thanks to the dramatic and ongoing increases in understanding the brain-gut-microbiome connection, there is new hope for the treatment of many neurological conditions, from autism to Alzheimer’s to multiple sclerosis.
I can’t write this post without touching upon finance. I’ve spent the past couple of years building AI-first products within asset management. I should also note that none of the contents of this post reflect the views of that company.
Also worth mentioning that “finance” is a broad catch-all, that encompasses so many things: consumer banking, wealth management, decentralised digital currency, monetary policy, the list can go on, and on.
As for me, and what I’m interested in…
On the consumer side, I think we’ll continue to see the “digital banks” become platforms — we’re already seeing this with Revolut, Monzo, and Starling. For example, buying iPhone insurance through one of these apps. Splitting bills. Joint holiday pools. The “appification” of the current account will continue. Coupled with this, people will also get much better with managing their personal finances, understanding exactly what they can and can’t spend. But this isn’t revolutionary enough for me — this stuff is already here.
So changing gears and really thinking about “out there” developments that we’re likely to see in 2029…
- We’re most likely going to be cashless
- There will be some payments and clearing service built upon a blockchain
- Privacy and data portability will have been tackled
Keeping in mind I’m aiming for “my life’s work” and the chance to “put a dent in the universe”. For me to get involved in this space, I’d like to be involved in something foundational — for example helping kick off the recently announced Libra would have been compelling to me. Barriers to entry might be slightly too high, so I’m not sure if this is the best niche for me to apply my time too.
I’m not going to comment too much on this, as I’m not sure what I can and can’t say — needless to say I’m a believer (as is most of the industry) in the use of AI and machine learning in the generation of above average investment returns. Using mass market and alternative data sets for arbitrage opportunities. I believe we’ll see an increase in the number of “robo-funds” and “robo-ETFs”.
Transport is going through a massive upheaval at the moment. We can all imagine what the future of transportation should look like.
However, it’s going to take a while to get there…
Phasing in new technology, making sure that regulation is keeping up, and dealing with new challenges, such as insurance liability, is going to slow things down. It will be a delicate balance to ensure that progress doesn’t get derailed when something bad happens e.g. deaths caused by autonomous vehicles.
Then there’s the consideration of which angle should I be approaching the problem from?
Manufacturing? Services? Intellectual property?
There are quite a few supporting functions that need to move together, in unison, for the overarching sector to see progress. Even political lobbying to a certain extent! If I was to focus on transport, which one of these will have the least friction, and see me able to contribute meaningfully to it?
I think electric motors will continue to grow, so much so — that they’ll overtake old school combustion — with it pretty much extinct by 2029.
Commercial airlines will also make the switch. They’ll also face much more competition for journeys sub three hours. Hyperloop (or similar frictionless technologies) will start to see growth. Although the significant time and capital investment needed means only the most popular routes may be completed by 2029. Think London to Paris, San Francisco to LA, etc.
Inner cities pedestrianised, with short journeys being covered by the likes of electric scooters. This space is pretty saturated, and is already seeing consolidation. I’m not sure there’s much opportunity for me to meaningfully contribute. Perhaps withinin docking and infrastructure — at the moment it’s very ad-hoc… dump a few scooters or bikes around the city, incentivise people to charge them and hopefully create a demand and supply network. For the network to work at a larger scale, it’d potentially need reimagined.
Battery technology and energy storage will be an exciting area where real progress is made. If I had my time again, I’d spend significant amounts of my schooling to research battery and battery innovation.
Long haul flights will gain back a bit of excitement; airlines like Boom will bring back supersonic travel. Meaning London to New York in three hours instead of seven. Again, I’m not sure how much I could contribute to this space.
Jumping to the year 2029 — what do I think the typical person will experience in their day-to-day lives that they don’t now?
Obviously all of the suggestions above will impact the daily routine of billions of people across the world, if they come true. But in terms of my contribution, I can either try and become a catalyst be directly involved in the above. Or, I can start to brainstorm and think about what people will do with the additional time they find themselves having.
Also worth mentioning on this topic is the fact that more people will work from home — meaning less busy city centres. Smaller communities created with more greenery, outside the cities. This presents a whole host of opportunities.
Communication is an area where a few people really can make a global impact. All of the most downloaded and “sticky” apps are centred around communication. Look at the scale WhatsApp achieved with just 17 people. Helping billions of people contact one another every single day.
So when thinking of creating the next WhatsApp, I need to think about how technology (hardware and software) advancements are impacting how we communicate. I also need to think of the more culture based trends to capitalise upon changes in habit or expectations. For example, if augmented reality was to take off, would being first-to-market be enough to disrupt WhatsApp?
If I’m going down the crazy path, people might even be able to think messages to one another. There’s a bunch of research being done in this space.
Networking infrastructure will have innovated at a rapid pace. The knock on effect from this will permeate every industry — there’ll be no mention of upload or download speeds, data will just transfer immediately. Think about how the rise of broadband helped YouTube and many other companies, now 10x that and think of opportunities that exist if there’s no downside or lag in data transfer. Similarly for computing power and machine learning / AI applications — there’s a huge universe of opportunities.
Merging a couple of the trends and advancements I’ve noted above… namely the increase in people working remotely, alongside the increase in networking infrastructure, means that people will be able to have high fidelity virtual reality meetings with no lag. Gamers will also be able to have an immersive experience like nothing before. What would Twitch 2.0 look like? And how do I get ahead in building it?
I’ve only really touched on a handful of industries, and not even in that much detail. If I were to really let my mind run wild, I’d have been typing this write-up for the next year. Hopefully the above has given you a little insight into how I’m starting to think about my next decade. Making sure it’s the most effective and ambitious one yet — with some thought behind the direction I’m heading, rather than relying on blind luck, like before.