Tag Archives: product

🤖 Strawberry picking robots, winning users and societal challenges.

This week returns to strawberry picking robots, overcoming inertia to win users and the challenges of user generated content for children and wider society. A rather wide ranging newsletter this week then.

Picking strawberries.

When we held our entrepreneurship event for the London Symposium (an event which celebrates UK business) a few years ago, the focus was very much on robotics and AI.

One company showcasing their wares was the Shadow Robot Company which was looking to build robots that could pick strawberries. Not as easy a task as you might imagine and requires both clever hardware and software.

Something like this is tough because it is not something you can just tell a robot to do. There are too many variations. Instead a robot needs to be taught the fundamentals and then work out the best approach itself.

Embodied Intelligence, which has just come out of stealth aims to take this very approach. It does so by mimicking a human and learning from each interaction.

Eventually it will have done something enough times to figure out the best approach itself. A solid approach albeit one that is still much much slower than teaching even a baby. It seems to require a clean environment as well right now so I’m not entirely sure it is up to the task of picking strawberries yet. One step at a time though..

More on Embodied Intelligence’s approach here.

Overcoming inertia to succeed.

Inertia. Never underestimate it. If you want someone to switch from one thing to another you need to overcome it and something that you use everyday requires something big to succeed.

When Hotmail launched webmail in the mid 90s, most people were stuck with their ISP email accounts. Awful to use and difficult to access anywhere there wasn’t much inertia.

So with a big advantage and excellent marketing Hotmail became extremely popular despite heavy competition from copycats. Its viral marketing was so superior that it is still used today as an example of how viral marketing can succeed.

It was not till 2004, that someone figured out a way to overcome that inertia again. Gmail announced to much disbelief that it would give away 1 GB of space to everyone who uses its platform. It also dropped the idea of folders and introduced search. Enough to overcome inertia and woo a lot people away.

Fast forward to today though and there doesn’t seem to be much reason to switch email provider (at least so far). AOL launched Alto back in 2010, which was a nice clean email client, easy to use and with clever features. In some ways it was similar to Google’s Inbox client, which takes a similar approach of group together types of messaging and aims to streamline the email experience. Some love it, some hate it. Regardless it clearly was not enough to persuade people to switch and as a result it is shutting down on December 10th.

The next generation email client is not dead though and I suspect we are on the cusp of a new type of email client. One that integrates with smart assistants and will make email easier to deal with. One day..

What are we doing..

Happy group of kids playing at the park

Bringing up children is wrought with challenges. The world is never the same as when we were brought up so new decisions have to be made. Is the same approach as when we were younger the right approach or should a different path be taken. If a different path is taken what doe that do to other decisions? Challenging indeed.

One (obvious) huge area of change is the amount of technology available to children today. Whilst screentime is always a concern, I seem to remember being hounded away from the TV when I was young so actually this is not such a new problem.

It is actually what is on those screens that is creating the biggest challenge.

The ability to find almost any content you need on YouTube has meant that children get introduced to YouTube very early on. This is as a direct result of YouTube allowing anyone to upload content.

By removing the friction of publishers and TV channels from the mix, any creator can quickly meet the desires of an individual.

The downside it that this can be abused and technology which understands content is not as good as the technology which creates content.

So today, when it comes to apps like YouTube Kids, which visibly sounds like a YouTube safe for kids, is not really. It is not a human curated channel and means that sometimes the technology filters get things wrong.

Is that OK? At what age does it become OK? It all depends on the content, which in turn means that initially supervision and eventually teaching children to be both self-aware and understand core concepts is even more critical. This is nothing new though.

Eventually, technology filtering will catch up and then we have bigger questions to answer. This is just one more strand of a bigger problem where content appears that we (as a society) do not want it to. The obvious example today is fake news – but already this has become more broadly defined as content someone does not agree with. At some point we are going to have to define what should and should not be filtered before we drift too far towards censorship.

James Bridle has written up an excellent and detailed article looking at content targeted at kids, how automation is being used and how it is all having an impact on not just kids but the wider society. Read it here.

👩‍🔬🚕Uber, Design Perils and some giving and taking.

This week focuses on the tribulations at Uber, its original pitch deck and the perils of over-design and not talking to your customers.

Uber edging forward

So Uber has finally made the call on its next CEO – Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia for twelve years. He has set his stall out immediately talking about an IPO in 12-18 months and a change in its much derided culture. More on the appointment here.

He doesn’t just have issues below him. Above him the board is battling with its former CEO over board seats, though this looks like it will move to the somewhat more private arena of arbitration after a court ruling last week. At least that would be the case if only the board could refrain from leaking everything over Twitter. ?

Having made Kalanick (the former CEO and co-founder) the scapegoat (for good reason), it looks like issues around board governance (or lack of it) is coming back to haunt the board itself. More on “employee opinions” here but how much of it is really being co-ordinated via Kalanick’s allies and true is difficult to tell right now.

The battle over the board is going to impact on Khosrowshahi and cause problems for the company if things do not resolve quickly. A peek behind the scenes inside the boardroom during the search for the CEO illustrates the problem. The two front runners were each favoured by one side of the board, with Meg Whitman, CEO of HP Enterprise the front runner and demanding more control at the expense of Kalanick and overhauling the board. At least from the outside, what she was suggesting makes sense as sorting out the infighting among the board will solve one of its issues.

So was Khosrowshahi the soothing voice calming both sides or the second choice of both sides? And can he solve the infighting inside the board.

Meanwhile, now outside Uber, its co-founder Garrett Camp released Uber’s original pitch deck. It is worth a look and is a lesson in how your pitch deck does not need to be over polished but communicate the problem, the solution and the opportunity. See it here.

Design is not king.

The internet is full of contradictions when it comes to building companies. Apple is lauded for its product design and a famous Steve Jobs parable is to paint the back of the fence. Basically detail is everything and it doesn’t matter if no one sees it, things should be done the right way.

The original team that built the Macintosh have their signatures printed inside every Macintosh for example and more recently, the design of the various Watch faces showed the level of detail attained. The Mickey Mouse watch face has him tapping his toes once a second in perfect time so if anyone lined up a few Apple Watches, they would all tap at exactly the same time.

With the astronomy watch face you are able to tell the time using the planets, moon and Earth if you so wish.

More on this approach/parable here.

One company that over engineered their devices was Juicero. They sold a juicer for $700 (reduced to $400) with proprietary juice packs you could subscribe to for $5-7.

Given the price point it received plenty of derision and last year was mocked further when it was discovered you could squeeze the juice packs manually without the expensive machine.

If ever there was a lesson in both getting early customer feedback and being aware of how easy it is to live inside a small bubble when building a company this was it.

Juicero spent a $120m over two years building a complex supply chain and product too expensive for its target market. You can see a full teardown here.

After the fall out in April, despite promising to reduce the cost even further to $200, Juicero has ended up calling it a day and is shutting down next week. It will refund everyone who ever bought the machine (if they claim within 90 days).

Book corner

Book corner returns this week with a recommendation by Brad Feld at Foundry Group for Give and Take by Adam M Grant. It is one of his must reads and got mentioned again thanks to Adam’s article in the New York Times – “Networking is overrated”. Also well worth a read.