I can remember talking with Idealab’s Bill Gross just before the Millenium about themes for the coming decade. At Idealab we decided on more internet (Bill having created Citysearch and Overture among others in the prior decade), energy and robotics. A number of excellent companies were spawned as a results of this, including eSolar which is now putting solar energy into the Southern California grid, Evolution Robotics, about to announce some exciting products at CES, and Snap, Perfect Market and Insider Pages (since sold to IAC).
In mid-decade, I helped Josh Kopelman as we started First Round Capital. Josh and I had similar thematic discussions, and decided that the space between angels and VCs could provide real opportunities to invest, and that the Web 2.0 and social media phenomena should be areas of extreme interest. I am proud to be part of First Round’s growing success, and our recent sale of Mint to Intuit, and our growing portfolio serves as evidence that we got at least something right.
Now, we’re about to start a new decade, and I’ve been pondering what themes will make sense as we move into the teens. As readers of this blog know, I have a tendency to invest at the way too early stage. This tendency is fortunately tempered by the various wonderful people I’ve been able to partner with, so my current thoughts should not be seen as a blueprint for First Round, Idealab, or any specific investments.
It is clear to me that one of the great revolutions in the next decade will be the exploration and exploitation of the personal genome. Further this will largely, but not exclusively, be done using the tools of information technology that will later drive various pharma and other technologies. There should be lots of opportunity to find and invest in companies that lead and ride this wave. First Round already has a small toe in this water.
Second, I have always found it useful to think about what could happen when a constraint is removed from present day computing. In the decade just ending, one of those constraints was storage, which cost an enormous amount at the start of the decade, when the concept of a terabyte was large, and moved towards free by the end of the decade, when I could buy terabyte drives at Costco for $150 or less. Wireless bandwidth will move in this direction over the teens , whether via WiMax or other technologies. This means that all sorts of applications that need to move large amounts of data to and from servers will be economical. As a corollary, mobile apps will become the norm, as the iPhone has shown the way. I’ve even been watching Stanford’s CS 193P (programming the iPhone) course during this vacation. It’s available on iTunes University.
Third, I’m beginning to see people start to deal with processing massive amounts of data and making new sense out of it. The tools developed for handling giant datasets are important (First Round’s AsterData provides an example), but so are the applications. In particular, companies such as Neurovigil, making sense out of brainwave patterns, FitBit, aWare Technolgies and others making sense of accelerometer data, and other using vital signs, can lead to a revolution in personal health.
Finally, having been a participant in the eBook world as Chairman of Franklin Electronic Publishers, which sold the early Rocketbook, the eBookman, and then sold it’s ownership in Mobipocket to Amazon, as a key part of the Kindle’s software technology, I would say this is the decade of the eBook. And as we’ve watched the various music discovery and other sites grow during the past decade, we’re likely to see many new companies created in the eBook space – both better and more interesting hardware, and in software.
In any case, I’m going to enjoy watching the decade unfold, and will keep looking to be just a little too early, though maybe not way too early in my investing.
Happy New Year to all. #FRC