Thought Starters: a look at where startups are at, approaches to self driving cars, the decline of peak oil and the impact of an ageing population

The following is a look through articles, research and opinion pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology.

First Round Capital have just released their State of Startups research profiling the opinion of startup founders. Among the findings are that 73% of founders believe we’re in a bubble and that they expect to see a shift in power from startups to funders:

73% of startup founders say we're in a bubble

On the subject of bubbles, Abbas Gupta looks to sort out the unicorns from the donkeys by looking at the ratio of a startup’s lifetime value of customer compared to the cost of customer acquisition.

Kickstarter has become an important source of funding for creators and makers, particularly when founders don’t have a proven track record that enables them to tap more traditional sources of financing. Ben Einstein compares the pros and cons of pre-sales (eg Kickstarter), factory financing, purchase order financing and venture debt for entrepreneurs. For consumers, it’s worth considering that 9% of Kickstarters fail to deliver rewards, so get behind interesting projects but be aware that things don’t always go to plan.

Adam Satariano’s research reveals Apple spends a considerably smaller proportion of its revenue on R&D than its technology competitors. Apple’s position is boosted by the company’s large revenues and its ability to leverage innovations from its array of suppliers and partners:

Tech R&D Spending Comparison

Airbnb has been criticised for driving up property prices and in the process, making homes increasingly unaffordable for local residents. The company has defended itself, claiming that the majority of visitors are staying in properties only occasionally available to let but Ben Popper’s analysis of Airbnb’s data from New York doesn’t quite match the company’s claims.

Adrienne LaFrance contrasts the different approaches of Google, Uber, Apple and the major auto manufacturers in moving towards self driving vehicles and points to the hazards of the halfway house:

The question of which path to take to full autonomy, a ground-up approach or a more gradual semi-autonomous one, is at the center of many debates about the technology. A more pressing question in the short-term is this: How much does a person’s perception of the computer’s job make a difference? “This intermediate area where it may not be clear—is the vehicle responsible, or am I responsible?—is a hazardous place,” Gerdes told me. “There’s room for confusion that could reduce safety instead of increasing it.”

Peak oil is a spectre that has haunted the petroleum industry in the past but new discoveries, talk of a decoupling of energy use and economic growth and concerns about climate change have seen these concerns recede. Liam Denning looks at how this changed environment is forcing the hand of OPEC and how this could potentially damage the renewable energy sector:

Peaking Out

Credit Suisse research provides further evidence of the rising labour costs for manufacturers in China which is likely to see it the made in China tag appear less. No surprise then that the country is looking to invest more in robotics and automation:

Comparing manufacturing costs in Mexico Brazil and China

The recent pictures of pollution in Beijing were alarming. Unfortunately citizens in some of India’s cities face even worse pollution levels according to figures from the World Health Organisation reported in the Guardian:

Worlds most polluted cities

The recent terrorist attack in Paris provided a boost to Front National during France’s recent regional elections. It’s important to understand the party’s success is not a one off blip, with Julia Amalia Heyer charting Marine Le Pen’s move to reform the party and broaden support among the wider French public. Worth reading for anyone interested in the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in European politics.

Greg Ip profiles the ageing population of many western societies and the challenges and opportunities this poses for their economies. The Wall Street Journal article is well supported with graphs and interactive infographics charting the changes and forecasts for the future:

Social Security Enrollment

For something rather different, Priceonomics‘ profile of Richard Prince makes for an interesting read charting how his photographs of photographs became some of the most coveted prizes of the contemporary art world.

If you find yourself at a loose end in London between now and the end of February, it’s worth checking out the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House. It kind of feel like a walk through of an issue of Wired, but it’s great to see data science get its place in the spotlight with the many benefits and challenges it poses for today’s society.

The feature mural is Eva & Ave by Hazulfrom Loures, Portugal and published in StreetArtNews.

Thought Starters: innovation, incomes, employment and happiness

The following is a collection of articles and thought pieces highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in, with an emphasis on technology:

The Global Innovation Report as the name suggests ranks the innovation levels of various countries. The Economist recently published the following which points to Britain doing strongly:

Global Innovation Ranking

Figures from the US Census Bureau indicate growth in jobs but no commensurate increase in median incomes as represented in the following graph from the Economic Policy Institute:

Real Median Household Income

Whilst there’s been a lot of noise about the growing wealth of the top 1%, analysis by the Brookings Institute points to the relative success of the upper middle class in the US in recent years:

“While the rise in income and wealth at the very top is eye-catching, it also distracts attention from the action a little lower down the income distribution. The idea that the real divide is between ordinary members of the bottom 99 percent and the rich 1 percent is a dangerous one, since it makes it easier for those in the upper middle class to convince themselves they are in the same economic boat as the rest of America; they’re not.”

Maintaining overall income is not going to get any easier in the future due to an ageing population, with Morgan Stanley figures point to a decline in the total working population since 2005:

Working Age Population

There’s been lots of speculation recently on the effect that technology is having on the labour market. James Bessen suggests that we’re looking at a process of displacement rather than replacement of labour with a need for a labour force that is more adept at using technology:

“While technology takes over some tasks, it also increases demand for goods and services and hence increases demand for workers performing the remaining tasks. Instead of just eliminating jobs, new jobs are also created, sometimes in different occupations.”

Eurostat figures point to where Europeans spend comparatively more (or less) of their income on proportionately. Rather surprised to find UK’s spend on alcohol and tobacco to be lower than the European average:

European Household Spending

Marco Arment’s launch and then pulling of the Peace adblocker for iOS has led to renewed focus on the plight of the online media industry. Ben Thompson takes a look at some of the key pressures facing the industry and comes up with some recommendations if they want to be profitable.

Among the recent announcements at Apple’s Special Event on the 0th of September was the launch of the iPhone Upgrade Programme. Benedict Evans‘ takes a closer look at the initiative and how it shifts the balance of power from the mobile networks to Apple.

It’s also worth reading Benedict Evans’ piece critiquing talk of the  mobile internet given that internet access via mobile devices is increasingly the norm rather than the exception

Facebook has updated its Pages offering as it looks to provide a more relevant platform  for small businesses’ which includes an ecommerce offering and better design for mobile users:

Facebook Pages Update

Adam Piore writing for Nautilus looks at the role of human contact in making us happy and the impact that social networks are having on these relationships.

The featured image is a piece called Huemul produced by Pastel in Buenos Aires and published in StreetArtNews.

 

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends and the impact of technology on the way we live.

The McKinsey Quarterly profiles technological disruption, emerging markets growth and ageing population as trends that will have a substantial effect on business in the coming 50 years:

Workers per Dependent

Going on public confidence, we’ve still got a long way to go before the world pulls out of the recession according to research from Pew Research, although reassuringly, UK is among the more confident:

Economic mood

Americans are seemingly chain to their desks, followed not too far behind by the UK according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Salon’s reporting of the research also highlights willingness of Americans and Britons to work weekends and evenings:

Working hours

The Economist profiles  the world  of real time bidding for online advertising which has gained a strong foothold in US and UK markets and looks likely to rapidly spread to the rest of the world:

Real time bidding

Research from Harvard Business School profiled in Forbes contrasts the ROI from search and display advertising. I won’t giveaway who came out on top.

Much has been made of the impact that Amazon is having on the retail sector with effects particularly felt in the book sector. Zachary Karabell’s reporting points to the independents rather than the larger book store chains as proving best able to respond to Amazon’s encroachment.

The Guardian has avoided adding paywalls to its website unlike competitors The Times and the New York Times. What the organisation has done is follow the lead of other move media organisations and establish a membership led events programme offering that will bring its staff more into face to face contact with its readers:

Guardian

The New Statesman profiles bellingcat which looks to use a citizen based journalism model to shed light on conflict zones, with successful reporting from Ukraine and Syria among other locations.

There’s been no shortage of coverage of Apple’s launch event for Apple Pay, iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Marco Arment looks at what we would like to see with the Apple Watch but then goes on to praise Apple for its ability to produce best in class product design:

The ideal smartwatch would have a high-resolution, color, self-illuminated but not too bright, highly visible yet completely subtle screen that’s always on, but isn’t tacky and doesn’t draw much attention to itself from others. The screen must be as large as possible so you can read and touch it nicely, but as small as possible so it isn’t ostentatious and doesn’t look out of proportion on a wrist. This screen, and all of the other components, must use as close to zero power as possible because the battery needs to last at least a week (ideally much longer), weigh as little as possible, and occupy almost no space.

So it needs to be bright, dim, bold, subtle, large, and small, with a battery that lasts a month with zero mass, and some compelling everyday applications beyond telling time and showing phone notifications. The true design challenge isn’t making it pretty — it’s making it good.

Horace Dediu in his analysis points to Apple’s presentation which highlighting the Watch’s role as timepiece, communicator and health and fitness device but he goes on to suggest that we will see lots more use cases emerge in the coming years.

Whilst much of the consumer attention was on the iPhone and Apple Watch launch, we may well find that it’s Apple Pay that will have the most substantial long term effect  on our society, giving the mobile payments sector an important boost.

For those of you wanting to find out more about the wearable technology sector outside of Apple’s launch, you might want to try PSFK’s recently released presentation:

Tinder has reshaped the way that many people approach dating and relationships. If you’re interested in finding out more about the site, I’d suggest you try Kiera Feldman’s oral history or for a more analytical approach try Anne Helen Petersen looking at how race and social class affects people’s choices on the platform.

Tinder

A lot of noise has been made about the disruptive forces of Silicon Valley. Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky argues that the tech sector should be more selective in their use of the phrase and suggests that Airbnb is more a return to older ways of doing business rather than something totally new:

 Dougald Hine highlights the need for reflection as consumers are faced with an ever expanding hosepipe of information:

The latter requires, among other things, space for reflection – allowing what we have already absorbed to settle, waiting to see what patterns emerge. Find the corners of our lives in which we can unplug, the days on which it is possible to refuse the urgency of the inbox, the activities that will not be rushed. Switch off the infinity machine, not forever, nor because there is anything bad about it, but out of recognition of our own finitude: there is only so much information any of us can bear, and we cannot go fishing in the stream if we are drowning in it. As any survivor of the 1960s counterculture could tell us, it is best to treat magic substances with respect – and to be careful about the dosage.

The featured image is by Ben Slow in Vitry, Paris and was found on vitostreet’s Flickr stream.