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: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 12

Ben Thompson continues his series looking at the weakening position of the newspaper sector. He points to the fact that newspapers doesn’t necessarily have the best content or a wealth of customer weakening its ability to personalise its media and advertising offering . Thompson instead see a more atomised media sector with specialist providers and a smaller number of dedicated news organisations delivering the news we traditionally associate with newspapers.

Bloomberg looks at the Internet of Money as cryptocurrencies develop a growing range of use cases beyond simply acting as an alternative to fiat currency. For more of a background look at the pros and cons of  Bitcoin, try Freakonomics’ recent podcast

Andreessen Horowitz’s podcast series is proving a great source of insights into the technology and startup sector with recent episodes looking at full stack startups, mobile discovery and Bitcoin among others. Definitely worth following.

Twitter has an issue with onboarding, with users typically requiring a considerable investment in time before they get that ‘aha’ moment. Quartz looks at some of the obstacles Twitter faces in making the social network a more comfortable place for consumers.

Why people quit Twitter

Filmed in 2011 and still sounding fresh is Rory Sutherland’s TED talk looking at the importance of framing an issue or problem in engaging consumers.

Simon Kemp posts some thought starters for We Are Social looking at the evolving nature of marketing in an increasingly social and data driven age.

Felix Salmon looks at Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift as the former’s move to become a tech conglomerate rather than an attempt to bring the world of virtual reality into social media.

GigaOm looks at the less friendly reception received by Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter supporters to the news that its being acquired by Facebook. As with many crowdfunding initiatives, supporters have no equity but strong identification with the funded projects.

Courtney Myers gives an overview of the London startup sector for General Assembly.

It’s men rather than women that are more likely to be living with their parents as young adults in the Western world according to figures from FiveThirtyEight.

datablog-chalabi-living-with-parents

Giving a rather amusing and scary view of the male species is Dissent’s reporting on the pick up artist community’s response to Ukraine’s attempts to align itself with Europe.

Going rather against my own preconceptions about the Australian male is this campaign from Snickers in Australia

The featured image is ELLIPSE by GoddoG in Arles, France.