A lot of the best tech startups are ideas that have been around for years but the time is finally right. *
Some people get jaded. “We tried X years ago” and summarily dismiss. But then eventually the time is right and it works. *
Examples include touch computing, virtual reality, and many areas of artificial intelligence. *
Or as pmarca says:
In tech, “I tried that 20 years ago and it didn’t work” is a positive predictor, not a negative predictor
Fred Wilson calls applications built using Bitcoin that couldn’t have existed prior to Bitcoin “native Bitcoin apps“. Most of the applications built so far on Bitcoin are not native by this definition. You can buy something at an e-commerce site using Bitcoin and it is cheaper than using a credit card but buying things online isn’t a new activity.
What will these native Bitcoin apps do? That is very hard to predict, just as it was hard to predict back in 1993 what the successful native Internet apps would be (try to find someone in 1993 who predicted Wikipedia, Twitter, blogging, etc). But we can make some guesses. Here are some of mine:
- International microfinance – Soon 5 billion people will have internet-connected smartphones but most still won’t have bank accounts, access to credit, etc. Bitcoin removes most of the cost and friction of cross-border transactions and allows anyone with internet access to participate in the global economy. Early examples of international microfinance services include P2P lending sites like BTCJam and Bitbond.
- Allocating bandwidth, storage, compute. Bitcoin could enable new ways to share and trade networked resources. For example, people have been trying for years to create mesh networks with only occasional success. It is possible that these systems mostly failed because they didn’t offer the right incentives to share resources. Bitcoin provides a mechanism for network nodes to pay for resources at the protocol level.
- Marketplaces – Ask anyone who runs a marketplace and they’ll tell you that paying out to people with bank accounts is a huge headache, and paying out to people without bank accounts is altogether impossible. Using Bitcoin, we could take ideas like crowdfunding and crowd labor services (oDesk, 99 Designs, Beacon Reader, Mechanical Turk) and open them up to anyone with a smartphone.
- Micropayments – The world just ran the first large-scale micropayments experiment – in-app payments on iOS and Android – and it was a huge success. In-app payments quickly became the dominant business model for mobile games, with some games generating billions a dollars a year using them. What would happen if we enabled micropayments on the web and not just for native mobile apps?
- Incentivized social software. Up until now, social sites have had to rely on non-monetary currencies such as likes, followers, karma, upvotes, etc. With Bitcoin we can add actual monetary incentives to the mix. This is happening organically on Reddit where users are tipping each other using Bitcoin and Dogecoin. A good exercise would be to go back and look at the history of failed social sites and try to rethink them using financial incentives.
The first phase of Bitcoin was about laying the foundational infrastructure – gateways, consumer wallets, developer platforms, merchant services etc. The next phase will be about native Bitcoin apps – building new things that could never have been built before. These will likely be the applications that drive Bitcoin adoption into the mainstream.
George Gilder discusses the importance of Bitcoin in a very interesting interview:
To have a civilization you need more than just bits and bytes. You need contracts, transactions, provable facts, titles, notarization, identities etc. You need all these other factors that can’t be accommodated very well on the existing internet. So you have to banks and all these other outside channels to conduct transactions. You have this comedy of bogus contracts to you are supposed to sign to proceed – click the button to accept the contract etc.
The internet is full of junk. It pretends that a lot of that stuff is free which of course is a lie. So it’s full of lies. It’s a hustle. This is the result just having pure Shannon information. Shannon identifies information exclusively by its surprisal- the unexpected bits. That’s how you measure information and bandwidth across the internet. Shannon’s a great genius. He created to perfect theory for the network layer. But as you know you need more than three layers on the network. You need a whole apparatus on top of the network layer.
Bitcoin is a breakthrough in information theory that allows you – without reference to outside 3rd parties – to conduct provable, timestamped transactions that can’t be changed, can’t be faked, and can’t be duplicated. Bitcoin is the currency the internet deserves and needs.
Many of today’s most exciting startups were tried before in a different form.
Suppose you develop a new technology that is valuable to some industry. The old approach was to sell or license your technology to the existing companies in that industry. The new approach is to build a complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies.
Prominent examples of this “full stack” approach include Tesla, Warby Parker, Uber, Harry’s, Nest, Buzzfeed, and Netflix. Most of these companies had “partial stack” antecedents that either failed or ended up being relatively small businesses. The problems with the partial stack approach include:
- Bad product experience. Nest is great because of deep, Apple-like integration between software, hardware, design, services, etc, something they couldn’t have achieved licensing to Honeywell etc.
- Cultural resistance to new technologies. The media industry is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, so Buzzfeed and Netflix are (mostly) bypassing them.
- Unfavorable economics. Your slice of the stack might be quite valuable but without control of the end customer it’s very hard to get paid accordingly.
The full stack approach lets you bypass industry incumbents, completely control the customer experience, and capture a greater portion of the economic benefits you provide.
The challenge with the full stack approach is you need to get good at many different things: software, hardware, design, consumer marketing, supply chain management, sales, partnerships, regulation, etc. The good news is that if you can pull this off, it is very hard for competitors to replicate so many interlocking pieces.
My guess is we are still at the very beginning of the full stack movement. Many large industries remain relatively untouched by the information technology revolution. That will likely change now that startups have figured out the right approach.
“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
– Douglas Adams (entire original article is well worth reading)