Dec 012015
Jon Mevdev and Our Crowd founders

Jon Medved is one of those credited with driving the current Israeli startup boom having been involved as either a founder or investor in over 100 startup companies over the past two decades.

His current venture, OurCrowd, is a fund raising platform for startups seeking investors. Since being launched in 2013 the service has raised over $34M for 31 portfolio companies.

At the Australian-Israeli Bridge Investment summit in Sydney last week, Jon was a keynote speaker and panellist describing the startup and technology landscape of Israel. Following his morning sessions, he spoke to Decoding the New Economy about Crowdfunding, investment regulation along with both Australia and Israel’s place in the world.

Thanks Jon, let’s start with what OurCrowd do

We’re the world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform. We focus on sophisticated investors. What they call in America an accredited investor, which means that you have to have substantial assets in order to crowdfund at this point because we’re offering shares in private partnerships that then are essentially investing on a per company basis so it’s more like democratized venture capital than it is classic Kickstarter crowdfunding.

You, as an individual, to get into one of my deals have to commit $10,000 per deal. So that’s real money. You get complete choice. We sift through thousands of companies, select about 2% of those that we look at. We put them up on our website. We invest our own money and then you just choose to join us. We aggregate the variety of the investors and join us from 110 countries around the world and then we write a single check with the aggregated amount and that’s often millions of dollars so it’s not like couple 100k or 50k. This is real money.

Our biggest round has been $16 million with the other money. We invest in companies across all sectors and all stages. We’re sector agnostic as well as stage agnostic and we’re now geography agnostic. We’re from Israel and the majority of our deals are in Israel, but we’re increasingly investing in the States. Here in Australia, we’ve done two deals. Our first was launched, our first deal in India, deals in the UK, soon Latin America, etc., etc.

So where are the areas that you’re seeing the biggest growth?

The Internet of Things is just unstoppable.

On the hardware side or on the software analytics side?

Both, we have software for inter-device connectivity. We have software for big industrial control of the Internet of Things. We have devices themselves that are really cool. Things that are doing location of things, things that are doing analysis of non-connected devices. We have companies that are linking the physical world to the virtual world. I’m just a huge believer. I think this is such a big trend, and we haven’t even seen the beginning of it. It’s just getting started.

How did the idea of OurCrowd come about?

I’ve been 30 years on the tech business as an investor and as an entrepreneur, taking companies public, have been bought. I ran venture capital funds. I’ve been an Angel Investor, so I’ve been around the block several times.

I’m too young, at least in spirit, to hang up the spurs, and I wanted to do something that would combine three distinct loves that I have. One is I love investing. Two, I love disrupting and being an entrepreneur. And the third is I love Israel. I live in Israel. But I really believe that Israel has a role to play in history and the world beyond its small population.

I tried to mix up investment, entrepreneurship, and Israel, came up with OurCrowd because the idea is that today, the whole venture capital angel investing thing is very important in terms of powering innovation, but no one has disrupted that or changed that methodology for 50 years.

Some old venture funds, some old angel investments and some of the disadvantages of current practice is number one, you’re limited typically regionally or city. There’s the Boston Common Angels or South Coast Angels or the Melbourne Angels that, God forbid, don’t invest in Sydney. That’s fine for that period of time. That doesn’t work anymore. Basically, you’ve got to be global. The companies need global help. I’m here. Are they okay?

So, this was very disruptive I think of the existing way the people invest because it was going to turn something which had been very hyper and local into a global event, but it was also going to disrupt the business by bringing in completely uninvolved people. It turns out that in America, which I know very well, there are 10 million of these accredited households. About a hundred thousand have ever made an angel investment.

Literally, 1% of the rich people have ever done this kind of investing. So, I said, “Before we bring the whole world then which is going to happen, and people are working on legislation here and elsewhere, let’s first empower the wealthy to get access to these deals because really, if you look at who are the guys who’ve been investing in the next Facebook or the WhatsApps of the world, same couple of hundred angel investors in Silicon Valley and maybe the same 50 funds and everybody else has been screwed.

Basically, you’re not invited to the party. You know when you can get to the party? It’s when these companies get public. That’s what they’re called private companies. They only problem is that these companies go public and they are already at $50 billion valuation. Who wants to come to that party? It’s not a fun party. I want to get people into the company when they’re being priced at $10 million or $5 million or $20 million so you can ride it to the billion dollars and the individual can make a hundred times his money or hundreds of times the money.

I think we are disruptive both on the global thing in terms of being inclusive and giving people choice because until now, the Faustian bargain you had to make was either I’m going to have a choice, therefore, I am an angel which means I’m on my own. If I’m the newbie, figure it out, read a book, get a mentor. How do I make an investment like this? What’s a term sheet? What’s preferred stock? Who’s the lawyer I should use? How do I…That’s very hard for somebody who doesn’t grow organically in the system to access that.

You could go to a venture fund, but at a venture fund get ready to write a million or $5 million check. Get ready to be turned down by all the good funds in the valley who don’t need your money, and get ready to not have any discretion or fund. You can’t choose a deal. You basically hand over the money and say, “See you in 10 years.” It becomes like another investment. I said, “No, let’s go find a way to let people choose their own investment but within a safe platform in context where we’ve done the work, where we handle the legal, we protect the rights, we aggregate everybody so when we invest, we’re treated like the big boys. We get the same stock that a General Electric or an Andreessen Horowitz or a Telstra will get, we get for that individual. And you can get in for 10 grand. That’s where the subversive part comes.

I came up with this idea, figured that it would also be a really cool way to help Israel because all these people that get hot and bothered about startup nations, “Okay, yeah. I want to invest.” Good luck. How do you do it? They still have that same problem. They’ve got to go do it on their own and figure out, especially if they’re living abroad, how do you do that? Or find a venture fund. This is a different way, and it’s got legs. And we’ve managed now to cross the $200 million threshold. We’re $50 million Aussie dollars raised here, which is pretty cool. So it’s a big chunk of the money coming from Australia. Got a thousand investors here, 10,000 around the world, 90 companies and growing fast.

Were there any specific reason, apart from your own passion about Israel, for setting up there?

No, because our regulatory approach, which I think is the right one has been based on…In the U.S., they call it Reg D 506, but it’s all based on the exemption you get for being a venture capitalist or the exemption you get to do private placements among accredited or sophisticated investors. The regulators worldwide basically say, “You know what? If you got bucks, we leave you alone as long as you play by the rules, but we’ll not regulate these private in place because otherwise, how the hell will your companies grow to get ready to go public?”

We threaded that needle if you will, and restrict our platform to those who are accredited or sophisticated according to their…Is it they call it qualified. Each area is different. In Israel, at the moment, it’s like almost $4 million of assets. The test here in Australia is two and a half. In the U.S., it’s only 1 million outside of your home. There are different income tests, and we essentially geolocate our websites. We flow those requirements down based on where you’re from. We spend a boatload of money on our friends, the lawyers. We have a lot of lawyer friends.

We talk to the regulators regularly because they’re really trying to figure this out and want to open this business up except they have a series of difficult decisions to make. So their first big decision is whether or not they want to do this according to a junior IPO model which says, “Okay, go ahead and let the crowd into invest in startups but, they’ll buy stock directly in the company.” They’ll call them issuers. For example, the proposed regs here in Australia demand that the companies become non-listed public companies.

They demand 20 or more shareholders already, then we’ll let you crowdfund. Our whole approach is no, these guys should all go directly on the cap table. With all due respect, that screws it up. It prevents venture capitalists of note to really come. In other words, if they’re serious VCs, a company with a hundred or 200 individual investors, some with couple hundred dollars, forget it.

They’re going to go, “This is too hard.”

Because all these guys got to sign documents. It’s a mess. They got to vote. Our structure, which is to have a SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) or intermediary partnership whereby we act as the nominee, we’re managing the process, we have a board member, that first of all, affords protection to the investor so they now have the right to get over a certain percentage of holding, which gives them anti-delusion, anti…They get preemptive rights. They get information rights to all the good…which the VCs have.

Now, we flow that down to our individual investor which no standard crowdfunding platform would have. More importantly, it’s good for the company because they now got a single shareholder who looks just like another VC fund and so we get to bring the company the advantage of having thousands of investors interested on the platform and pushing them forward but none of the headache of having to manage them all directly.

The regulators hopefully will figure out that our kind of structure doesn’t have to be mandated but should be at least allowed and in certain parts of the world, the regime as they are foreseeing it transform from accredited only to non-accredited broad based from what they call wholesale to resale, wholesale to retail, they are not allowing this, at least for the retail. If that’s the case, we won’t be in the retail again. We’ll stay with the accredited supposed to get it because we believe this is a sine qua non.

We don’t want to get a placement fee that the company pays or a slotting fee to go raise money. That’s going to get a negative selection process. It’s basically going to say that, “You know what, crowdfunding, you get the remainders,” the type B, like the socks or the underwear that have a defect. The better companies will go to venture capital. The worse ones, you’ll have to deal with that. Maybe you’ll get lucky.

That’s totally not our approach. Our approach is, we want to invest alongside Sequoia, Andreessen, Excel, and we do. In other words, we get OurCrowd into those deals which you really want to get into and in order to do that, it has to be managed. It has to be aggregated into a venture partnership, and then we want the focus of the whole process to be not ending at funding, but beginning at funding because the biggest mistake that the junior IPO approach makes is when you do an IPO, you hand the check over to the company. It’s gone public. You say, “Good luck.” Maybe you cover it.

In research, if you’re an investment bank, maybe you’ll try to do a secondary later, but you’re not involved. You don’t sit on the board, you don’t give guidance, you’re not trying to add value all the time. Whereas in venture, if you don’t, that’s the definition of dumb money. You don’t want to be dumb money. You want to be involved and we want to use our special asset, which is the fact we got these 10,000 global investors that can provide access and assistance to these companies like nobody’s business.

Going back to that regulation side, which jurisdictions do you think are ahead of the pack in this?

Look, UK is really ahead because they have just basically almost chosen not to regulate. I think that’s interesting. I think that this whole business can be fraught with danger, and I think there is regulation in the UK but very, very light handed. I think that’s the right approach.

I think that we’re going to have to experiment, we’re going to break some eggs and let the market figure out which model works. Hopefully, people will not get ripped off. By the way, just recently there was a terrible fraud in the U.S. from a guy who put together an oil and gas deal that seems to have gone on the lam and that was one of these platforms where they don’t do diligence.

Part of our whole gestalt is that we not only curate the investors and manage the deals and build SPVs, but we carefully diligence every company. We make mistakes like anybody else, but at least we hope we’d be able to weed out the obvious frauds unlike other sites that just allow people to put up whatever they like. The UK seems to be letting a lot of stuff there. The US has got this wonderful 685-page new decision that the SCC just passed.

Under the JOBS act

Under the JOBS, took them four years of work, almost. We’ll see who’s out there, but everybody is working on it. I think that you guys will get it right. I don’t think anybody feels that what will come in the first go round will be what will be ultimately. This is new stuff and for us, the major issue is that we got a thriving, rolling, wonderful business based on sophisticated, accredited, qualified investors. It’s growing really well.

There’s a ton of additional growth that we can have here, and while we would like to be with the wave of history and let everybody in, we don’t want to sacrifice our principles. If the jurisdictions won’t allow us to create intermediary structures where we can manage it, where we can be essentially incentive not at a placement to get the deal done, but we get incentive primarily on the success of the investment. In other words, we believe that we should be taking our fees from the investors, not from the companies because if we take money from the companies, we’re going to get the worst companies.

Then the companies say, “Hey, I don’t need you. I’ll go to a venture fund.” But I want to be able to compete and cooperate with the venture fund where the guy says, “Hey, I’ll take money from these venture funds and take money from you but at least I don’t have to pay either of you, right?” Then the investor pays for the privilege of hopefully making money. If we don’t make money, it’s not going to work. If no one makes money in this, none of these models are going to work. I think that our approach at least stands a better chance at returning real money because we’re getting good companies. You don’t need to pay us to get them up with the site. They have to convince us that they’re worthy.

You mentioned due diligence before. What happens when I’ve got a business, I come to you and say, “I’d like to fund my business through your funding.”

We run you through the wringer. We first ask, “Where is your kindergarten teacher and how do we reach her?” That kind of stuff. In Israel, by the way, it’s very easy because…Excuse me, if you pee in our pool, people know.

It’s not like people, the whole country knows. Diligence is rather easy. It’s little harder for us outside of Israel, but we rely often on our investor base to help us because we have deep tied investors who are from around the world.

We like to co-invest with other funds, and other family offices and corporations. We share diligence information, but we have a whole team that runs these companies through, I would say, a very rigorous diligence process. That includes not only checking out the team but also talking to their customers, verifying the data they’ve told us is correct. Speaking to technology experts, market experts, competitors, etc.

Going on to the Australian side of it, how do you find the Australian business culture versus the Israeli business culture.

I think Australia is amazing. I’ve become a real fan of this country and a huge fan of the current prime minister. I think you guys got an amazing guy there (new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) who’ll actually have the potential of making a significant impact on the business culture and national culture of the country.

You got everything in place more or less. You’ve got great technology, world-class universities [inaudible 00:21:42] billions of dollars exporting education. You’ve got progressive, interesting big enough size companies in the Telstras and the Qantases and the Commonwealth (Bank). These are not small businesses.

Great, unbelievable pool of capital and it’s second in the world in terms of superannuation funds. I think it’s a matter of time until the stars align and you break out in terms of realizing your innovation potential. We’re betting on it.

That’s why we’re spending so much time down here. We’re fans of everything Aussie, and I think that the sense of isolation and a little bit like we’re out of the mainstream and we’re far away and all that stuff, that goes away, not only when hopefully planes will fly twice the speed they do today, but I think it goes away notionally [SP] and culturally and what not.

We’re just a small world. You have a lot of great Aussies who are in the valley so there’s a good money here and there’s a good. I think this is going to happen fast. I bet you that if the number is 200 million or so being invested in Australian VC, that grows tenfold over the next couple of years.

So in the Australian market, what’s your priority at the moment? Are you looking for investors putting money in or are you looking for businesses to invest in?

Yes and yes. It starts with the investors because our strategy is once we build an investor community like we’ve already begun to do here, we have a thousand investors, ain’t too shabby when they’re all sophisticated investors. I think it makes us probably…We’re now the largest crowdfunding for equity platform in Australia. That’s where it starts, but it certainly doesn’t end there. What happens is, through that network, a lot of these are investors who have deals, and they start sourcing us deals. They provide the diligence infrastructure for looking at deals and they more importantly, provide this business development shock force that can help our deals grow here as well as help our companies from Israel around the world enter this market.

This is a very interesting market. It’s big enough to actually make some money and it’s small enough to get in. The people here are nice. They’re not cut-throat. They don’t steal from you. I think it’s actually an interesting place to prove a product. It doesn’t have the explosive scale of the U.S. or European or an Asian market, but it’s a good place to make your initial mistakes and to find high standard customers who will get you through your paces.

Listening to a number of your conversations today, you seem to be fairly down on the more traditional, if you like, type of crowdfunding.

No, I like Kickstarter and Indiegogo because they don’t pretend to give you, the investor, any upside. You got a t-shirt. If you’re expecting more, then you’re a fool. It’s just the fun. It’s just like going to a…I don’t know. It’s about charity. It’s about backing somebody. You get a cool product early. In other words, if you’re a gadget guy, you get to buy them for half price. Maybe they ship and maybe they don’t but that’s the risk you’re taking. That’s fine. And anyway, you’re only talking about a couple hundred bucks. People can afford that.

What I’m afraid of is uncontrolled equity sites where people think they are buying stocks and not having the control that would prevent fraud from happening, as well as even good intentioned guys who are just letting companies put cool video up and then people start putting real money, and there’s nobody there. Forget the fraud, just nobody to help the two guys and a dog build the company, to find additional money, to provide support. That can screw it up for all of us because the consumer is not necessarily, wealthy or not, that sophisticated to say, “Oh, this crowdfunding is right. That’s what crowdfunding is…” As soon as crowdfunding gets a bad name, you hurt everybody.

Nov 242015


Things are going crazy in the Israeli startup scene as investors and multinationals and startup pile into the country’s tech sector.

In order to understand what’s happening I spent the morning at The Bridge, an Israel Australia Investment Summit staged by the Israeli Trade Commission and Invest in Israel.

Of the morning sessions, the two panel segments gave the most insight into what’s driving the Israeli tech sector with Nimrod Kolovski of Jerusalem Venture Partners emphasising the industry-g0vernment-academia collaboration, military spending and tight personal networks.

“In Israel we can make two phone calls – to someone who was with them in the army and to someone who they worked with at the last company. You don’t get a chance to repair your reputation in Israel,” says Kolovski of those tight personal networks.

Kolovski also highlighted an important part of venture capital culture – just as much in the US as Israel  – is the willingness to admit failure, “if you don’t then you’ll lose credibility”.


The broad message from the morning’s sessions is that the Israeli tech sector happens to have the combination of factors that aligns with the Silicon Valley and US corporate view of the world coupled with a strong underpinning of high level, defense led research and personal networks forged to a large degree during National Service.

For a long time I’ve been skeptical of the Israeli and Silicon Valley model being replicable in other countries, particularly Australia, and the morning’s sessions only confirm that view. There is more to this which I intend to explore in some future blog posts.

The lesson for other countries though is that personal networks, research and access to capital matter in creating new industry hubs. The challenge for each country or region is to find the combination that plays to their society’s and industry’s strength.

For Israel, it’s hard to see how their tech sector isn’t going to continue to thrive in the current climate however it’s the result of long term focused investments, research and policies. Taking the long view is probably the most important lesson of all.

Nov 232015
Waiting for other people to help our business

Four years ago group buying sites were the hottest businesses in startup land with the market leader, Groupon, being lauded as the fastest growing company in history and competitor Living Social following close behind it with a $4.5 billion investor valuation at its 2011 peak.

This week the New York Times has a feature on the dire straits Living Social now finds itself in as the company slowly fades away, now only employing 800 people after boasting 4,500 staff at its peak.

Living Social’s big lesson is the risk in chasing customers at all costs. Unfortunately for most of today’s ‘unicorns’ that’s a key part of their growth strategy as an important metric is how many new users are coming on board – the fact a company is making anything from them is largely irrelevant.

While Living Social, and Groupon, are two of the early ‘unicorpses’ – fading or failed billion dollar unicorns – undoubtedly there’s more to come as market realities hit many of today’s chronically overvalued tech startups.

Nov 222015

Kevin Ashton is best known for coining the ‘Internet of Things’ term in 1999, however that’s just one part of a varied career that’s included building a number of tech startups, co-founding MIT’s Auto-ID Center and leading some of the early development work in RFID (radio frequency identification) networks, which led to the IoT label being born.

Since exiting his last business Ashton’s focus has been on consulting, mentoring some of the startups he’s invested in and writing with his last book “How To Fly A Horse, the secret history of creation, invention and discovery” released at the beginning of this year.

During his visit to Sydney last week, he spoke to Decoding The New Economy about his startup experiences, the future of work, skills needed for success and why the media is a doing a poor job on reporting technology.

Let’s kick off with your book, what was the motivation behind writing it?

In the late 1990s I started a lab at MIT and most of my talking was about the research we were doing. I’d talk and then they’d hear it. But occasionally someone would say, oh, but you’re leading a very innovative team, and we’re very interested in innovation. Can you talk about innovation and how things get created?

So I started giving talks about my experiences of driving an innovation and trying to be innovative, and so on. And that became more and more popular through the 2000s. Eventually I was giving a talk in Napa Valley, California, and a friend of mine came to watch, and at the end they were like, “Oh my God, that was amazing! You need to write a book.”

I  started writing a book of the talk and it did very well. People really liked it. And it was weird because, I guess, you kind of get used to a way of thinking about things, and it seems you forget that to other people it might be insightful.

The book is really my experience and my strong belief that creating is not about magical flashes of inspiration and being a special kind of person, or being a genius, or whatever. It’s got a lot more to do with being willing to just keep going even when it’s not working, even when you can’t see a way forward.

And it’s also not an individual thing. It’s very much about building on the work of other people. Creating itself is very individual, which turned out to be a controversial point as well, that you’re always part of a community of people you know, people you don’t know, people that are still alive, people that died years ago. You’re making these incremental steps, building on the work of others. So that was always my thought, and that’s the book that I wrote. And I’m lucky. People seem to really like it.

What’s your thoughts on the current startup mania?

I think, by and large, big companies suck at doing new things, and the reason is structural. Every big company was a small company at some point. Someone was doing a new thing. And eventually they happened upon something that worked.

The first thing you tried doesn’t work, the second thing you tried doesn’t work, and accidentally you stumble across something that does work and starts making money. Maybe those people move on, maybe they stay, but it’s easy to become addicted to the comfort and safety of the thing that works.

And the money that flows from the thing that works, it’s easy to believe that that thing will continue to work. Or you make a slight change. You only had a red one, and now you’ve got an orange one, and you feel like you’ve been profoundly innovative.

So if you really want to do something new, you probably need to be in a small, passionate group of people. Now it is possible for a big company to take a small, passionate group of people and sort of stick then in an airlock somewhere and leave them alone. Theoretically, that’s possible. It seldom happens, and particularly because most of innovating is failing.

I’ve seen time and again is the people who rise to the top of big companies are often people who are very good at avoiding failure, or the appearance of failure. Very good at taking credit for other people’s success. They’re often from a privileged class. It’s typically white men. The typical CEO is a tallish white man with a full head of hair and a deep voice. I see that all the time. Failing is not good for your career. Ironically, because it is good for creating.

So, I think startups, meaning small companies, small groups of passionate people who are either not scared of failing or don’t have any choice but to keep failing until they succeed because there’s nowhere else to go, are always going to be the engines of innovation and creating.

Now, I will qualify that. There is also a class of privileged white men called venture capitalists who like to make you think that unless they’re allowed to give you some money that you can’t succeed and that you’re not a credible startup unless somebody blessed you with some venture capital or something. And I think, frankly, that’s all bullshit.

The last thing you want to do as an entrepreneur is, and I’ve done it. I’ve started companies without venture capital, and then taken some eventually. My my most successful company never took on any money from anybody else. There was kind of in the middle somewhere.

Not only is venture capital and outside investment not a prerequisite for having a successful startup, it’s really a last resort. Because what comes with that money is loss of control and people who don’t…You know, you start to get some of the problems that come with a big company. Venture capitalists who hear this will just throw up their hands and hate it when they get called out on their shit, but that’s true.

And by the way, a lot of very successful companies that…take Microsoft, or Amazon, or whatever…had a very slight relationship with venture capital. So it’s entirely possible to build a large, successful, high-tech company, without venture money.

The discipline that comes from living hand to mouth and trying to find a customer and trying to make a profit and not wasting your money on bean bags and air hockey or whatever, that’s a good thing. So, I’m all for people of all genders, colors, sexualities, shapes and sizes trying to do something by themselves. I think you can be successful. I don’t think you need anybody’s permission.

Which was your most successful company?

Zensi was a company I started with some academic friends, and it was a very smart way to identify how people were consuming electricity and water. I was very into knowing things relatively. In the case of water, for example, we put a very simple sensor that you could screw under the kitchen sink. It was just a little diaphragm. But every time you use water anywhere in your home, the pressure in your water system changes.

So you turn on the shower upstairs, and throughout your water system, there’s a pressure drop, and then a pressure stabilization as the system gets back to its regular pressure. And what we found was, you could analyze that pressure change and determine someone had just taken a shower, for example.

It’s a very simple sensor connected to the internet, a bunch of algorithms in the cloud. And you could identify leaks, you could tell people where they were wasting water. So, we started that company, basically, with cash of our own and that was in January, February 2009. So that was the depths of the recession. When nobody was starting anything, by the way.

What do they say? They say buy low and sell high. Well, guess what? When you can buy low, nobody’s buying. They’re scared, right?

So we started it 2009, and about 10 months later we had a couple of people trying to acquire it for a lot of money. The best answer you can ever give somebody when they want to acquire your company is, we’re not for sale, because then the price just keeps going up. You have to mean it, right?

Eventually, we got an offer we really couldn’t refuse. At the same time, we were thinking about trying to raise venture money, and so on. It wasn’t like a deliberate strategy to never do it. But the acquisition deal was just so much more valuable. And the beauty of that is, you’re not sharing the money with anybody else.

Today you’re an author and speaker?

Author, speaker. I’ve got some investments in some Austin-based startups. I do a little bit of consulting here and there. So, companies I’m interested in. I have done the MIT thing. And then three startups. And I’m actually enjoying not having a very formal schedule. It gives me a chance to write, which I love. It gives me a chance to come here and do this. I’ve never been very successful in companies that I was not in charge of.

I find that a lot of the kind of mansplaining and bullshit and endless PowerPoint and people wanting to have nothing but meetings and, you know, a lot of posturing and politics and stuff. I mean, like a lot of people who are interested in innovation and passionate about creating new things, I have a very low tolerance for that crap. I’m very bad at it. So, I love my life right now, because I really choose. I’m very much the master of my own destiny, and I don’t have to…I’m not obliged to deal with too many idiots. Which is good for me, because I’m not good at it.

So onto that inevitable question that you’re going to get about the Internet of Things. Do you regret coming up with that tag?



No, I joked one time that I should have called it the internet for things, and people took that a bit too seriously. I mean, I had no idea that it was going to have a life outside of the PowerPoint presentation that I was working on at the time, but it has a poetry to it. It’s specific enough that when people ask what it is, I think you can give a good explanation. It’s general enough that it’s not limiting itself to one application, or something.

The other thing I think is really curious to me is…so the internet of things was something I talked about a lot between ’99 and 2005 or something. And it was reasonably well known in the fairly small community of people who are interested in ubiquitous computing and embedded computing.

And then it took on a life of its own in the late 2000s and sort of the last few years. And I think there’s a couple of reasons why. Right? One is that there are a lot of people graduating right now who are really internet natives.

So the idea of things not being networked, or of things being wirelessly networked, the idea of computers only getting information via keyboard, that’s not a paradigm they’ve ever lived in. And they are…I think I got that slightly wrong, that sentence, so let me rephrase it for you. But there are a group of internet natives graduating right now who have never lived in the paradigm where computers are not connected.

And they’ve never lived in a paradigm where computers don’t gather their own information. So it’s very…the internet of things idea is incredibly natural to them. People who were using computers, let’s say, in the 80s and the early 90s, pre-internet, it can be a little less intuitive. So that’s one thing, but the other thing is, just a complete coincidence, I think, is Twitter. On the internet of things community on Twitter we use the hashtag IOT.

Now, it just so happens, first of all, IoT is very Twitter-friendly because it’s very short. But by calling this thing the internet of things, I inadvertently happened upon a three letter acronym that was distinctive. There aren’t many of those in the world. But there isn’t anything IOT stands for. Now, we never used the term IoT in the early days because it wouldn’t mean anything to anybody, right? But I happened upon this distinctive three-letter acronym, and then Twitter came along. And it made it very easy for all these kids that were kind of internet of things natives to find one another and communicate with one another, and that really helped. That really helped. So there was some coincidence in that realm.

In the presentation that preceded this interview you were quite scathing about some of the more trivial commercial consumer IoT examples.

Oh, stupid. Yeah.

I couldn’t help but think of Marc Benioff a couple of years back, waving his connected toothbrush around at Dreamforce.

People will do everything. If you’ve been in tech for a while, people have been doing that for years. It’s bullshit. I mean, the…So you must live in a super smart home. Not really, no. And they’re like, what have you got?

They think I’m going to have Roombas talking to light bulbs or some bullshit. But the one thing of those consumer products I found useful is my bathroom scale is on WiFi. It’s crazy expensive, but it means that I can never lie to myself about whether or not I’m losing or gaining weight, because it’s like, there’s something on the web, it’s keeping a record. That’s useful. But I think…one of the things that’s kind of curious to me. I talk about it a little bit in my book actually is, there seems to be this obsession with consumer applications in technology.

Which is coupled with a complete lack of curiosity, particularly with respect to you, on the part of journalists and editors and people like that, about how the world actually works. Right. The manufacturing, supply chain, distribution, agriculture, the history of technology. They don’t want to know. It’s like, what is it? And this is a thing. Journalists are the only people who their life is writing about stuff, and then they go out into their kitchen, which is why…they don’t really seem to care about how stuff gets to their kitchen.

It’s like, tell me what it means for my toaster. But there’s so much more to the world than freaking kitchen appliances, you know? And I’m sure there’s something interesting you might to do with a kitchen appliance, but I can’t really think of it. And I don’t see why I have to.

Look at Uber,  the interesting thing about it is, people think I’m cheating. I’m like, so, you’ve got GPS, right? Yeah. Well, that’s a sensor. It’s network connected. That’s part of the internet of things. Oh, yeah, okay, like, not really. I’m like, yes, really. That really is. Right? And it’s the same with…so, oh, I’ve got a smart watch now, and I’m measuring how many steps I take, or something. Great. If you’re doing that, that’s internet of things, right?

And on and on it goes. So there’s a real ignorance among a certain class of people, a kind of communicating class, about how the world works, how things are made, how complicated and miraculous that is. And also there’s kind of an anthropomorphic tendency they have that, when you point out that a phone has a camera and a camera is a sensor, that’s kind of confusing, because unless it’s a human-like sense, it kind of doesn’t count, right? Well, we don’t have GPS, but GPS is still location-sensing.

So I think all this is part of paradigm shift, as well. So it’s not that surprising to the internet of things generation, which is really people, for one, like, I don’t know, after 1990 or something. It’s fairly obvious to them, but to older people it’s like, oh, what does the fridge say to the toaster?

I’ve encountered that myself where producers or editors aren’t interested yet the audience enjoys the discussion or topic.

I mean, that’s the thing, and that’s why I made that joke on the stage. It’s like, I don’t actually agree with these filters. My audience isn’t interested in this because I speak to thousands of people a month, and they’re all interested in it.

So supply chain, it’s amazing to me that there’s a couple hundred eight meter high freaking self-driving trucks in the Pilbara but because people don’t care about, well, what is a strip mine, and what the hell are they strip mining?

What is it that Rio Tinto do anyway? It looks kind of dusty, and the things are big and yellow, and not quite black and shiny, or whatever, so we don’t care. That’s amazing technology. And we depend on the minerals those guys are mining, and they can’t necessarily afford to pay 200,000 Australian dollars a year for someone to drive that truck because nobody wants to live there.

I get that a $200,000 a year job is nice, but living in that place probably isn’t, right? So there’s a dehumanizing thing about that kind of work, as well. Mining is horrible. The fewer people that have to do mining…we need mining. The less manual it is, the better. Dangerous, nasty, it’s bad for your health. So that’s really cool, in turn things technology. But you’re right, try pitch it to an editor.

This touches on a constant theme with the IoT and automation. Where do you see the job coming from?

We have to be real careful when we talk about jobs, because there’s a hard piece to this which is on the individual level, it can be quite devastating. Okay? If you made a living as a cab driver, for example, in some license-regulated monopoly city taxi service, Uber is a threat to your livelihood, and there’s no getting away from that. So on the individual level, new technology can be very disruptive, and I don’t want to trivialize that at all.

However, there were people asked that question, they’re generally asking on a macro level. And on a macro level, what we see all the time is that technology tends to humanize the workforce. You are replacing…what technology can do compared to what humans can do is relatively basic. Again, I talk about this in the book. But a thousand years ago or something in the textile industry, there were people whose job was to stomp up and down on wet cloth all the time, right?

To prepare the fibre for weaving, manual weaving, or whatever. And they got replaced by water mills and wind mills. And then you had apprenticeships, right? So people learned to weave as apprentices, and that predates the education system. So, instead of it being enough for you there to stomp up and down in time to some song people were singing, you got trained in a skill. You became more valuable. I think that’s a more fulfilling life.

Then weavers got replaced by automated looms. But that created a volume of sophisticated new textiles that required management jobs, and so people were taught to read. I’m simplifying slightly, but the macro trend is very obvious. As technology replaces menial and manual labor, we need more skilled workers, we need more educated workers, and that’s why we can all read.

Our three times great grandparents or something were probably illiterate. As were all our ancestors before that. Reading is a very recent skill, and now it’s public education, and it’s considered elementary. That’s why it’s called elementary education. It never used to be. So, in terms of where the jobs come from in the internet of things age, I think the internet of things generates efficiencies that allow us to produce more things and allows to give people longer, better lives, and managing that production and that productivity requires skills. It’s really that simple.

I remember trying to explain to some friend’s mother, old mother or something one time, what I did, when I was just in a marketing job at Procter and Gamble. And she was like, oh, so you don’t really do anything. And she was very explicit. But it’s like, no, I don’t really do any…I don’t do any manual labor. I’m a knowledge worker.

I think that comes from something Drucker said in the 1960s. But that’s what happens. And the more we move to a knowledge economy, the less your job is a health risk, and the higher your quality of life, and the higher standard of education your nation is going to want to give you.

I don’t want to be too cynical about it, but countries don’t invest in public education for your sake. A lot of the time, they do it for the sake of the economy. I was just talking to some lady about why Australian school kids need to code. That’s a great question. That’s an important thing. And it’s not coding that matters. It’s advanced mathematics, advanced critical thinking skills.

And by the way, as we end up with a more informed population, a more informed electorate, we end up with a more enlightened society, because it’s harder for some guy on a pulpit or something to talk about brimstone and hire and spew hatred. And that’s another…there’s these huge social trends that we see that come partly from the more educated workforce you need in a more high-tech society. All interconnected.

So what skills do you see being in demand?

I think coding is a little bit…you’ve got to understand, coding is a little bit yesterday’s skill, actually. I did want to say that to the coding lady. But the thing I mentioned to the panelist today, but the thing that’s more important than coding now is data science.

And data science is not coding. Data science is understanding statistics and maths and modeling in a way that means you can write an algorithm which you or somebody else then turns into a piece of computer code.

But basic mathematical equation, that can separate the wheat from the chafe in a big pile of numbers, and identify what’s interesting and what’s not. It’s a little bit like solving a puzzle, and it’s really quite cool. Auto-correct is an example of it, and Netflix recommendation algorithms is an example of it.

It’s a wild and interesting frontier, particularly for mathematically-inclined kids, or puzzle-solving, chess-playing kind of kids. And there’s a huge skills gap. Huge. And these guys are making a fortune coming out of school. They’ve got 20 job offers. And that will be true 10 years from now.

I’m trying to push my kids into doing statistics and data science. It’s a hard sell.

Yeah, I get that it’s not for everybody, but the kind of kid that might get directed toward coding is probably the kind of kid that could also be directed towards data science. And you know, they’re not mutually exclusive, but that’s the bias that I like to lean people towards, because technology is changing very rapidly.

We have to think about what’s going to be needed 5 to 10 years from now and not what’s needed today. You don’t want your 12-year-old to be learning a thing they need to know today, that the workforce needs to know today, that’s not going to be relevant in 10 years from now.

Nov 192015

Ride sharing Lyft is beginning to show all the weaknesses in the current Silicon Valley startup equity model as the company sees ‘ratchet clauses’ invoked by investors seeking their returns dilute the stakeholdings of earlier supporters.

One thing a lot of people will be the effects on early employees as the equity they took in lieu of a market wage is eroded by the increased stake of later venture capital investors.

What we’re seeing with Lyft are the limits of the 5-4-1 model of the current tech boom where for every ten dollars invested; one dollar goes into product development, four into customer acquisition and five into marketing.

The idea in the marketing is to attract more investors and ultimately to seduce a trade buyer or impress the stock market ahead of an Initial Public Offering.

In Lyft’s case the company is spending $96 million a year on marketing, twice its income. The company has raised a total of $800 million since it was founded giving the company a valuation of $2.5 billion.

As we’ve discussed before, these billion dollar valuations are as much a curse for a startup as a mark of success. Now the realities of a being unicorn are dawning on the employees who are often the oldest shareholders.

Nov 182015

Investment in Internet of Things companies has doubled in the past five years reports CB Insights from from $768 million in 2010 to over $1.9 billion in 2014.

But who is doing the investing? CB Insights research finds Intel Capital is the biggest player in the space with Qualcomm coming in second.

That two hardware vendors are the biggest investors in the field tells us much about how the tech industry is seeing the IoT as being a key part of the sector’s future.

Nov 152015

“I always compare it to moving out of your family’s basement,” says Zendesk founder Mikkel Svane about his company’s going public last year.

Svane was talking to Decoding The New Economy after 18 eventful months that have seen the company go public and his publishing of a book on the journey of taking a startup to the market.

“There’s a lot of things you have to do different,” says Svane on becoming a listed company. “You’re on your own in many ways and you have to explain how things make sense. I think we’ve really embraced it and we enjoy it.”

Relaxed about the unicorns

While Zendesk was never classified as ‘unicorn’, having never been valued a billion dollars while private,  Svane is relaxed about the stratospheric valuations of the current group of tech unicorns.

“Most of these unicorn companies are amazing, they are changing the world and the lives of people,” he says. “Even if there is a correction most of these companies will do fine.”

“The thing about the private market is you don’t have pessimism build in, you only have optimism,” Svane explains. “But in the public markets there are people shorting your stock because they have a different view, you don’t have that when you’re private. That’s why valuations can get a little out of control.”

Taming the enterprise

For Svane, his optimistic view comes partly from Zendesk’s entry into the enterprise market, “in the last couple of years we’ve had some incredible momentum. We’ve done that while we’ve stayed true to our roots, to the small businesses and the startups.”

“Enterprises have a different set of needs and issues, the bigger you get as a company the harder it is to be agile and nimble.”

“Companies have hundreds of thousands of customers, they have millions of interactions and have all these data points. Managing these data points is hard. They also have to deal with compliance and have to figure out all these different things.”

Understanding one’s values

Figuring out many different things is one of the themes touched on Svane’s book Startup Land which he sees as being important in helping both he and the company understand their values, “I thought it was important to be honest about our roots and where we come from.”

“We haven’t sorted everything out,” he says. “Things are still complicated for us and we’re still in the early stages of building the company we want to build.”

“I think it’s important when you’re a fast growing company, doubling in size every year, having an anchor point about what you are is important. If you have a good clear idea of where you come from and why you do what you do it’s easier.”

Creating business value

“The process of writing this book helped me understand a lot better why we’re doing this. Not that I found the answers but now I have a much better understanding.”

For Svane one of the things he’s proudest of over the past two years is how many people that Zendesk’s success has helped, “it’s important to create wealth for every one. One of the things I’m proud of is how we’ve created wealth for regular employees, we complete changed their lives.”

“As long as you’re creating real wealth, not just for shareholder and investors, then that’s something to be proud of.”