It’s been a while since my last post. Lots have happened since, biggest of which is my family and I moving to the west coast this month. Still feels like purgatory, since we’re still looking for a home.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about for a bit is the indoor tracking. A new story from Chicago Tribune (image above) about how malls will track consumer “offline” behavior for Black Friday definitely piqued my interest. One of the issues with “offline” (as opposed to “online”) is that it is difficult to track people’s behaviors – analogous to online clickstreams. Now, with everyone carrying a cell phone (or two), it is possible to indoor track using the cell signals just by populating the indoors with the sensors.
Very cool indeed.
Privacy is certainly an issue. Will talk about that some other time.
Happy Thanks Giving everyone.
The following post was originally published on BostInnovation, a blog that covers the Boston’s technology and innovation scene.
As a guy who’s title is Chief Innovation Officer, I often get asked questions like, “What’s the Future of Local?” It’s a very tough, interesting, and challenging question to (attempt to) answer.
Local (with a capital ‘L’) is a complex ecosystem with lots of fast moving and changing players – from consumers, merchants, ads, maps, LBS, rich media, daily deals, payment systems, social, local search engines, recommendation engines, big data, analytics, mobile, carriers, to OEMs — just to name a few. (In fact, I ended up drafting about six different topics before stepping back and writing this one, each of which was about a deeper dive vertically in the context of SMBs and Local.) There certainly is some pressure to provide some “innovative” answer as well. But more I eat, drink, and sleep on this question, more I think we need to get back to basics.
Before we go any further about going back to basics, let’s step back and define what the problem of Local — with a capital ‘L’ — is. I would frame it this way: The name of the game is to effectively connect local merchants and consumers for commerce. It’s an old game. There are merchants who want to sell X, and there are consumers who want to buy X. If you can “effectively connect” the two parties and enable commerce, then you can win. Cool?
So now, let’s go back to what I mean by “back to basics.” With the advent of computers, internet, mobility, and the cloud to name a few, the world of Local became amazingly fast paced and ever changing. I feel like every morning a new player is popping into the ecosystem with a new “game changer” for Local. But, regardless of check-ins or group buying or RTBs, if we stick to the basics of effectively connecting local merchants to consumers for commerce, we can better understand the big picture and even better qualify and quantify how important and significant certain players are. I think this framework is a decent attempt at going back to the basics for the game of Local.
Within this framework, let’s discuss about a specific example within the Local ecosystem: recommendation or personalization engine. I think recommendation engines are one of the most direct ways of effectively connecting local merchants and consumers. Simply put, a recommendation engine is a way to connect consumers to merchants by attempting to understand what consumers may want to buy in the future determined from their past behavior. By understanding what consumers have done in the past — what they liked, disliked, bought, browsed, etc. — it is possible to project their behavior into the future using some computer algorithm(s), then suggest new things. Amazon and Netflix recommendation engines typically tell you what “you may also like” based on your past behavior.
Now, going back to basics, I think recommendation engines can significantly impact the game of Local — if you know what merchants want to sell, and if you know what consumers want to buy, then this could be the most effective way to connect them for commerce. Of course, for recommendation engines to work effectively for Local, they need to understand what millions of merchants want to sell, have enough past information to understand hundreds of millions of consumers to project into their future behavior, have the right algorithm and/or heuristics to compute the correct connection, and accomplish all this in real time. Yeah, it’s a tough problem. I think only a few companies can really pull this off (Where Inc. being one of them).
There are many other topics we can frame by going back to basics. How can mobility be used to effectively connect merchants and consumers? How about check-ins? How about group buying? LBS? Maps? Rich media?
This is just scratching the surface. Love to hear what you think in the comments.
Why did I decide to join WHERE? For many reasons. First, I always want to work with top-notch people. I was fortunate to do that with EveryScape, and again I’m fortunate to be able to join such a gracious and amazing team at WHERE. I’ve known Walt (CEO) for years now, and am privileged and honored to work for and with him and his team.
Second, success is infectious. WHERE has been profitable for the last 6+ quarters; amazing coverage of the mobile, local, social markets; ad network handles over 2 billion requests and 50 million consumer reach; 4+ million consumer app users; great relationship with the carriers; amazing vision and reach with the merchants and SMBs; and much more. Fuck, need I say more?
Third, growth. By “growth,” I mean both for the company and personally. WHERE will kick some ass this year. And I certainly hope to kick some ass and learn/grow at the same time. Life without learning is death.
Now for the what. What will I be doing at WHERE as Chief Innovation Officer? Lots! It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to straddle both business and tech sides of a coin.
A bit more philosophically, I think innovation happens in two general categories — something very new or something that is a combination of the existing to create a new. I’m not sure if anything in life really falls into the first category. I mostly believe in the second category, where innovation manifests itself when people come together to share and build synergistically (BTW, I hate that word — synergy — cuz it’s sooooo over-/mis-used). I believe WHERE already has all the right ingredients to create many innovative products and services, which makes my job easier (ha!).
Ok, it’s a fuzzy answer but what I hope to do is to nurture and help the growth of WHERE to the next level. If I can add an ounce to that goal, I am successful.
We certainly live in interesting times (blessing or a curse?). Many of the technologies have become mature (v 1.0) and now are crossing over to the next version (v 2.0). Mobile, cloud, social, smart phones, etc. are no longer pieces of technologies that cater only to the early adopters but has very much crossed the chasm to the rest of the world.
The mapping of the physical world (the “offline”) to the cyber world (the “online”) has begun in full force, from games (a la Foursquare) to servicing local merchants (a la Groupon). Let me be provokative — I would venture to say that Internet 1.0 was search (e.g. Google), Internet 2.0 was social (e.g. Facebook), and Internet 3.0 is mapping of the offline to online — and NOT “semantic web.” (Sorta ironic that no one really seems to know the semantics of “web 3.0” is..)
Internet 3.0, offline to online mapping, is only showing just the tip of its iceberg. Let the land rush begin!
There are two questions that I’m asked the most — why and what’s next?
Why am I leaving EveryScape? I think Galen’s MHT article summarizes it well. I founded EveryScape in 2002, and only just left. When I updated my LinkedIn profile, it said I was with EveryScape for 8 years and 8 months. If I get to live to be 80 years old, then it’s more than 10% of my life. 10%!!! I think of myself as an entrepreneur and a startup guy.. But the facts say I’m a delusional fuck! Well, to be fair, we had to reinvent EveryScape a few times, so I do consider it like 3 companies rolled into one (Pretty amazing what a great team we have at EveryScape!).
Why did it take me so long to leave? One thing my parents taught me early in my life is to follow through. I wanted to do multiple (and unorthodoxed) degrees as an undergrad — Art History, Studio Art, and Computer Science. I’m proud to say I got it done in 4 years. I’m proud to have finished my Ph.D. I’m proud to have brought EveryScape to where we are today. It was just my time…
What’s next? I have no fucking idea. I would love to start another, if the opportunity is there. I would love to join another team that challenges one another and pushes/changes the market and the ecosystem. For now, it’s an open book. Exciting and scary. Stay tuned.