July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Here’s a recent article about Nest covering all the details about how Google plans to make Nest the center of the connected home.
I’ll boil down the use cases and pain points they’re claiming Nest can help solve:
- If you’re running the wash, and Nest notices you’re not home, it’ll keep your dryer running for you so your clothes don’t wrinkle
- Nest can toggle your lights on and off, or turn the bulbs red, if it notices elevated CO2 levels
- Nest can text your neighbors if it detects smoke in the house
- Next can notify you if it thinks your kids are messing with it
- Nest & Mercedes are buddies now, so you can turn your thermostat on the EXACT SECOND you arrive home so you don’t waste energy
- Nest & Jawbone are buddies, so when Jawbone thinks you’ve fallen asleep it can adjust the thermostat to nighttime mode
Ugh, ugh, ugh.
My grievances from largest to smallest:
- A big part of Nest’s whole shtick is that it can save you money by making you smarter about your utility bill. In my opinion (and in Kevin’s, who’s written about this) , it seems kind of implausible that nickel-and-dime-ing a utility bill after laying out the $250 to first buy the device is ever going to return positive from a monetary basis. That’s the benefit that #4 and #5 are trying to sell you on. And yet… there’s #1, which promises TO LEAVE YOUR DRYER RUNNING INDEFINITELY[ref]How I feel about this.[/ref] while you’re out of the house for who knows how long. It’s worth pointing out that under just regular use, your clothes dryer already accounts for roughly 12% of your house’s entire electricity bill.
What interests me: How does Nest justify building a system for this? They had to have done research to identify this use case and pain point. Who in the world A) Is regularly having the problem of leaving the house with the dryer running only to come back to wrinkled clothes, and B) Is upset enough about this that they need to buy an expensive product? I need to meet these people; maybe there’s a bridge I can sell them.[ref]This assumes they’re not too busy saving up on their utility bills so they can afford a nicer Mercedes.[/ref]
- Generally, you probably don’t really care about the room temperature once you’re asleep — after all, you’re asleep. When you do care about the room temperature is when you’re trying to fall asleep. I’m not sure what Nest & Jawbone’s intent is with #6. If they’re turning the thermostat off when inhabitants are asleep and won’t mind the heat/cool, then great, you’re saving another few nickels. If they’re saying you want to adjust the thermostat to make falling asleep more comfortable, then the timeline here totally misses the mark.
Either way: For this system to work, it requires everyone in the entire household to have their own Jawbone, otherwise you’re dependent on the one Jawbone user to be last to bed and first to rise if you want to ensure that everybody’s comfortable. So I guess, now that you’re two to six $100+ devices in the hole, you’re ready to really start saving money.
- If there’s CO2 or smoke: Please, benefits #2 and #3, don’t alert the neighbors. You’re probably not all that close to them. If you’re not home, I don’t know why Nest might necessarily expect that they are. I also don’t know why Nest thinks they’re going to be checking your windows for suspicious red lighting, or why Nest thinks they’ll have any idea what this even means without you first having to go over and teach them. Do you really want to go and have that conversation?
Please, just tell the authorities.
- It’s 2014, you own a home, you’re in a financially sound enough position to put a Nest in your home, and your unattended kids are messing with your thermostat to entertain themselves? Don’t they have iPads? If #4 is what’s getting you excited about this connected home, you’ve got way bigger problems than your utility bill.
As usual, complaining is the easy part. Anyone can complain on the internet. What I get excited about is the challenge of coming up with the right products and strategies myself.
So: What would I do if I was on Nest’s Product team? I’d stick to the core thesis which made Nest such a big hit in the first place: Pick an already-existing interface in the home which nobody really carefully thinks about, and design the shit out of it.
Specifically, I’d take the same basic interface of the Nest thermostat, make a new product, and put it right here:
It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine that the Nest Thermostat would make for an amazing shower faucet interface.
Look at this picture here. What in the WORLD do those three knobs do? The middle one probably turns on the water… but getting just the right temperature? That could take weeks of practice and fine-tuning.
Isn’t it ridiculous how every time you bathe at a hotel or a friend’s house, you have to re-learn how to get the shower right?
- Press the Nest and the water comes on, press it again and the water goes off. Not hard to add the right design language to make this intuitive. You might even really idiot-proof this and make it so twisting the Nest turns it on, too.
- Like the thermostat, the front-facing display shows the temperature. Twist it to adjust to the desired degree Fahrenheit/Celsius. One color background (say, red) indicates the water hasn’t arrived at the desired temperature yet, another color (green!) says the water’s perfect.
Now all I need to learn — once — is the water temperature I prefer.
There’s challenges, sure. Shower faucet installation is substantially more complicated than the installation of a thermostat or smoke detector. You’ll probably need buy-in from plumbers. That’s a hurdle, but it’s not unsolvable.[ref]There’s actually a relatively famous HBS case study on this very subject.[/ref]
In fact, if you want to get really smart & fancy, and if you want to really pay attention user process flow and User-Centric Design, you’d employ the following design which Kevin & I have been talking about:
One set of controls outside of the shower, one inside. Which at first glance looks totally preposterous and superfluous.
But when you think about how you actually use your shower, isn’t it totally ridiculous that you have to dip your hand in the shower and risk getting wet to turn the shower on, or otherwise you have to stand in the shower naked with freezing water splashing at your toes while you wait for the water to heat up?
All showers are designed that way not because this is an enjoyable experience, but because in a practical sense, the faucet heads were physically attached to the pipes behind the shower. With Nest being a “smart” device, why not give users the luxury of keeping their clothes on until the water’s good and ready, instead of the other way around?
Hey, here’s that Billy Mays part: BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
There’s been rampant speculation (and from the comments section, bellyaching) that Google might plan on serving ads on the Nest display screen. Google has since denied the rumor. This was a pretty obtuse thing to complain loudly about, anyway, because nobody in any home, ever, is spending their time and undivided attention in front of their thermostat.
You know where people do spent a ton of time and undivided attention? Yep. In the shower. So if Google actually did want to make a smart device which could meaningfully serve news headlines, the weather, and the occasional ad… the Nest Shower Head would be a bona fide place to do it.
July 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
From the comments section of my June 17th update on Self-Driving Cars, David writes:
Regarding Level 7, my guess is: a lot more downtown pedestrian-only streets, parking garages replaced by housing/commercial space, and for individual parking spaces, parklets. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parklet).
I’m really curious to see what happens with suburbs / sprawl. Any predictions for how that will change?
And in a GChat message to me, Kevin writes:[ref]Abridged for clarity.[/ref]
I think the other side of the safety element is that cars themselves have gone leaps and bounds with safety – look at modern supercar technology. Carbon fiber cockpits have people walking away from driving like dumbasses now. How much revolt will there be to that increased perception of safety, though? Will I still have to deal with dumbasses driving 120 on the highway and clipping me? Will I not be wearing a seatbelt? Would that kill me? Will this be seatbelts 2.0 (as in, fatalities remained relatively consistent after seatbelts because people felt safer and drove more recklessly)?
What about private ownership? How can I show off what a rich [consummate gentleman] I am and rub it in everyone’s faces? Do I get to house my private vehicle somewhere (in some big warehouse?) and then summon it when I want? Or do I have to use the same utilitarian pod as everyone else?
Sure, David, Kevin. Great thoughts.
We agree that housing is going to be a huge need and a likely solution for the larger spaces vacated by parking spots.
As for Parklets: Beautiful, sure. But installed across close to 21 square miles? Eep. I wonder if there’s a more practical purpose, you know?
I’d be interested to think about the sorts of microbusinesses which might move into abandoned parking spaces. We’ve seen from the food truck phenomenon that certain types of food services can get away with smaller footprints. Suppose we moved all of the coffee shops and lunch places into parklet-sized spaces and opened up those larger real estate footprints for housing and similar?
As for suburbs/sprawl: I actually think Mumbai is a fairly interesting metaphor for the future of city transportation. Cabs there are prolific, and in my experience never cost more than $1-$2 USD to take you 30-45 minutes across the city. (And that I’m assuming is after they applied a modest “foreigner” tax.)
As for rich/ownership: It’s worth noting that plenty of families in Mumbai & India still buy cars. It’s a significant point of pride, and an important display of wealth/status/success in a society that’s still today profoundly marked by the effects of the caste system. A fair estimate: I think we’ll see the same proportion of people owning private cars in the future as you see people owning private airplanes today.
As for safety: Knowing absolutely nothing about car mechanics, my guess is that cockpits become substantially safer once automakers can eliminate all the human interface components (steering wheel, pedals, etc.) and re-purpose that space for safety, and also, build cars which are more symmetrical. I anticipate seatbelts will still be necessary — you still wear your seatbelt on airplanes. Though in a perfect world, cars might be as predictable as trains — where there’s no belts usually, I think.
As for effects on suburbs: We’re actually also already seeing some of the effects of Sprawl in SF. Here’s a tech company specifically designed to deal with the commute associated with the sprawl, which also bears resemblance to the door-to-door service I’d described in my earlier post.
Two of the less straightforward self-driving car side-effects:
First: Residential real estate in downtown urban areas becomes much less of a premium good. Prices will still go up – real estate prices, as I understand things, will pretty much always go up – because our population is growing wildly.
Second: Anita Elberse’s Blockbuster effect on entertainment / destination real estate. If you thought getting into clubs like Marquee was hard today, think about how the lines will look once everybody in a 40 (80?) mile radius has easy, cheap access every single night. Everyone will want to flock to the blockbuster venues because they can. This might sadly be devastating for midlevel or rural venues which once thrived because, hey, where else are you going to go when you live in Huntington, NY, and you need to be able to get yourself home affordably once last call has been called?
June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
In case you were wondering. This past week, SnapChat unveiled “Our Story.” With it, the company sent this video out to all users. The media has been up in arms raving about how Our Story is some kind of masterstroke. What piqued my curiosity, however, was this follow-up message which SnapChat HQ sent:
Oh hello, SnapChat message with a link in it. Hello, clearly branded messaging. And hello, framework for advertising on SnapChat. Nice to meet all of you.
June 17, 2014 § 1 Comment
Here’s that Google self-driving cars promo video that’s been making rounds lately:
This is obviously completely world-changing.
The thing is, though, this video and its surrounding coverage in the press don’t even begin to explore the best, most exciting externalities of self-driving cars. They get to, maybe, level 2 out of 7.
So I thought I’d lay out some ideas.
Level 1: People who couldn’t use cars before can now use cars. This is wonderful for the disabled and elderly. And maybe even for kids. This is most of what you see in the video — and these groups of people have every right to be excited. But (and I’m definitely wearing my executive business hat here) the real economic impact of this change is relatively not that big a deal.
Level 2: Instead of driving, you can do other things behind the wheel. (Well, “wheel.”) This is the part that the angry internet masses presume Google is probably most excited about. The worry is that when Google says this affords an opportunity to “catch up on email”[ref]For the record, by the way: I absolutely despise this phrase.[/ref] they really mostly mean it’s an opportunity to be served ads or create data for Google to serve ads.
Personally, I absolutely love the fact that being behind the wheel is one of the last few places where you’re forced away from media and left to your own thoughts. The thought of losing that saddens me. I’m not as worried about malicious ads being served. All the modern soccer mom vehicles have TVs in the backseats so that the kids can stay abreast of the latest happenings with Spongebob, and that seems to bother nobody.
I’m a little curious to think about what the most productive & interesting replacement activity would be instead of navigating a steering wheel and pedals, but again, in a large-scale economic sense, this is small potatoes.
Level 3: Everybody switches to self-driving cars. This seems inevitable to me. Once the technology establishes a base level of safety and reliability — it struggles with snow and rain at present, but I can’t imagine those issues will last forever — then the value proposition of a self-driving car is just massively better than a traditional vehicle.
Put it this way: A full-time chauffeur typically costs $50,000-$80,000/year. So you could argue that — at least for the wealthy elite — the self-driving car is worth something like $200k in savings over a 4-6 year use of the vehicle.
That value won’t be the same for lower classes who don’t value the chauffeur (or, the opportunity cost of their free time) as highly, but it’ll still be substantial.
Economically: We lose the traditional chauffeur industry, but that’s not so bad. The car industry’s shaken up, but not gone. It might even boon.
Level 4: Suburbs are more accessible. This could just happen anyway as the internet and digital collaboration get better. (See: Oculus Rift. Read: Snow Crash, Ready Player One, and so on.) Many people avoid the suburbs because of the immense drag of hours of commuting to work in the city or elsewhere. But what if you can work (or even just sleep) on your way to the office?
What happens when the suburbs aren’t just for married couples who want the space to raise a family and can trade off a few hours’ commute time? Do young people move out to take advantage of the substantially cheaper real estate? Does the urban sprawl balloon?
Level 5: The roads are insanely safe. I anticipate that we’ll eventually see the tides turn completely on the perceived safety of driving. It’ll take several years.
Today, self-driving cars are unknown so they seem dangerous. We feel like we can trust human drivers to behave a certain way.
In the future, computer drivers are a sure bet. The faults and lapses of the human mind and senses will still be unknown, so driving a vehicle manually will likely be the outlier and the threat.
An interesting comparable: You can power up the latest Grand Theft Auto game and just start driving around the city. What you’ll find after a while is that the only car that ever gets in an accidents…is the one controlled you, the human.
Once perfectly coherent computers are responsible for manning the heavy majority of vehicles, I’d expect accidents would drop precipitously. I also can’t fathom self-driving cars racking up many speeding tickets.
Here we really start to face some stranger side-effects. What happens to hospitals who no longer have the patient inflow from auto mishaps? What happens to local law enforcement who no longer have the monetary inflow from traffic tickets? Do we need fewer doctors and policemen? Or do we just get better and more aggressive at treating and policing other things?
Level 6: There’s no need to buy a car. A few more years down.
Here’s a big, universal secret that pretty much nobody talks about: Owning a car actually sucks. Even putting aside the fact that it’s already by far the most dangerous thing anyone does on a regular basis (we solved that at Level 4). Your car is incredibly expensive to buy, it’s incredibly expensive to insure, it’s incredibly expensive to use (gas), it’s incredibly expensive to maintain (repairs). It loses value precipitously the second you drive it off the lot. There’s an infinity of teensy tiny nuanced issues (“Has that scratch always been there?”) that quietly add stress to daily life.
Still — today in 2014 (and in years past), that’s a small price to pay for the freedom of being able to say “I need to be 10 miles away from here, right now.”
In the future? Look at what Uber has already done with its on-demand car service. I’m confident their company gets better and better every day at understanding supply and demand — knowing where their cars need to be and when. With self-driving cars, a future company like Uber cuts its most expensive operating cost out of the equation (see: Chauffeurs) and could realistically have an army of cars always standing by. You might realistically be able to schedule regular pickups and routes for yourself. Because you don’t have to pay for a driver, and because you don’t have to pay for the car’s idle time(see: sidebar[ref]Important, relevant side-note: For most of the 24-hour day, Your car’s pretty much just sitting there. Which is the idea driving this whole sharing economy in the first place. You’re paying lots of money to own a car 24 hours a day, and you’re really only actively using it for maybe 60-120 minutes.[/ref]), I’d imagine this could drive individual trip prices down to meet other transportation services where you don’t pay for individual drivers or idle time — you know, like the bus and the subway.
So why own a car when for all intents and purposes it’s just as convenient, and probably cheaper, to rely on hailing cabs which perform all the same functions but cheaper and with less hassle and maintenance?
Also at this point in the future, the symbolic statement of buying and owning a car is all but gone. Getting a car when I turned 17 was a huge deal — it was my freedom and my coming of age. With self-driving cars… who cares? Youths in this future year 20XX have had the freedom to go wherever they wanted since the day they got their first smartphone.
So now the car industry is toasted. It’ll be interesting for the advertising industry too. Car commercials apparently account for 25% of TV revenue. Maybe some day, not everyone will have “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance” beaten mercilessly into their skulls.
Level 7: Real Estate. This part’s deep, deep future. Perhaps accordingly, it’s definitely my favorite.
Today, we use an ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY RIDICULOUS amount of real estate to just let cars sit idly and do nothing.
New York City has 1,100 parking garages and around 4 million metered and unmetered curbside parking spaces. That’s unfathomable. Think about how incredibly selfish it is to hoard all that space just for the sake of having a car waiting nearby.
Our self-driving taxis, however, should never have to sit idle. Like present-day cabs, subway trains, and the like, they’re either always driving, or if they need to be stationary, they’re parked in far-away lots where it’s cheap and not an inconvenience.
All that means we eventually really don’t need parking spaces. Which means for NYC alone, at roughly 150 sq. ft (19 long by 8 wide) per space, the army of self-driving cars has the potential to unlock over 600,000,000 sq ft of land, or 21 square miles. For perspective: Central Park only (“only”) takes up 1.3 square miles.
What’s fascinating about this challenge, though, is that eliminating all the parking spaces in NY isn’t the same as adding 16 new Central Parks, because these spaces are all distributed on the sides of streets throughout the city. So the problem for the future: What’s the best public or private use of a parking space? Of a parking garage? Maybe it’s housing. Maybe it’s some kind of energy production like solar. Probably it’s something just something else we haven’t even begun to dream of.
June 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
As a professional (and as a modern young adult, in general), I spend a lot of time communicating across time zones. I’ve long since lost count of the number of missed calls and connections due to a hiccup in time zone calculation — even calendar invites aren’t immune.
There’s four time zones in the continental US. So, quickly: If it’s 1:00pm in San Francisco, does that mean it’s 4:00pm or 5:00pm in New York?
You’ll probably get the right answer…but it takes a step and a half longer than if I’d asked you “Quick: What’s 1 + 3 ?”
Luckily, I always keep a map of the continental US on-hand.
Don’t see it? Look again:
There. Now sorting out the common time zones is as easy as counting on your fingers.
Two other tips:
- Whenever possible, schedule appointments in your counterparty’s native timezone. Because it’s a simple, thoughtful, and courteous gesture. And because it puts the onus of sorting the time zones on you, and because of your hand map, you’re an expert.
- This doesn’t exactly solve for Daylight Savings Time. You’re generally safe for major US cities. Most of Asia, Africa, and South America don’t bother with daylight savings. The UK observes Daylight Savings Time, (on your world map above, London is usually your right ring finger) but the start and stop dates are different than they are in the US. Tread carefully — or maybe write “I’ll call you at 4:00pm EST which should be 9:00pm locally” so there’s some safety net and paper trail.
Admittedly, this mnemonic fixes a problem which seems fairly small and innocuous. That said, it absolutely makes my life easier on a weekly basis — if only by a hair. In striving to outsource as much of my menial mental work as possible — which I encourage of all of my intelligent friends — this is an easy starting point.
May 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
A prospective client comes to me and asks “Josh, I want to start Business X. What do I do?”
Actually, lots of prospective clients ask me this.
There’s nuance — some have raised serious funding and some haven’t, some want to get into the music space, others in fitness, others in nonprofit, and so on. There’s a lot of specially-tailored advice, accordingly, but there’s some more generalize-able insight I thought I’d share.
The biggest thing I consistently see missing from business plans and aspiring entrepreneurs? Get your first 15 customers.[ref]15’s a good starting point, though depending on the size of the customers, you might want more, you might want less.[/ref]
Things that you (maybe surprisingly) don’t really need in order to get your first 15 customers:
- Funding, investment, or loans
- 10-year financial projections
- 796-page business plan
- Gob’s business model
- A Technical Co-Founder
- Business cards
- Office space
- Precise laser-focused research
Things that you do typically need:
- A few sentences about what you’re envisioning
- Some small prototype/demo
The stuff in the second bullet list: Cheap. The stuff in the first: Expensive — if not costly in terms of money, then in terms of time and prognostication.
We initially did things the wrong way when we conceived Eleven Magazine years ago. As students in an entrepreneurship class, we spent weeks building business plans and financial models and pitching to prospective investors who probably thought we were a bunch of idiots because I’m sure almost every single thing we wrote could be challenged or proven wrong.
It was a fun academic exercise, but it didn’t get us all that far in a practical sense. In the ensuing years of running the magazine, we never wound up referencing the business plan or financial model even once. We’re lucky that we had enough energy, hustle, and intelligent advisors[ref]To whom I am still and forever indebted.[/ref] to get us to the next step — otherwise we could have easily been bogged here forever or given up without even really giving our idea a chance.
What actually got Eleven off the ground was taking our prototypes out to potential customers, selling, and learning. It turns out our initial pricing strategy was utterly ridiculous. It turns out our initial sales strategy — printing out a dense, 11-page[ref]Of course it was 11-pages[/ref] media kit to give to every customer — was also ridiculous. It turns out people did really respond to the product and the physical medium. So we proved we were on to something, and fixed the things that didn’t work.
Before we knew it: Eleven Media Group had its first 31 customers — and our revenue was safely in the black — and we hadn’t even printed our first issue. We also learned a lot about what it would really take to run this company and had a chance to decide whether and how to move forward — without sinking our (or investors’) money into a nebulous pit.
I think the same philosophy can be applied to nearly every business from apps to retail. Sure, there’s a big challenge in securing the right real estate for your retail store, and you’ll want to have an idea of how many customers you’ll need to make the numbers sustainable. But if you do that first — if you put the carriage before the horse — then you miss out on answering key questions like “Is this really something that customers want” or even more importantly “Is this really even something that I want myself?”
Envisioning running a lofty, growing, successful business probably sounds enticing to just about anyone and it’s what drives aspiring entrepreneurs to the arena. Understanding the grit of what makes your startup work is something that will invariably be learned quickly — so learn it before the fixed costs and heavy philosophizing and save yourself from potentially barreling down a lifestyle you might not love or a business that might not work.
Best of all: once you’ve got your first 15 customers, figuring out everything else in that first bucket immediately comes much, much more easily.
(Oh hey, also, I guess. If you thought this was helpful and you’d like to talk more pointedly either personally or professionally, I’m just an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org)