By Pavlo Phitidis
Take five days in New York, and five days in London, add in thirty-one meetings and, what do you get? You get my whirlwind trip that saw me meeting with some of the world’s most aggressive start-ups, to learn more about their businesses, funding approaches, and current trends.
On this week’s The Money Show with Bruce Whitfield, we talked about what I learnt:
Politics in New York and London
New York is the city that never sleeps: bustling, but efficiently run. While the political landscape is quite interesting right now, New York retains its incredible atmosphere. During my meetings, I learnt that US business people believe the Trump administration will positively bring down regulation and taxes releasing more money into the business environment. On the other hand, it might also stem the flow of young, driven, ambitious talent into the economy which is also responsible for most of the exciting start-ups governing the landscape.
London is an interesting place to be, especially considering the current Brexit uncertainty, and the upcoming national elections. Unfortunately, I was in London when the Manchester arena terrorist attack took place, which has the city on high alert. In London, there’s a definitive negativity around the political landscape, especially in terms of business growth, establishment and entrepreneurship. The uncertainty around EU citizens operating businesses within the UK is a big concern for many and May is not trusted nor liked. It's good to know most people everywhere are unhappy about their political leaders - it's not just a South African thing!
In both instances, these views are specifically those of city dwellers and don't represent the population at large. Neither New York nor London are reflections of anything in America or England respectively.
Media in Crisis
The phenomenon of ‘fake news’ cannot be ignored, especially in the US environment. Interestingly, it’s even led to the establishment of some new businesses. I met with a start-up company who create content platforms for celebrity sportspeople. Leveraging their massive online and offline followings, celebrity sportspeople can share their view around an event or issue, and the content platform then goes on to elegantly curate the response and conversations around that topic. This platform was built mobile-first and, considering the significant mobile penetration across the globe, we must keep in mind that whoever owns the user interface, owns the customer.
Mitigating the effects of cybercrime is growing ever more important. I chatted to Yahoo’s Head of Security, Bob Lord, about their recent hack, where multiple Yahoo accounts were accessed and exposed online, and made an alarming discovery: that the hack was linked to Russian hacking operatives. The issue of Russian influence and somewhat nefarious activities remains a huge concern for US business people. System hacks and attacks are highly concerning, even more so than issues around Intellectual Property (IP). Firewalls and protocols for inbound digital content are easy to put in place, the challenge lies in the behaviour of your staff. Who is opening what emails, who is loading what content using memory sticks – that’s where the criminals gain entry!
The Future of Travel
I met with two CEOs of autonomous car manufacturers. They’re finding first traction with moving people around – shuttles and the like. I also met with an automotive repair store owner in Rochester who is currently exiting his business. It was highly interesting to see how the margins in dent repair are declining, because fewer small accidents are taking place, thanks to the evolution of vehicles with technology-driven, or smart, capabilities. Smart cars does not mean autonomy only but cars that predict accidents ahead of them occurring. How we define smart matters because in that lies many opportunities that you are most likely leaving unexploited!
It’s easy to rent office space and facilities in New York: you can rent anything from space to software, by the second, hour, or day. This has brought down the costs of starting businesses, and created a huge amount of flexibility for new businesses and entrepreneurs. No matter where I went in London and New York, I had free WiFi, the whole way through. This is vital as a retailer - offer free WiFi to enable customers to easily research their desired products, or investigate price alternatives. This way you can respond immediately to a competing offer to get the deal done rather than let your customer leave your store.
I attended a talk by Gary Kasparov, the Russian Chess grandmaster - he was the first world champion to be defeated by a computer under standard time controls, so the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is important to him. While many people feel that robots will replace many jobs, Gary believes that instead, we should be excited by the opportunities for new jobs that will be created. The concept of co-botting, whereby people use robots or technology, to make our jobs easier, is not new, but it will become more relevant and common as the AI industry evolves.
Physical being constantly attacked by virtual
The establishment of Sorbet stores may have been a response to the demand for personal care services, but the business model behind it may not work out in the long term, because it relies upon human interaction and physical stores. On the converse, there is a tech-driven start-up in the US who, through a mobile application, enable their users to create bespoke, personalised toiletries and hygiene products, that are delivered to their door. Will I buy a customised product through my phone as and when it suits me or will I spend time and money in a commute to get to a physical store? It depends on who your customer is!
Meeting with the company’s co-founders was a reminder that having a partner in business is essential, especially in front of investors. A co-founder ensures continuity in your business: something every investor is looking for, and that makes it more likely that you’ll be able to attract funding.
The Music Industry
I met with co-founders with a deep history in the music industry. They created an app that, as a recording studio, empowers artists to create music, using just their mobile phones. Through crowdsourcing elements to create new tracks, budding artists can establish themselves, while the company behind the application scouts for new talent.
Aurik can help your growing business build towards becoming increasingly more relevant and competitive in a changing world. We have big gains in South Africa, where we can innovate outside the globally competitive eye. Get in touch with us and let’s start building that new direction with you in your business.