The Starting Situation
I was the engineering lead and had a pretty decent team of developers, architects, and UX designers around me. The company had an unhealthy love affair with SCRUM, so productivity and employee satisfaction was low, but we fixed that.
The company was an established one. It had products on a market which were sold using ecommerce at its best. Online ad campaigns and affiliate partners drove traffic, the fulfilment chain was all online and highly automated. From a performance marketing point of view, we lacked the latest and greatest in comparison to what mobile apps using Flury or comparable tools were able to do but this was a solvable problem.
The major problem was the shrinking overall market that made some competitors react in interesting ways: Some of them simply abandoned it. The products targeted on Windows clients only and its features got implemented into new Windows releases aka the software got obsolete.
The vision of the company – also never formulated in this way – could be summarized to “help consumers manage and organize their digital environment”. When it started, the digital environment pretty much was the PC. But this is no longer true.
Today it starts from your smartwatch, over mobile phones and tablets, notebooks, PCs, TVs, up to your cleaning robots, the car and home. All of them are digital and smart in their own respect but function only in silos. It was obvious that the industry would form working groups to enable communication between these silos as happened with Google Weave for example. But it was also obvious that this would take a long time and competitive standards would exist for a long time which is the rationale behind Deutsche Telekom’s Qivicon. On top comes the move towards the economy of share.
Our vision was to build a holarchy – aka the project name Holarchy. A holarchy is a system of diverse systems that react as a whole more intelligent and capable than its parts alone. A typical biotope is an example. As such the holarchy provides some interesting aspects such as adaptability to environment changes or ability to grow and shrink.
The vision here was that each device is part of your personal holarchy as well as pure cloud based services. The holarchy would treat devices as sensors, actors and agents while cloud services would have been agents alone. The holarchy would act as biological systems act in playing with new systems to learn their capabilities as well as cross function between each other. The holarchy would have been a distributed system by nature that would survive the drop off of single members. Members would have had a trust level within the holarchy meaning that some highly individual and personal devices such as a mobile phone would have been higher trusted as a vehicle from the car sharing which was obviously only temporarily part of the holarchy. So the ability to issue certain requests into the holarchy or holding certain data points belonged to the trust level of the device.
This was a brave vision and while all parts for its implementation were on the horizon (e.g. IBM Watson was just announced), it was a big thing. So we started to work towards it while extending our current product base. We did a platform that spanned several clients. We developed features using machine learning. We build a data collection mechanism that would help us to understand our customers better. Lots of stuff we did.
But the owners decided otherwise.
Not Brave Enough??
The vision was dropped due to financial issues with the current product set. The strategy was to fix this by concentrating on what had worked for decades. In a way I can totally understand this strategy and while it would not have been mine I helped executing it as far as I was needed.
But it nagged me. I was legally and morally bound not to pursue with this idea. I made some suggestions on different ways to save the team. In the end it did not turn out.
So, I see now companies like http://improbable.io/ or projects like https://www.ethereum.org/ and think, this could have been us. Some of it are building blocks for our idea, some are comparable long term in their vision and got founded. But I did not go this route…
I was not brave enough to do this because…
- No way of bootstrap. For this, my personal wealth was by no means big enough. I would have needed external investment. But I would have been a large chunk of this investment as my monthly personal cash flow would have been significant.
- I had no network within the VC scene and no time to build it.
- Malta. It is a great place to live and has a lot of talent. Prices are affordable but the investments available are simply magnitudes too small to drive something like that. These types of investments you only get in London, Silicon Valley, maybe Berlin…
So, I decided not to go for it…