April 21, 2019
Category archive


Amazon’s one-two punch: How traditional retailers can fight back

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If you think physical retail is dead, you couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the explosion in e-commerce, we’re still buying plenty of stuff in offline stores. In 2017, U.S. retail sales totaled $3.49 trillion, of which only 13 percent (about $435 billion) were e-commerce sales. True, e-commerce is growing at a much faster annual pace. But we’re still very far from the tipping point.

Amazon, the e-commerce giant, is playing an even longer game than everyone thinks. The company already dominates online retail — Amazon accounted for almost 50 percent of all U.S. e-commerce dollars spent in 2018. But now Amazon is eyeing the much bigger prize: modernizing and dominating retail sales in physical locations, mainly through the use of sophisticated data analysis. The recent reports of Amazon launching its own chain of grocery stores in several U.S. cities — separate from its recent Whole Foods acquisition — is just one example of how this could play out.

You can think of this as the Amazon one-two punch: The company’s vast power in e-commerce is only the initial, quick jab to an opponent’s face. Data-focused innovations in offline retail will be Amazon’s second, much heavier cross. Traditional retailers too focused on the jab aren’t seeing the cross coming. But we think canny retailers can fight back — and avoid getting KO’d. Here’s how.

The e-commerce jab starts with warehousing

Physical storage of goods has long been crucial to advances in commerce. Innovations here range from Henry Ford’s conveyor belt assembly line in 1910, to IBM’s universal product code (the “barcode”) in the early 1970s, to J.C. Penney’s implementation of the first warehouse management system in 1975. Intelligrated (Honeywell), Dematic (KION), Unitronics, Siemens and others further optimized and modernized the traditional warehouse. But then came Amazon.

After expanding from books to a multi-product offering, Amazon Prime launched in 2005. Then, the company’s operational focus turned to enabling scalable two-day shipping. With hundreds of millions of product SKUs, the challenge was how to get your pocket 3-layer suture pad (to cite a super-specific product Amazon now sells) from the back of the warehouse and into the shippers’ hands as quickly as possible.

Make no mistake: Amazon’s one-two retail punch will be formidable.

Amazon met this challenge at a time when automated warehouses still had massive physical footprints and capital-intensive costs. Amazon bought Kiva Systems in 2012, which ushered in the era of Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), or robots that quickly ferried products from the warehouse’s depths to static human packers.

Since the Kiva acquisition, retailers have scrambled to adopt technology to match Amazon’s warehouse efficiencies.  These technologies range from warehouse management software (made by LogFire, acquired by Oracle; other companies here include Fishbowl and Temando) to warehouse robotics (Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems, Magazino). Some of these companies’ technologies even incorporate wearables (e.g. ProGlove, GetVu) for warehouse workers. We’ve also seen more general-purpose projects in this area, such as Google Robotics. The main adopters of these new technologies are those companies that feel Amazon’s burn most harshly, namely operators of fulfillment centers serving e-commerce.

The schematic below gives a broad picture of their operations and a partial list of warehouse/inventory management technologies they can adopt:

It’s impossible to say what optimizations Amazon will bring to warehousing beyond these, but that may be less important to predict than retailers realize.

The cross: Modernizing the physical retail environment

Amazon has made several recent forays into offline shopping. These range from Amazon Books (physical book stores), Amazon Go (fast retail where consumers skip the cashier entirely) and Amazon 4-Star (stores featuring only products ranked four-stars or higher). Amazon Live is even bringing brick-and-mortar-style shopping streaming to your phone with a home-shopping concept à la QVC. Perhaps most prominently, Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods gave the company an entrée into grocery shopping and a nationwide chain of physical stores.

Most retail-watchers have dismissed these projects as dabbling, or — in the case of Whole Foods — focused too narrowly on a particular vertical. But we think they’re missing Bezos’ longer-term strategic aim. Watch that cross: Amazon is mastering how physical retail works today, so it can do offline what it already does incredibly well online, which is harness data to help retailers sell much more intelligently. Amazon recognizes certain products lend themselves better to offline shopping — groceries and children’s clothing are just a few examples.

How can traditional retailers fight back? Get more proactive.

Those shopping experiences are unlikely to disappear. But traditional retailers (and Amazon offline) can understand much, much more about the data points between shopping and purchase. Which path did shoppers take through the store? Which products did they touch and which did they put into a cart? Which items did they try on, and which products did they abandon? Did they ask for different sizes? How does product location within the store influence consumers’ willingness to buy? What product correlations can inform timely marketing offers — for instance, if women often buy hats and sunglasses together in springtime, can a well-timed coupon prompt an additional purchase? Amazon already knows answers to most of these questions online. They want to bring that same intelligence to offline retail.

Obviously, customer privacy will be a crucial concern in this brave new future. But customers have come to expect online data-tracking and now often welcome the more informed recommendations and the convenience this data can bring. Why couldn’t a similar mindset-shift happen in offline retail?

How can retailers fight back?

Make no mistake: Amazon’s one-two retail punch will be formidable. But remember how important the element of surprise is. Too many venture capitalists underestimate physical retail’s importance and pooh-pooh startups focused on this sector. That’s extremely short-sighted.

Does the fact that Amazon is developing computer vision for Amazon Go mean that alternative self-checkout companies (e.g. Trigo, AiFi) are at a disadvantage? I’d argue that this validation is actually an accelerant as traditional retail struggles to keep up.

How can traditional retailers fight back? Get more proactive. Don’t wait for Amazon to show you what the next best-practice in retail should be. There’s plenty of exciting technology you can adopt today to beat Jeff Bezos to the punch. Take Relex, a Finnish startup using AI and machine learning to help brick-and-mortar and e-commerce companies make better forecasts of how products will sell. Or companies like Memomi or Mirow that are creating solutions for a more immersive and interactive offline shopping experience.

Amazon’s one-two punch strategy seems to be working. Traditional retailers are largely blinded by the behemoth’s warehousing innovations, just as they are about to be hit with an in-store innovation blow. New technologies are emerging to help traditional retail rally. The only question is whether they’ll implement the solutions fast enough to stay relevant.

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What would it mean to eradicate the mosquito?

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From “blitzscaling” to “move fast and break things,” startups are focused on growth and speed – that’s change at scale. I see that focus in the startups in my accelerators and students in my classes at USC. But something related that we rarely talk seriously about is what happens when that growth, speed, and change affects other parts of an existing system. That’s deemed to be outside of our concern.

The business and social effects of change might be more commonly noticed, but today I want to talk about health effects, both positive and negative, that can come from a big and rapid change.

One of the preventable diseases that still kills a large number of people is malaria, spread by mosquitoes. Humans have dealt with this disease for centuries. Even in the US, malaria was only eradicated in 1951.

As high a toll as malaria takes, the number of annual deaths has decreased a lot. While in 2015 there were 212 million malaria cases and 429,000 deaths, just 20 years earlier the numbers were much higher, with estimates of 300 – 500 million cases with 3 million deaths.

The decrease in malaria deaths is multifactorial but mainly came from a few initiatives: the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, better medicines that can be taken temporarily, and the reduction of mosquito breeding sites like standing water.

While bed nets and medication have helped reduce human suffering and deaths due to malaria, it seems obvious to take the next step and try to eliminate malaria entirely. But since there is still no effective vaccine against the plasmodium parasite spread by mosquitoes plans for eliminating malaria often call for eradication of mosquitos, or specifically the Anopheles gambiae species that carry human malaria strains.

This approach — eradication of a targeted species that is the disease vector — is relatively uncommon. Some who question the approach warn against unintended consequences of such an effort. They are right to want to understand the larger effects, so the next questions are how do we make this decision? And are we cruel for not eradicating mosquitoes if we can? Would this decision be delayed if malaria were still a problem in the US? Do we even have the authority to attempt intentional species eradication? How do we even make these decisions?

The comparison that last question usually draws is that of smallpox eradication. When, in 1980, the disease was determined to be eliminated from human populations it was a triumph of decades of vaccinations and swift response to outbreaks.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – MARCH 04: Aedes aegypti mosquito, the species which transmits the dengue virus, chikungunya fever and zika is photographed on March 04, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by William Volcov/Brazil Photo Press/LatinContent/Getty Images)c

There are several ways to attempt Anopheles gambiae eradication. Since mosquitoes have gained resistance to many classes of insecticides and the plasmodium parasites also have resistance to antimalarial drugs, other methods are used.

One way is the release of large numbers of sterilized males. This process was successfully applied to the screw-worm fly in the US in the 1950s. A similar approach could be taken with mosquitoes as well. It’s a temporary solution since even a small number of non-sterilized mosquitoes that manage to mate can rebuild a population. The Debug project has an ongoing trial of this technique with Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika, yellow fever, and dengue fever.

There is also a program to use CRISPR gene editing to introduce genes for infertility into the mosquito population.

The approach taken with smallpox – too vaccinate the disease away – doesn’t work with malaria, at least not yet. Current versions of the vaccine require four separate inoculations spread over weeks. Even then the efficacy rate is around 39%. (And vaccines are a technique that would enable the mosquitoes to continue to bite humans, who are immune from malaria.) So that brings us back to the idea of eliminating mosquitoes.

A starting point to evaluate that decision is to take mosquitoes as part of a system that will change if they are eliminated. Taking a whole systems approach isn’t so much delaying a solution as it is trying not to create a new problem by the quick actions mentioned above.

The other side of the equation is that malaria-carrying mosquito species are not large sources of food for other animals. The non-biting males are among the many insects that pollinate different types of plants, but are only major pollinators of one type of orchid. Note also that biologist E. O. Wilson is in favor of mosquito eradication.

But if malaria-carrying mosquito eradication happens, there are other potential negative outcomes. At least one of them could affect more than the current number of people dying from malaria today.

People change their habits. Without mosquitoes keeping the human population away from prime mosquito habitats like swamps and rain forests, more people may move to these areas. People may then push out other animals and prepare unoccupied lands for logging and farming. Also, people may hunt and eat more “bush meat,” a source of other cross-species diseases, including Ebola and AIDS.

Stating the potential negatives of eliminating malaria is easy outside of a malaria infected area. Could we make an attempt at estimating potential deaths from both options?

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The other micro VC allocation model

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Portfolio co-founder: Our other investors want to participate but our lead wants to take most of the round.

Me: OK

Portfolio co-founder: So that means pro-rata is going to be tough.  

Me: Let’s see what everyone says.

A few days later.

Portfolio co-founder: The math worked out. Some people didn’t do their pro-rata and others did more.

Me: In theory, this shouldn’t happen because everyone is doing their pro-rata, but this is usually how things seem to work out. The round wasn’t going to be put at risk over pro-rata.

We’re always curious to see how rounds come together when there is limited capacity for both new investors and existing investor pro-rata. For the most part, there is supposed to be one core investor strategy; the maintainers, who use reserves and then opportunity funds or SPVs to avoid or minimize dilution. Sometimes there are also accumulators, who use multiple rounds to expand their ownership, but this is more common in private equity outside of venture capital.

The maintainers are pretty well understood. They have the typical $1 in reserve for each $1 invested, mirroring a common strategy espoused by some of the best VCs. USV shared a great example including fund allocation assumptions. Accumulators are a little more surprising to meet, but Greenspring, which is uniquely positioned to observe a lot of early-stage managers, hint that one of their top performing managers uses the accumulator strategy to get to more than 20 percent, fully diluted at exit. That’s not the whole story though, because, unlike USV, the strategy also involves some additional important assumptions, most notably investing in less-competitive geographies.

We’ve seen other allocation strategies, but we don’t see a lot written about them. For example, some investors tend to be among the first checks and, going through our co-investments with them, it’s clear they don’t always take pro-rata, but don’t seem to fuss about it. Here’s a great example of how one of today’s very best seed-stage investors, Founder Collective, thinks about this:

We dilute alongside our founders over time. So we have the same incentives as our founders to increase the value of the company in future financings.

It’s easy to dismiss this as founder-friendly at the expense of LPs, but I suspect Founder Collective’s LPs don’t see it that way at all. It’s hard to know how often this positioning leads to a higher win rate on competitive deals, but let’s assume there is little difference. Does the math work?

Let’s assume a VC is buying 20 percent of the company and then riding the dilution train down to a fully diluted 5.2 percent on exit at Series F (thanks to Fred Wilson again; in this example, we’re using one of his recent frameworks with these exact numbers). For a $50 million fund, this works just fine. Interestingly, it looks similar to the result for a $100 million fund with reserves, but the later assumes that they can always secure pro-rata and they can make use of opportunity funds to get a bit more upside.

We’ve discussed this a lot as we deployed our last fund. The vast majority of people insisted we needed $1 for every $1 invested, but we found that, thanks to our fund size, the math seemed to work without significant reserves if we purchased enough ownership upfront and, as Founder Collective notes, it seems to align better with founders and our growth-stage co-investors.

Longer funnel (not wider)

We’ve seen two major changes since we first started investing 12 years ago. The first is well-reflected by a recent deck shared by Mark Suster at Upfront, and highlighted in the slide shown below. It seems like the top of the funding funnel is getting wider.

It’s true that seed stage has grown 3x in the last decade. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the funnel only got wider. It also made it taller, like the image below.

One way to think about this — what used to be a sequence of “seed, A, B” is now, often, but not always a new sequence of “pre-seed, seed and seed+.”

Series A investments are totally different today than they were 10 years ago. But the Series A round is much more competitive because a lot of new money has shown up to play here and this makes accumulation and maintain models much harder, especially for seed and Series A stage-focused funds.

Who are these new players adding to the competition? Some are new VC funds, but a lot of them are corporate VC (CVC) funds.

Where is all this CVC money going? We’re pretty sure it’s not in pre-seed or seed, though there is some CVC fund of fund activity into seed funds, but that’s not reflected in this data. And we’ve only seen a few instances of seed+ CVC activity. Interestingly, to find a good example of this, you probably don’t have to look further than Lyft’s S-1, where GM and Rakuten join better-known tech CVC Alphabet.

Regarding the founder conversation referenced earlier, the round is coming together because of a strategic investor who is leading it. This has become more common. Like Lyft’s team, founders understand tech and value sector-specific corporate investors as partners.

We don’t think we’ll see a slowdown in CVC interest any time soon because, much like their big tech counterparts, incumbents in sectors from transportation and real estate to energy and infrastructure all realize that the startup ecosystem is now an extension of their product development process — VC and M&A are now an extension of R&D.

It’s not just that there is more money competing for Series A or B deals now. That money has different goals beyond pure financial returns and the value add is different from VCs. CVCs often bring distribution, ecosystem and domain expertise. So the end result is more competitive A or B rounds and more complex pro-rata discussions.

Strategic pro-rata shuffle

Founders are still trying to sell no more than 20 percent of their company, while traditional VCs are trying to buy 20 percent and we still have to figure out pro-rata for existing investors while making room for growing interest from strategic investors.

For Urban Us, we’ve embraced these new round dynamics — they may make growth-stage allocations a bit more tricky, but strategic investors can deliver a lot of value. One clear result — it’s sometimes better for us not to take our pro-rata at series A.

High conviction before Series A

We tend to think of high conviction as a Series A idea — i.e. Series A investors who accumulate, maintain or use opportunity funds. But the same concept is now at work in the tall part of the funnel — the two or three stages before Series A.

We’ve long been fans of accelerator models like YC, Launch or Techstars. We’ve co-invested with all of them. While there was a sense that “not following” presented signaling risk, accelerators have found creative ways to sidestep the issue — for example, joining rounds only if there is another lead. So this means they can concentrate holdings before Series A.

We now have our own accelerator, URBAN-X, because we’re best positioned to help address some unique challenges for the urbantech companies we’re looking to back. This allows us to be the first investor in most of our portfolio companies. And we can own enough of the company before Series A so we can still achieve our fully diluted ownership targets on behalf of our LPs.

As we look over scenarios related to when we first invest or when we think it will be hard to get pro-rata, we can find a few different paths to a target ownership position at exit. Some variations are shown below reflecting our approach for our newest fund.

The math

Obviously there are many different paths to ownership, especially in a world with two or three rounds happening before Series A. We’ve run a few simulations to understand the impact of different follow-on strategies. To explore different seed-stage allocation approaches, we modified Fred Wilson’s “Doubling Model” to explore a few of the variations. Only one change — we replaced Series A with seed+ as it’s more inline with what we’ve seen. It’s also important because it implies one less round of dilution in some seed strategies. We also assumed most seed investors invest in syndicates, so they don’t buy 20 percent unless they’re on the large end of fund sizes – i.e. $100 million+.

We explored what happens when seed investors make a single investment to buy 10 percent of a company and never follow-on and how might that compare to selective B and C-stage follow-ons or using progress from seed to seed rounds to avoid dilution on more promising companies. There is also the question of the implied fund size and number of investments — if you can make high conviction bets early, you get to make more investments even with a relatively small fund. But eventually you bump into time constraints for partners — getting to 40 deals with two partners can work, but presumes you are not a lone wolf partner and that you make hard choices about where to allocate time — which often seems harder than allocating money.

Up to about $50 million there are a range of possible strategies that can work, but diluting with founders allows more investments, even with smaller funds versus more traditional aggressive follow-on. More deals may be essential to the success of this model. Here’s our modified version of the doubling model (changes to the model are noted with blue cells).

Diluting alongside founders

VCs routinely remind founders that they shouldn’t worry about dilution because they will have a smaller share, but the pie will be bigger. Mostly this math works for founders, so why not VCs? Founder Collective is the only other firm we found that is explicit about aiming for this result. And this may be even more necessary today to make room for more strategic VCs to join traditional VCs.

At Urban Us our investment model is focused on getting fully diluted ownership before Series A. If we can do some pro-rata or sometimes if we need to do a bridge to buy teams more time, we’ll do that. And we’ll be equally excited when founders are able to bring in great new investors to help them through their next growth stage, regardless of their allocation strategy.

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7 steps to building an engineering competency matrix

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Every engineer deserves a clear growth path so they can understand, plan, and execute on meaningful career growth. Providing a framework for this growth (we call ours a competency matrix; it’s also known as a career ladder, or professional development ladder) is important work, and the responsibility of any organization that wants to nurture and grow its employees.

Back at the beginning of 2018, we had 32 developers and a plan to double throughout the year, we already had a competency matrix, but it was woefully outdated. It focused on our more junior levels, maxing out at a level which some developers had already reached. It was also misaligned with the skills our organization had grown to value, which meant in practice, we often ignored it. It was time for a re-design.

Building a new competency matrix was a learning process, and a lengthy one, taking about eight months to complete. Along the way we discovered things we valued, as well as what the keys steps to building a career ladder are (and which ones are wasteful). While every matrix is different, and will reflect the values of the organization that wrote it, the process of producing a succinct career ladder to guide your team is consistent.

When we published our new Engineering competency matrix in December, we received many emails from teams saying they were working on similar systems. Because of this feedback, I want to share the steps we went through, and the lessons we learned, to help teams reach a productive conclusion with much less waste, and in much shorter time, than trying to figure it out from scratch.

If you want to provide your employees and reports with a clear, agreed-upon and well-defined path for growth within your organization, then this is for you.

Image via CircleCI

Step 1: Make this someone’s top priority

In retrospect, this was the biggest factor in our lengthy redesign process. I had initially taken on this project as one of my many side projects. The only time I had to dedicate to the matrix were early mornings, late nights, and weekends. This was a passion project for me, and I loved working on it, but I was not able to give it the care it needed.

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Ten steps to prepare for an exponential future

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If it feels like technological change is happening faster than it used to, that’s because it is.

It took around 12,000 years to move from the agrarian to the industrial revolution but only a couple of hundred years to go from the industrial to the information revolution that’s now propelling us in a short number of decades into the artificial intelligence revolution. Each technological transformation enables the next as the time between these quantum leaps becomes shorter.

That’s why if you are looking backwards to get a sense of how quickly the world around you will change, you won’t realize how quickly our radically different future is approaching. But although this can sometimes feel frightening, there’s a lot we can do now to help make sure we ride this wave of radical change rather than get drowned by it.

Here’s my essential list:

  1. Do what you can to preserve your youth
    Scientists are discovering new ways to slow the biological process of aging. It won’t be too long before doctors start prescribing pills, gene therapies, and other treatments to manage getting old as a partly curable disease. Because most of the terrible afflictions we now fear are correlated with age, medically treating aging will push off the date when we might have otherwise developed cancers, heart disease, dementia, and other killers. To maximally benefit from the new treatments for aging tomorrow, we all, no matter what our current age, need to do what we can to take care of our bodies today. That means exercising around 45 minutes a day, eating a healthy and mostly plant-based diet, trying to sleep at least seven hours a night, avoiding too much sun, not smoking, building and maintaining strong communities and support networks, and living a purposeful life. The healthier you are when the anti-age treatments arrive, the longer you’ll be able to maintain your vitality into your later years.
  2. Quantify and monitor your health
    You can’t monitor what you can’t measure. If you want to maintain optimal health, you need a way to regularly assess if you are on the right track. Monitoring your health through regular broad-spectrum blood and stool tests, constant feedback about your heart rate and sleep patterns from devices like your Apple Watch or Fitbit, having your genome sequenced, getting a full body MRI, and having a regular colonoscopy may seem like overkill to most people. But waiting until you have a symptom to start assessing your health status is like waiting until your car is careening down a hill to check if the brakes are in order. Some smart people worry that this kind of monitoring of “healthy” people will waste money, overwhelm our already overburdened healthcare system, and cause people unnecessary anxiety. But even the healthiest among us are in the early stages of developing one disease or another. Society will inevitably shift from a model of responsive sick care of people already in trouble to the predictive healthcare trying to keep people out of it. Do you want to be a dinosaur-like victim of the old model or a proactive pioneer of the new one?
  3. Freeze your essential biological materials
    Our bodies are a treasure trove of biological materials that could save us in the future, but every morning we still flush gold down the toilet. That gold, our stool, could potentially be frozen so we could repopulate our essential gut bacteria if our microbiome were to take a dangerous hit from antibiotics or illness. Skin cells could be transformed into potentially life-saving stem cells and stored for future use to help rejuvenate various types of aging cells. If our future treatments will be personalized using our own biological materials, but we’ll need to have stored these materials earlier in life to receive the full benefit of these advances. We put money in the bank to ensure our financial security, so why wouldn’t we put some of our biological materials in a bio-bank to have our youngest possible rescue cells waiting for us when we need them and help secure our physiological security?
  4. If you plan on ever having children, freeze your eggs or your sperm
    More people will soon shift from conceiving children through sex to conceiving them through IVF and embryo selection. The preliminary driver of this will be parents’ increasing recognition that they can reduce the roughly 3% chance their future children will be born with dangerous genetic mutations by having their embryos screened in a lab prior to implantation in the mother. This may seem less exciting than making babies in the back seat of a car, but the health and longevity benefits of screening embryos will ultimately overpower conception by sex kind of like how vaccinating our children has (mostly) overpowered the far more natural option of not doing so. If you are likely to conceive via IVF and embryo selection, why not freeze your eggs, sperm, or embryos when you are at your biological peak and when the chance of passing on genetic abnormalities is lower than it may be later in life?
  5. Manage your public identity
    The days of living incognito are over. No matter how aggressively some of us may try to avoid it, our lives leave massive digital footprints that are becoming an essential part of our very identities. The authoritarian government in China is planning to give “social credit“ scores evaluating the digitally monitored behavior of each citizen in a creepy and frightening way. But even in more liberal societies we will all be increasingly judged at work, at home, and in our commercial interactions based on our aggregated digital identities. These identities will be based on what we buy, what we post, what we seek, and how and with whom we interact online. Some societies and individuals are smartly trying to exert a level of control over the collection and use of this personal data, but even this won’t change the new reality that our digital identities will significantly influence what options are available to us in life and represent us after we die. Given this, and perhaps sadly, we all need to protect our privacy but also think of our public selves as brands, managing our digitally recorded activity from early on to present ourselves to the world the way we consciously want the world to know us.
  6. Learn the language of code
    Our lives will be increasingly manipulated by algorithms few of us understand. Most people who were once good at finding their way now just use their GPS-guided smart phones to get where they need to go. As algorithms touching many different aspects of our lives get better, we will increasingly rely on them to make plans, purchasing decisions, and even significant life choices for us. Pretty much every job we might do and many other aspects of our lives will be guided by artificial intelligence and big data analytics. Fully understanding every detail of how each of these algorithms function may be impossible, but we’ll be even more at their mercy if we don’t each acquire at least a rudimentary understanding of what code is and how it works. If you can read one book about code, that’s a start. Learning the fundamental of coding will do even more to help you navigate the fast arriving algorithmic world.
  7. Become multicultural
    Pretty much wherever you were in the 18th century, you needed to understand Europe to operate effectively because European power then defined so many parts of the world. The same was true for understanding United States in the 20th century understanding America was imperative for most people living outside of the United States because US actions influenced so many aspects of their lives. For many people living in 20th century America, understanding the rest of the world was merely interesting. As China rises and Global power decentralizes in the 21st-century, we’ll all need to learn more about China, India, and other new power, population, and culture centers than ever before. This won’t just help you become a more well-rounded person, it will give you a far greater chance of success in most anything you’ll be doing. Although machine translation will make communicating across languages pretty seamless, you’ll need a cultural fluidity and fluency to succeed in the 21st century world. The good news is that people motivated to learn about other groups and societies now have more resources than ever before to do so. If you want to be ready for our multicultural, multinational future, you’d better start doing all you can to learn about other cultures and societies now.
  8. Become an obsessive learner
    Technological change has been a constant throughout human history, but the pace of change is today accelerating far more rapidly than ever before. As innovations across the spectrum of science and technology empower, inspire, and reinforce each other, multiple technological transformations are converging into a revolutionary whole far greater than the sum of its parts. This unprecedented rate of change will mean that much of your knowledge will start becoming obsolete as soon as you acquire it. To keep up in your career and life, you’ll need to dedicate yourself to a lifetime of never ending, aggressive, continuous, and creativity-driven learning. The only skill worth having in an exponential world will be knowing how to learn and a passion for doing it. Call me an old-fashioned futurist, but this learning process must include reading lots of books to help you understand where we have come from and how the disparate pieces of information fit together to create a larger story. This type of knowledge will be an essential foundation of the wisdom we’ll each and all need to navigate our fast-changing world.
  9. Invest in physical community
    We humans are social species. A primary reason we rose to the top of the food chain and built civilization is that our brains are optimized for collaborating with those around us. When we bond with our partners and friends, we realize one of our essential cord needs as humans. That’s why people in solitary confinement tend to go a bit crazy. But although our progression from feeling our sense of connection, belonging, and community has expanded from the level of clan to village to city to country to, in some ways, the world, we are still not virtual beings. We may get a little dopamine hit whenever someone likes our tweet or Facebook post, but most of us still need a connected physical community around us in order to be happy and to realize our best potential. With all of the virtual options that will surround us – chatbots engaging us in witty repartee, virtual assistants managing our schedules, and even friends messaging from faraway lands among them – our virtual future must remain grounded in our physical world. To build your essential community of flesh and blood people, you must invest in deep and meaningful relationships with the people physically around you.
  10.   Don’t get stuck in today The olden days were, at least in most peoples’ minds, always better. We used to have better values, a better work ethic, better communities. We used to walk to school uphill in both directions! But while we do need to hold on to the best of the past, we also need to march boldly into the future. Because the coming world will feel like science fiction, will all need to be like science fiction writers  imagining the world ahead and positioning ourselves to shape it for the better. The technologies of the future will be radically new but we’ll need to draw on the best of our ancient value systems to use them wisely. The exponential future is coming faster than most of us appreciate or are ready for. Like it or not, we are now all futurists.

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