In 1990, when my team started a software company, we estimated that we would need $20 million in financing to get off the ground. For my second startup, in 1997, we budgeted for $3 million. If I were starting a similar enterprise-software company today, I would probably seek $500,000. Mobile- and social-app developers often make do by maxing out their credit cards. That is how much things have changed. And as computing continues its exponential march, the cost of developing sophisticated systems will drop even further.
It’s not just computing. Other technologies are advancing exponentially and converging. Advances in fields like robotics, A.I., synthetic biology, 3D printing, medicine, and nanomaterials are allowing small teams to do what once was possible only for governments and large corporations. Anyone, anywhere can build solutions to humanity’s grand challenges — in areas such as health, energy, food, education, water and security. The good news is that the world’s entrepreneurs are beginning to do just that.
So rather than stating the obvious and predicting the evolution of social media and enterprise computing, let me present the big trends that I see for global startups.
Exponential technologies enable entrepreneurs to think bigger. Take medicine as an example. Entrepreneurs are already using inexpensive MEMS-based sensors to build iPhone cases that act like medical assistants and detect disease, smart pills that monitor our internals, and tattooed body sensors that monitor heart, brain, and body activity. Not long ago, human genome sequencing became possible, but cost millions. Today, it is possible to decode your DNA for about a thousand dollars. Genome data will soon be available for millions, and then billions, of people. Startups will be able to discover the correlations between disease and DNA and develop technologies to prescribe personalized medications tailored to an individual’s genome. Using “synthetic biology” they will create new organisms that attack disease cells.
Advances in 3D printing and nanomaterials will revolutionize manufacturing. Artificial Intelligence and robotics will enable the development of personalized assistants, robotic surgeons, and self-driving cars.
It will be the entrepreneurs and their startups that take on most of these challenges. After all, they are the ones with big ambitions, and they don’t fear slaying the Goliaths — the established companies that dominate industries.
Soon, hundreds of millions, and then billions, of people will come on line with these affordable devices. These will open up opportunities for startups everywhere, and global e-commerce will explode.Tablet computers provide the platform for a new era of globalization. In the U.S., PC-makers have no incentive to lower prices because it kills their profit margins. They keep adding new features like high-end retina displays and faster processors to justify their high prices. So the developing world is taking up the challenge of building technologies for the masses. India’s Aakash computer is the pioneer in low-cost computing: a full-featured tablet that retails for around $50. It is as functional as earlier versions of iPhones and laptops — devices that we used to think were marvels of technology, and which changed our lives.
Crowdsourcing the world. X Prize Foundation and Singularity University founder Peter Diamandis predicts that crowdsourcing will change the world as much as the Internet did. In an email to me, he wrote, “the explosion of crowd funding ($2.8 Billion in 2012), crowd-content creation, microwork, crowd ideation, open-source hardware and software and the myriad of other ways to tap cognitive genius and resources from around the world are leading to an unprecedented explosion in entrepreneurship. It is now easier than ever to be a startup factory of one – an individual with passion and an idea, who can purchase anything they need online to bring the vision to life.”
Diamandis explains that in the connected world “you can brainstorm your ideas with the crowd, fund your ideas, create your logo, Powerpoint, and business plan, write your code, launch your website, promote your website, design your products, and then manufacture and distribute your products, all from your living room wearing your pajamas.”
Startups of the past may have been able to live in their own local shells, but 2013 will mark the year when entrepreneurship makes the next big leap toward global. The world’s billions will start solving their own problems, and entrepreneurs start connecting with each other across the world.