Founders Hack was in Bielefeld and it was great!

Some (or none) of you may have wondered what was I doing on a mid-June weekend. Me being me, I went to the city of Bielefeld and mentored in the first Founders Hack. It was a typical gloomy German weekend, yet the hackathon was probably the best thing I have seen in a while.

The best part of the hackathon were actually the teams. I was impressed with the stunning mix of experienced business professionals and pumped up techies. In fact each team without exception managed to deliver a well thought over and absolutely uptodate solution.

It started during the day.

And went on during the night. Some went on till 4am.

A big differentiator to other hackathons were the real life challenges. They were drawn from actual opportunities (or problems) and provided by industry leaders from the Bielefeld area: Wortmann, Miele, Boge, Alcina, Benteler, Claas.

Some went a step further e.g. Boge impressed by bringing an actual product to make the teams play with their machine.

Challenges focused on IoT and machine learning with 2 prominent IoT ones being: 1) build an IoT based business model for the laundry care in sharing economy, and 2) track spare- & wear parts in a complex machine. Then the machine learning challenges explored using external data sources to track fashion trends and ways to increase efficiency in farming with data from agricultural engines.

The final delivery was in the form of a short pitch in front of the cheering crowd in a fully packed theater. And the prize was a unicorn!

Now add to this the fantastic Lasse Chor who orchestrated the event with a ton of great vibes and the tiresome Founders Foundation team, and you have an unforgettable weekend.

This event has definitely left a mark. I believe it is the first time when I saw corporates connect with startups and take over the initiatives into their agenda. For me the secret sauce to make this work would be well summed up with few words: curated team building, well defined areas of interest and business opportunities for the corporates, unhindered access to corporate executives, energising moderation and mentoring.

Most importantly, there was plenty of food. Just kidding but there was indeed good food :). All the time!

Before
and after

“This is Bielefeld” – these are the true words of Jackson Bond from Relayr, the word is spreading. One thing is clear, entrepreneurship is no longer reserved for Berlin, Hamburg, München and Cologne.

The perfect storm in transportation is near and … not just there

 

Not a big fan of breaking headlines but certain technology highlights in the last years are starting to connect better then ever before. And it seems that visionaries and industry finally start to agree. We are witnessing major trends that will re-shape whole industries in a shorter period that we have ever experienced before.

I am pointing at trends in transportation such as::

  • Carsharing
  • Electric vehicles
  • Autonomous driving
  • Machine learning

Carsharing has taken the market by surprise and is becoming more popular by the day. European providers like DriveNow and Car2Go address the daily transportation needs in the city while Drivy, Croove and SnappCar are taking a share from traditional car rental by using privately owned cars. These companies effectively reduce the number of cars on the streets, remove the burden of car maintenance and undermine the desire to invest 30K+ in buying a car. The idea is so good that carsharing is being eyed by established players such as EasyGroup, the company tasked to expand the EasyJet empire, or Europcar, the 2nd biggest European car rental company (via its investment arm).

Takeaway: expect less cars on the streets in the long term, less car sales and revenue from spare parts for car manufacturers.

Electric cars are around us and whoever has tried the i series BMW or Tesla, knows the driving experience if not better is at least at par with current cars. And the acceleration is unbeatable so I am definitely in :). But more importantly electric cars are simple, they have 18x less moving parts than a combustion engine car and thus need close to zero maintenance. And even if needed, I am in no doubt repairs will be done by a robot in the very near term. A major concern before, recharging, is becoming significantly less of a concern with battery life getting longer and charging stations growing in numbers.

The advantages of electric cars and wide acceptance of the public are being unmistakably recognised by car makers such as Daimler which recently announced its own Gigafactory. It came as a result of the acceleration of its electric car plans and backed by $11 bn. KUDOs should go also to Tesla which has pushed the whole car maker industry to move faster and bolder.

Takeaway: expect less demand for oil and gas, increasing uncertainty for energy companies, less revenue from spare parts for car manufacturers, job losses in car maintenance.

Autonomous driving and machine learning are no longer an innovation. Self driving cars are around us, make total sense and are here to stay. Machine learning as one of the ingredients of autonomous driving is being adopted so fast that it will soon be considered a commodity.  Autonomous driving makes our roads safer, eases traffic and saves us tons of time. It is good not only for private use but also in public transport and moving goods. There are already autonomous driving luxury cars and truck trains on our highways but have you thought about autonomous driving buses? Because it won’t be long before you find yourself on one of those.

Takeaway: expect job losses in transportation e.g. professional drivers, even greater increase in efficiency in transportation and car sharing, further reduction of vehicles on the streets.

So what would our life look like in less than 10 years? I think something like this.

The rosy part: Commute in cities either by car, bus or rail will be driverless. Most vehicles will be electric. Very few people will own a car. The fee from A to B will vary based on provider, vehicle brand, transportation experience e.g. the latest interior and entertainment Audi concept. It might even happen that cities abandon public transport and outsource it to private providers that offer autonomous fleets on demand. These fleets might well optimise the routes so that they do not follow a predefined route but drive commuters to their door.

Car manufactures will become vertically integrated fleet manufacturers and managers. New type of vehicles will emerge, many models will become obsolete and will be abandoned.

Technology providers like Google, Uber and other technology-first giants will enter the transportation sector, and will have an edge on autonomous driving technology over car manufacturers.

The not so rosy part: Professional drivers, mechanics, petrol station workers will become obsolete. Smaller car manufacturers will fight for survival, some brands might disappear. Garages will disappear. Energy companies will be seriously hit from lower than expected demand for oil and gas as well as investments in oil and gas exploration.

And to ease a bit my apocalyptic predictions, stay tuned for the next blog post about my exciting experience at the Founders Hack event in the city of Bielefeld.

Easter blogging – Blockchain in examples

After the intro into the world of bitcoin and blockchain and then showing the link to financial services, now is (finally) time for my last post in the series and this time about real world applications of blockchain. Luckily the long wait till I finally write it down, came with new findings so it was worth the extra time.

 

If you remember some of the prominent use cases for blockchain were:

  • Identity – blockchain allows to safely store, confirm and distribute personal data which is applicable for KYC.
  • Registry – blockchain could keep track of records of ownership, enable exchange of ownership of physical assets for digital ones, or just store information for public or permissioned access.
  • Smart contracts – blockchain can create and execute autonomously financial contracts e.g. payouts.

And here are some interesting services that I found with time:

  • Notary services are offered by Bitproof, Blocksign, Stampd and others. In the core of the services, a digital version of a signed document is uploaded and the parties share their acknowledgement in the form of a video (or other means). This comes at a 99% less cost than a traditional service and goes at a price of around 10 cents (or less) in Stampd. Ironically, I have stored the links for this article for some months and the first 2 did not open today. Not sure if they are still live, and in addition a recent article cast doubt on the readiness of such solutions as they do not seem to ensure that it was you who signed the document and that all parties did so voluntarily.
  • KYC via ShoCard. ShoCard offers a digital identity solution that records your personal information and stores it on your mobile phone while keeping a hash of it on their servers. This allows to use your info in numerous places without having to repeatedly provide proof that this is you and you provide the correct information as it was already verified once. This is quite useful for speeding up the KYC procedure for financial institutions but can also go towards replacing your driving license with a digital proof and logging into websites with a fingerprint from your phone.
  • Peer to peer everything – Arcade City is the “Black Market” Uber. It came to light after Uber and Lyft had to shut down operations in Austin, Texas. The response from the community was to set up a FB group where rides are requested and drivers pick them up. Arcade City aims to build on this momentum and remove the middleman in ride-sharing by connecting riders and drivers directly by using blockchain. It wants to take a small cut of payments once the company finished building its app. The company has been very controversial as it seems to have missed on promises and features but the idea is mindblowing.
  • Decentralized asset exchanges and marketplaces with notable examples such as BitStampBitShares, RMG Royal Mint and BitBond. BitShares claims (full source):

a high-performance decentralized exchange, with all the features you would expect in a trading platform. It can handle the trading volume of the NASDAQ, while settling orders the second you submit them.

Decentralization gives BitShares robustness against failure. When a centralized exchange is compromised, millions of dollars and thousands of users are impacted all at once. In a decentralized system, any attack or failure impacts only a single user and their funds. Users are in control of their own security, which can be much better than any centralized entity.

With BitShares your trades execute in seconds, just like any centralized website interface. Unlike centralized exchanges, there can be no high-frequency trading, front running, or hidden orders. This puts all traders on a level playing field.

  • Distributed ledger as a platform – projects like Corda, Hyperledger Project and Ethereum have built the foundation for execution of smart contracts. Such platforms standardise the way to store, manage and automate legal agreements between businesses. For example, Corda is being developed by R3, a consortium of over 70 of the world’s largest financial institutions. Their mission is “the establishment of an open, enterprise-grade, shared platform to record financial events and execute smart contract logic” (source: Corda website).

Some of the listed apps and platforms are growing pretty fast and experiencing wide industry acceptance (e.g. Corda, Ethereum), others seem to be still defining their value proposition and in development. But all in all the blockchain market evolves with more services, platforms and currencies starting every year, and blockchain is here to stay.

And for those celebrating Easter. It’s a time for eating all the chocolate you can find with complete impunity!

Have a delicious Easter with your beloved ones!!!

The Netflix culture – a myth or a must for company growth and sustainability

This time my topic is around company culture and in particular the culture of Netflix. Also big apologies to those expecting my next post on blockchain, please have some more patience, it is almost there, and I just could not hold on to share this Netflix jewel.

My personal experience and believe is that culture does not come from senior management or below but is set by the founders and the CEO (if not the same). In that respect, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, gave a stunning example on culture and leadership by putting it altogether in a not so short presentation (you will find it below). He published the actual presentation in August 2009 when most of us were worried about the financial meltdown and existential topics. May be this is why it took so long for people to actively talk about it (or maybe it is just my humble me noticing it just now).

Reed Hastings made it clear that instead of nice sounding values (and often fake ones), he has designed the actual ones for his company. And so that there is not too much interpretation involved, he added plenty of examples :-).

“The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.”

Takeaway I: The nine Netflix values are as follows:

  • Judgement
  • Communication
  • Impact
  • Curiosity
  • Innovation
  • Courage
  • Passion
  • Honesty
  • Selflessness

Reed has explained pretty well what each one means so please take a look in the deck, below you will find just my own takes coupled with a bit of commentary.

For me values such as Judgement and Communication point towards resolving the plague of each business – employees NOT being empowered to make decisions and communication flowing efficiently. But there is a catch – this of course is only possible if the people in place are AAA professionals. Else said (Takeaway II):

“Great workplace is stunning colleagues”

and

“Unlike many companies, we practice: adequate performance gets generous severance package”

and

“We are a team, not a family – we are like a prosports team, not a kid’s recreational team”

Takeaway III: Reed also references to The Keeper Test manager case. This is something I have vaguely practiced but never managed to summarise it so crisp: if somebody tells you he/she will leave, are you going to fight hard to keep the person?

At Netflix internal attitude such as “cutthroat” or “sink or swim” are not tolerated. Yet, this can apply only for a AAA team that will tolerate fast learners or otherwise

“Sustained B-level performance, despite “A for effort”, generates a generous severance package, with respect”

“Sustained A-level performance, despite minimal effort, is rewarded with more responsibility and great pay.”

The focus on high performance comes on a seemingly scientific measure:

“In procedural work, the best are 2x better than the average.”

“In creative/inventive work, the best are 10x better than the average.”

Takeaway IV: The Rare responsible person – yet another ingenious concept. Reed is referencing to the rare type of attitude towards self improvement, self motivation and that can even be spurred in people that pick someone else’s trash in the office and throw it away.

Takeaway V: When company grows, it often fails to add proportionately top talent to its workforce. Sometimes I even believe managers are afraid to surround themselves with top people and see them as a threat. The solution – grow talent density faster than complexity. In other words outgrow complexity created by growth by hiring top talent at a faster rate than the growth itself (as much as you can).

Takeaway VI: Netflix is not in a safety-critical market such as running nuclear plants so it rather focuses on rapid recovery. This for me translates quite clearly to the Facebook’s Motto

Move Fast and Break Things

But at Netflix, also Fix fast. 🙂

Takeaway VII: Another interesting point is the Netflix approach to working hours and vacation: No 9am to 5pm work policy, no vacation policy. Practically no tracking, yet people are actively encouraged to take generous retreats and come back with fresh ideas. And on top

“Career “Planning” Not for Us”

Netflix has dismissed formalised planning including mentor assignments, rotations, multi year career paths.

“High performance people are generally self-improving through experience, observation, introspection, reading, and discussion.”

Takeaway VIII: Managing through context

High performance people will do better work if they understand the context. Highly Aligned, loosely coupled … approach for corporate team work.

and

Investing in context means – frequent department meetings, being open about strategies and results.

Takeaway IX: (Last one 🙂 Always pay top of the market and do not connect payment with the well being of the company as times change but you can be successful only with top talent.

payment is aligned with what the market pays and what would cost to replace such a person.

and

… side effect is that rarely there will be a higher offer if somebody wants to leave.

and

it is tolerable to talk to other companies and then talk to your supervisor about your actual market value

This is all from me for today. Hope enjoyed the read and I will follow up soon with my next article.

P.S. All citations above are courtesy of Reed Hastings.

Blockchain in the context of financial services

In my last post I put together a brief intro of bitcoin and its characteristics. This is how we reached the topic of blockchain which is behind bitcoin. In the context of financial services blockchain is a ledger or in other words it represents historical records of verifiable monetary stake. There is a wonderful demo what blockchain actually looks like on Anders Brownworth’s blog.

Knowing what blockchain is, why is it so useful in financial services?

Trustless exchange – Two parties are able to make an exchange without the oversight or intermediation of a third party, strongly reducing or even eliminating counterparty risk.

User control -users are in control of all their information and transactions e.g. physically may own it and provide a public token as reference to it.

Data integrity and quality – blockchain data is standardised, consistent, and widely available.

Reliability – due to its decentralized nature, blockchain does not have a central point of failure and is better able to withstand malicious attacks. With the reservation/pre-condition that the consensus process cannot be manipulated.

Transparency and immutability – changes to public blockchains are publicly viewable by everybody in the blockchain thus creating transparency, and all transactions cannot be altered or deleted. This is the equivalent of one single source of truth for all.

Ecosystem simplification – putting all transactions on a single public ledger, removes the complications of multiple ledgers and many parallel truths.

Faster transactions – nowadays interbank transactions can take days for clearing and final settlement, especially outside of working hours. Blockchain transactions can reduce transaction times to seconds (or minutes) and are processed 24/7.

Transaction costs – by eliminating  intermediaries and overhead costs for exchanging assets, blockchains have the potential to greatly reduce transaction fees.

Permissions and rich consensus process – a public blockchain is a blockchain that anybody in the world can read, can send transactions to and expect to see them included if they are valid. Also anybody in the world can participate in the consensus process – the process for determining what blocks get added to the chain and what the current state is. Consortium blockchains: a consortium blockchain is a blockchain where the consensus process is controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes; for example, one might imagine a consortium of 10 financial institutions, each of which operates a node and of which 7 must sign every block in order for the block to be valid. Fully private blockchains: a fully private blockchain is a blockchain where write permissions are kept centralized to one organization. Read permissions may be public or restricted to an arbitrary extent.

Original sources for the points above + my own commentary: Deloitte on blockchain technology/Ethereum blog

Blockchain has already been widely applied in financial services. In most cases we talk about proof of concept applications but there are already several exchanges running on blockchains and many other exciting applications (more on them in my next article). Organizations like R3 and Digital Asset Holdings have worked tirelessly to understand the market fit of blockchain and provide software kits which then to a great extent enabled the blockchain revolution.

Some of the most prominent use cases for blockchain are as follows:

  • Identity – blockchain allows to safely store, confirm and distribute personal data which is applicable for KYC.
  • Registry – blockchain could keep track of records of ownership, enable exchange of ownership of physical assets for digital ones, or just store information for public or permissioned access.
  • Smart contracts – blockchain can create and execute autonomously financial contracts e.g. payouts.

My post got pretty lengthy this time so let me stop here. In my next article I would like to share some really interesting real life applications of blockchain.