Satellites in Singapore

The Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest passages in the world. While Malacca is a coastal city in Malaysia, the straight is often associated with Singapore. Today Spire announced the opening of its new Singapore office from which it will manage and launch nano-satellites. As much of the world is covered by ocean, these satellites in near-polar orbits will, once fully deployed in a constellation, allow for asset tracking on the open oceans at as a high a frequency as every five minutes. Whereas today automatic identification systems (AIS) allow for tracking roughly each six hours, this will dramatically improve data and information about ships in passage. 

Today Singapore's largest newspaper, The Straits Times announced that Spire will launch six satellites in the coming year from India, managed from Singapore. And Asia's largest tech platform, Tech in Asia, published this article entitled, "Spire to Fight Sea Pirates from Space - Using Nanosatellites." 

Constructing Real-Time Identity

Mobile ubiquity is changing the way we live, but it's also changing the way we work. We take more calls remotely, and "work from home." While we may still call it "Inside Sales," for many, those calls happen on the clock, and also on the weekend. 

Research suggests that people make better decisions when they have data at their fingertips. While we have data in CRM and ERP platforms, and in the public cloud on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, it's cumbersome to look up and cohere information in real time to inform decisions. 

Klink, founded by serial entrepreneur Inaki Berenguer, does just this. It constructs a real time identity profile compiled off 100 public and private sets of data, and displays this information so that you can make real time decisions from your mobile. After, you can log that information back to you CRM or ERP system for next time. 

The hope is that with better information sales reps can always be closing

Opening the Kimono on Venture Capital

Using Kimono Labs application programming interfaces (APIs), the task of sorting and displaying data just got easier. Whether for pricing products, managing customers, or tracking trends, data has long been locked away, accessible by only those with the chops to write web scrapers. Not an impossible task, but a diurnal dilemma of where and when to dedicate those resources. By bringing down the costs around asking questions and answering them with data, Kimono is putting tools in the hands of domain experts. 

Analyzing ten years of data pulled from Y-Combinator, the incubator that has fostered $30 billion in valuation through DropBox, Heroku, Airbnb, Stripe and other startups, Kimono asked the question, "Does YC invest before or after trends become popular." 

Overwhelmingly they saw that YC investments antedated trends. While not surprising that the preeminent incubator appeals to early adopter minds looking at problems on the fringe of the innovation spectrum, it's noteworthy. The question then becomes, if YC is investing ahead of coming multi-billion dollar trends, then what is going to happen next? 

Venture Capitalists seek the crystal ball, and data is as close as it gets. 

Check out the Kimono analysis, and the three trends it highlights. Millennials, those aged 28-33, are starting to pop out babies. As good entrepreneurs problem-solve around pain points they feel, there is a swelling not just in belly, but in Family Tech as an investment category. Incubators are fertile in their creation of new parenting companies.  And as we move increasingly to mobile, to micro-transactions, and the demand for frictionless payments, digital programmatic currency becomes interesting. BitCoin is the dominant form factor of Block Chain technology, and is thus on the rise. And finally, the mechanics of gene sequencing are changing and costs are coming down. These companies are beginning to demonstrate scale dynamics not formerly known to "Science" companies.

If YC data proves right, the next problem solvers are already innovating, and the next $30 billion in valuation creation is already likely upon us in these industries. 

Turning the Web Inside-Out

Today Pando Daily ran a great article on Kimono Labs entitled "Structured Web: YC Grad Kimono Labs makes its giant repository of user-generated APIs searchable." Kimono has been allowing anyone to build application programming interfaces (APIs) off web data that has previously been locked away. This is not just Open Data, as is being pushed by Obama and the US Government, but it's making data open and machine readable, accessible to query across devices and platforms. It makes data genesis agnostic, and provides an agnostic infrastructure layer to power application development. So far the team is just over 6 months old and has 20,000 users who have created 65,000 APIs across scores of countries, borders, and data sets. Today they made that searchable. 

This is only the beginning of re-mapping the Internet of everything based not on pages as proxies for information, but of information as exists embedded in any form factor. 

Fighting Pirates from Space

I recently took on a role as an advisor to Spire Global, a big data company powered by small satellites, also called SmallSats or CubeSats. Spire is part of a growing wave of companies that provide high-frequency data as an infrastructure to inform and improve traditional industry. For Spire, they are a remote sensing company powered from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), focused not on imagery and not on land, but on the other senses over the 75 percent of the planet that is covered by water. Over 1.5 billion metric tons of goods are sent by container ship across the world's oceans each year, accounting for the majority of global trade by volume and value. Yet when most ships leave coastal waters, they are tracked infrequently at best, leading to lost goods, piracy, and other inefficiencies. 

Ships have automatic identification systems (AIS) that allow for periodic tracking, but poor satellite coverage means maritime domain awareness (MDA) is low. Spire seeks to improve maritime domain awareness by providing much higher-frequency coverage of ships so that companies may track their assets on every ocean, in every ship, every hour. Shipping giants like Copenhagen-based Maersk own over 1.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) inside which goods move across the earth, creaking their way over grey waves on the high seas. It's Lean Startup applied to global trade.

Spire is launching small sats to power big data that will help improve maritime domain awareness for global shipping and commodities. When rocket scientists launch satellites to fight pirates from space, Silicon Valley is doing something right. 

Data Knows No Borders

After a month in Asia, Kimono Labs, has grown its user base on the continent, and seen some interesting use cases, as highlighted in this great article from Tech in Asia. The article highlights how Kimono has allowed early adopters in the region to leverage Kimono to build APIs in seconds that do things like track incoming election data in real time in Indonesia and India. There was also an example of using Kimono to power an API that took Beijing pollution data and tied the results to a set of lights, powering the lights to flash at higher frequency for days with worse pollution. 

The applications are far and wide, agnostic and global. It's only the beginning. 

There will also be interesting data challenges, as "Data Knows No Borders." Recently, the FT has put together some great pieces on "Digital Trade: Data Protectionism" and "Data Across Borders." Soon, open data will take on the sorts of debate as open trade.

Will the Open Data Jagdish Bhagwati, please stand up!

Startups for Retirees, not just Drop-Outs

After a drastic road biking accident at 21 mph and a debilitating brain injury, my 68-year-old father went from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to iOS development. His story demonstrates that old dogs can learn new tricks, good things can come from the suburbs, and dropping-in is something we all can do. We need not all be drop-out "bro-grammers" to play a role in the startup economy. My father has used retirement to follow a dream.

Read his story about launching the World Cup Scout app for iOS on Medium:

Startups for Retirees, not just Drop-Outs

Data Flows via Kimono Labs

When we think about data, we imagine a snapshot, a static image. The visual presentation of most data is in stock, rather than flow, format. It's a graph, or a chart. Sophisticated startups use Dashboards, and tools like MixPanel or Google Analytics to monitor trends, but there is not yet a "Dashboard as a Service," or plug and play solution for data flow visualization across a multitude of use cases. 

This week Kimono released an integration with Google Spreadsheets such that any Kimono API can become a dynamic data flow into a Google Spreadsheet, updating that spreadsheet in real time if the underlying information called by the API changes. The impact of this release is that Kimono users can sort through massive time series data sets using crawling APIs, and now they can view data in Google Spreadsheets that are updated dynamically based on the underlying information. 

In the future we imagine a world where analysts don't display charts, but rather dashboards. PowerPoints will be productized, and data flows, rather than static numbers, will become the norm for information sharing. One Kimono API at a time. 

Taking Kimono to Japan

Kimono Labs, a nine-person, seed-funded, YC-graduate, has hit the road.

Columbia PhD drop-outs Ryan Rowe and Pratap Ranade founded the company at the Hanoi Social Club in Vietnam, and their global mindset has not slowed since. After launching in San Francisco, and making their first key hires, they were at an inflection point. The company was well capitalized and working long hours, but they wanted to leverage their opportunity as a small shop, to really create team bonds, harness their pace and commitment, and also do it in a way that could accelerate team, product, and traction. Pratap decided that Kimono should learn the roots of its namesake, and decided to take the team to Tokyo for a month. 

With backgrounds at Frog Design and McKinsey & Company, founders Ryan Rowe and Pratap Ranade had respectively worked on teams solving problems all over the world. For each of them, their teams were tight-knit, hard-working, and often bonded over their unique surroundings. Common circumstance brought them closer together as a unit, enabled them to better focus on and solve the problems at hand, and ultimately stay inspired by being in new environments.

Kimono is beta testing a new form of company building. It's beta testing what happens when you take a nine person startup on the road, drop in on a foreign city and culture, and keep pulling all nighters. Taking a startup on tour might just be the way to maintain high energy, and keep your team on the avant garde of purpose.

A/B Testing for the Physical World

Storefront, often called the "Airbnb of Commercial Real Estate," was recently featured in a great New Yorker article called "A Pop-Up Shop for Every Artist." The article highlighted how Storefront allows online first merchants to locate and lease short-term space to run "pop up shops." This trend, allowing online first, convenience heavy, experience light, companies to create short term physical locations, is on the rise. Everyone from Kanye West to Birchbox to Warby Parker to Everlane are getting involved. But traditional stores are also engaging in this trend to incorporate "Lean Startup" methodologies of being data-driven, and having faster feedback loops. Rather than open a new location based on historical information, and lock into the relationship for a decade, companies like Gucci are looking at pop-ups to run short tests of conversion in different geographies.

This trend to test conversion rates with A and B versions, called "A/B testing" online, was captured by Optimizely for websites. With a valuation north of a billion dollars, this is a big idea. Storefront is doing this not for the online world, but for offline, physical, commercial real estate. By allowing online and traditional offline merchants to locate, rent, and facilitate the creation of short term pop-ups, they are enabling merchants to "A/B test" in the offline world. Soon we will see stores running real time tests, and making data driven decisions on where to expand.

In New York, the legacy pricing of Fifth Avenue will fall once we realize that the wealth is concentrating in Williamsburg. In San Francisco, the Mission might yet become the Union Square, and in London, Shoreditch could soon be Knightsbridge. 

For thoughts on "Lean Retail," please see my Bloomberg TV interview.

New Course on Angel Investing

Based on my experience speaking at entrepreneurship events around the world with the U.S. State Department, I realize that access to capital is one of the primary impediments to business growth in emerging markets. As such, it's as important to bolster technical and managerial human capital, and give confidence to local angel investors, as it is to encourage young founders to assume the risk of starting a company. Access to capital remains one of the biggest challenges, because of the inherent risk profiles of startups, and the requirements of portfolio investing.

Early stage companies are inherently those with the highest risk of failure. Therefore, for an early stage investor to offset risk, they must invest in a basket of these early stage companies, or a "portfolio." Having a portfolio of many companies helps offset the risk of any one company failing, but it also predisposes that investor to a highly local strategy. If he or she has many portfolio companies, and these early stage companies are at the highest risk of failure, and therefore need guidance, it is incumbent on the effective early investor to be proximate.  

All this to say, access to capital is a challenge because at the earliest stages it must be a local process. As companies grow, and as risk of failure decreases, regional capital can flow in because investors are able to confidently deploy larger checks, and have fewer companies in their portfolio, also reducing the imperative that they be as proximate. Therefore, in developing a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem, very local seed and angel capital must bridge startups into regional capital markets. That means local wealth must be reinvested, and take risk.

Perhaps seed capital is local, venture capital regional, and private equity global, purely based on the profiles of risk, and imperatives of portfolio balancing. 

Highlighting some of these ideas, and the basics of angel investment, I have created a course on SkillFeed entitled "How to Angel Invest in Startup Companies." The 11 minute course is but an overview, but can highlights how interested angel investors can get involved through platforms like Angel List. 

To learn more about getting started, please see my Angel List Syndicate