4 Sep 2014

Startups and Innovation

(Disclosure: I work for Google, but these are my personal ideas.)

A few years back, a lot of people were worried that tech startups are doing frivolous stuff like yet another mobile social or photo-sharing app.

But now, startups have branched out into the real world. I can think of many innovations that happened in the past few years: Big Basket [1], for example, delivers groceries to your house.

Boosted Boards wants to build a transportation system that’s more efficient than metros and buses while being cheap and giving you some physical activity, rather than sitting while being transported. And without requiring pre-existing infrastructure, unlike, say metros, which cost billions of dollars worth of infrastructure to run.

Aeromobil wants to build a car that can fly. Now that’s a science fiction idea!

The Hyperloop is a train that travels at airplane speeds, while being cheap. More down to earth is the Tesla Model S.

Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies want to change how payments work. Now that’s an idea I’d have never thought of. They want to bypass the financial institutions at the heart of the current financial system, institutions that at the worst are downright corrupt and immoral, such as funding genocide, and at their best merely impose themselves as the middleman in every transaction to take a cut of the money flowing through, via extremely complicated and abusive fee structures. Bitcoin has such wonderful properties as you being able to transfer your money to another party without it going through a middleman.

Tile wants to give you Bluetooth Low Energy tags that you can stick on all your valuable or important stuff, so that you can locate it if it’s lost.

Then there are delivery drones such as Google's Project Wing and Amazon Prime Air. And other Google projects such as providing worldwide Internet access via balloons and via a network of 180 satellites. And via Google Fiber — gigabit Internet at an affordable price. Not to mention the self-driving car.

Then there’s the sharing economy, exemplified by Uber and its competitors, and by Airbnb. And things like smartwatches and fitness devices, and 3D printers.

Then there’s something again that’s right out of science fiction: the nuclear fusion startup Helion.

The argument that tech innovation is all about trivia like social photo-sharing apps is no longer valid. There’s a breathtaking amount of genuine, groundbreaking innovation going on. It seems that progress suddenly speeded up in the last few years, with many bold and outright science fiction-y ideas being tried. It feels like we’ve reached a tipping point. The world will move forward much faster now. I’m excited about the future.

[1] I like Big Basket. They get a lot of things right: a wide selection of groceries and related household essentials (like detergent) that you’d normally buy in a supermarket, free delivery for an order above ₹1000, and cheap delivery (₹20) otherwise, an option to pay online or on delivery, and if you choose to pay on delivery, an option to pay via cash or card, choice of delivery times (and they actually deliver in the chosen slot, every time), and so on. They do have to fix their web site, which doesn’t work properly on phones and tablets, and fix their mobile app to work properly on tablets, but their basic service and product are excellent.

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