Hong Kong, China and Indonesia have arrived

After booking my tickets to arrive in Hong Kong the day before my girlfriend left for China, my botched surprise visit to see her meant that I went on their family trip to Guangzhou as well.

Hong Kong is immense. This was my second visit, which again revealled more of the layers which add to its standing of world truly great cities (along with London, Paris and Tokyo). I’ve love to travel and would have done a lot more if I didn’t get so utterly addicted to snowboarding for 10 years of my life. So far I’ve been to 35 countries but can’t wait to increase that list a lot. What I consider a “truly great city” is not exactly set in hard measurements, but things like: its place in history resonating through it, feeling the current status of global power, a unique sense of place and design influences, having so much to do you know you will have to return, and being safe and secure through sheer power of numbers.

Hong Kong is a city set on so many more levels than any other city. On the ground level you are among a market place of street traders selling anything you could ever imagine, the middle floors are bars and restaurants again filled with anything you could imagine, and at the top you get pools and bars and places to watch the world. It is a hot and sweaty place that at first seems dauntingly higgldypiggldy, but whose charm unravels as you begin to learn your way around. What initially seem like endless piles: containers, tower blocks, shop goods, become a manifestation of a human hive with intricate structures and cultures that simply cannot be held back. It fills you energy and a sense that you are free to make anything happen, as has happened time and time again. I’ve seen that there is at least one startup accelerator program in Hong Kong – I think looking at property tech. It’s an obvious starting point for entering the Asian market with western business incubation concepts. The way Asians do business is often different than the UK, they defer innovation for trends. If they see someone having success they move faster to follow that concept. When launching un-tested products, rather than taking the trendy lean or agile approaches of tech startups, they launch 8 or 9 products at once and if any of them take off, they plough their resources into that product.

The people of Hong Kong are friendly. Randomly, the twice I’ve been there, they’ve done an occupy march – once for the anniversary of Tianomon Square and the second time against the Chinese government handpicking the candidates they can vote for in the up-coming elections. Each time they fill up Victoria Park with hundreds of thousands of people showing solidarity. The Chinese government censored the media for the remembrance of Tianomon Square. Watching the world news a lot on tv, there was not much mention of the second protests either. How that situation will play out is interesting – will China risk another annex by arrogantly refusing democratic principals, or will it become more flexible with it due to its newly integrating position? With democracy seemingly at a low point due to its ineffectiveness for dealing with well balanced elections and prompt or well supported decision making, it is worth keeping an eye on Hong Kong and its struggle to re-integrate with mainland China.

I then went up to Guangzhou, China for a few days. We stayed in the Sofitel hotel which was a 5* plush (and relatively very cheap) hotel. When we arrived there was a Russian delegation inside the whole place was filled with huge men with ear pieces before we were ushered to the side and the main convoy went through. I don’t know who any of them were, but one of the women looked like she could of punched a hole through enforced steel.

Guangzhou is way more developed than I expected. It was modern. It had places of real architectural beauty. It’s huge! It has a population of about 20million people! But it is well organised and actually didn’t feel too crowded.  The jewel in the crown is a very new part of the city that contains a sports arena shaped like a yacht, a new opera house and a huge, beautiful tower that is 600m high – massive. We went to the top for a look and Guangzhou just went on and on into the smoggy distance.

I read a newspaper article when I was there, which outlined the 5 richest people of China. The new richest guy was Jack Ma, following the Alibaba floatation. 3 others on the top 5 list were from technology backgrounds: 1 from renewable power, 2 from web products. This new techno-elite are replacing the property tycoons who are falling down the list and often being arrested for corruption too. Obviously, you notice not being able to access google services when in China. And Soundcloud and Twitter and others (can’t even remember if I checked facebook so much it has declined to me). I found my own website, TimeMaps, on there, which was nice as it certainly pays reference to Chinese history . I was surprised to see Wikipedia available and also any Apple service. Most people think that blocking of these websites is due to censorship, and maybe it is as I didn’t dig deep in to Wikipedia. But I began to think that it was more for economic steering that some of these websites were being blocked. Almost any search on Baidu had Alibaba flooding the first page (to raise its value before going public?).

I really can’t comment too much, I am only basing this off my own limited experience rather than a lot of research, but surely if people really wanted to communicate, they could via VPN servers or using Whatsapp (facebooks way into China?). And with Google taking over the on-line world and making a lot of money as well as developing advanced technology and keeping massive datastores about people- for an inward looking country such as China, why would they want Google in there? I would of thought it was more for economic competition than for censorship that this was happening. I wonder what is our own media casting shadows over their censorship and what is the truth? Now that Snowdon has revealed the extent of Western governments spying on its citizens, and leaders, online activity, is there any difference between the 2 systems in their keeping the truth from their citizens?

On the train back to Hong Kong, through Shenzen (which is touted as being “the next Guangzhou”), a 2 hour fast-train journey, I was surprised to see that at no real point did we ever leave built up areas. It seemed like a constant suburb interspersed by the odd large city. I can understand where the 1.2 billion people of China are now.

And I am now writing this from Jakarta. Another huge city of around 11-12 million. Its hot here, and there is a lot of traffic. Too much traffic. This is due to decades of corrupt government lining their own pockets rather than helping their people. There is a barely started MTR (underground) line currently being built very slowly and a mono-rail supposedly in production too. These will turn Jakarta into a mega city – the powerhouse of South East Asia. I say this because already you can see the wealth and investment here: it is already growing at a faster rate than Beijing.

It has everything it needs to be a great city apart from transport links and green areas. There is also a massive gap between the haves and have nots. There needs to be a higher minimum wage and better transport. Once people can move more easily, and safely, both physically and up the social ladder, then it is ripe for growth on a huge scale. Currently, the working classes drive on motorbikes or the very poor public bus service. They rely on this to get to their £125 a month minimum wage jobs. They cannot afford to purchase the motorbikes outright, so they have to use credit. This makes them cost twice as much and ties them into their job. Most of the jobs are soul-sapping service jobs with limited room to progress up the ladder. I hate to think that the next Einstein is out there, working in a Seven Elven.

The difference between the working and middle classes is huge. The middle classes have money to burn and enjoy the abundant and cheap luxury that is available. Many (/most) middle classes have maids and drivers to support them, again offering a stable environment for their staff, but with little opportunity to invest heavily in their families future.

I would like to see cheaper credit or alternative finance schemes for the motorbikes. I would also love to see these be made electric with very cheap electricity provided by their employers. This would get rid of the need for the current subsidies on fuel which are only for the poor, but which is open to gaming of the system. The price of fuel could rise significantly for the affluent middle classes – the environment would also benefit.

The incoming President has a tough job to turn Indonesia’s promise of success into a reality. Not only must he overcome the legacy of a violent incumbent political elite, and a cabinet that is out of his favour currently, but he must win the confidence of the people with sound policy and reduction of corruption. I wish him all the best as he is a symbol of change in a great nation held back by the greed of its previous rulers.

In summary, my trip to the East has been amazing and would recommend any of these places to people. Anyone who was ever in doubt about the potential of the east to overtake the west needs to come and understand that, yes, it might take time (in the case of Indonesia), but often it has already happened.

Now to forget about all this people stuff and head to Bali to the beach :)

 

Land Wiki enters the Hub Westminster Launchpad Accelerator Scheme

My new venture is now fully embedded in the Hub Launchpad Accelerator Program!

This means we have taken a round of seed funding, have a super cool new office on Haymarket, just off Piccadilly Circus, and have undertaken our first week of an intensive 14 week program. land wiki logo

The name of the project is: Land Wiki ( subject to change). Land Wiki is trying to achieve two goals with one website:

  1. Make it easier for residents to discuss and change land in their local area that has the potential for better use.
  2. Provide a comprehensive database of available land for individuals, community groups and property developers that are searching for land.

Its been a fun but gruelling first week where we’ve been stretched and tested, repeatedly challenged our assumptions, we’ve pitched, been mentored, we’ve ‘got out the building’, we’ve designed products for people with disabilities, and we’ve met a lot of cool people.

Watch this space for an update and our first publicly available demo!

Should we be allowed to 3D print humans?

When Oscar Pistorius sprang in to the scene in the para-Olympics, the materials used to repair his legs went beyond simply corrective measures and enhanced his ability to sprint up to a level comparable with able bodied athletes.

In fact, the likelihood is ( well, was before be started killing people) that his adaptations could have been modified so that he could of run faster than the standard speeds professional sprinters reach.

But to a modern bio-engineer, Pistorious’s legs enhancements would look like cavemen’s tools. In the near future, we will be able to 3D print out body parts that operate in the same way as our current parts. But why would we stop there? Technologically, it would be possible to advance these body parts beyond our current capacity. Eyes with better than 20:20 vision; or, like a bird of prey, that could see beyond the light spectrum. Expect them within 10 years. Already new tracheas, kidneys, and bones are in use. Don’t expect the technology to stop advancing.

Legislation and moral debates may hold off the implementation before the technology makes it possible. Moral debates such as: should we be able to ‘make completely new people?’, ‘what should we limit our enhancements to?’, ‘should we be allowed to create entirely new species of animal?’.

These debates should be engaged with now, as once the technology is there, it will probably find a way to happen with or without the public awareness. Just think GM vegetables and cloned meat that we regularly consume without really realising. We slept walked through these debates.

The next phase of evolution is happening in the laboratory and it is incredibly exciting. I would love it if I could slow down ageing or effortlessly stay fit. But the difficult moral debate doesn’t seem to be anywhere. People think I’m making up the breakthrough technology I read about in New Scientist each week.

As so many potential benefits may arise, touching everyone we know, will the debate be swept aside for the sake of foreseen human benefit? It shouldn’t be- it is more important than ever! Who do you think will be able to afford the enhancements? Certainly not those who can’t afford clean water or enough food for their families.

If the last 5 years have taught us anything, it is that technological change is speeding up at a rapid pace. Students are now being taught to code but are they being taught to wrestle with the big moral debates they need to be having about the future of our species? I lead an Education Technology group aiming to enhance the skills of students in the tech world but rarely hear about the moralistic aide of the teaching. But it is happening, right!?

AI and 3D printing in the future

Image Bertha – the original 3D printer

I haven’t written a post in a while as I got caught in limbo between both focussing hard on my work and 2 blog posts that got a bit epic: one on how platforms like Quora will form the basis of AI, and the other about the kind of 3D digital sculpting environment necessary for 3D printing. Both turned into essays and needed more research to cover the holes in my arguments.

Think of this though:

Leap Motion type sculpting in 3D where someone can just reach in manipulate an object, like you would on CAD but in real-time with your hands. Various tools would be available for it. You could change the materials being used, to say: graphene, plastic, different metals or woods or whatever. You could change the surfaces of the objects to be rough, or smooth aerodynamic, or flexible or soft. You could change the internal weight ratios. You could change the atmosphere that it is in, to say: turn on wind, up the pressure like your underwater, go into space or on to Mars. And then – ok this is the hardest bit – you could print it out. That must be where we are heading.

As for the AI thing, well, people are asking so many questions on Yahoo Answers and Quora type platforms, that it just makes me think that we might be looking at AI the wrong way. Why not have a crowd-sourced, up-voted human answer coming out of a machine, than a synthesised artificial answer? 

Hopefully one day I will get around to publishing expanded versions of these ideas.

 

The Decoy Option

Adapted from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

After years of wanting to go to both, you have been presented the option of either taking a city break in Rome or one in Paris for the first time in your life. Both have a romantic ambience, culture, history, art, fabulous restaurants, and great shopping. The options are very comparable: stay in a nice hotel with breakfast each morning.

So, assuming there were no other overriding factors in your decision, how would you chose which one to go to? Probably not an easy call.

Well, what if another option was thrown in. This option is a decoy. It is comparable in every way but it does not include the option of breakfast on the Rome trip.

Suddenly it appears that the option of taking breakfast on the Rome trip is a lot more special. If it is possible to directly compare Rome without breakfast to Paris with breakfast; Rome with breakfast seems like a very attractive option.

Using techniques like this is common by salesmen. It is used by websites to create pricing options. How offers in supermarkets are made.

The concept behind this is that, people struggle to know the value of something, but they are good at seeing the comparative advantage of one offer over another. When using decoys, you can artificially weight particular options more heavily than others. The author gave many examples of this and the evidence is very strong.

How to reach mass audiences

The more I think about the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, the more I think it is an accurate and fundamental book to any software developer. It makes so much sense and I think surmises the position of my own company nicely. I’m not saying he brings anything new to the table but it was certainly the first time I had been introduced to the software product life cycle curve and how to traverse it to the point of reaching the majority groups of users – mostly where the real money is.

product life cycle curve

To summarise the product life cycle curve it is the introduction, growth, maturity and decline of a product in a market. It actually makes a good comparison between it and world views. If you lined everyone up in the world, you would find  that most people had a moderate political view and then at either end of the line the views would become more extreme. To draw this as a graph it would be a bell curve, bulging in the middle with moderate world views.

The same can be said about people’s adoption of new technology: you have some people loving to use a new product immediately and have the newest stuff (innovators); others may see its potential and so wish to gain competitive advantage quickly by using it (early adopters); but most people want to wait until it is fully complete, glitch free, robust product (early majority); or that it’s too hard to ignore because everyone else is using it (late majority). It’s easy to see this with popular products now such as Twitter. There were millions of people using Twitter – using it to form communities, share resources, self promoting- before it really became huge – and then its potential for communicating with existing and potential customers, creating a human side to a brand, following their favourite celebs. Now even my mum is on it- to follow anything at all she wants, as everyone is on it (@Jonnybritton BTW :) ).

When a software product is being developed, it is usually far from the finished article until it had been thoroughly tested against the vast majority of use cases. It is almost impossible to market, sell and gain feedback about the product to everyone at once. Therefore a particular market must be targeted initially. This market place will have common features, be well connected with each other and ideally have a product they currently use that can be displaced by your superior product- you use the existing product in the market to position yourself against eg, brand x is like brand y but I’d better because x,y,z. It saves having to educate the market. Anyhow, by selling into this market place a product can be refined and made more complete before moving onto new markets.

So, within the initial market place chosen to launch a tech (is it only tech following this model?) product into you have to consider this graph of people. First of all the innovators and early adopters need to be reached out to, with messages that speak particularly to them. These users become your best friends and help you hone the product into a more complete thing to use by the masses.

There is a big difference between your early sets of users and your majority groups. It is the skill of a team to enhance the product, change the marketing messages, price points etc to attract in these different types of customer.

I think this tells the story of our product nicely. When we launched people were just buying it because it was new and cool. When we asked what they liked about it that’s what they said: it’s cool. Not that useful to us but nice to know (and also made an inelastic price which was nice). Our next set of customers would buy in bulk at big discount on behalf of institutions, seeing the early phase of the product and wanting to come on our journey as we improved it but having got in early with a good price. Then we started to reach more discerning audiences and they were not buying so much, they wanted more from it. This has been a very hard stage of our business- selling to a “standard customer” and enhancing our product so its more like they want. It seems we are in the “Chasm” talked about in the book- the gap between different types of customer. However, it does give us great hope that we will soon be reaching large audiences and with a better product.

I actually think that it is this part of a software development process that the government should help out more. In order to reach our larger market places, and build the teams we need to get there, we are almost expected to go for VC funding or get into huge amounts of debt. Crowdfunding is a more recent option. But more support could be offered. Understanding of the Product Life Cycle graph and the types of customers you will meet along the way could significantly help umbrella organisations to support entrepreneurs move faster or fail less. Teams are needed and well skilled or trained purple to help software companies properly add to the economy without just getting lucky.

The Crossing the Chasm book does an amazing job of guiding you through how to market and sell along the full product life cycle curve. I believe it is a must read for start up companies.