Saturday, October 30, 2010

Engineering, Creativity, Sector Reform, Sector Revolution

Fred Wilson: The Creative Phase: The digital technology revolution was, from the day the transistor was invented in the late 40s until the early part of last decade, largely about engineering. It is still very much about engineering but I've been thinking for a while now that as this revolution matures, it is becoming more and more about creativity and less about engineering.
Fred calls it creativity and says maybe that is not the right word. He talks about engineers having become less central to tech startup efforts, and then backpedals, wait, I don't mean to say engineers are not important, they are.

I think he is trying to talk about a tech startup like mine. An entity like Twitter or FourSquare or until recently even Google, and an entity like Facebook, you get a few hundred or a few thousand people on a grad school like campus, and you can go conquer the world. What if that is no longer true? What if the next phase is about the major action being offline? What if the next big push in tech takes you all over the world? You can no longer kick back and take over.

This is not about the center of gravity just moving from engineering to creativity. This is about the center of gravity shifting away from tech itself. Walmart was and is a retailer. That is what they do. They sell you stuff. But very early on they became a heavy user of computer technology. Every transaction at Walmart is an exercise in data collection. But they are not a computer company.

What if you could take that push to an entire sector of the world economy? What if you were to apply that to climate change? What if you were to apply that to government?

In my case I am thinking in terms of microfinance. If you create a social gaming experience at this end and a mobile phone banking experience at the other end, I think you can revolutionize the sector. But the revolution will not be in engineering, although you would want to hire the best engineers money and stock options can buy. The revolution will not be in creativity, although you would be selling "the experience" to the people at both ends, not just money and profits. It will be a revolution in microfinance itself.

This is not about saying give everybody in the auto industry a Dell laptop, or let's do one laptop per child, or get all your friends on FourSquare so you know where the buggers are at any point in time. This is about taking a holistic approach to tech and more and going after a sector. This is about tech innovation in a world where everybody is already online and everybody already has mobile phones, but the big problems of the world still remain. There is still poverty, there is still war, there are still dictatorships and disease.

I'd love to be able to think a microfinance tech startup falls within the domain expertise of the top venture capitalist in New York City. That would be Fred Wilson.

My microfinance tech startup is not "dogooderism," a term Scott Heiferman started using after he received a backlash to his dogooderism at the February 2010 NY Tech MeetUp from the stereotypically white male white males on the NY tech scene. It is capitalism. I think the for profit way is the best way to reach about 90% of the target population. That still leaves plenty of room for non profits like Kiva.

I Am In Finance, Microfinance

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