Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bio-hacking, the end of Jolt, and the future of retail

A few years ago I wrote a short essay about “Flow” and how the ideas in that book apply to a world where mobile computing enhances every moment of our lives. I never published it or anything, just showed it to a few friends. However, I did mention those ideas in my first post this year where I said that photo-sharing apps (and other “time-wasters”) are giving people a false sense of productivity and hence happiness.

My point is that mobile computing is going to make us happier, assuming Mihaly’s book is true. We can maximize the output of our day, improving our knowledge about things that interest us, and also ourselves. Apps that allow us to track (or check-in) to routines or habits -- like Lift, backed by Evan Williams -- are becoming very common and fairly popular. Even smarter tools like the products Nike has been pumping out for iOS users, or some of the new health care applications that can track all sorts of data about your body, are getting enough traction today that one can easily envision them becoming part of mainstream medicine within a few years.  


Along with all this new technology, an avalanche of information about diet and health has been hitting the bookstores and blogs for the past decade. And it’s only getting better/worse(?). One of my favorite sites, the bulletproof executive, comes right out and says they update the site every few months at new breakthroughs occur (and are hopefully confirmed). This trend have a new name, that’s “bio-hacking” or the idea of hacking our own bodies to improve productivity at home, at work, in the bedroom, on the field, etc.

Are the days of Jolt-powered nerds at an end? It looks like it, sort-of. While there will always be the more cosmopolitan nerd who craves espresso romano, wine, and gourmet cheese -- yours truly ;-) -- the impact of a new generation of super-nerds who are hacking software AND their bodies could be something incredible. Most people will go through a super bio-hacking phase, and return to a better (though not totally ideal) lifestyle. However, the interest in itself means we’ll see more and more software integrating with our lifestyle goals, helping us overcome craving for example, or somehow infusing us with positive reinforcement when embarking on the challenging endeavor to break.. um create new habits.

How this will impact marketing

Data will become more accurate and more specific, of course. Imagine we have these really awesome applications which “speak” to machines at retail shops, and instead of promoting whatever junk-food is the craze… it knows we are on diet (it should even know what our streak is) and it recommends we purchase items that support that diet. Great right!? Furthermore, with the right technology installed at the store your software could be alert when you veer too close to say… the ice-cream, sending some kind of notification that “hey, you should get some apples” or “if you are craving something cold and sweet, why not a fruit popsicle!” You get the idea.

This could transform the image of many retailers, and could really improve the happiness of millions.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Investing In Education

Investment in education startups has boomed since early 2012, with a range of investors pumping in more than $1B into companies and funds. The number of investors in the space is staggering, even Ashton Kutcher is hip on Ed Tech with an investment in Y-Combinator graduate Clever back in 2012.

While Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator has worked with only a few Ed Tech start-ups (other than Clever), a cohort of new incubators and accelerators focusing on Ed Tech are emerging, led by  Imagine K12.

Imagine K12

Decades ago schools spent millions on technology (CD ROMs galore), but nothing really changed… just the medium. Today everything from publishing to management systems are up for grabs. Imagine K12 is looking to grow the companies of the future in the space, becoming the first incubator for Ed Tech to support entrepreneurs who all share a vision for truly impactful technology innovation for education.

Founded by a few big names in Silicon Valley who saw the next wave of school reform as Ed Tech’s new moment, Imagine K12 graduated their first cohort in 2011. Their portfolio includes hapara, NoRedInk, LearnSprout, Class Dojo, Bloomboard, and so many more. Awesome.

The “Most Active” Investors

While the list of firms and funds investing in Ed Tech is long, there are some standouts. In addition to the new incubators or accelerators focusing on Ed Tech, including Imagine K12, lot's of funds specific-to education exist in addition to older VC firms.

Some of the more active investors in Ed Tech are:

NewSchools Venture Fund

Founded way back in 1998, this fund is unique because it operates as a non-profit. The fund has invested “nearly $180 million” in “more than 100 nonprofit and for-profit organizations” and claims that through its investments reaches 12 million students in the United States. Impressive… most impressive.

Relatively recent investments in companies that I think are pretty neat are edSurge, hapara, and NoRedInk.

500 Startups

So much can be said about 500, it’s pretty much just awesome. Some recent investments in Ed Tech have been MindSnacks, Magoosh, and Motion Math. Looks like 500 is focusing on Game-based Learning and (the cash-cow of education) Test-Prep.

Learn Capital

These guys are rocking Ed Tech, boasting the most impressive portfolio of investments. No kidding, the founders of Learn Captial are seasoned Ed Tech entrepreneurs who have exited several companies to big players like HMH, Marvel.

Investments by Learn Capital are truly press worthy, check out their coverage including Edmodo, Coursera, Udemy, ClassDojo, Kalibrr, and more.

ReThink Education

New York City is in the Ed Tech game too, that’s where ReThink Education is leading the way to east-coast incubation for the next big-win. While a new fund, they have made some exciting investments including Bright Bytes, Education Elements, and Smarterer.

Sequoia Capital

Finally, the world-renowned iconic VC of Silicon Valley. Sequoia has not been too active in Ed Tech. However, they did invest in one of my absolute favorite companies: Inkling.

Inkling has been around for awhile now, having been developing interactive content for education since 2009. You could say they are the leaders in the space.