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Everything is Early, Get Used to It
All Things Venture #044
Hey everyone, Dez from All Things Venture. I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving break that was filled with watching Michigan beat Ohio State, post thankgiving naps, and a healthy dose of unsolicited advice from family. Today’s article is going to be another short reflection/essay where I reflect on the current state of innovation, and how (at least to me) everything is still early. Hope you enjoy.
My grandfather was born in 1935. I know so, because this past Thanksgiving he wore a shirt that said “Making the World a Better Place Since 1935.” It was a heartwarming and lighthearted statement, but it also underscored the fact that my grandfather, an 85 year old African American has seen, done, and heard a LOT in his life. In his life time he has experienced: The Allied Powers winning World War II (1945), the Civil Rights Movement here in the US (1954 - 1968), the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), the end of Apartheid (1990), the election of the first black president (2008), the election of the first female vice president (2020), and a global pandemic (2020 - lol damn can’t believe we’re still in this).
Since 1935, the world my grandfather was born into has become progressively freer, fairer, and more prosperous. Case in point:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 secured African Americans equal access to restaurants, transportation, and other public facilities (1964)
The Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriages (1967)
The Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to abortion (1973)
The Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage (2015)
The poverty rate has decreased from a high of ~22% in the 1950s to 11.4% (2020)
GDP per capita has risen from $3007 (1960) to $63,544 (2020)
But maybe most importanly, at least in the context of this newsletter, since 1935, the world my grandfather has lived in has become increasingly more innovative. Since 1935, the world has fundamentally changed. The advancements in semiconductors, computing, and software have continued to move socitety forward. We now have more access to information, are more connected, and more aware of the world writ large. When I think about the life my grandfather has lived from growing up in the shadow of Jim Crow, to seeing the election of the first black president, I can’t help but be amazed. When we were talking over the holiday, I asked him if he could have ever predicted something like the internet occuring in his lifetime, and he said, flatly, “no.” And yet, while the internet is not something he (or any of us really) could have predicted in his wildest dreams, he also shared with me that he has used Duolingo for 521 consecutive days as he continues in his journey to learn Swahili. Now, I don’t if I’m being myopic, or if I’m just easily impressed, but the fact that my 85 year old grandfather has used DUOLINGO, an app that hasn’t even been around for 10 YEARS - every day for almost two years straight is mindblowing. It’s led me to the thought, that with software, with the internet, everything is early. I would seriously doubt that when Duolingo launched, the 85 year old looking to learn Swahili from scratch was high on their ideal customer profile, and yet 9 years later my grandfather is probably one of their most valuable consumers.
Largely, my grandfather’s experiences, the life he has lived, and the persepective he has, lead me to think that when it comes to how, why, and where we interact with the internet and software - society is still in the early innings (relatively) of organizing itself. Technology has a wonderful way of abstracting away complexity and serving us narrow slices (for good and bad) of information how and when we want to access it. There is a degree of freedom in using software, in the fact that not only do you have the autonomy to express yourself how you want or participate in the activities that interest you, but increasingly you have platforms that are purpose built to enable you to do that with others as well. Principally, I think that in the same way that I look back and think, “wow that’s wild only 35% of Americans had a smartphone in 2011” I will also think, “wow that’s wild only X% of Americans used [Y software product] in 2021.” In 2021 there is the appropriate distribution of computing platforms, (i.e 85% of Americans own a smartphone), there is the appropriate understanding of how to use software (i.e 2/3rds of US children play Roblox), and there is an approriate understanding of the value technology (broadly) can create (i.e Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are collectively worth ~$10T)
I’m not saying that the dominant technology companies of the 2030s are going to be the ones that reflect the existing ones today, but I am fairly confident in saying that as existing and future generations grow up with the internet as a low bar of innovation, the next wave of innovation is going to have a comparative advantage in computing or communication that currently doesn’t exist. Until that point though, and even as it occurs - the existing leaders who use the existing forms of innovation (i.e namely the internet and software) will continue to aggregate attention, customers, and dollars. And again, principally, because society doesn’t move at the pace of innovation, there will be an interminnent lag between the value that new innovation creates and before it is fully adopted.
I’ll leave you all with this, one final Thanksgiving related story. While I was back home for this break I went to my local supermarket, Kroger. I grew up in a suburban area of Texas so I didn’t necessarily grow up in a city that was on the leading edge of innovation, but it’s a well to do town with a highly educated workforce, great schools, yadayada, your typical American suburb. It happened to be my older sister’s 30th birthday shortly after Thanksgiving, so I was at the Kroger to buy her some big, obnoxious, mylar balloons to celebrate the occassion. Now being in New York, basically everywhere from Whole Foods to my Local Bodega accepts Apple Pay. My local Kroger back at home in Texas does not. Neither did my local HEB (another grocer), and neither did the local pizzareia. Even if the innovation here (relatively) is minor, it underscores the fact that even for a ubiquitous brand like Apple, with ~113 million iPhone users here in the US, rapid, widespread adoption of new technology (i.e Apple Pay) is not a given. It takes time for new habits to form, for new processes to be created, and for new infrastructure to be built. And although we undoubtedly have more familiarity, more incentives, and more of an informed perspective on the potential for software, when it come to software, technology, and innovation - everything is early, so we might as well get used to it. In the grand scheme of things, we’re all just waiting to hit our 521 consecutive days of use.
That’s it for today everyone! Hope you all enjoyed, drop a comment below to share your thoughts! We’ve actually got two more articles lined up for this week, so stay tuned!