How Innovators Think

Most of my time is currently dedicated to writing a book titled How Innovators Think. I was blessed with meeting hundreds of incredible innovators, and decided to research and document the patterns I could find in the way they think. If you are interested in innovation, consider joining the discussion on Facebook and Medium.

A brief look at Google Glass hype

In my talk about the innovator’s mindset, I always preach that hype is one of the worst possible compass. It can be hard to look back on hype (because it takes so many forms), so I found this enumeration of some of the crazy things that happened when google glass came out interesting. All this for a product that has now been sent back to the drawing board. Hype ≠ success!

Time Magazine named [google glass] one of the “Best Inventions of the Year.” It got its own 12-page spread in Vogue magazine. “The Simpsons” devoted a show to Google Glass, though Homer called them “Oogle Goggles.” Glass did the rounds on the morning and evening shows, and it was the subject of numerous comedy skits including on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Colbert Report” and countless YouTube videos. Presidents from around the globe tested them. Prince Charles wore a pair. As did Oprah, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence and Bill Murray.

There was also the moment at New York Fashion Week in 2012, when Diane von Furstenberg sported a red pair, and sent her models down the runway with different-colored ones. Later, in a slickly produced video, Ms. von Furstenberg (wearing a new pair produced by DVF | Made for Glass) told Isabelle Olsson, a Google designer, “We revealed Google Glass to the world.”

And in another sign of its cultural import, The New Yorker ran a 5,000-word feature on what it was like to wear the novel device, written by a so-called Google Glass Explorer invited by Google to test the product. Here, Gary Shteyngart comically recounts an impromptu product demonstration he gave on the 6 train. “Are those them?” one businessman asked him. “That is so dope,” a college student says. “You’re lucky.”


How Apple became Apple (and why they will struggle to maintain their position)

Great read on how Apple overtook Microsoft because Microsoft was a dominant, sleeping giant. And now guess who is in that position…

Protecting your business model without innovating is a dangerous proposition.

I think even Microsoft would agree that they’ve been too concerned with protecting Windows over the years, to their detriment.” […]

Always cannibalize yourself.

“Steve ingrained in the DNA of Apple not to be afraid to cannibalize itself,” Mr. Isaacson said. “When the iPod was printing money, he said that someday the people making phones will figure out they can put music on phones. We have to do that first. Now, what you’re seeing is that the bigger iPhone may be hurting sales of iPads, but it was the right thing to do.” […]

Trendsetters are rewarded for taking risks, followers, well, follow.

Microsoft has repeatedly tried to diversify, and continues to do so under Mr. Nadella. But “it’s been more of a follower whereas Apple has been more of a trendsetter, trying to reinvent an industry,” […]

Now Apple is the prisoner of its own success. Only way seems to be down, the question is when.

Some investors worry that Apple could become the prisoner of its own success. As Mr. Sacconaghi noted, 69 percent of the company’s revenue and 100 percent of its revenue growth for the quarter came from the iPhone, which makes Apple highly dependent on one product line. “There’s always the risk of another paradigm shift,” he said. “Who knows what that might be, but Apple is living and dying by the iPhone. It’s a great franchise until it isn’t.” […]

Can Apple continue to live by Mr. Jobs’s disruptive creed now that the company is as successful as Microsoft once was? Mr. Cihra noted that it was one thing for Apple to cannibalize its iPod or Mac businesses, but quite another to risk its iPhone juggernaut. […]


Is the 2004 Swiss Smartwatch the reason why there won’t be a 2015 version?

I met last Friday with a team of entrepreneurs who told me that ten years ago they were working on a Swiss smartwatch: the Microsoft/Tissot SPOT. And indeed, in 2004, both companies teamed up to produced what was hyped back then as a supercomputer on your wrist. The project never took off, and is probably one of the reasons why Swiss watchmakers are now so reluctant to invest in this field.

Reminds me an terrifying conversation I had with a couple of three-years-from-retirement professors at my Alma mater. I was asking “so what are your plans around online courses?” Their answer: “we tried CD-Rom interactive e-learning in the 90s, and it didn’t work, so don’t tell me that the MOOC thing is relevant, it just doesn’t work!”

Seems to me the Swiss watchmakers are stuck in a similar reasoning: they tried smartwatches way before the market and technologies were ready, and because of their early failure they are now writing off the whole thing. Big mistake! Jobs didn’t stop doing tablets because the Newton failed. He used this as a learning experience, one that convinced him a good interface didn’t need a stylus. He waited for screens to be better, for chips to be smaller, then came back with a product someone who hadn’t failed before probably could never come up with.

Being early on a market is really hard, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop innovating, especially when technology moves as fast as it does.

How Gallic druids tried to prevent writing from spreading to the wider world

One of the stories I heard a long time ago and could never verify was that, when writing was invented, Gallic druids tried to prevent it from spreading as it would in their eyes mean a loss of power. It would have been terrible had knowledge been accessible to all! I finally found a bit of information on that from an old french book from 1834. The fight against new technologies is nothing new…

“Caesar explains the policy of the Druids in the prohibition of writing: they did not want to profane their science and mysteries by making them accessible to the people. They found another benefit in making their lessons more difficult to remember: it allowed them to keep their disciples, the son of the Gallic leaders, addicted to them, and so to speak, under their domination.”


MKS Alternative Investments: the first three months

It’s been a few months since I started to work with MKS Alternative Investments, and we have had the pleasure to invest in several promising startups. Here is a bit of love for all those teams working hard to give you online access to doctors, help you get cash anywhere, or get in touch with businesses via text messages in India.

Lookup, chat with local businesses for free, led by Deepak Ravindran
Lookup is a free and secure messaging app which helps consumers chat with local businesses or shops. Lookup is currently available in Bengaluru (Bangalore), India and expanding to more cities soon.

Be-Cash, the peer to peer ATM network
Be-Cash revolutionizes the world of cash distribution. By linking consumers and retailers with ease, thanks to our terminals, we make withdrawing money even easier. Led by Malik Khalfi et Bertrand Vermorel., an innovative online platform that allows patients to connect with expert doctors by video or phone. Always available, from all over the world, led by Justin Fulcher

Sailogy charters boats with skippers worldwide. Sailogy has direct, personal relationships with over 5,500 vessels in over 50 of the most prestigious countries around the Globe. Led by Manlio Accardo

iRewind, the personal media company
iRewind is a Swiss Tech start-up, based at the Innovation Park of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, backed up by a development team in Romania and strategic partnerships with several global hardware manufacturers. Led by Bogdan Manoiu.

We look forward to continue investing in talented teams from around the world. Please get in touch with me or Omar Liess if you would like to discuss your early stage project(s). For fintech startups I am proud to continue my work with Anthemis looking at global startups working to disrupt finance.

The gafa convergence

Sometimes I wonder if Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft all have the same innovation guru calling the shots. I’m pretty sure there is a 65y old guy somewhere in the Silicon Valley that organizes secret retreats with Zuckerberg, Bezos, Cook and co. I mean, these companies are converging on so many themes: social, cloud, search, mobile, gaming, advertising, voice, smart assistants, now VR headsets. I guess the good news if you are Microsoft is that you seem to be pushing hard to make GAFA more like GAFAM…

Building for the Enterprise

Part 11 of Stanford’s How to start a startup class. Presentation by Aaron Levie (CEO of Box) on building for the Enterprise. All notes are consolidated on a single page here.

– Box was founded in response of founder’s need to fix file sharing on the internet
– 3 forces contributed to Box emergence: cost of storage dropping dramatically, more powerful browsers and networks, and people wanting to share more and more and from more locations
– after product launched, was in between a consumer product (too many features) and an enterprise product (not enough features)
– consumer looks really fun, enterprise looks really hard. But in consumer space, it’s hard to monetise. Only two ways: people either pay for the app, or you sell advertising.
– to measure the opportunities, let’s look at global market sizes:
$35b = money spent on apps
$135b = global digital advertising
$3.7 trillion spent on enterprise IT per year…
Should you fight with millions of people for a bit of money, or with few people you charge lots of money?
– Enterprise software: building is slow, expensive, complex, and sales process is also very slow (and usually involves an intermediary, which internet people hate)

Everything has changed in the past 5 years, most magical time to build an enterprise software company
– on-premise computing -> cloud
– expensive computing -> cheap, low cost computing. Barrier for client introducing a product to their enterprise is lower.
– customised software -> standardized platforms, that the client customises themselves
– large enterprises -> every business can be sold an enterprise software. Makes the market much larger for enterprise software
– regional -> global, people will buy enterprise software from anywhere
– IT-led -> user-led, bring your own devices etc

– every company needs better, faster, more secure technologies
– retail: will need technologies to reach customers across all channels. No current solution addressing this [totally true, huge but complicated opportunity]
– every single healthcare company needs to personalize its services to the patients, electronic health records, assistance for doctors, etc
– media: from linear to on demand experiences, new forms of distribution and production need to appear. Need for big data analytics for marketing, etc

– spot technology disruptions: look for new enabling technologies that create a wide gap between how things have been done and how they can be done. Ex: iPad disrupting blueprints management and collaboration,
– intentionally start small: start simple and expand over time. What are the gaps in the incumbents solution that customers will want to use? Expand to the larger solution at a later time. Incumbents will overlook you [or buy you if they notice you get traction?]
– find asymmetries: do things incumbents can’t or won’t do because the economics don’t make sense to them, or because technically they can’t.
Ex: software suites have a hard time being on multiple platforms, so go multi platforms [lesser service across more platforms]
Find the fringe/extreme customers: go after those who are working in the future without totally losing their minds
– Listen to customers, but don’t always build exactly what they want, build what they need
Modularize (openness, APIs), don’t customize
– Your product should sell itself, but you will still need sales people to help clients navigate the competitive environment and your product

Interview on

Bilan just published an article on Robinhood, the startup that promises to unlock free stock trading for a new generation of clients.

Pour Laurent Haug, spécialiste du digital banking qui a conseillé et oeuvré pour des institutions financières suisses et genevoises de premier ordre, «ce qu’on voit c’est deux types d’acteur s’affronter: les entreprises traditionnelles et la nouvelle génération de mastodontes du web. On peut poser la question ainsi: quelles sont les skills qu’il faut pour réussir au 21ème siècle? Quelle genre de compétences une société doit-elle posséder pour offrir des services à des clients toujours plus mobiles, qui interagissent par un nombre grandissant de canaux? Il faut des data analysts, des spécialistes UX, des programmeurs iOS, android, windows phone, des information architects, des sysadmin, des spécialistes du cloud, des designers, etc. Qui a ces gens sur son payroll? Apple/Google/Amazon ou les grandes banques?»