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How to cut through the hype and see the next big thing in tech

Posted by Afam Okoh on 17th October 2018

In 2017 Warren Buffet humbly admitted that not only was he “wrong on Google” but also that he was “too dumb” to appreciate Amazon. This should act as a major warning for the mere mortals among us. It is understandable for those who are more sceptical to ignore an overhyped new technology that doesn’t yet have the ability to deliver on the excessive promises made by its promoters. There are plenty of examples of where tech scepticism was merited, e.g. pets.com, Napster and Palm Pilots. However, as many would point out, these ideas were not inherently ineffective.

The famous venture investor and creator of the first major internet browser, Marc Andreessen has spoken of the fact that many of the major failed tech ideas of the dot com boom are now significant successes. Pets.com can be seen as the precursor to Chewy which is now a billion dollar company, as with Spotify and the iPhone delivering on the failed dreams of Napster and Palm Pilots. In the tech world, often great ideas are unsuccessful due to both poor execution and bad timing.

So the question is, how do we ignore the hype to accurately judge new technologies and companies? The truth is that it will always be difficult to understand whether or not a technology or company will be successful. If I had the perfect answer I’d probably be off on a yacht having cashed in on billions worth of bitcoins. However, I can provide two tips that will help you to think about these technologies a bit more objectively.

The first thing when it comes to understanding the next breakthrough technology is to start from a perspective of understanding how the internet affects business models. The underpinnings of the internet are that distribution of online goods or services cost almost nothing. Meaning that any internet-published information, be it music, video or news, becomes suddenly and exponentially abundant. Thus, when new internet businesses start, at first their business models may not make sense based on or preconceived notions. It is important to take some time to examine your assumptions when looking at a novel technology.

A second important rule in assessment is that product improvement can be very rapid. Comparing the tech world in 1997 to its current incarnation is almost impossible. We have moved from desktops into a completely mobile world and are perhaps seeing a transition to voice-based interfaces with the spread of Alexa and the Google Assistant. Therefore, there is little point in judging the long-term success of a company on the first iteration of its product (unless it doesn’t work at all). Instead it is better to examine the quality of their team. Are they likely to be able to execute on their claims quickly like Amazon? Or is their team more focused on raising large financing rounds then delivering concrete results.

The technology hype cycle will continue to be fairly annoying. Despite this, if you take some time to think about how these technologies work, you will be likely to ascertain whether something will be a dud or a major breakthrough.

Afam Okoh

After graduating from Durham University where he read PPE, Afam worked in parliament for an MP, moved to a tech startup and then cofounded a charity. Here he gained experience in communicating with the media, understanding technology and writing clear copy. He spends much of his free time listening to interesting podcasts or buried in a book. These can vary from biographies of historic figures to texts exploring technology and society.

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