When my venture capital career began about three years ago, I formulated a meta-thesis around four areas I believe will be continuous themes of innovation in the next hundred years. Those were: Urban Mobility, Global Mobility, Health, and Omnipresence. When revisiting my thesis going into 2020, I find that the framework holds. But I have updated the thesis to reflect my current views and provided some recent startups examples from Accelerace (Copenhagen) and Overkill Ventures (Riga) where I serve as General Partner.
Originally, cities were a solution to reducing transaction costs. The Egyptian invention meant that we could easily interact and get our business done. Traveling for three days to get stuff sold on the market was a thing of the past. Productivity skyrocketed. However, this only worked to a point.
The continuous urbanization has enlarged cities to a size where friction returns. During my frequent family-related visits to China, I experience this first hand. Getting simple things done, like buying a new kitchen sink easily takes an entire day. First, you have to move through insane traffic. Then you have to negotiate prices. Finally, you have to validate that the product you receive is the item you intended to buy. Millions of people face this daily.
Luckily, technology will increase the mobility of people and goods in urban environments. Drones can circumvent traffic. Collaborative consumption can create liquidity in the availability of cars, housing and storage space. Review and trust systems make quality providers easy to find. Payment technology saves us valuable minutes in every transaction. We want the benefit of cities without the pain.
The division of the world into independent countries happened because of limited mobility.
Ancient empires attempting “globalization” struggled with the mobility problem. Collecting taxes in Britain and transporting the coins to Rome was a problem. And every attempt to sustain these empires failed. Consequently, countries grew independently and developed distinct laws, languages, and institutions. Today, we suffer from this. The asymmetry of laws, languages, and institutions makes little sense in a world where the next generation expects to travel, study, work and live anywhere.
Technology like Blockchain can help circumvent institutions such as banks, courts, and government. Consequently, it will be easy to buy assets in other countries, easy to enforce rights and agreements across borders and eliminate the friction of language differences.
Life expectancy has more than doubled in the last 100 years. In large part because of medical advances. Sadly, we mostly extend old age. 6 out of 10 people end their life in prolonged states of frailty and growing incapacity. In practical terms, it means that you don’t recognize your children and you are being spoon-fed while wearing a diaper. Needless to say, we still have some work to do.
Health is the answer and technology is the remedy. Health adds to the other end of life. It extends our youth and vitality. Technology can provide accurate health information, ensure the mental stability and hack our biology.
All living creatures depend on information. We use it to make decisions. Biological evolution has formed bodies with sensors that obtain information in our surroundings. Humans obtain information from five senses (sound, taste, touch, sight and smell).
However, our senses are not particularly good. Animals often have far better senses than humans. Instead, humans have superior processing of the information. Still, imagine we had senses on par with dolphins, fish, and bees.
Indeed, humans have always dreamt about owning superior senses. In fact, ancient Gods were just that. Odin and Zeus were people who could see and hear everything. They were omnipresent. And because of this advantage, they ruled Earth. Seeing and hearing everything is the ultimate state of being.
Technology is bypassing evolution. Instead of waiting for nature to give us the sight of an eagle, we can fly drones equipped with high-resolution cameras. We can participate in lectures at universities on other continents, and we can follow packages on the way to our door. We are becoming omnipresent and our adoption of this kind of power will be quick.