John Ndege

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Founder & Director at Pocket Risk. Risk Profiling Software for Financial Advisers. Lover of technology and finance. Ex-Facebook. Ex-Seedcamp.

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I just spent 1 hour 53 minutes and 42 seconds watching Tony Hsieh being interviewed by Sarah Lacy for Pando Monthly. Its a fascinating interview mostly spent discussing Tony’s Downtown Project. A ridiculously ambitious project to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. I have to take my hat off to Tony. Time will tell whether the project is successful but what an awesome way to dedicate time and money to a community.

Let’s Change the World Or Maybe Not

Startup founders today are encouraged to “change the world” and to quote Steve Jobs “make a dent in the universe”. However, I doubt many of the companies that have changed the world started off with such expositions. From my observations the most successful companies are those which start off by saying they want to solve a problem. Later on they discover the problem they are attempting to solve is felt by millions even billions and unwittingly they change the world by solving what seemed a small simple problem.

Twitter started off by allowing Jack to share his day. Microsoft wrote a BASIC interpreter for the Altair. So what is my point?

My point is that while the ambition to change the world is to be encouraged, we should start off by solving a problem. Those should be the first words to leave an entrepreneur’s mouth because its by commitment to the problem and in turn the solution/product that you find people dedicated to the mission. Those who start off with the ambition to change the world are invariably looking for fame. They want to be known as the person who did x rather than be happy in the knowledge x was achieved. Fame first product second is not a formula for success.

So next time you come across someone who wants to “change the world” ask them what problem they are solving and make your own judgement whether it is a case of fame first product second or product first fame last.

Hardware’s Second Coming

For the last 15 years hardware startups have been out of vogue. They required significant investment to get off the ground and failed to deliver the returns of Web 2.0 companies. Increasingly making physical products became an Asian affair. Software was King.

Today it is contrarian to think we can manufacture and produce great hardware products in the West. Yet the reason outsourcing became so popular was its ability to reduce costs. What Apple has shown us is that cost is only one component of a successful product. Sure, if you are selling commoditized beige PC boxes that’s the only thing that matters but for new market entrants, design, quality and the ability to integrate with other products may well be just as important. 

Bringing back assembly line manufacturing jobs to the West will not happen. Yet where we can maintain our advantage is in design. Companies such as Jawbone, Twine and products such as the Nike Fuel Band show we can still produce innovative hardware. 

Then there is Shapeways. A company that threatens the very idea that we will need to have any consumer good “Made in China”. 3D printing is the most exciting development I’ve seen in hardware for years. Its ramifications are potentially pervasive. If the day comes where everyone has a 3D printer at home and anyone can design and manufacture products, there can be no doubt that hardware has come again.

London: The Darwinian Evolution of Startup Hubs

I’ve spent some time thinking about Fred Wilson’s blog post in May about the evolution of startup hubs. His thesis is that there are “foundational companies” he calls “trees”. Among these “trees” or companies some become very successful and produce seeds (people, resources, expertise) that eventually become new trees (companies) which yet again produce seeds and so on and so forth eventually creating a forest or in this case a startup/technology hub.

In Silicon Valley you can trace a line from Fairchild Semiconductor to Dropbox through people and resources (typically financial investment). This made me think what was London’s “foundational” company. New York has Doubleclick. London’s company has to be Skype. So I thought, I’d try and trace a very recent line from Skype to present day companies.

Skype through its sale and former employees is linked to Atomico, Passion Capital, Ambient Sound Investments, The Accelerator Group, Seedcamp, LundXY and I am sure many others. These funds/companies/people have lent their weight to companies such as Last.fm, Mind Candy, Moo, Songkick, Erply, Zemanta, Crashpadder, Eyeem, Readmill, Smarkets, Tradeshift, Ostrovok, Wrapp, 6Wunderkinder, Transferwise, Editd and many others. I’ve undoubtedly forgotten some companies (the list is long). My point is to show London’s evolutionary role as a startup hub not a highly detailed account of every connection.

As London’s enters its “second generation” as a startup hub. The question remains whether this next group of people will plough their own time, resources and money into the third. In the Valley that second generation was led by Intel and begat companies such as Apple and Oracle.

Let’s hope the second generation doesn’t betray the first or nascent third. Otherwise, London’s future as a startup hub, may well be over.

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