What Happens When The Disruptors Get Disrupted?

What Happens When The Disruptors Get Disrupted?

I previously wrote about this in May 2018 (Sh*t Just Got Real. Tech Bubble In Meltdown). It’s worth a re-read because it’s doubly true now.

Over the course of the last year, there have been an inordinate number of half-baked startups being launched or preparing to IPO. Notables include WeWork, Uber, Wag, Peloton, Blue Apron, and e-scooter companies Lime and Bird.

What has become abundantly clear is that while having the right technology is an important part of the equation, it’s not enough on its own.

And that’s especially true for on-demand services where reliable, trustworthy people are crucial for success. What many startups are discovering is that finding those people in a gig economy (that they’ve helped to create) is nigh impossible.

What’s also clear is that many startups have not made one red cent and are nowhere near being profitable. It hasn’t been a priority – and why should it be when no matter how much money you lose, more money gets tossed your way?

Too many consumer-tech companies nearing their public offerings are selling magic shows at a science fair.

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

The startup business model is no longer about bootstrapping. It’s all about creating high-level hype around a disruptive idea. And if a charismatic founder is involved, all the better. It makes raising stupid amounts of VC money easy as pie.

Surprisingly, it’s only been twelve years since this craziness started.

I date it to the iPhone launch in 2007 when apps first became a thing.

Two years later, in 2009, Uber’s app-based, on-demand service launched and we were off to the races. After that, every startup wanted to be the Uber of this, or the Uber of that.

Gradually, the disappointments started to pile up.

Over the last two years, Silicon Valley and its unicorns started to feel toxic, especially post-election. They have yet to recover.

So here we are in 2019 and it’s fair to say “the bloom is off the rose” and “the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Read on below for the two biggest challenges facing tech startups today.
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I’ve Been In A Reading Funk. Blinkist To The Rescue?

I’ve Been In A Reading Funk. Blinkist To The Rescue?

I’ve always been an avid reader but lately, I have absolutely no desire to crack open a book. It’s driving me crazy!

And that’s why I got so intrigued by Blinkist, the professional book summary service. It’s a German startup that has raised over $35MM and is positioned for curious learners who want to read more but have a hectic schedule with limited time. Or, as in my case, too many distractions to dedicate endless hours to books.

The last book I read and absolutely loved was Tribe Of Mentors – and that was in 2017. That year I read a book a month. Since then, I’ve bought a whole heap of books but haven’t been inspired to read even one. I don’t quite understand my aversion to books these days. Especially since I still read a lot but it’s primarily blogs or online news articles.

This brings me back to Blinkist which promises, that in 15 minutes or less, I will learn key insights from the world’s best non-fiction books.

If you are shrieking in horror at this philistine approach to books, consider what the New York Times had to say about Blinkist.

‘Blinkist encourages you to read more nonfiction books. The app contains cleverly written digests — called blinks — where books are broken down into their main arguments’.

The New York Times

I started yesterday and all I can say is: WOW! Blinkist is the future.

Scroll down if you’re still with me to find out more about Blinkist and why I’m now such a superfan.

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Robot Greeters Are The Latest Thing At Restaurants And Banks

Robot Greeters Are The Latest Thing At Restaurants And Banks
Robot Greeter at Zhen Wei Fang speaks Mandarin

Three robot sightings in one week means it’s a bona fide trend, right? I know robots have been around forever but to run into three on my routine walks around town is a first for me.

First sighting. Walking home one night, I was stopped in my tracks by the above robotic beauty at Zhen Wei Fang, a flashy new hot pot spot around the corner from me on the Bowery. The restaurant’s doors were wide open, and of course, a humanoid robot catches your attention. She (the robot) primarily speaks Mandarin but the human hostess coerced her into wishing me Merry Christmas in English.

Second sighting. A few days later, I walked by the HSBC Bank on Houston Street and noticed it too had a robot greeter. He’s called Pepper and he is a very friendly, modest fellow. He bows, he’ll tell you his name if you ask and he’s eager to be helpful but he has limited skills. See the video of our interaction below.

Third and final sighting. I saw Tokyo Pop Underground at Jeffrey Deitch’s art gallery on Wooster Street. The highlight was Hajime Sorayama’s Sexy Robot_Floating (pics below).

Bottom Line.

The robots are here and they are highly Instagrammable. Beyond that, their usefulness appears limited but they do get people’s attention so that may be enough.

Scroll down for photos and video.

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I Hate What They’ve Done To The Citizen App

I Hate What They’ve Done To The Citizen App

It’s been one of my favorite apps until this week, when it got an “upgrade” and went to hell in a handbasket.

My friend and I were discussing it and we couldn’t figure out why they were making these really weird UX choices.

For example: Getting rid of the red dots (where a crime was happening!) and replacing them with white squares, while functionally the same, definitely makes it less exciting psychologically.

They’ve also gotten rid of many of the “alerts” – I now get maybe one a day when I used to get several every hour. I’ve checked my settings and I want them all! They’ve also jumbled up the timeline so you no longer see the most recent activities.

It’s as if they don’t want us to be engaged with their app. I mean I used to check it once or twice an hour. Now, I don’t bother. Nothing going on according to them. It’s almost as though Bill DeBlasio became an investor and has asked them to dial it down.

Then, of course, as one does, my friend started checking out the company on LinkedIn to see who might be behind this so-called “performance improvement.”

And here’s what he uncovered:

  • They have a new creative Director since last month who came from HQ (the online trivia game we were all obsessed by a few years ago)
  • Besides HQ, he also has content production experience from having worked at Pop TV, Adult Swim, and The Onion – clearly more of an entertainment-background than crime-fighting.
  • Their current head of design has jumped around a lot but primarily worked at some fairly under the radar startups.
  • Their head of product comes from Facebook where he spent at least 6 years – so he should know better!
  • They’re currently looking for a User Experience Researcher which I suggest they make priority #1 before they screw it up any further.

For those of you not familiar with Citizen it is a crime and safety app directly tied to 911 calls. It was first available in San Francisco and NYC. They’ve expanded to Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Bottom Line.

It looks like they’re planning an entertainment push. Their recent hires seem way more aligned with TMZ than crime reporting.

It’s a bit unfortunate because I’ve turned everyone I know onto Citizen. We all find it very useful – especially as our so-called “safest big city in America” returns to the bad old days of crime run amok.

Sigh ☹️

Scroll down for before and after pics.

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ARTECHOUSE NYC. Best Digital Art In The World

ARTECHOUSE NYC. Best Digital Art In The World
ARTECHOUSE is a new age art mecca dedicated to groundbreaking artists who work at the intersection of art, science, and technology.

I visited on Saturday. Highly recommend. Not sure where I would place it in the pantheon of art. I’m currently thinking it might be the next generation of street art with tech replacing wheatpaste!

Every city has a destination for fine arts, theater, music, and film. Our goal is to be the home in those cities for innovative, 21st-century art. A place where one can always get inspired, educated, and empowered by exploring the latest and the best works of art and tech.

Sandro, Founder and Art Director

After opening in Washington DC in 2017 and Miami last year, ARTECHOUSE has finally made it to NYC.

Their first exhibition, Machine Hallucination by Refik Anadol debuted this week in the former Boiler Room space in the Chelsea Market.

“Machine Hallucination” introduces New Yorkers to Refik Anadol, the Turkish-born, LA-based media artist, who has pioneered the aesthetics of machine intelligence. His body of work positions creativity at the intersection of humans and machines.

  • Machine Hallucination is an immersive, digital experience utilizing machine learning and algorithms built on a data set of more than three million images representing various architectural styles and movements.
  • As the machine generates a data universe of architectural hallucinations in 512 dimensions, it begins to explore the ways in which knowledge can be experienced spatially.

Know Before You Go

Order your tickets ($24 per person) online and be on time but be prepared for tech glitches (see below). After waiting for 20 minutes for the first slot of the morning, I asked them to rebook me for 12 noon which they were more than happy to do (and they gave me a free drinks ticket good for a mocktail at their bar).

  • The exhibition is not recommended for individuals who are sensitive to bright or flashing lights. I’m not especially sensitive to lights but there were a few times when I had to shut my eyes so as not to get dizzy.
  • Due to the complex technology employed, the installation may require unplanned maintenance; this may result in delays for visitors or in the cancellation of a visit (but you’ll get a refund).
  • Participants thought to be unstable or under the influence of drugs or alcohol will not be admitted and will be requested to leave!?!

Scroll down for videos and photos from my visit.

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Google Maps Is The Latest Super App Getting Monetized

Google Maps Is The Latest Super App Getting Monetized

Ad revenue is expected to grow by 64% in 2020 and reach $11 billion by 2023.

Google Maps is my #1 resource (my personal Super App) when it comes to all of my routine day-to-day activities. I use it to check out restaurants, stores, galleries and all kinds of events. I look for opening hours, reviews, interior photos, e.g., if I’m planning to visit a restaurant on my own, I want to see if there is bar seating and what it looks like, will I be comfortable there? What’s the vibe? I use it to plot my route around town, e.g., should I walk or take a subway or a car. And, of course, Google Maps is absolutely essential when I am planning my travels both domestically and internationally.

Google Maps has a few shortcomings, e.g., its subway directions in NYC are abysmal compared to Citymapper.

Overall, however, it’s an app I can’t imagine living without – which is why I’ve become such an active contributor. I’m a Level 7 Guide – and with over a billion Google Maps users globally (154 million in the USA), I get why any photo I post can end up with 2 million views. And that also explains why businesses especially in hospitality or retail, are clamoring to get on board to reach those millions of users. The “near me” feature is going to be a game-changer for advertisers.

Apple Maps Vs. Google Maps

Apple Maps was the default on my phone but it was so lousy I deleted it and switched to Google Maps years ago.

In checking back in on Apple Maps this weekend, I see it hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, I’m appalled they rely on Yelp for their restaurant reviews. Lame!

Apple is still playing catch-up. Search has never been their thing.

However, search is what Google was built on and it’s what gives it its edge. The Google Maps database is so much more robust and up-to-date than anything else out there. Apple doesn’t stand a chance.

Another amazingly useful aspect of Google Maps is that it lets users download portions of maps to be used offline. This was incredibly helpful on my recent road trip through remote parts of Utah where cell phone service was non-existent.

Read on below for more on Google Maps’ Monetization plans.

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AI Can Predict What You’ll Return Before You Buy It – Crazy!

AI Can Predict What You’ll Return Before You Buy It – Crazy!


Fascinating report from Indian e-commerce startup Flipkart showing how they assess your online shopping cart before you click to buy.


It’s being done in response to the trend of easy returns for fashion items. The much higher return rate for online retailers (vs. brick and mortar) has been a disaster. Figuring out how to minimize those returns is crucial for online retailers’ survival.

Through machine learning, they’ve been able to accurately determine what you will return based on the patterns of what you’ve looked at online, what you’ve put in your shopping cart, plus your actual size and fit (more accurate than you are even aware of yourself). With that information, they can change your returns behavior.


Here are the major highlights of the study:

In less than 70 milliseconds, the computer can decide, how much of a risk of a return you are.

Based on your past shopping/return patterns, they decide on reward or punishment, e.g., increasing your shipping charges, as a deterrent, or offering you a coupon as an incentive to make your purchase non-returnable.

To get real-time predictions, the researchers put together a “fully-connected” deep neural network, which is trained on numerous factors about products and customers. That trained model will then produce the instantaneous assessment of the customers’ cart to predict the probability of returns e.g.

  • How many times a given article of clothing has been returned by anyone
  • How many similar things you’ve put in your cart, e.g., the same shirt in different colors (doubling-up of items is a leading indicator of higher returns).
  • The more items a person has in a cart, the higher the return rate. More than five products in the cart? Return rate goes up to 72%, whereas a cart with one product has return chances of 9%.

Because sizing is the #1 reason for returns, the researchers have developed something called a “personalized sizing latent feature.”

  • They put the info from all your online purchases, over time, into the network which allows them to examine what you’ve got in your cart and compare your intended purchases to “sizing vectors which explain your body shape & fit for different brands & products.”
  • Running all this info through the neural network, the program creates a probability score of potential returns.
  • The model predicts the return probability for a cart as well as the exact number of products that will be returned from that cart. Based on that prediction, the decision is made on what rewards and punishments to implement, if any.

If you shop online for apparel and footwear, this ZDNet article is a must-read. Absolutely fascinating!


Read on below for more on how companies are growing their businesses by cultivating a data culture.

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