Keeping promises. That’s one x-factor beyond the hype cycle of technology companies. Unicorns. Built-to-be-sold. It is a difficult road to growth, rapid pathways and insidious organisational cultures propel these companies forward, or retard them. Retarding them until a non-founding Chief Executive Officer is hunted sought by the board and shareholders.
It is a battlefield. A fight for existence. We see it this week as Uber announces its exit from Aurora, the self-driving vehicle concept. An intolerable idea is that someone could be killed by a robot on our roadways, but we could sympathise if a person was driving—our standards for technology are impeccable. Our tolerance of humanity, is human. This exit is quite interesting.
Clearly motivated by a need to focus on the fundamentals, the former-CEO and co-founder, Travis, was mor interested in protecting Uber from any plausible competition by running before the gun goes off. It is a long run, a race to autonomy, with a new economy and it may be underpinned by the cryptocurrency environments worming themselves into our daily transactional lives. Consumer life. Industries. You name it.
At the same time, electric truck company Nikola has investors and the broader market staring at the ‘evangelical’ promises and their inherent pre-requisites. One thing for sure is that investors in tech seem too keen to absorb business models for new technologies, without seeing the technology in person. The idea sounds as good as WeWork, propping office space for the CEO’s pocket, or Theranos marketing heavily without a proof-of-concept or validated empirical evidence.
It seems like the proliferation of these elevator pitches have greened the market into a state of pseudo-fertility, planting seeds on turf.
Not a tech, but projects
One central concern is clear. Is the promise real? Well in South Africa, the technology platforms are quite proof-in-the-pudding lately. Observed from a distance, the most well marketed, promoted and once “dominant” platform WhereIsMyTransport offered a unique mapping solution for the self-informed minibus taxi industry. The company emerged from the FindMyWay App, which offered one platform for all bus and train schedules in South Africa. Through an aggressive overhaul, significant backing, marketing and engagement, it’s mapping offering spread internationally. The company became a transport sensation, for doing what many deemed obvious.
However, more often than not, it promises effective market intelligence and project management—which is much more valuable than the mapping itself. This element of their business is so easy to overlook. Well, it is not what they promise, but in my view, it is what they actually do. If they could hone that functionality, it could easily proliferate into other areas and make some unique moves that many transport-tech companies would struggle to.
So no. Not an empty promise. Just, what seems to me, like a missed premise: human technology.
Transport technology should start with people, but interestingly, it starts with consumers first.
WeWork, Nikola, Theranos missed the opportunity: their talent was not in developing a product, but instead in communicating about technology and putting that to market. How many legit tech companies are in the shared real estate, transport, and healthcare scenes with barely as much keen advancement strategies? They had a great idea, but the business leaned on the wrong premise.
Not that WhereIsMyTransport does not keep its promises, but instead, that could be the business itself. Given the vast number of transport companies in technology, it is quite clear that many might not need better product, just improved positioning. How WhereIsMyTransport got to where it was is a durable technique worth packaging.
This is simply an outsider’s view.