The Next Big Thing

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Identifying the next big thing and catching the right wave to ride is everyone’s dream . That has been the constant quest for business to succeed no matter what industry they are in. With disruption happening across industries, in the last decade there had been a lot of startups that are buzzing with technology as the key enabler to disrupt.
Looking at the last decade of disruptions – an online website killed brick and mortar book stores first ( Amazon vs. Barnes & Nobles), and slowly they started dominating selling pretty much everything on the earth including turkeys for thanksgiving.  Startups to Big companies are in constant quest for this next big thing to create a breakthrough in the industry. The breakthrough could be anything like an iPhone, iPod , Search advertising or even a simple app like Whatsapp ( to remind it was worth 19 Billion USD) or even a platform like Windows or Android.  The one common thing among them - other than making huge money for business, the disruption had real impact on people. The scale at which it swept the whole world was enormous.
Recently I had to review and judge a B School Business Plan contest, which had participation from every premier B Schools in India, the likes of IIMs, XLRI, FMS etc.  So the contest was about writing a business plan for the Next Big thing with technology as a key enabler for a company to invest. The company is a high-tech product based company. With that premise there were about 40 entries to the event. I did end up shortlisting about 7 for the finals based on novelty of the idea (or how disruptive the idea was), feasibility, practical thought, research and the real impact it would have on people.  At the end of this exercise, I made some logical grouping of the various ideas among those entries and looked at what areas they are trying to disrupt, and what are the existing startup / big company initiatives around them. I am sure many of the names I will highlight are already popular and are on its way to be the next big thing, but we are yet to see the full potential.  All the below are my own observations based on submissions and may be limited with what I know and not exhaustive on what is happening in industry. Below are the groupings I finally made,
  • Sharing Economy based ideas / Peer to Peer Economy : Almost 70% of the business ideas submitted were on this space, were the focus was about sharing an additional resource which some one own.  The business ideas try to help end provider earn money effectively using that resource by sharing and also provide value addition for the end customer. The main company that is building the infrastructural support for this system would pocket a considerable chunk of profit to themselves and by scaling across markets they would grow.  The ideas proposed were around providing Car Rides, Errand work for people, Home cooked food , personal living space - houses / condos , or money for lending.  All these were enabled with the help of technology , mostly an App or a website which is social. So the leading startups in this space – Airbnb ( For shared house or vacation rentals) , Uber/Lyft ( Car Rides) , Task Rabbit (Errands) ,  EatWith ( For food or sharing the dining experience). But for Peer to Peer lending there is yet to be a leader in the space as of now, but Facebook tried  building this part of the messenger app and we are yet to see breakthrough in that.  This is one space to watch as the new generation tries to rely more on a sharing economy than owning economy we were in. In the previous generation ownership value was very high and with the new trend it is going down and this space would see some successful startups in the coming years.
  • Education based ideas :  This is one industry ripe for disruption. It is also an industry and mostly run for profit except the one which is government run. Rest of them in majority are run for profit. There were about 20% of ideas in this area around - E-learning, e-certificate management, online tutor-student matching,  predictive analytics to improve student performance, alumni management,  learning infrastructure like email, shared space for files etc.  There have been many companies trying to disrupt this space especially breaking the university system–  Massive open online courses by Coursera , Udacity and edX are some recent developments in the last few years.  There are also some good open source learning management system like Moodle and the big companies like Google, Microsoft all are trying with their own products like Google Helpouts and their productivity apps customized for education sector. But yet this is one place yet to be really explored for breakthrough. Even Coursera  like MOOC made the content available to the masses, the dropout rate  is pretty high with the number of people who actually complete the course is low vs registering for a course. The learning outcome is yet to be measured. Also how will this really impact in people’s life for better jobs, or better productivity etc. are yet to be measured successfully.
  • Agriculture based ideas : This is a big market and definitely needs to be enabled further with technology. In India, there was not high PC penetration, but now there is internet penetration with the help of smart phones.  There were couple of good ideas with smartphone / feature phone based ideas to help the farmers and also some crowdsourcing ideas around this. Especially helping farmers to arrive at pricing in a crowd sourced way rather than relying on middle men and may be the commodity exchanges. I have not really researched on the startups in this area, but an interesting space to watch.
There were few other ideas related to security , and social reporting apps with Geo-tags.  There was a lot of social and crowdsourcing aspects added to most of the ideas. It was an interesting read overall going through the various B Plan ideas, and I have been brainstorming quite some time with my friends to start some business. As always its not about the idea alone, but problem we are solving for people and the execution of that really matters for success even if that idea may not be novel. If we do a good job in showing the customers real value they would definitely make a switch even if some other alternative exists. Watching this space, in identifying the next big thing is interesting and I would continue to do.


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