Five years ago the Blackberry was the most loved smartphone in the world and Samsung was known for making refrigerators and TVs. Three years ago Groupon was the fastest growing company ever and Yahoo’s founder & CEO Jerry Yang was resigning. Two years ago Zynga was one of the most innovative technology companies around and Supercell wasn’t making any money (they’re now making $2M / day). It’s bewildering to observe how during the same timespan some companies have reached all-time lows while others have grown exponentially. And there’s a common denominator for the downfall and success of these companies: mobile.
The companies that have grown over the past few years or in recent months (Apple, Samsung, Yahoo, Supercell) focused all their efforts on mobile while the ones that are quickly becoming irrelevant (Groupon, Zynga, RIM) missed the mobile step and they’re now haemorrhaging talent and money (which is ironic for RIM, creators of Blackberry, as they are after all a mobile hardware company). But besides understanding the importance of focusing on mobile if you’re running a technology company, I think there’s an even more important lesson to be learned here: earnestly observing and adopting trends.
Trends are important because they indicate where a certain industry is going to end up, long before it becomes mainstream. There are obvious trends like mobile, wearable technology or digital currencies. But there are smaller, generally industry-specific trends that are harder to spot: in digital advertising, it’s the trend of personalising ads (by device, platform, person); in fitness, it’s the quantified self movement; in health, it’s putting medical data in the cloud. Observing trends is important because it enables entrepreneurs to identify gaps in the market before others do.
In terms of identifying trends, it’s not rocket science. Chris Dixon put it well in a recent blog post saying that “what the smartest people do on the weekend is what everyone else will do during the week in ten years”. Even more so, I think what the smartest people discuss online is also a good indication of what’s going to become a trend. I’m a big fan of discussion boards and community platforms like Reddit and Stack Overflow, because that’s where the geeks hang out. It’s how I first found out about Bitcoin three years ago and Ripple most recently (see? you should be on Reddit), and it’s why last year, long before our competitors, we started focusing on mobile at Brainient. Another way is to observe kids’ behaviour. Take any kid who’s ever touched an iPad and you’ll notice that they expect every electronic device to respond to touch: the TV, the laptop screen, the refrigerator.
All in all, I believe there are many ways to spot trends if you have an earnest desire to observe what’s going on around you and be willing to be laughed at by the mainstream (the way they’re currently laughing at Google Glass). But it’s an important skill to develop if you want to innovate and one that every entrepreneur should cultivate.