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Forget 2014. Here's What 2024 Will Bring.

Entrepreneurs need to think long-term. And the great companies of 2024 are just being founded now.

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It’s that “listy” time of year again. We’ve got the “best of,” the “worst of,” and then all the predictions for 2014. My advice: Just skip it.

For entrepreneurs, the difference between 2013 and 2014 is hardly relevant. It’s far more productive to think in 10-year cycles.

Consider that Google was founded in 1998, and Facebook in 2004. The implication is that the great companies of 2024 will likely be started next year. So while it’s fun to speculate about 2014, an eye on the longer game is important if you aspire to something epic.

So while visions of sugar plums and New Year’s champagne may loom large , here are a few big themes to ponder.

Mobile is not just about phones

In the last five years, our view of computers has expanded to include smartphones and tablets. In 2013 we got an amuse bouche of things to come. Smart watches, fitness bands, and Google Glass represent the rising tide of a tsunami of new computing devices that will transform how we work and play. This will spawn many opportunities for new products and applications.

Social is not just about friends

Most of us think about social networks as just one of many things we do on the Internet. But they are evolving into something bigger--in fact, they are becoming the very fabric of the Internet. Social networks have made us all mini-broadcasting studios that generate signals about what we like and dislike, where we are and what we do. This information will create massive opportunities to make the Internet a more personalized and useful experience.

Internet of things

Look around you. There probably isn’t a single thing in your life that won’t ultimately be connected and smart. Yes, even your pillow will be able to get data generated by your fitness monitor to adjust its shape to keep your head and neck well-supported and at the perfect temperature to maximize REM sleep. Got an early morning appointment? Your calendar will let your coffee maker know. Prefer Starbucks? They’ll know when you’re 10 minutes away and your favorite concoction, prepaid, will be waiting for you.

Advanced/distributed manufacturing

The definition of shopping is compromise. You search and search to find some mass-produced product that best fits your needs, style and size. Most of the time you just settle.

Unless you have been hibernating, you’ve likely heard about 3D printers. People think these technical marvels will have us making all of our stuff at home, but the real revolution will more likely come from an explosion of local mini-factories that can produce products that are customized just for you. It’s very early, but the pace of innovation has been breathtaking. That translates into tons of new opportunities.

Robotics

Amazon’s concept demonstration of a delivery drone got more than its share of Twitter-sneer and late-night chuckles. But it wasn’t so far-fetched. Airborne drones are no longer just in the domain of the military. First responders are deploying a new breed of commercial drone to survey disaster sites. Farmers can now constantly monitor their crops for early signs of damage. And not just from the air: robotic farm vehicles can now tend the fields and even prune vines and trees. With the Google driverless car, driving is destined to become a leisure-time activity. The robotic revolution has now begun and opportunities abound.

Artificial biology

You likely forgot the stages of mitosis right after high school biology class, but artificial biology may be the biggest thing we see in our lifetime--way bigger than the Internet. While you have been busy advancing your levels in Angry Birds, molecular biologists have been learning how to read and write DNA, the code of life.

The potential is profound, and like all new technologies, equally scary. Imagine being able to cure cancer with an applet delivered to your immune system by a specially engineered friendly virus. Or envision endless supplies of “motherless meat”--animal protein that is cultured rather than ranched and slaughtered. How about replacement organs printed by organic 3D printers with your genome? New kidney? No problem -- and no chance of rejection. These are but a few of the applications of the technology that will likely alter the course of evolution itself.

As the sun sets on 2013, we find reason for optimism. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is buoyant, and many later-stage companies are enjoying successful IPOs. The history of economic cycles would lead us to believe we are headed for five or more years of solid growth. And if unexpected crises occur, we can take solace in the fact that no matter how the economy gyrates, innovation never slows down. As for 2014? Think big; think 2024.

IMAGE: Steve Bronstein/Getty
Last updated: Dec 17, 2013

BARRY SCHULER is managing director for DFJ Growth and the former chairman and CEO of America Online. He is credited with being one of the pioneers of the modern Internet.
@BSchuler




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