In the startup community, we constantly get to geek out on cool stories - to the point where we start taking innovation for granted. Ever heard someone complain about their "stupid iPhone?" It's actually pretty hilarious. As Louis C.K. notes in one of his standup routines, it's a miracle that these things even exist!
Across every industry, company, and entrepreneurial brain, we're always looking for ways to optimize our world by building on the thoughts and ideas of other innovators. There are so many exciting developments happening right now, from fintech to AI...you have to stop and admit, it's pretty cool.
Some of the major trends we've been seeing in innovation include the direct to consumer model, deeper customer collaboration, and, of course, artificial intelligence. Let's take a deeper look!
The explosion of APIs
If you don't know what that acronym stands for, you haven't been paying attention in your meetings. And if your company hasn't got an API yet, you're so 2005. Application Programming Interfaces are removing compatibility issues and stand-alone products by creating an open ecosystem of integrated solutions. That means you can pick and choose the companies and services you want to work with and are no longer hostage to one software with a bunch of fixed solutions that don't suit your needs.
APIs are at the very cornerstone of digital innovations. They allow for products to have a faster lead time to market, to be integrated with third parties, and to add new features with ease. If you're one of nine in ten Americans who uses the internet every day, you've used an API, and probably do so on a regular basis. Whether it's buying products on Etsy or Amazon, searching for jobs on Upwork, or requesting a ride from Uber, APIs are powering the engine under the hood.
The smart machine revolution
You only have to pass through a self-checkout counter, type in a question to an online chat window, or enter a word to Google Translate to see that machines are getting smarter. According to a report by McKinsey, disruptive technologies like machine learning, neural networks and predictive analytics could have an economic impact of between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year by 2025.
With the rise in chatbots, Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri, machines are becoming more intelligent and able to take over routine tasks from humans. They may even be able to break down language barriers and provide flawless translations from one language to another, with Google and Amazon battling it out for dominance over neural machine translation right now.
Marketing down to a single customer
It's no secret that with the rise in peer to peer, personalized services and disruptive startups shaking up every industry, companies are being forced to step up their customer service. 89 percent of marketing managers expected their primary focus to be on improving the customer experience last year. But we're talking way beyond decreased holding time on the telephone or a customer feedback survey after a transaction.
Innovations in predictive analytics are allowing companies to break down big data like never before and pull up pertinent, personal details about their customers. They can tailor their marketing campaigns down to a single customer, storing data about their purchasing preferences, social media profiles, and even the names of their pets!
Facial recognition technology used in retail stores and outlets allows bricks-and-mortar to measure metrics just like online companies. By recording customer "dwell times" in the aisles, they can target offers specific to them, on their social media pages, at the cash register, or even their favorite browser. Across the board, mass marketing and broadcast messaging are becoming a thing of the past.
Creating a win/win for customers is another thriving trend. Companies like PalmPons, an online rewards platform, are improving rewards programs for consumers and growing social media mentions for businesses at the same time. "Social influencers can earn points without spending a dime, just spreading the word," says CEO and founder, Matt Dean. Fans of online retailers now have the tools to easily promote a company's products or services to their social networks, while earning rewards for it.
The rise of the Micro-Economy
Fintech innovation, the democratization of resources, and the affordability of technology have all given rise to a micro economy. This makes sending and receiving payments for just about anything easier, cheaper and faster. Whether it's a micro payment sent through a crowdfunding platform like Indiegogo, or an instant money transfer to a friend through Square, we no longer need to rely on a stuffy, expensive banking industry.
Technologies like Blockchain are allowing for payments in digital, "cryptocurrency" and wiping out hefty conversion fees and delays. As more and more millennials get comfortable with this cashless society and digital wallets, pretty soon we won't need a bank account at all. In fact, according to Goldman Sachs, a third of millennials believe they won't need one within the next five years.
D2C cutting out the middleman
They always say that being the middle child is harder. And since the plethora of startups and budding entrepreneurs selling direct to consumer, this was never truer. Also referred to as "disintermediation", D2C essentially cuts down costs by reducing the amount of intermediaries in the supply chain. But rather than showing cracks in the model, companies are starting to acquire their own warehouses and products. This means they can control the product in its entirety from start to finish and take ownership of materials sourced and monitor quality.
From online streaming companies like Netflix bypassing cable providers, to sites like Tesla that take car dealerships out of the equation, D2C is everywhere. Not only does this create a win-win situation for all (except the middlemen) but customers can rejoice in a more personalized and tailored experience.
While there's always resistance to change and backlash from people who want to maintain the status quo, innovation is inevitable. Rather than fighting against it, companies need to focus on their long term survival and harness technology to improve the customer experience. And it's not unobtainable since APIs and sales tools are becoming accessible, fintech is allowing for affordable transactions and the sharing economy lets us all make extra money. A faster, cheaper, more personalized experience all round can only be a good thing for all.