Learning in Public: 3/21/2021
Interesting bits and bytes
Robots at the Grocery Store…
Kiva Systems was one of the first to create moving robots with real, valuable jobs:
(Why moving robots? Because washing machines, dryers and dishwashers are all robots — we just don’t call them that.)
These moving robots have expanded from fetching stacks of products in an Amazon warehouse, to fetching food for online grocery ordering. This is the same basic technology, but now applied to “soft” products — products that can bruise or require refrigeration. This video shows Ocado’s system and includes a picking robot (replacing the human step of grabbing the item out of the box). The robot picker is a great example of intelligently routing certain tasks to human pickers and others to the robot picker based on the full order contents and if the robot can complete the job. Obvious takeaway: Humans will always be left with the tasks most difficult to automate.
Why hasn’t Instacart invested $1B plus into developing their own system + grocery warehouse? Seems key to securing and advancing their future.
Where else will we see moving robots?
Ports/Rail yards - Positioning containers around the port, on/off trucks, close to the ship. Do you know of ports already doing this?
Airports - Luggage cars (i.e. moving the luggage to/from the plane). Maybe there is an automation story here for cargo flights but not passenger flights as my take though is there isn’t enough that can be automated around passenger flights.
As autonomous cars become real, will this lead to the containerization of vehicles? As in, will vehicle design shift so that vehicles are easy for robots to interact with? I think they clearly should and I’m surprised we aren’t really seeing this in the self-driving car companies of today. I’m talking about making it easy to load a car container onto an autonomous car (allowing easy pick-up of the shopping). Maybe this shift from a vehicle designed to carry people to one designed to carry goods is “easy” — but little in life, in getting the necessary legislation, in software nor in robotics seems to be easy so I’d expect we will see new vehicle designs driving around soon.
A quick example: I live in an apartment building with ~ 100 units. We have a garage, in the next 10 years can an autonomous car come from the grocery warehouse with a "refrigerated pod” that it can easily, and autonomously offload into the garage, where I can unload it on my own schedule, and have a different autonomous car pick-up the “refrigerated pod” later? This fits into the theme of the world restructuring around autonomous vehicles — as our homes and routines shift to adopt these new conveniences.
Buying Jobs To Be Done / Buying Revenue / RenderFarm as a Service
Amazon AWS rents out computer time. How do you lock customers in to renting computer time from you as opposed to anyone else?
One way is you purchase the company behind a key tool used in an industry, and hyper integrate that tool into your cloud so much so that it makes no sense to use elsewhere. Now with your acquisition, you have really purchased a large, and in this case growing recurring revenue stream.
Amazon AWS has done this with their acquisition of Thinkbox — a software company that builds tools for the film industry — tools to render that movie, TV show, or commercial. I’m incredibly impressed with this move — as it is a level above what Google Cloud has been thinking. In 2011, at Google Cloud we were just thinking about partnerships to get data into our cloud (e.g. all the Lord of the Rings movies raw footage — which is a recurring revenue stream, but not one that grew, and not a path to getting a critical workflow onto our cloud in a growing industry).
Whatever Amazon paid, it was a steal.
Ben Thompson talks about how Amazon looks to buy jobs - and details how in his opinion, they look to buy jobs where they themselves are the first and largest customer or — in this case where they have a very large existing customer. This buying jobs thinking seems like a key acquisition insight.
Square grew 10% a week for the first 3 years?! (10% a week = doubling every 50 days). Wow.
What I liked most about this grow is how the co-founder and author of the book framed this as: “Our sales force is growing 10% per week and we don’t have to pay them.” — meaning that the users (merchants) of the product were the ones convincing others to get Square so they could accept Credit Cards.
“You don’t want to innovate.” Always ask, “Do we have to innovate here?” and only innovate when there isn’t a given solution that doesn’t get in the way of your mission.
Be ready for deregulation / External market change - Jim notes that they didn’t have some grand vision at Square for how they would take over Point of Sale (POS). Rather they knew they wanted to empower the small merchants, the little folks currently excluded from accepting credit cards. So that is where they focused, and in doing so, when Apple was preparing the iPad, they were ready for Steve’s call when he wanted them to bring their device to the iPad. Now suddenly, they had the opportunity to challenge the Point of Sale device makers. The book goes on to use Southwest Airlines as a second example where deregulation opened the door for them to significantly expand. Originally, Southwest was just a regional airline serving Texas. Once, the laws changed, they were able to bring their low cost airline to the entire US.
Be a market expander, not a disrupter. By expanding the market, you know you have customers — they are just locked out of the existing systems.
Focus on the little fellow. Often the established businesses ignore them because they don’t see any profit. Example: Square, Southwest, Bank of America (originally the Bank of Italy (of San Francisco)). But they don’t see any profit because of HOW they currently do business and they cannot imagine restructuring their business to do it at incredibly low cost.
Include more people - look for people that are kept out of certain privileges (Square - accepting credit cards, Southwest - low income people and flying, Bank of Italy - low income people and banking).
The Apple Watch isn’t about being a watch. Apple iPhone isn’t about being a phone.
Theme: Building your own hardware - This week’s example is assembling your own 5K monitor at a reasonable price:
Alibaba losing their way? Interesting thread on Alibaba’s culture:
Focus Stacked Photo: How make an incredibly sharp product photo. Photoshop magic!
Stories from early Microsoft — a fun and educational read if you love tech lore: https://hardcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/001-becoming-a-microsoftie-chapter | Steven Sinofsky is a great writer and storyteller. I’m working my way through the whole series. Episode 14 just came out…
Tech bubble / Tech expectations / Why everyone wants to work in tech? It looks like easy money…
The explosion of tech wealth and headcount translates into many smart ambitious people doing tech with the expectation of transitioning from labor to capital.
Developer focused companies are big winners. Hard to rip out once integrated. How to find new opportunities? Look for businesses where there is no self sign-up option. If interacting with a sales team is required, the work to remove the required sales team may be significant, but in doing so you enable developers to build at will.
“To be the default; to be the company that the mythical two people in a garage choose to use, or that someone building a side project on the weekend chooses to use, onboarding must be developer-first” Source: https://www.kunle.app/feb-2020-permissionless-issuing.html
Fun: Drone bowling alley
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. Certainly the best essay I’ve read in the last year.