Futurosity #2

Cheaper batteries : Outrage & Optimism : No more ads : 10 years of Kickstarter : Laying siege to the Monopoly

This newsletter is becoming a habit.

Welcome, dear reader, to yet another instalment and prototype of the Futurosity Newsletter. Sebastian and Fredrik, the writers of these texts and the ying and yang of 10X Labs, are somewhat giddy with excitement over the fact that we continue to make the time for this endeavour. Your feedback on how to improve this newsletter is like gold to us, so do keep it coming. Thank you for giving us your time.

This week we’re noticing how batteries continue their unlikely price decrease, how outrage is compatible with optimism and what we can learn from 10 years of Kickstarting. Also, we make models.


3 nugget-sized observations:

Electric cars are getting cheaper faster

We assume that you, dear reader, have a normal interest in motor vehicles. That makes us dare suggest that when it comes to electric cars you’re probably of the opinion that they’re expensive things. That is true, but less so for every quarter. Bloomberg (hardly a bunch of tree-hugging hippies) now suggest that the new date for when electric cars reach price parity with fossil-burners will be in 2022. Last year, they said 2024, and the year before that it was 2026. Encouraging.

Bloomberg article, short read

Outrage, Optimism & a real-world Wonder Woman: the podcast

Credit for image: UN Climate Change, Flickr

Speaking of encouragement, have you heard of Christiana Figueres? Perhaps not. Though you will. She is the single most important reason that the Paris Climate Agreement happened and ended up being a success. Since then she has left her role at the UN but continues to work for, as she refers to it, her one and only boss - the global atmosphere. She has just launched a podcast about the outrage over what’s not being done to save the climate, and the optimism she feels over what is in fact happening. You should check it out:

http://globaloptimism.com/podcast/

Paid e-mail newsletters is a thing

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found this interesting. In an era dominated by ‘free content’ that is saturated by surgically targeted ads, the hip new thing seems to be old school paywalls. If you’ve looked closer at Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism (last week’s book recommendation) you will have gathered that the ad-based business model is largely the one thing to blame for the Internet we currently have. Making it better will require a new way for creators, big and small, to monetize their craft. Or, as it seems, an old fashioned way. Hello Substack:

Buzzfeed article, about 5 minutes reading time


1 longer piece, with opinions

If it must make a profit, it’s not my revolution: A Decade of Kickstarter

TLDR:

10X Labs want to start a revolution of sorts. We don’t have the money, and we don’t want to ask venture capitalists. Kickstarter has succeeded at bringing on the revolution for a decade without compromising itself. That is cool, and something to learn from. Listen to Perry Chen, founder and former CEO.

Here’s a transcript of the hour-long interview. Search for ‘Recode Media’ wherever you listen to podcasts and tune in to an interesting conversation.

Longer version:

Have you ever backed something on Kickstarter? It’s quite likely that you have. Have you ever launched a crowdfunding project, on Kickstarter or elsewhere? Sebastian did once. He learnt exactly how not to Kickstart something, and he’d be happy to tell you.

Kickstarter is what launched the concept, culture and industry of crowdfunding. To us it feels like it has always been there, but the truth is that it was merely 10 years ago that three people came together to create what became Kickstarter because ‘it needed to exist’, as they put it. In an hour-long interview with Peter Kafka on the Recode Media podcast, the founder and former CEO by the name of Perry Chen explains why, how and what he has built over the past decade. The interview is also available as a transcript, below:

The same link, again.

Chen tells that from the very first outset, him and his co-founders were adamant about not becoming your typical Silicon Valley startup. Kickstarter was launched in the same era as Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other brands that came to embody what Chen refers to as companies that are ‘eat-the-world sociopathic for-profit’. On the other side of that spectrum, at least within an American context, you end up as a non-profit organisation that for both practical and ethical reasons cannot make us of all the market tools that are available to for-profit corporations. Perry Chen put Kickstarter in the middle, as a privately held public benefit company. That was practically unheard of ten years ago, and it still is far from the norm. Yet it’s an interesting thing to study, for those of us who are exploring how to elevate capitalism into something more sustainable.

This is the thing. Long before they were making any money, Kickstarter raised funding from investors so that they could afford to hire staff and build the platform. Just like most other startups. However, Perry Chen explained to all potential investors that Kickstarter will never maximize profit. It will not seek to do an IPO - an initial public offering on the stock market. Nor will it aspire to be bought up by some bigger company. If you are to invest in us, he said, you shall not expect to get your money back. Instead, you will be part of building a platform that is empowering people to launch and execute creative projects.

‘Sounds like socialism’, said the usual bunch of venture capitalists and moved on. Indeed, this approach made Kickstarter incompatible with most funding mechanisms available to US-based companies. Their investors are big foundations and family fortunes that are used to donating money to non-profit initiatives. A decade later Kickstarter is running strong, having reshaped the global culture around how to fund creative projects and other experiments. While also remaining different from your typical tech startup, practically as well as philosophically.

We find this inspiring, as it hints at the possibility of funding your revolution in an honest way. It’s all good and well to talk about a company’s vision and values, but to truly walk the talk and do so successfully for ten consecutive years is a different thing altogether. By looking at the way in which Kickstarter was originally put together we might learn something about how to build a foundation that enables a company to truly keep on living its mission over time. This stands in stark contrast to last week’s post where we outlined how Facebook is its own worst enemy, since it seems unable to rid itself of the business model-behaviours that are destroying it from within.

Right now, there’s more venture capital available to startups than any time before in history. Too much of it comes from the less than morally clean sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. If you’re an entrepreneur, it has never been easier to get funding. However, most of the investors that you’re likely to meet will insist that you focus on growth at all costs. Forget revenue, forget about slow and steady - rampant growth is the name of the current game. If you’re successful at achieving this you’ll be ‘blessed’ with a hockey stick curve in your spreadsheet that enables you to raise more money and employ more people, growing explosively. Whatever values that might have been in place from the beginning become hard to hold on to when your team and company is burning through venture cash in pursuit ever higher growth figures. You’re likely to end up in a place where you’re making poorer decisions and with a culture that is less than what you had.

Kickstarter is a model for how to do it differently. How to design an organisation to be around for perpetuity, and not be dependent on a founder to remember Why the company exists. If they can do it, so can we and so can you. What revolution do you want to spark?


A simulator like no other: The Siege of the Monopoly

As you may have noticed, we like to build things. The reason is simple - we believe that if you truly want to understand a complex question, you need to make a model of it. We have allowed ourselves to take that sentiment to a gamified extreme. This miniature diorama is our first incarnation of what we call a Changescape, i.e. a landscape of change. It depicts a once fertile landscape that was nourished by the River of Revenue that ran through it. Alas, that river has now been dammed up by the Monopoly (could be whatever monopolistic force you want to analyse) that’s now collecting almost all the profit for itself. Think of Facebook, and you’ll recognise the newspaper industry as the desert outside the spiky walls.

This Changescape is a decision making tool. An analog simulation environment that deploys game mechanics to help players formulate and test different ideas about how to either overthrow a given monopoly or defend one against upstart attackers. We’ve prototyped this idea and found that there are two main benefits to this level of gamified decision making. Firstly, it provides the entire team with a shared image of the decision space - albeit a very simplified one. Secondly, given its illustrated and tactile nature, it greatly helps the participants to formulate complex ideas and remember them afterwards. It works wonders for knowledge retention; the ability to recollect and retell what was learnt.

The Siege of the Monopoly is nearly finished and will require extensive play testing before we can offer it to clients as a tool. Are you interested in playing this scenario with us? Would you like to read a ‘battle report’ of how Facebook’s walls were overrun by a concerted attack from Fortnite and Pokémon Go? Hit reply to this email and let us know!


That’s all for this week. We hope it made you feel a tad more curious about tomorrow. Again, we thank you for your feedback on how we can make this newsletter into a conversation worth paying for.

Cheers,

Sebastian & Fredrik