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2013 After Depression: Connecting the Dots for a Total Innovation Economy

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With the excitement of the holidays upon us, and the sheer exhaustion of the year behind us, it is important to reflect on what makes us great. At this moment, we take stock of what we (entrepreneurs) have built over the past decade.

Beyond that reflection, however, lies an important task: to decide how we will use technology (and lessons learned) over the next decade to turn the tide toward total and immersive innovation. It's this next shift that will ultimately steer us back on course, with renewed excitement and energy for a reshaped, re-established economy.

What emerging businesses will truly shape the next decade and create the jobs we so desperately need in an overwhelmingly demand-driven economy?

Taking a nod from How Companies Win, a book that explores demand-driven business models in the age of digital innovation, authored by Rick Kash and David Calhoun, entrepreneurs dancing around in the technology industry need to take a good, hard look at how they will be part of this solution.

According to the authors: "Successful innovation is focused, disciplined, and realistic innovation." In other words, in an economy where supply must follow demand, entrepreneurs must make it their prerogative to identify markets rife with opportunity on the demand-driven side. They must, as Kash and Calhoun so aptly put it, "find unsatisfied profitable demand and fulfill it."

Social: Opportunity or Oversaturation?

There is little doubt "social" technology has shifted the way by which we communicate, make decisions, and ultimately interact with those around us. As the world cracked open and globalization enabled everything from outsourcing to virtual workforces, our innate need to connect went into overdrive.

Subconsciously threatened by the widening gap of physical relationships, socially driven innovation served us in ways we couldn't understand, but engaged in nonetheless. But with every striking pendulum swing comes the balance of movement in the other direction. While social is certainly now integrated into the fabric of our everyday lives, the saturation point of primary social platforms is impending.

The opportunity ahead is ripe for those willing to leverage the social graph (mostly driven by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), analyze the massive amounts of data and drive businesses and consumers toward actual decision-making in terms of personalized preferences, needs and wants.

Examples of companies leading this charge are GraphDive, The Fancy, Sincerely and PeopleBrowsr.

Mobile: Inflated App Marketplace As a Channel, Not a Revenue Stream

When Apple made an executive decision to converge computer capabilities with a mobile device and sleek design, well, you know, the rest was history. Fueled by the app marketplace, developers world-wide began madly testing, creating and innovating; and as they did this, consumers and businesses reaped the benefits of a social-local-mobile, hyper-connected world.

But ultimately, the efficacy of mobile has and will continue to shift. In other words, in terms of revenue producing business models, mobile (applications) has somewhat reached a cliff. In fact, a recent New York Times article cited: "the app world is an ecology weighted heavily toward a few winners."

Much like social, revenue-producing mobile innovations of the future will leverage existing mobile assets to bolster marketing initiatives, enable cross-platform utilization, analyze and understand complicated data sets and ultimately drive buying decisions of the end-user; not give them more choices -- i.e. more apps.

Two notables in this space, largely enabled by the app marketplace, are Appboy and Appcelerator.

Niche and Lean

Less a technology innovation and more a business-model innovation, the shrinking economy all but forced companies -- from enterprise to startups -- to reassess "business as usual." The emergence of the lean startup methodology pioneered by Steve Blank and Eric Ries has been propagated by a slew of entrepreneur-investors including Dave McClure and Mark Suster and even adopted by big boys Google, Microsoft and (as of late) eBay, as the best way to stay ahead of competitors in rapidly changing markets.

By creating focused subgroups within larger organizational structures, enterprise-level businesses can pinpoint problems quickly and maneuver with agility without the limitations of bureaucracy; limitations which ultimately kill innovation.

And as goes technology, eventually as goes archaic industries. The next decade will see this pervasive shift across industries. Want proof? Read the following excerpt from Christopher Elliott's recent post: "The TSA As We Know It Is Dead -- Here's Why."

Critics recommended aggressively reforming the TSA to create a smaller, more responsive agency that fulfills its mission of protecting and serving air travelers.

But some went much further. Charlie Leocha of the Consumer Travel Alliance, who represented the interests of air travelers on the committee, said the TSA should not just be downsized, but also limited to protecting only air travel (something it currently isn't).

I rest my case.

The Human "Marketplace": Using Technology to Match Role Demand With People Supply

Perhaps the most important innovation to arise from technology's ability to interpret and infer human behavior is the profound emergence of startups focused on matching humans with "roles." While the past decade's entrepreneurs focused on matching people with people (eHarmony, Match.com, Ok Cupid, Three Day Rule) and people with products (eBay, Amazon), the next decade of innovators will focus on finding the right "fits" for the new job market.

Why? Simply put: When the economy crashed, unemployment rose. With that, job descriptions and roles changed to meet adjusted budgets and swiftly changing skill sets. Now, it's a big cluster-F, and someone has to figure it out.

Entrepreneurs are historically (and will forever be, in my opinion) best equipped to solve this problem; naturally, they are.

A few companies who have recently emerged and are sure to make an impact over the next several years are Zirtual, One-Page Company, LifeSwap, Shiftgig, and Path.to.

In fact, Established Companies That Control Massive Amounts of Data Can Attest That This Trend Is Imminent.

Recently, when asked what is next for the company, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner told AdAge: "[Over the next decade] the company wants to digitize every job in the world and the skills needed for that job, as well as every individual and company profile. With that information, LinkedIn would be in a position to evaluate the gaps between the skill sets of a workforce in a given region and the jobs that are on the rise there."

After Depression: What's Next?

My solid belief in the rise of total innovation over the next decade couldn't be more heartfelt. I speak with and gather input from tech and startup ecosystem constituents daily, and I am confident of the pervasive desire for mastery, stability and consistency over the next decade.

The convergence of tech and every major industry presents a fountain of opportunity for entrepreneurs. Those willing to dive deep and take note of systemic issues in need of change, disruption, and innovation (using technology as a driver) will ultimately win. But beware: this is a long-term solution and is not for the faint-hearted.

Where the last generation ultimately failed, the next generation is taking responsibility, picking up the pieces, laying groundwork and providing a framework that will bring us back to our capitalistic, "focused, disciplined, realistic," roots.

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