The news that caught my attention the most this lazy long weekend was that Better Place was liquidating . http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57586236-76/electric-car-startup-better-place-liquidating-after-$850-million-investment/ . Of course there was the SAP announcement of organizational changes – but my thoughts as an employee ( that too just 5 months as employee) might not be of much interest to anyone else.
Although alternate sources of energy is a top concern of our generation, that was not the reason I remembered this company called Better Place . I remembered it because of my sense of awe on how quickly Shai Agassi raised multiple rounds of funding – each in 100s of millions of dollars – to turbocharge the progress of his company . I have always been a fan of Shai’s ability to explain his vision in a compelling way to his audience . So it was no surprise that he could garner support like he did . This vision was further backed by investment bankers who concluded that the days of gasoline engine were numbered.
On Social media, the mood I saw was along the lines of “This was bound to happen given the idea was ahead of its time, but admirable that someone chased a dream despite many obstacles”. I beg to disagree – There is nothing admirable in reckless spending of investor money and running a company to bankruptcy in my opinion . If anything , that just is a terribly costly way to show how not to innovate . Innovation without a viable business model is just wishful thinking at best and an unmitigated disaster at worst .
I do hope that Shai dusts off quickly, and becomes successful at this venture itself or something else. And I hope and pray that alternate energy problems we face do get solved one day soon .
The other topic that I got to discuss with my friends this weekend was whether “disk is dead” – In the context of software innovations. I think the electric car company’s unfortunate demise has some lessons that IT industry should pay attention to . For most of the last decade , I have spent most of my time supporting clients in semiconductor industry. Every time I hear “disk is dead” – I am reminded of the economics of that industry that I have watched over the years. When we try to innovate without keeping the economics in mind, what suffers the most will be adoption .
I might be off in exact numbers – but roughly, I think there is 10 to 12 times the capacity to create disks today compared to flash . No doubt flash will increase market share many fold going forward, but not at a clip that disk will become extinct any time soon. Why ? Because it is not easy or cheap or fast to set up a new fab to manufacture flash . All semi companies of the world together might not have the resources (probably in hundreds of billions of dollars) to convert the world from disk to flash any time soon . And if they did so on leverage, most of us would not have the purchasing power to afford our fancy mobiles and tablets anymore 🙂 . What about DRAM then ? A similar logic exists – compared to SSD , DRAM is dearer by 3X or so.
Then there is the cost of disruption – customers have heavy investments in existing technology. For sure there are enough cases where price-performance plays in favor of the more expensive DRAM and SSD solutions . However, the “right time” for all business problems is not “real time” ( Yet ). So for innovation to be viable – at least till hardware manufacturing economics catches up – solutions working on DRAM and SSD need to be able to work closely and efficiently with those that make good use of Disk . And if you listen closely to industry observers you will already hear a lot about “RAM is slow” ! So in a few years, we will need yet another version of hybrid solutions .
Smart vendors realize this and build solutions that make good use of existing technologies, while enabling rapid and useful change with disruptive technologies . Their not-so-smart competitors stick to old or new technology exclusively and either die of obsolescence ( innovators dilemma types ) or of running short of resources and demand ( like better place example) .
Easier said than done – even a genius like Shai couldn’t get technology and business model right at the same time . But cheers to the leaders who get it right ! And I do hope Shai gets it right in his next try as well .