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It has been a strange autumn, from Brexit to Trump, but some continuing strands of human activity give re-assurance that even if the inmates have taken over the asylum, and just about everything else as well, at least some eternal verities remain in place. Arising from a sickbed that had forced me to miss the Charleston librarian’s conference I fumbled my way into the 10th annual NOAH show, anxious to be re-assured on exactly this point. Indeed, I wanted NOAH to rescue me from the Flood!
For those not dutifully attending the Old Billingsgate jamboree during this decade, NOAH, owned and run by the eponymous advisory team, is the premier presentational market for internet start-ups seeking funding or next-stage re-funding. Now joined by a spring offshoot in Berlin, the London show attracts some 2000 financiers who get to hear 10 minute pitches from a different company every 10 minutes for two days from three different stages – and some get to return the favour with pitches for their own funding services. The range is complete – from the impossible to the improbable to tomorrow’s success stories. All you have to do is pick a winner!
Companies are loosely categorised, with presentations in lead generation (still!), marketplaces and classifieds, travel, infrastructure, gaming, The sharing economy, social and dating, travel, logistics, security, finance and insurance, eCommerce, business services, fintech and medtech, to name the more obvious ones. The vast majority of the presentations are around a web services-based world and very many of them reflect the value definitions that we first created in the mid 1990s. These were all about personal productivity and convenience and cost-saving, and whether we could get merchandisers to pay for the value added to the user experience. So, in the context of some of the best presentations that I personally saw, I am perfectly prepared to believe that the German service Casa can help me buy furniture cost-effectively through combining the inventories of over 100 different furniture stores including Ikea, but if I have already made a brand decision then the value becomes a pricing or re-assurance check. Similarly, many will want to use Spottster to ensure that items on their wish lists have not been re-priced and thus brought within range, but the value added requires a determination in the dedicated shopper that only exists in dedicated minorities of populations. We are salami-slicing the value we offer end-users of all types and the result, if we are not careful, will be further marginalisation as markets inevitably consolidate. Increasingly many new service offerings look like add-ons which major players will either hoover up or re-invent in the passage of time. Picking those winners gets that much tougher, which of course raises the importance of NOAH.
And also gives rise to thoughts about where these innovations are going. The commentary online, for example, about AWS as a backward-looking innovation is important. I am not much concerned about whether the plan that Jeff Bezos approved in 2006 was the press release for cloud-based storage, but I am interested in a revival of thinking around value points that leads to the creation of a facilitation that users can then engage with and develop as they will, creating a user drive from an initial value experiment. The user-centricity is the key thing, like the empty chair at every Bezos meeting. So much of the initial web service value was created around this sort of thinking that I wonder why it has not become more important rather than less over time. It is still possible, in certain geographies, to create good service values modelled on things which have succeeded elsewhere – for me, the classic example was the charming food site, Farmy.ch, at NOAH, – but it is really hard to get these things to scale and they tend to be limited by local market conditions.
My prediction therefore would be that shows like NOAH will become much more broadly based in their conception of online innovation. In future years we shall see much more Internet service based development, with blockchain being an immediate focus. Invaluable as the Web may be, adding fresh value gets tougher all the time. Invention should be looking again at the one-to-one and one-to-many possibilities created by global networking; in a future which may well be Web-based but which is not only Web-based, and where the Web may be the service facilitation but not necessarily the service itself. NOAH remains the barometer of these changes, and as I left I could hear the cheerful laughter of investment bankers tinkling into the music of cash registers. How unlike the world outside that day!