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After A Pivotal Year For Revolutionary Technologies, What’s Next?

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By Tiana Laurence, partner at Laurence Innovation, a pre-seed investment fund focused on early-stage tech companies in the 4IR verticals.

Although cryptocurrencies and blockchain have been in the headlines for a long time, 2022 may prove to be a hinge year for the emerging industries that have built up around them. As the market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) continues to explode, it’s clear that crypto has found its killer app: NFTs have the potential to empower artists and other creators to produce a massive profusion of original work, and they’ve created a huge market for digital content.

Just as NFTs have caused us to rethink some of our most fundamental assumptions about assets and transactions, other rapidly emerging technologies like the metaverse and augmented reality (AR) are blending the physical and digital worlds like never before. The contours of future digital innovation have become much more vivid over the past year, and the economic and cultural implications are already enormous.

There’s no telling exactly what the next few years could look like for crypto, blockchain, the metaverse and AR — there could be corrections, renewed periods of extreme growth and so on. But these technologies will permanently reshape the way we create, collect and interact. Entrepreneurs and big brands are adding an NFT spin to create additional sizzle on traditional goods and services like the ICO craze of 2017. The difference, however, is that NFTs create more value. 

What Makes NFTs So Valuable?

Take a moment to consider the almost incomprehensibly vast library of digital content that’s produced and consumed every day. Now consider how much of that content is copied, shared, stored and manipulated. While the internet gives artists and content creators access to a global audience, the democratization of content has led to a radical reconception of ownership, which has serious economic consequences for content creators (i.e., it makes copyrights difficult to enforce and cuts into their profits).

By introducing scarcity with a ledger that confirms the unique ownership of each piece of content, NFTs have made it possible to collect digital art and other forms of content. This idea isn’t new — almost a decade ago, the concept of “colored coins” was introduced. These are tokens issued on the Bitcoin blockchain that represent ownership of real assets, from cars to real estate to equities and bonds. NFTs build upon this basic concept to provide content creators with unlimited ways to produce digital work that has real-world value.

Sales of NFTs jumped to $10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2021 — a dramatic increase from $1.3 billion in Q2. Meanwhile, global VC investment in crypto and blockchain companies surged from just over $5 billion in 2020 to $27 billion by November 2021. NFT markets have been critical drivers of this growth, and the momentum will likely last into 2022 and beyond.

Other Digital Trends You Should Be Watching In 2022 

Over the past year and a half, more of our personal and professional lives have migrated online. Without video conferencing services and digital collaboration tools, it’s difficult to imagine how millions of workers could have done their jobs during the pandemic. At a time when we were all isolated from loved ones and spending more time cloistered in our homes, the internet was a vital source of human connection. But rather than viewing the digitization of our everyday lives as a temporary emergency measure, we should recognize that it’s a new reality that will long outlive the crises of the day.

For example, the metaverse — which refers to persistent 3D digital environments, often built for virtual and augmented reality — is poised to be widely adopted in the coming years. Facebook is now Meta, a project designed to bring all the company’s “apps and technologies under one new company brand,” a brand focused around immersive experiences that blend digital and physical reality. The metaverse already exists in various forms, from games like Second Life to special experiences that offer alternatives to in-person events like Burning Man, which went virtual during the pandemic on platforms like AltspaceVR.

The technologies, services and experiences designed around the metaverse will only continue to multiply in the coming years, and 2022 will likely be a period of particularly rapid growth.

How New Technologies Are Changing The Way We Use The Internet

While the development of new technology is driven by consumer demand, this process can also work in reverse: Innovative products meet demand while simultaneously shifting markets and changing consumer expectations. Some especially significant innovations can catalyze sweeping changes in the entire approach to product development and change the way we think about our digital lives altogether. 

For example, the blockchain has led to a new conception of how the internet should be used: Web3, which emphasizes the importance of circumventing major gatekeepers like Google with decentralized, democratized online platforms. Web3 systems run on the blockchain, so the data they host are accessible to anyone — a level of transparency that tech corporations can never provide. At a time when many Americans don’t trust social media platforms to protect their data, Web3 presents an alternative that empowers users to take control of their digital lives.

There are many other ways new technologies are changing our perceptions and behavior, both online and offline. AR, VR and the metaverse are creating digital living rooms and meeting spaces where people will have a continuous presence online. New products like Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses and other wearable tech allow users to seamlessly blend the physical and digital worlds. NFTs have opened up boundless possibilities for inventive creative marketing — companies like SmartMedia, for instance, offer 3D and mixed reality (MR) objects that give consumers a uniquely immersive brand experience.

The main story in the headlines since early 2020 has been Covid-19 and the economic fallout it has caused. But the past year and a half have also been an unprecedented period of creativity and growth for blockchain-based technologies like NFTs, revolutionary concepts like the metaverse and many other digital innovations that will forever change the way we think about technology.

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Unlock The Entrepreneurial Potential Of Your Team With Employee-Ownership

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A strong team of many outperforms even the most hardworking of entrepreneurs on their own. But when hiring employees, freelancers and contractors, how do you ensure they have the same entrepreneurial skills and drive that you do as your company’s owner? Is it unrealistic to expect employees to be motivated and committed to an organisation they didn’t found?

Nicki Sprinz thinks she has cracked the code of unlocking the entrepreneurial potential of your team, and the answer lies in employee ownership. Sprinz is managing director of B-Corp certified ustwo London, a company of over 200 employees, and cofounder of Ada’s List, an 8000-strong community designed to support women working in the tech industry. ustwo has recently become employee-owned and has already seen the benefits of breaking down the distinction between owners and employees.

According to the Employee Ownership Association, this way of working can improve productivity, support more resilient regional economies and empower team members, resulting in them being far more engaged. Sprinz explained the main benefit for entrepreneurs of this model along with practical tips for managing directors and company founders to make the transition to becoming employee-owned.

Employee ownership protects the company

“Being employee-owned means existing team members, who are now partners, feel empowered as owners,” said Sprinz. She believes that this encourages everyone to put in the work to uphold a strong company culture and course-correct if they see anything awry.

Whilst this might not happen automatically, a founder can make it more likely that their team upholds the vision. Sprinz has put frameworks in place to ensure everyone has a voice. “We hold open firesides, have elected partner representatives on the board, and ensure there are regular channels of communication for all team members to be part of growing the culture and living the values,” she said.

Keeping the team on board means protecting the company. “There are no surprises about the direction we are taking with the business,” explained Sprinz. “We involve everyone in the decisions we make on our projects and ensure we are accountable, both commercially and ethically.”

Attract and retain top talent

In a competitive market, how does your company attract and retain the best talent in the world for the benefit of your clients? Employee-ownership could be the solution. Not only does it make job listings stand out, but it attracts individuals who are like-minded and think long term. They are committed to a future with whichever company they choose to join and are prepared to push themselves to make it happen.

“High quality potential recruits and employees are interested in values and purpose,” said Sprinz. “Being able to talk about employee ownership helps you stand out in a tough hiring market. We have several interview stages so a candidate can get to know us as well as we’d like to know them.”

Sprinz’ interview stages aim to weed out “cultural and value mismatches that ultimately lead to an unfulfilled team.” They ask candidates multiple questions about their values and examples of them in practice, and they encourage candidates to probe with questions about ustwo. They also “publicise the salary for all open roles and candidates have the opportunity to meet other members of the team,” she added.

Control quality

When scaling a business, ambitious entrepreneurs cannot afford to let quality slip. Growth at all costs is a false economy that ends with the business back at square one and having to work harder to undo reputational damage. “A more entrepreneurial team ensures quality stays high,” explained Sprinz. Not only do your team members care deeply about the work they do, they also know they benefit from company growth, so they are incentivised to keep raising the bar.

“If your team is invested in the long term financial success of the company, they also feel pride that their work contributes to overall success,” said Sprinz. “They respond by raising the bar on their work.” Sprinz also believes that, “Regular transparent sharing of financial results and metrics maintains dialogue on personal and company impact.”

Direct the future

An employee-owned company has options for the future. The owner might one day want to step aside or sell, and the company’s succession plan will already be in place. In the meantime, the company has hit new heights and progressed with new ideas because its foundations are solid.

Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you cannot reach self-actualisation without warmth and shelter, and a company cannot break through ceilings with constant recruitment issues. When team members are bought into the company, they are bought into its future too, making more certain outcomes for everyone involved.

“The partner representatives on the board surface the priorities of the rest of the team and ensure the conversations of the board are directed accordingly,” explained Sprinz. “The representatives are actively part of the bigger picture and playing a huge part in shaping the company’s future.”

Unlock the entrepreneurial potential of your team by exploring employee ownership, advised Sprinz. The best people will be proud to tell their friends that they are part-owners of the place they work. They will feel valued and listened to and respond with their effort and devotion. Could employee ownership be the right step forward for you?

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With $3M new funding, Egyptian startup OneOrder sets out on growth drive • TechCrunch

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OneOrder, Egypt’s supply chain solutions provider for restaurants, has raised $3 million seed funding led by Nclude with participation from A15, and Delivery Hero Ventures. The latest funding brings the total funding raised by the startup to $10.5
million, including $6.5 million working capital financing from financial institutions.

Launched in March this year, OneOrder makes it possible for restaurants to order food supplies through its online platform, solving the fragmented supply chain challenges that lead to erratic prices, waste, quality issues, and storage cost.

By using its platform, restaurants no longer have to deal with tens of suppliers, and can order only what they need, for next day delivery, stemming wastage and doing away with the need for warehouses. The platform also ensures operational efficiency and helps restaurants save money by leveraging OneOrder’s economies of scale.

The startup plans to use the funding to scale its operations in Egypt including increasing its warehouse footprint, and to explore growth opportunities within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, and Africa.

“We are exploring Saudi Arabia and expanding south into our continent. I think Africa has a lot of markets that feel the same pain points that Egypt does,” said OneOrder co-founder and CEO, Tamer Amer, who co-founded OneOrder with Karim Maurice (CTO), also founder Cube, an online restaurant-reservation service.

“The solution that we’re providing has shown that this industry is ready for tech solutions…[and] we are working on a more substantial operating system for the restaurants not just the supply chain and inventory management system, rather the full cycle that would turn their operations automatic by using AI and machine learning capabilities to drive the supply chain,” said Amer, a restaurateur for over two decades, initially in the U.S before settling in Egypt from 2008.

Amer, told TechCrunch that the sourcing challenges he experienced operating two restaurants in Egypt — Fuego, a sushi bar, and Longhord Texas Barbeque — inspired the launch of OneOrder, to serve the country’s total addressable market of 400,000 restaurants.

“I had always taken the supply chain in the U.S for-granted; we would order and get the supplies all the time. We didn’t have to worry about shortages or price changes. I realized that Egypt is so underserved and the industry is really doing a lot of things that we shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

“… restaurants should not have a full-time job monitoring the supply chain and procuring products because it takes away focus on the core business, which is serving customers. So that’s where the idea really started,” he said.

OneOrder plans to, through its partners and backed by its extensive data, begin extending working capital financing options to restaurants as a way of helping them scale their operations.

Basil Moftah, the managing partner at Nclude, said: “The product-market fit of the OneOrder solution is very impressive, along with the positive impact it is delivering to all stakeholders in the value chain. Through the use of technology and alternative data, OneOrder’s embedded financing will help underserved clients who are unable to secure traditional financing. This aligns perfectly with our investing philosophy and we are glad to be embarking on this journey with the team.”

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The guide to empowering startups on their unicorn journey

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The world of startups is booming today – there are innovative products and services that are being launched, almost every other day. Interestingly, India is fast becoming the ‘startup capital’ of the world. Over 940 startups have raised nearly 20 billion in the first half of this year, while over 100 tech startups have entered the unicorn club.

The pandemic, too, served as a catalyst, highlighting the significance of technology to scale startups. But let’s understand this – becoming a billion-dollar company is no mean feat. While most believe that funding is the most crucial component for startups – it’s also important to find the right tech partners to foster your growth.

To understand the secret sauce of what makes a startup a part of the unicorn club, a panel discussion featuring Manish Kumar, Founder and CEO, KredX; Monika Jain, Co-founder and COO, Presto; Satish Mohan, Founder and CTO, Dhiway; and Prashant Singh, Co-founder and COO, LeadSquared, was moderated by Viju Chakarapany, VP and Head of Commercial Sales – Asia-Pacific and Japan, Red Hat, at TechSparks 2022 in Bengaluru.

The journey of innovation and scalability

For startups, the decision-making process of selecting innovative technologies is not as easy, particularly when building products. Sharing her view on this, Monica revealed that as a low-code, no-code tech platform that is trying to power up other enterprises to run millions of transactions, they have to be scalable, secure, and stable.

“Open source was our first choice, and a lot of our co-founders have been contributors as well as consumers to open source. We did not fall into the typical myths that are associated with open source. I think a lot of people associate free as being sub-par, but we have noticed that these are some of the most well-tested technologies, and not just us, our customers have also liked that aspect,” she mentioned, sharing that vulnerabilities in the platform show up more quickly when one is building on top of open source.

While scaling is the natural route for most startups, it is ridden with challenges. As Prashant rightly said, forecasting is one thing, but in reality, it is exponentially harder. Since LeadSquared is taking the multi-product direction, it is important for them to differentiate between the products they need to build or buy.

“The second factor is the market. We believe that any market that can give us 10 million dollars of revenue is the right market to invest in. The third factor is profitability, which must also be considered particularly in the long run. But the most important thing is to reorganise the company, so you can defend your market share and also grab it,” he added, sharing that certain central functions like strategy and finance must also be set up.

Creation of cultural touchpoints in tech

Elaborating on the pertinent subject, Satish shared that while he was at Red Hat, he learned the important lesson of creating a certain culture, apart from building enterprise products.

“Open source is the default engine for innovation; it was not like this three decades back. Some things have changed but even today, collaborative thinking is equally important,” he said.

Most people in the startup space make the mistake of looking at a project through a single lens, believe Satish. It is critical to give back, so that it benefits the community at large. This will help them solve scalability issues and other hiccups that come their way.

“Open source is an ethos, it’s not just about license or source code. It’s about all of us coming together and nurturing the open-source model, to keep it as a hotbed for collaborative thinking and creative outcomes,” he added.

Different stages of tech in a startup

There are certain strategies that startups must follow at a fundamental level, but it is essential to know the different phases in tech that they face, shared Manish.

“The first is frugality – how much less can I pay for that tech, so that we sustain in the near future? The second phase is scalability. Can I have the tech that can scale me up from 100 customers to 1 million customers? The third stage is stability – I have 5 million or 10 million customers, can my tech be stable? The fourth piece is security. Most startups see it as a piecemeal approach, but it’s essential to think of a step ahead,” he added.

All in all, it is important to take everything into consideration to meet the high demands of customers. In the case of Monica, she believes that it is important to view any problem holistically and build it in a configurable fashion.

“Measure twice, cut once. Think through what needs to be done, plan more and get feedback from real customers. Customers get carried away, they need the right tech partner to discern,” she concluded.

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