20 March 2012

Where the Wild Things Are

We're in the midst of a modern gold-rush. And few realize it.

Can you see it? Understand what I mean?

Let's say you wanted to start a business, perhaps a restaurant. Realize that it's both a very risky and expensive endeavor, fraught with red tape and things out of your control. You'll spend literally $100,000+ one fixing up the location, installing new interior and equipment, hiring and training people, etc.

At that point your potential customer base is drawn from perhaps a few thousand people whom regularly drive by and therefore know you exist. There's so many places in my home-town I have never been inside that I sometimes wonder how they survive at all. But, these are situated on a main-street, such that a few tens of thousands might see them on an average month and try them out. If they can retain only a few regular customers from each group that walks in, they can thrive.

But why would you go to all that hassle, spend all that money, to reach a paltry customer base when you could spend next to nothing on materials costs and labor and reach a global audience online?

The modern gold-rush is the app market on smart phones and tablets, on the Iphone and Android models, and increasingly the Ipad and its Android facsimiles.

The trade off is that you must good, very good--you must compete, because you're competing globally. But product niches are endless, so you should not be afraid. Niche is scary because you're giving away much of the market, but when you have a global market, you will be much less concerned. Niches in a global market could mean -only- hundreds of millions of potential customers instead of billions.

Because competition is so strong and barrier to entry so low, the best way to compete is to unveil the new. There are a million restaurants in the world (literally), but they're insulated from each other by distance and convenience. Few will drive more than a few tens of miles for food. The incentive to create something new is not likely to ever change.

Apps are the liminal edge of the business-startup world today, the focus of entrepreneurism in silicon valley and much of the world. Russia announced it was going to create a Silicon Valley analogue within its borders. And nearly 50% of all investment money in the US is going to fund Silicon Valley companies, many with just a seed of an idea and one or more founders.

A startup incubator called Y-Combinator is a notable example, funding multiple teams of entrepreneurs at a time and collecting them together for mutual support.

I saw news recently that a finger-sketch game for Ipad is earning $100,000 a day for its creators.

App development is the modern jungle, the unconquered territory of the world, the liminal edge of modern development. It is the beating heart of Silicon Valley and a primal force for change in the modern world, as no one knows what life-changing development may arrive on the scene tomorrow.

One of my long-term goals has been to learn to program; there have been a lot of programs I have wanted to create for many years now. And I've begun that process, signing up for the first Udacity.com class of CS101, learning Python.

I'm about haflway through the class, finishing the third module, and I wholeheartedly recommend this site and course. It's free, no obligation, no cost to sign up--which is mindblowing in and of itself.

It's a weird feeling to have had virtually no experience in programming only a few weeks ago and to now being able to read code and understand its function, as well as write my own solutions from scratch.

They're still quite simple programs, but solving them is a joyful experience. That moment when your code finally performs as designed is beautiful.

I've been talking with a friend about forming a software company and chasing the app market. Since then we've been collecting app ideas and are very excited with a couple of very promising ones.