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Globalization

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Ever heard of Nupedia? Neither did I, until September 20, 2013. As a startup founder, I’m constantly finding better ways to communicate the value proposition of Miigle, which I often do by borrowing more familiar websites or platforms as examples.

As I was reading about “graph databases” on Wikipedia, I thought “wait a minute, Miigle is somewhat like Wikipedia.” I had a very general idea of how Wikipedia was founded but I thought it’d serve me well to better familiarize myself so I googled “how was wikipedia founded”. Genius.

Of course you know about Wikipedia. You along with millions of people around the world use it almost daily. You know that Wikipedia is an open source wiki accessible to anyone to read and edit any of its “29.5 million freely usable articles in 287 languages.”

What you probably didn’t know is that the success of Wikipedia was almost accidental.

See, before Wikipedia there was Nupedia. The primary difference between the two being that only “experts” could contribute to Nupedia which as a result plagued the platform with protocols and significantly hindered its growth and popularity. Wikipedia was actually created as a feeder project to Nupedia by allowing “common folks” to contribute as a way to help the experts.

Benefiting from the much larger number of contributors and the absence of protocols, Wikipedia grew exponentially while Nupedia and its experts were quickly forgotten. Microsoft tried to give it a fight with Encarta and their highly paid experts but eventually folded as well.

Do not doubt the power of We The People. Most importantly, We The People (including YOU) should not doubt its own power.

Why does this matter? It matters because we’re living in a Digital Age and Wikipedia’s story and validation can be applied to a variety of scenarios.

Let’s pick my favorite: Innovation.

Just like Nupedia, the success of an innovation has traditionally and primarily been left in the hands of a few “experts”. They evaluate the ideas, teams, etc. and if everything looks promising, they invest and help get it out to the market. Most of the people in that market, the target audience, would have never heard of the product or service.

No big deal, that’s why there are marketing budgets.

The target audience is seen as comprised of mere consumers with no role to play in the development of a product. They are not the experts. Besides, why would they want anything to do with innovation, they are already consumed by their 9 to 5 work schedules, sitcoms, pets, and silly videos scattered all over the Internet.

They are not the experts and they haven’t got the desire nor will.

Not true. As a matter of fact, it’s bullshit.

If you’ve paid any attention to the evolution of crowdsourcing then you understand that people are dying to add their contribution to tech and non-tech related ideas, startups, and projects created all over the world. They are rejecting the notion that they are mere consumers and want to be part of these beautiful (and occasionally sad) stories.

The more interesting truth is that we need them but we’re refusing to give them a chance (unless it’s taking their money), to satisfy the egos of a few people.

The message we are sending is: Your money matters, your brain is worthless (unless you went to Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc or worked at Google, Facebook, Amazon, blah blah)

Why? Because it is difficult to take a commission on non-tangible goods like an advice, at least not with the currently proven business models. However, more than just money, these people are sitting on a wealth of intellectual, practical, and emotional capital they’d love to give away freely and happily.

Building a startup is hard! No, it’s HARD! I’m not one to give up but I can’t say the messages of support I receive from entrepreneurs globally hasn’t helped my resolve. They’ve given me haven’t given me money but they’ve added fuel to my determination and to me that’s worth something and it always will.

When I introduced Miigle at the LAUNCH Festival 2014 in San Francisco, Adeo Ressi who was part of the judging panel mocked me because I was trying to make the point that making it easier to connect people with similar interests and complementary skills to work on a startup, which is what our algorithm does, has a lot of value. He insisted that “No, the only thing needed is money.”

Sure, money is important but I won’t bore you with the list of companies, including many in Silicon Valley, who folded despite the huge financial investments they received.

I say people matter more.

Let’s find a way for people who care about the same causes to easily find each other based on their potential contribution and collaborate, and I can promise you that not only the happiness index around the world will shoot off to another galaxy but the quality of products that will be developed will be second to none

This is exactly what we want to accomplish with Miigle. However, we’ve been discounted by many for not being “high growth”, “would require a lot of money to succeed (hum I have my doubts about that)”, and “we’re not part of the Silicon Valley boys club.” Yes, we really got told the latter and you can verify it by watching our pitch video below. That’s fine, we’ll just keep pushing along.

Here’s our pitch at LAUNCH with the “heartwarming” feedback from the judges.

Back to my point about getting more people involved in the innovation process. You may point me to Henry Ford’s quote “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” but that was in the 1910s – we are in 2013 and a lot of things have changed since then. There’s the Internet. The world is getting flatter and smaller.

The challenges we face today with global innovation are not that people are not experts and are too busy to contribute, but rather these:

1) We’re not speaking to them directly about the value they hold: A lot of platforms limit the roles users can play by forcing them to wear a specific hat, usually “giver” or “taker”. Let’s take for example crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, AngelList, and others – there’s the person who gives and the other who takes. They place little to no value on the input from people who don’t fit those roles. Why? Because you can take commissions on financial transactions.

What we need to keep in mind is that many of the most successful products ever developed originated from ideas that had no revenue generating business model. As a matter of fact for many, the founders had no desire to make any money out of them, it was all passion. They felt they had something to prove to themselves and others.

In the documentary Particle Fever, physicist Dr. Kaplan is giving a speech to an audience about the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider experiment when a man asks him what’s the “economical return”. The man also takes the time to say “by the way I’m an economist”. Pompous.

This is Dr. Kaplan’s answer, verbatim:

The question by an economist was “what’s the financial gain of running an experiment like this and the discoveries that we would make in this experiment”. And it’s a very very simple answer, “I have no idea. We have no idea.” When radio waves were discovered they weren’t called radio waves, because there were no radios. they were discovered as some sign of radiation. Basic sciences for big breakthrough needs to happen at a level where you’re not asking “what’s the economic gain” but you’re asking “what do we not know and where can we make progress”. So what is the LAC good for? It could be nothing other than understanding everything.

This is wholeheartedly how I feel about innovation and why we need to break it free.

2) The contribution process is very segmented: Currently, the process of fostering innovation online requires people to hop on various platforms to achieve different things. For example, founders have to go on AngelList to attract investors and raise money (most of them don’t), go to BetaList to announce their Beta, go to ProductHunt to announce their product and see it get voted up or down. I’m sorry but to me this sounds like a lot of work! I want one platform that allows me to do this and get back to building my product!

Many of those platforms are appealing individually because of their “simplicity” but collectively they add a lot of legwork to the entire process.

Founders *should* care more about the entire process. At Miigle, we do.

3) We are distracting them with “cool”: While doing the pitch practice session at LAUNCH the most popular remarks given by Jason Calacanis to every startup was either “that’s cool” or “it’s lacking the cool factor.”

Yes, we got the latter.

Don’t get me wrong, I like cool! I find my red TOMS shoes really cool but I hope they are never the sole or primary base of people judging me. In the case of LAUNCH, “cool” mostly amounted to some nice javascript effect. It felt like people sat there deaf just waiting to be wowed by some animation on the screen.

Also, a few months ago I attended a hackathon in Santa Monica where the winner was a group of men (over their 30s) who created an app where people could play a game modeled after HORSE. Their demo involved a man (over his 30s) smelling his feet freshly off his shoes and challenging his friends to do the same. They won!

Please, tell me I’m not the only person in the world who sees something wrong with this? I stormed out of that room after the judges announced them as winners. Our COO Jayne was there with me and she can verify that I predicted that they’d probably win.

They took first place over a beautiful app that allowed people to quickly tell what side effects they could have with an over the counter drug. I probably oversimplified that but you get the point.

Just like I thought it’d be awesome to build a platform that leveled the playing field for startups by allowing founders to instantly (I mean in seconds) discover people worldwide who’d be able and willing to help them on their project. This is what Miigle does, granted we got over the chicken and egg problem, of course. Silly me.

“Cool” is killing us, softly.

4) There’s a lack of relevancy with their interests: It all starts with maximizing relevancy by matching the startups and ideas with the right people. I believe that when people are interested in an idea or product, they go out of their way to help see it thrive. The problem is that currently it takes a lot of work to discover those ideas and products, unless they’re introduced to you or you stumble upon them by luck.

One of my favorite innovation stories of is about Kelvin Doe, the 14-year-old from war-torn Sierra Leone who picked electronic scraps he found on the streets and without any electrical engineering training built a radio to DJ and uplift spirits within his community. How does someone like Kelvin Doe benefit from AngelList? He doesn’t. He’s part of the fringe and there are hundreds of thousands like him.

See this video about Kelvin Doe.

However, if there’s a platform that can help me effortlessly discover people like Kelvin Doe so I can foster them and their ideas, then that’s where I’d be spending a lot of my time.Yes, not everyone is like me, but I know many people are and they’ve been waiting to be given the opportunity to make an impact.

That opportunity is Miigle.

The myopic approach we take towards innovation and are propagating around the world is costing millions of startups and entrepreneurs around the world the chance they deserve.

People want to make a difference. Giving them that opportunity is the very least we can do.

Don’t be a zombie.

Luc Berlin, Founder at Miigle.com

Image source: Terminally-Incoherent.com

 

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Image Source: Afritorial.com

Anyone who’s followed my thoughts would have deduced by now that I’m extremely passionate about GLOBAL innovation, and I vehemently disagree with insinuations that there’s a region in the world where people are particularly more innovative than others.

However, I do think that there are regions in the world where the social, economic, and legal infrastructures are more favorable towards fostering ideas and measuring the value of their intellectual property. Taking those latter points into consideration, the “Mecca” for such a place is the United States of America, where we are consistently within the top 3 patent holders, partly due to our somewhat lax patent laws, and many of the greatest companies in the world have their roots here. But let’s also keep in mind that, many of the founders of those companies immigrated from other regions of the world, many of them third world or developing countries.

That said, I’d like to introduce to you, if you’re still unfamiliar with it, the concept of “Reverse Innovation” which Vijay Govindajaran, Professor of International Business at Tuft School of Business at Dartmouth College, discusses in his book with Chris Trimble “Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere“. The strong point Mr. Govindajaran makes is that “Innovation is no longer the exclusive domain of the Silicon Valley elite”, that there’s a fundamental shift on the “dynamics of global innovation”. Simply put, the rest of the world is innovating and those ideas are impacting the West, instead of the way around.

Traditionally, innovation has been considered a Western asset to be imported by other countries, especially developing countries. However, this is increasingly changing – “no longer will innovations travel the globe in only one direction, from developed to developing nations” it reads. Professor Govindajaran provides a great example of a world-leading, portable, easy-to-use ultrasound scanner developed by GE in China in 2002 at an ultra fraction of the costs of the ones GE has developed here in the United States.

Mr. Govindajaran’s book has been a success – it’s a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon bestseller – and I’d like to applaud him for bringing this topic in the forefront of business and economic discussions.

However, I have slight reservations about a few statements made in the book. I also do realize that these may not necessarily be Mr. Govindajaran’s intended thoughts given that most things nowadays are pretty much left wide open for interpretation. But here I go.

Firstly, as I stated above great ideas happen everywhere and Silicon Valley, where I’ve spent a good deal of my time here in the U.S. is not and most importantly should not be thought as the “exclusive domain” of innovation. Making such arguments only reinforces those false beliefs – and I find them just as dangerous as flaunting the term “American Exceptionalism” – though that’s for another conversation and blog.

Secondly, “Reverse Innovation” is NOT a recent phenomenon. It’s been happening for centuries! There’s a track history of developing nations greatly benefiting financially and economically from innovations that took root in developing and third world countries. It’s the social and legal infrastructure in the West that has enabled them to benefit most often at the detriment of the other countries – these are facts and we should paint the entire picture.

This debate about innovation reminds me of another, property rights, and arguments made by the economist Hernando De Soto in his book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, where he asserts that the lack of a legal structure, unlike in the West, in the allocation and tracking of property rights in developing nations impedes with their ability to attract capital. Effectively, it’s this absence of legal structure in the development and protection of intellectual property rights in developing and third world countries that’s always been the problem.

The fact is, Western nations have been inspired by great ideas that originated in other regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America but the problem, or missed opportunity rather, is that these regions for thousands of years evolved as communities where everyone benefited from the contribution of others; people benefited from the inventions of inventors just as they (the inventors) benefited from the crops from farmers and the meat from hunters. It’s not easy to change thousands of years worth of that approach to life into one a capitalistic model where one person innovates and charges everyone else in the community a fee to access the invention. Times and laws have long changed but cultural behaviors have not.

Let me give you some examples. Did you know that the first condom, pen, shoe with heels (there goes one for the ladies) were invented by Egyptians? Now, how many condom, pen, and shoe brands do you know are owned by an Egyptian person or company.

Anyone who’s lived or spent a considerable amount of time in a developing country knows this or at the very least has witnessed great ingenuity that regrettably is either not fostered or shipped away to a country in the West.

I traveled to Africa in May 2013 to get a better sense of how people were innovating and see the extent of Internet penetration in some of those countries. On my flight, I sat next to one of the most invigorating woman I’ve ever met – Urginia Warwick. She lives in London but travels to Cameroon frequently to oversee a school and program she put in place to train teachers on how to work with special aid students in their classrooms.In Cameroon, you see, there’s no such thing as a special aid teacher, at least not in public schools. But Ms. Warwick was donating her time and money, traveling from London to Cameroon, four times or more a year to create that opportunity. That is inspiring! During our conversation she told me of a young man she met in Bamenda, a city in the North West of Cameroon, who invented an incubator for premature babies that worked better than the ones they had in the city’s General Hospital. Amazing! Is that something not worth encouraging? I’d planned to take a trip with her to go meet him but unfortunately those plans were derailed. Had it not been for Ms Warwick I would have most likely never heard of that young man. And had it not been for me, you’d most likely never heard about him too. There are great things happening far from our eyes and ears, as well as those of the wonderful writers and journalists at Mashable and TechCrunch.

Innovation is a wonderful thing and we shouldn’t leave it to chance to discover great ideas and people to foster, nor should we reinforce false beliefs that certain regions or countries have a monopoly on the best innovations.

We should work collectively on finding and introducing a globally accessible and scalable solution that allows innovators anywhere in the world to thrive by leveraging each other’s experience, savoir-faire, and the interest of the general public.

 

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Photo source: Demotix.com

Over the past 10 years and due partly to the popularity of Facebook, there’s been a proliferation of social networks with each one struggling to differentiate itself from the others.The truth of the matter is very few of them have a clear differentiator.

As a consumer, I understand the question “How many more social networks do we need?” just like I often ask (with a ranting voice) “How many more singing and dancing reality TV shows do we need?” I also agree that we should be facilitating more offline activities and human interaction than encouraging people to live in virtual worlds.

So why the heck am I building another “social network”? #LetMeExplain.

First, when I look at the world I see land and water, not countries and borders (although the stamps on my passport often remind me otherwise). I see people, not races and tribes. I am totally blind when it comes to religion, and if I could, I’d learn every single language in the world.

In simpler terms, I see the world as one big room and we’re all in it. We’ve been conditioned to build barriers around ourselves and to think there’s a lot that’s different between us. We are so close, yet so far. This is a genuine problem and I think the best way to solve it given our current technologies is through social networks. Social networks bridge the gap between countries, people, and cultures. They can be a vehicle upon which a great amount of good can be accomplished as well as be a total waste of time.

Second, I wholeheartedly agree with the following thought by David Steindl-Rast during his TED Speech:

“If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of sense of enough and not out of sense of scarcity and you’re willing to share. If you’re grateful, you’re enjoying the differences between people and you’re respectful to everybody and that changes this power pyramid under which we live. It doesn’t make for equality but it makes for equal respect and that is the important thing.

The future of the world will be a network, not a pyramid, not a pyramid turned upside down. The revolution of which I’m speaking is a non-violent revolution and it’s so revolutionary that it even revolutionizes the concept of a revolution because the normal revolution is one where the power pyramid is turned upside down and those who were at the bottom are now at the top and they are doing exactly the same thing that the other ones did before.”

Our vision with Miigle is to build a social network that always inspires people to DREAM and DO amazing things. Actually, calling Miigle a social network is a bit of an oversimplification. Miigle is really social tool around which we are building a community. What the Miigle tool does is facilitate the discovery, connection, and engagement between ideas and people interested in fostering them.

Sure, we’ll probably never be as sexy as Instagram, Snapchat or Pinterest but unlike them we add a quantifiable value to your life which is that we allow you to create economic opportunities for yourself with your own ideas. It is my personal belief that there are few things more satisfying than to bring an idea to life either alone or by working with others, to follow its journey, and make a living doing something you love. That is the power of Miigle.

In the innovation space, there’s a multitude of crowdfunding platforms, which in their own rights provide great services to their members but is there not more to developing an idea than just the money? What about people who may have great ideas and lack the direction or emotional support to move forward? Shouldn’t they be valued in our society. Our social network is for them.

There are millions of brilliant people with great talent and knowledge but not enough money to be considered “accredited investors”, could they not provide any intellectual value to a project they found interesting? Not only do I think they could, but they already do so everyday but because their contribution is not monetary we don’t pay attention. Our social network is for them too.

Miigle is more than just a social network, we are a social innovation platform – a global ecosystem for people hungry to connect, collaborate, learn, and showcase their innovations.

We think everyone can have a role to play in the human innovation equation and we want to give them an opportunity to do so.

We don’t care if you’re working on your first startup or are a serial entrepreneur.

We don’t care if your bank account is not noteworthy or you’re the biggest angel investor in the world.

We don’t care if you live in Silicon Valley or Steelville, Missouri.

We don’t care if you went to Harvard or never went to college at all.

We only care that you’re passionate about seeing great products and services come to life, whether the founders are in the garage next door or a hut in the middle of nowhere. We boldly applaud the fact that you’re unique and embrace your diversity. Our social network is for you.

There are big structural changes happening in the world today, led by globalization, the Internet and overpopulation – an increasing number of people will willingly (or not) turn to their own ideas to make a living and create better economic opportunities for themselves and their communities. The good old formula of graduating college, finding a job, and retiring 40 years later with a 401K plan to live comfortably for the rest of our lives is fading quickly than seemingly most people are aware. Our social network is for those who are no longer asleep and are doing something about it.

We are Miigle, we are live, and we are hell-bent on making your lives easier.

Luc Berlin, CEO at Miigle.com

Globalization

Globalization

Last August, McKinsey Quarterly published a great article entitled Winning the $30 trillion decathlon: Going for gold in emerging markets in which they predicted that “by 2025, annual consumption in emerging markets will reach $30 TRILLION USD – the biggest growth opportunity in the history of capitalism.” Just like I did on my post The Technological Revolution: How the Internet is creating a new kind of poverty, they turn to the Industrial Revolution as the benchmark of their argument – why? because that’s the only period in time worthy of comparison. This topic is extremely fascinating to me – after all I decided to focus my MBA on Global Business which I believe is one of the most important degrees today – no, that’s not just me trying to justify the cost.

However, a concern I’ve had is that the current level of investments global companies are making towards emerging markets does not seem to match the opportunity. McKinsey seems to agree. According to their report, leading companies in the developed world earn just 17% of total revenues from emerging markets, even though these markets represent 36% of global GDP. By 2025, only 13 years from now, consumption in emerging markets will account to nearly half of the global total.

I firmly believe that successfully tapping into these emerging markets will require a change in the Western management organizational hierarchy. Every company in the Fortune 1000 and Global 3000 rank should immediately create a new position of Chief Globalization Officer (CGO) along with a Globalization Business Unit because doing this right will require a fully committed team to analyze, evaluate, test, and optimize these companies corporate objectives in their respective markets.

In a highly competitive market, 13 years is a lot of time to fall behind, never catch up, and die.

May the race begin.

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