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Articles filed under 'Digital Generation'

The Financial Reformation

Last week I spent the week in Amsterdam at Sibos 2010 where I had kindly been invited by Peter Van der Auwera to participate in the Innovation stream, and in particular in the Cloud Computing and Long Now streams within Innotribe.  On Monday, I gave a short “scene-setting” talk on cloud computing and app stores in finance called The New Financial Stack (more on this / link hopefully later this week) and also I agreed to produce a video aimed at provoking and/or inspiring some original and non-linear thinking about the future of finance. Called “The Financial Reformation”, it sets the scene for two decades of fundamental change in the financial services industry based on the amazing democratising power of information technologies. I hope you like the result:

But as you might suspect if you have watched the video, this is just a start… Indeed, this initial video could be considered as simply the trailer for a longer form video which will look at the period from 2008 to 2028 in more detail; similar in some ways to the AmazonBay video of several years ago. The first draft of the script for this story is already written but I am very keen to build on and enrich it, not only with the fascinating concepts and insights that I absorbed in the Innotribe sessions at Sibos last week, but also – insofar as anyone is interested – with comments and ideas from the wise crowd of Park Paradigm readers. I’ve got a few ideas as to how best to go about this, and plan to post these later this week or next, but in the mean time if you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to comment below.


ps I’d like to give a special thanks to the amazing team at Motherlode who were instrumental in turning my ideas into reality and who worked tirelessly to deliver the video in time for the world premier at Sibos;  I’d also like to thank and congratulate Peter, Kosta and the rest of the Swift Innotribe team for what was simply an incredible four days.  I hope Swift gives you the recognition you deserve!

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On seedcamp 2009 (and beyond.)

Image representing Seedcamp as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

As many of you know, last week was ‘seedcamp week’, the third one since following Saul and Reshma’s initial inspiration in 2007 when what was to become Nauiokas Park became one of the founding investors alongside the (better known and more established) giants of European venture capital. In fact I think it is fair to say that seedcamp may well have been the catalyst which tipped me down the path to creating Nauiokas Park which until that summer of 2007 had only been one idea amongst many percolating in my brain. So perhaps we are in fact the original seedcamp startup!

The concept and the competition has come a long way in a very short time and is testimony to Reshma’s energy and skills and Saul’s vision; I think the best gauge of their success is trying to imagine the European startup scene without seedcamp: hard to do. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of seedcamp’s evolution for me is seeing a more diverse and mature group of entrepreneurs rising to the challenge. And when I say mature I don’t mean older or later stage, but mature in the sense of marrying technical brilliance and/or an inspirational idea with a pragmatic and well-conceived business model. Gone (or mostly) are the ‘build-it-and-they-will-come-and-we’ll-sell-them-online-ads-or-something’ innocents of yesteryear. In their place this year we had a great, diverse and passionate group of talented entrepreneurs who not only had a lucid approach to building a business and making money but also seemed to be incredibly well prepared in terms of knowing exactly what they didn’t know and getting the best out of the amazing group of mentors that is the seedcamp community. Indeed my greatest regret this year was missing a day of mentoring due to an unavoidable (and unscheduled!) board meeting – not only because it meant I didn’t get to meet as many of the teams in person as I would have liked, but also because I didn’t get to soak in the advice and world views of the many other great mentors in parallel.

Seedcamp Week 2009 Day 4 Highlights from Seedcamp on Vimeo.

Judging this year was both easier and harder than in years past. Easier because almost every one of the finalists had a strong and reasonable claim on being a viable business; harder because it was less easy to choose from such a large and diverse number of relatively closely matched competitors. In no particular order, my favorites were Boxed Ice (whom I had originally met at mini-seedcamp London and been impressed), Erply, Codility, Talasim, Joobili and Fabricly.

Of the finalists this year, once again very few would fall within our investment universe and indeed that is something we’d like to help change going forward. Resource constraints – time, money, people – have not yet allowed us to pursue this but I would love to work with seedcamp to run a mini-seedcamp ‘Finance’ to source, develop and encourage more startups to go after a market that is just crying out to be disrupted. Indeed after the incredible success of the geographically focused mini-seedcamps in 2008/2009, perhaps it might might sense to extend the mini-seedcamp idea down a sectoral vector next. While the variety of sectors and business models represented in the applications this year is certainly more varied than in 2007 or 2008, in my opinion the relative lack of diversity is probably one of the few important remaining weaknesses of seedcamp (and indeed the startup ecosystem in general.) Erply, Pearl Systems and Fabricly, while on the edges of our investment universe are definitely companies we will keep an eye on going forward. Fabricly in particular could become more interesting to us if and when they focus on developing their position as a central clearing-house in the fashion supply chain; I thought they had an excellent team and were unlucky not to have been amongst the winners. I was also very impressed by the team at Erply and would question the thinking of anyone who would consider the opportunity they are pursuing as ‘boring.’ With respect to our investment universe, Codility and Advertag I would say are wildcards insofar as their current business models would not fit within our approach but I suspect both have technologies that could be repurposed to target financial services and markets more specifically. Ones to keep on the radar screen perhaps.

Although I am relatively less active than I might otherwise be as a direct result of my significant commitments (of both time and capital) to Nauiokas Park, I have managed nonetheless to make a handful of angel investments over the past couple years, three of which have been seedcamp winners or finalists: MyBuilder (2007), School of Everything (2007) and Kyko (2008, launching soon…) In this year’s class I’d definitely consider investing privately in Boxed Ice, Talasim, Joobili and Fabricly but unfortunately its clear there is no way I would be in a position to lead any of these given my constraints, but if/when they do decide to raise outside capital I’d love to see a term sheet…

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I wish my old firm had been like this.

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I finally got around to reading the now infamous Netflix presentation on corporate culture. I had more than a dozen people point it out to me and must admit this actually raised my level of skepticism – “sure, ok another vapid corporate culture slideshow…”

I was wrong. I wish I had written this. These 9 values and how they should be implemented align entirely with my thinking and – my former colleagues will have to confirm / refute this – how I tried to run the businesses I was responsible for at DrKW, and how I tried to use my influence on the Management Committee to get the firm to adopt these values. In this latter goal I would have to say I failed miserably. As for the former, I think I was more successful but ultimately it was perhaps futile, surrounded as we were by a sea of culture that was strikingly different.

The sad thing is, I’m convinced had we adopted this culture – and as a relatively small investment bank it was within our control – I think the financial and business outcome for DrKW would have been quite different. I would go so far as to say it would continue to exist today and would have thrived as a nimble and unique competitor in the financial wreckage of the past two years. Instead, it was inevitably destined to disappear: to small to save, big enough to blow up.

But DrKW was unfortunately not unique in rejecting this positive culture. I can’t think of any investment banks that would entertain truly practicing even two or three of the Netflix values, let alone all nine. (I’ve only ever worked for three banks so maybe I’m wrong. Please correct me if you think this is the case.) And yet were they run along these lines, I am certain that the worst of the afflictions that beset the financial system would not have materialized. The crisis would not have been. I know that is a pretty strong statement. But I don’t think it is hyperbole.

There are many talented and extraordinary people in the financial services industry who, fed up with the toxic cultures, leave it as soon as they can afford to. I’m sure you could build an incredibly successful company by attracting this talent with a cultural framework like this. Maybe we’ll be able to do it. I’m sure someone will. I can’t wait.

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Evolutionarily ill-adapted.

Reuters reports:

Research conducted by the blog UberCEO.com looked at Fortune’s 2009 list of the top 100 CEOs to determine how many were using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, or had a blog — and found they were mostly absent from the rapidly growing social media community.

The study found only two CEOs had Twitter accounts and 81 percent of CEOs did not have a personal Facebook page.

Only 13 CEOs had profiles on the professional networking site LinkedIn. Three CEOs stood out with more than 80 connections but they were all from technology companies — Michael Dell from computer maker Dell Inc., Gregory Spierkel from technology products distributor Ingram Micro Inc., and John Chambers from Cisco Systems Ltd.

Not one Fortune 100 CEO had a blog. (my emphasis)

“It’s shocking that the top CEOs can appear to be so disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating. They’re giving the impression that they’re disconnected, disengaged and disinterested,” said Sharon Barclay, editor at UberCEO.com who runs executive PR firm Blue Trumpet Group.

The important thing isn’t whether they are blogging or not – it’s not for everyone – or that Facebook is critical for their job or their company. The important thing is that no knowledge – and (too) often outright hostility – to social media, the real-time web, etc. means that their understanding of the world in which they operate is frighteningly lacking. This has been a problem for time eternal for leaders of large organisations and is not specific to the advent of social media per se, but I would suggest that this time it is even more unfortunate than usual. One the speed of change and the deep structural paradigm shift that our society and economies are experiencing is more profound than normal ‘linear’ change. Secondly, their ability to ‘do something about it’ is real. In the past, I would of had much more sympathy for the corporate or political leader who said – “ok fair enough I’m a bit out of touch up here in my ivory citadel but what can I do about it”. Today that doesn’t wash. Or to a much much lesser extent.

So why are these leaders seemingly so ignorant and on the face of it disdainful of this new paradigm? Partly I’m sure it’s because they are really busy and have a never ending call on their attention: the urgent pushes out the important. This happens to all of us. More disappointingly – and here I can only speculate, I don’t know any of these 100 CEOs – I suspect that for many it is driven by fear. Not fear in a cowardly sense, but fear of looking dumb. Most people are afraid of this, and I’m sure toiling under the spotlight associated with running a Fortune 100 company only exacerbates this. These smart, ambitious, driven men and women must feel some annoyance after having spent 20 or 30 years climbing the corporate ladder to reach the pinnacle, only to find the rules of the game changed.

Here’s a suggestion. The Boards’ of these companies should ask there CEO’s to take a 1-2 month sabbatical to immerse themselves in the 21st web, preferably supported by a mentor or coach. When they came back they still might not blog. Or tweet. Or have a Facebook page. And that might be ok. But I’m certain they would have a much better understanding of why they don’t and what tools they might actually want to adopt. But most importantly they would have a better understanding of the world in which their company operates. First hand knowledge; not “Oh yeah my kid was telling me about that and tried to get me signed up. Damn teenagers!”

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Why I’m (still) long Apple

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

A few years ago I bought a few Apple shares (AAPL) in my pension plan. When I got the idea they were trading in the high 20s and when I finally capitulated and pulled the trigger (after chasing it for months with unfilled limit orders) it was in the high 50s. I bought it because the first time I saw an iPod I was blown away and the great experience we had had with our iMac at home after ditching our old Dell. It’s been a pretty good investment and my expectations in terms of their success with iPod/(then iPhone) driving gains in marketshare for their computers has been met or surpassed. I probably should have sold when it ticked over $200 (if only to reload when it traded lower) but that is back-trading and oh so easy. A more useful question would be: is it worth buying today? and if so, what is going to drive the next leg of the company’s growth. I think the answer is yes, and I think you’ll find the kernel of the answer as to why in this graph (hat tip to @azeem for the pointer):
Apple share UVa undergraduates (MacRumours)

The latest computing survey results from the University of Virginia’s freshman class show evidence of continued Apple marketshare growth in the higher education market (via Daring Fireball). The chart above shows that Apple has made steady gains since 2003 in the percentage of incoming UVA freshman who own a Mac. The latest year (2008) shows that 37% of incoming students owned a Mac while the percentage owning a Windows computer had shrunk to 62% from a peak of 96% in 2001.

Ok, so Apple’s selling lots of laptops to college undergrads, nice but not a game-changer, right? Wrong. I think it just might be. And better yet, it’s all about tipping points and power laws and stuff.

Firstly (and most obviously) substantially growing market share with this key demographic (young, upwardly-mobile, educated, proto-professionals), in a product with significant (perceived) switching costs, is great for long term sustainable sales growth. But it gets better (and here is where tipping points come in.) Very soon, over half of university graduates entering the workforce will have grown up / come of age using Macs. And they won’t exactly start doing cartwheels if they are forced to use PCs at work. (As an aside, this will thrust into stark relief the coming colossal collision between big company culture rooted in a 1990s technology paradigm – ie a bright line separation between corporate and personal IT assets and usage – and the reality of the 2010’s when the best and brightest will expect (almost) complete convergence of the two and regard trying to distinguish between the two as ridiculous and anachronistic.) I fully expect a story in Fortune or the WSJ etc. within the next 2-3 years, reporting on graduates

…who had turned down a job with ABC Inc in favour of one with XYZ Inc. because the former allowed only corporate PC’s at work while the later was a (mainly) Apple environment and was happy for employees to buy their own laptops as long as they complied with data and security policies…

Apple as a competitive recruiting advantage. You don’t want to be short the stock the day after this tipping point triggers.

As an added bonus, catalyzed (or at least accelerated) by the current Great Recession, a large number of 30/40/50-something professionals are leaving big corporations and striking out either on their own or in smaller enterprises. Many of these professionals have never worked with anything other than a PC at work and quite frankly never gave it a second thought. But many of them also had Macs at home – they were cooler, easier to use – especially for music and home media (which drove the purchase decision) and could even run Windows easily if absolutely necessary (like for the kids EA game collection…) And when these folks leave Megacorp Inc and start working on their next venture, doing a bit of consulting, writing a business plan, day to day networking…they’re using the Mac at home. And then when it’s time to get an office, it hits them: why on earth would I want to go back to using a PC. So they don’t.

People criticize the smugness of the cool Mac vs. the loser PC commercials but the reality is that this positioning is only gaining momentum amongst some of the most desirable demographic groups in the economy. Here’s a little experiment: if you are a senior executive in a Fortune 1000 firm, send an email to all of your employees (that your currently provide with a PC) and ask them if they could choose what computer to use at work, what would they prefer: iMac/Macbook or a Windows PC? (A few smart-assed geeks might answer they would like a Linux Box but you can ignore them because they are probably using whatever they want already, being smart and geeky enough to have circumvented standard corporate policy.) Warning: only do this survey if you know how you will react if 30% or more say they’d rather use a Mac. Waking sleeping giants and all that…

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Fears fulfilled? Big corporate stupidity, part 7638

In May 2007 I wrote a post entitled “A requiem for last.fm?” in which I expressed my anxiety (as a very happy customer of last.fm) at CBS‘s ability to f*ck things up:

As a customer, I just hope that in the medium term they are allowed to continue to innovate and especially that they are able to continue to treat their customers with respect. As partners. That may seem self-evident, but the track record of the music industry in this regard does not inspire much confidence. Indeed it is testimony to the compelling and real value of creative artists and their product, that the industry continues to function at all. If music truly was a ‘discretionary’ good, I suspect the industry would have collapsed on itself as customers disgusted by the convoluted and adversarial service they are asked to endure simply said ‘enough, I’ll take my money elsewhere…’ There is also the more universal (non-sector specific) issue of the inability of large organisations to avoid suffocating innovation.

So when I read things like this, well I wonder, sadly, if my fears are being fulfilled:

Last.fm didn’t hand user data over to the RIAA. According to our source, it was their parent company, CBS, that did it. That corresponds to what our original source said in conversations we had after our initial post and before CBS lawyers became involved. But we didn’t want to update until we had an independent source for that information, too.

Here’s what we believe happened: CBS requested user data from Last.fm, including user name and IP address. CBS wanted the data to comply with a RIAA request but told Last.fm the data was going to be used for “internal use only.” It was only after the data was sent to CBS that Last.fm discovered the real reason for the request. Last.fm staffers were outraged, say our sources, but the data had already been sent to the RIAA.

At best, CBS is living down to low expectations: once again large corporate antibodies do their best to kill off the virus of innovation.

It’s really sad because last.fm not only has a great product but one where – if CBS spent less time, energy and money on lawyers and corporate pencil pushers – and more on building and promoting the business – they would discover that there are real, paradigm shifting, monetizable business opportunities screaming out to be truly developed. But of course many, perhaps all of these would probably end up destroying the old businesses and ways of operating. Hard to get the turkeys to vote for that…

My last two significant music purchases, and the last live music event I went to were all driven by last.fm. The music purchases were buying (several) albums of a couple artists I had never before heard of which last.fm recommended to me on the basis of my listening history. No way I would have discovered them otherwise. No way. Not at my age anyway. And by the way both of these artists are reasonably obscure – ie have not been promoted up the ying yang by the traditional manufactured music business. So the profit margins are great. No wasted marketing spend. And the “Events recommended for you” functionality is quite frankly unbeatable – geographically and musically relevant. Blows any other events listing service out of the water. Awesome.

I’m a paying customer of last.fm but if packaged in the right way, I’d be happy to pay even more. And it’s not because I’m particularly generous. It’s because they provide a bloody good service and I think it gives value for money. And by the way I’m pretty unhappy about them having sent my listening data to the RIAA. I’m happy and chose to give this data to last.fm because I get value from it and I trust(ed) them. The RIAA? I can’t say anything nice so will leave it at that.

If Apple had bought last.fm it would be ruling the world right now. I wonder if this was ever an option that was on the table?

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No Country for Old Men

My friend Alex wrote a great post on how the current UK government just doesn’t get it. And it’s not about policy per se – upon which intelligent people can disagree – but more fundamentally on how the whole socio-economic-institutional paradigm is shifting, massively, below their feet. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. And therein lies the rub. The fact that they are powerless to change this despite commanding the heights of power does not compute.

To be fair, they aren’t alone – the instincts of many (most) politicians is to try to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Just look at the surreal-if-it-wasn’t-real going ons in France as just one example. The same is true of many Fortune 1000 business leaders.

And when I look at this through a demographic prism – as I am wont to do 😉 – I see a distinct pattern. I suspect that a propensity to cling to the historical norms of power and control is a cultural pathology that is particularly acute in the Baby Boom generation. This is partly a coincidence of timing – ie the power paradigm is changing on their watch – and exacerbated by their generational self-image: they are not old and reactionary, they are not “the man”. They are the vibrant transformational free-spirited children of the 60s and 70s, they are the ones that “get it”. Sixty is the new thirty right? But they worked hard to climb up the greasy pole of success, to make it to the corner office, to the top of the hierarchy. And it was bloody hard work. And they deserve to now be able to wield the levers of power as their predecessors did for generations beforehand. Besides as a more enlightened generation they would do this with even more wisdom. So it is unsurprising that they are not bloody happy to see the rules change. They are in charge. They set the rules. It’s their turn. It’s only fair.

Spot the odd one out.

Gordon Brown: 58. Peter Mandelson: 55. Michael Martin: 63. Barrack Obama: 47.

Age at start of mobile phone/internet mass adoption (1995)

Gordon Brown: 44. Peter Mandelson: 41. Michael Martin: 49. Barrack Obama: 33.

Clearly this is a generalization. Not everyone over 50, not every baby boomer is at odds with the changing world. In fact there are a fair number (many of whom we have to thank for building the technological foundations of this new age) who are leaders – in their actions and thought – in this transformation. However – and this is completely anecdotal and a personal view – I suspect that they are rarely found and disproportionately under-represented in the halls of traditional power.

It’s time for a change. But it won’t be easy. And given increasing life expectancies these guys are going to be around and healthy for another 20 or 30 years so nature isn’t going to help because we don’t have that long. The funny thing is I think if they overcame their fears and actually “let go” many of these leaders would find it incredibly liberating and empowering at the same time. Interesting times indeed.

(Call it.)

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What he said.

Ok…if you (C-Suite executives of Fortune 1000 financial institutions, commanders of capital and asset allocation, etc.) won’t listen to me, at least please listen to Fred. He’s a legend. He’s a star. He’s got 20k+ Twitter followers. And most importantly, he’s bang on:

[Don’t ignore the slides. Go back. Click through the deck. Please.]

What he said.

Oh, and never underestimate the value of looking at the world through a different lens (link to my – now very old – AmazonBay video).

Managing in the 21st century: not just about the kids.

About a month ago, management guru Gary Hamel posted “a list of 12 work-relevant characteristics of online life” that he felt that tomorrow’s employees would use as benchmarks to judge which companies “got it”. It’s a great list but I would go further and say that it’s not just about attracting the Digital Generation (or the Facebook Generation or Generation Y or M or whatever else you want to call today’s teens and twenty-somethings), it’s about attracting smart, connected, ambitious and energetic professionals of any age, but especially thirty and forty-somethings that are old and wise enough to have no illusions about the reality of working in a typical Fortune 500 company and have valuable “last century” skills but young enough to be able to want to reinvent their relationship to work and their employer.

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.
On the Web, every idea has the chance to gain a following—or not, and no one has the power to kill off a subversive idea or squelch an embarrassing debate. Ideas gain traction based on their perceived merits, rather than on the political power of their sponsors.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.
When you post a video to YouTube, no one asks you if you went to film school. When you write a blog, no one cares whether you have a journalism degree. Position, title, and academic degrees—none of the usual status differentiators carry much weight online. On the Web, what counts is not your resume, but what you can contribute.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
In any Web forum there are some individuals who command more respect and attention than others—and have more influence as a consequence. Critically, though, these individuals haven’t been appointed by some superior authority. Instead, their clout reflects the freely given approbation of their peers. On the Web, authority trickles up, not down.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.
On the Web, every leader is a servant leader; no one has the power to command or sanction. Credible arguments, demonstrated expertise and selfless behavior are the only levers for getting things done through other people. Forget this online, and your followers will soon abandon you.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
The Web is an opt-in economy. Whether contributing to a blog, working on an open source project, or sharing advice in a forum, people choose to work on the things that interest them. Everyone is an independent contractor, and everyone scratches their own itch.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.
On the Web, you get to choose your compatriots. In any online community, you have the freedom to link up with some individuals and ignore the rest, to share deeply with some folks and not at all with others. Just as no one can assign you a boring task, no can force you to work with dim-witted colleagues.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.
In large organizations, resources get allocated top-down, in a politicized, Soviet-style budget wrangle. On the Web, human effort flows towards ideas and projects that are attractive (and fun), and away from those that aren’t. In this sense, the Web is a market economy where millions of individuals get to decide, moment by moment, how to spend the precious currency of their time and attention.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
The Web is also a gift economy. To gain influence and status, you have to give away your expertise and content. And you must do it quickly; if you don’t, someone else will beat you to the punch—and garner the credit that might have been yours. Online, there are a lot of incentives to share, and few incentives to hoard.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.
On the Internet, truly smart ideas rapidly gain a following no matter how disruptive they may be. The Web is a near-perfect medium for aggregating the wisdom of the crowd—whether in formally organized opinion markets or in casual discussion groups. And once aggregated, the voice of the masses can be used as a battering ram to challenge the entrenched interests of institutions in the offline world.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.
As many Internet moguls have learned to their sorrow, online users are opinionated and vociferous—and will quickly attack any decision or policy change that seems contrary to the community’s interests. The only way to keep users loyal is to give them a substantial say in key decisions. You may have built the community, but the users really own it.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.
The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards. Think of all the articles contributed to Wikipedia, all the open source software created, all the advice freely given—add up the hours of volunteer time and it’s obvious that human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money’s great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.

12. Hackers are heroes.
Large organizations tend to make life uncomfortable for activists and rabble-rousers—however constructive they may be. In contrast, online communities frequently embrace those with strong anti-authoritarian views. On the Web, muckraking malcontents are frequently celebrated as champions of the Internet’s democratic values—particularly if they’ve managed to hack a piece of code that has been interfering with what others regard as their inalienable digital rights.

My first job (way back when) was as an analyst in an M&A department. But before a year was up and at the suggestion of the senior partner I was working for I applied for a job on the trading floor (as a bond trader.) The point my partner made was that in corporate finance, it mattered how old you were, who you knew and how much grey hair you had. (All things I was short of at the time!) On the trading floor however, not so much. There results and ideas mattered. In fact, the best thing about being a trader in the early nineties was well that many of the 12 items on the list above applied. At least for awhile.

If you work for a big bank or financial institution, score your employer – do they get more than 8/12? More than 4/12? Do they tick any of the boxes above? Answers in the comments please.

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First financial gaming app for iPhone

As some of you may know, I am very interested in how the advent of mobile computing (or as Gilder would say – teleputers) and in particular believe that the iPhone is the first device to really take us past the inflection point and has started to give us a good sense of what the future will look like.

Financial services and mobile computing are a match made in heaven, and the only thing that is surprising about the flurry of activity in this sector over the past 12-24 months is that it took so long. The fact that some of the earliest and most ambitious ventures in this area emerged in developing countries speaks volumes to the fundamental inertia and resistance to change and innovation in large corporations (in particular financial services firms and US/European telecom operators in this case.) People may laugh at the hysterical self-immolating attitude of the traditional media and entertainment industry, but well…you know – ‘glass houses’ and all that…

But things are starting to move. I wrote about BoA’s iPhone offering 18 months ago – the first banking app – and was impressed this week when I saw Nokia invest $70 million in Obopay. (Although I have to admit feeling a tinge of regret, as Obopay has been on our investment radar screen about a year or so now, but we just didn’t yet have the capital to pursue this (and other promising deals.) Like in most walks of life, many potential investors prefer the psychological safety of buying a big brand – whether directly (think of the billions pissed away buying banking stakes waaay too soon) or with the giant private equity or hedge fund groups; as the saying goes, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM’) Anyhow, I’m pleased to announce that one of the companies we have invested in, GnuTrade, has recently announced the first financial gaming app for the iPhone:GnuTrade Logo

The innovative web app, which is featured on the Apple website, gives iPhone users an instant view of how financial markets are performing, and lets them place simple bets on whether prices will rise or fall. The app complements gnuTrade’s acclaimed web-based trading platform (www.gnuTrade.com), using its signature graphics to show live market price action, but via a handy touch-screen device.

Why are we excited about this? Well it brings together three big things: increased consumer interest and awareness of financial markets, mobile computing and mobile/p2p gaming. And all of this in a simple-to-understand, easy-to-use, oh-so-not-wall-street/city kind of way. GnuTrade is definitely not your father’s Oldsmobile so to speak. It’s social. It’s fun. It’s about not looking down your nose at people who are interested but are intimidated by traditional banks and brokers and spread ‘trading’ firms. It’s about prizes and play money or real money (only if you live where this is allowed of course.) GnuTrade is a digitally native markets company: they were early on Facebook (become a fan here), they are the UK’s most prolific twitterer (62,000 updates! follow them @gnutrade), and they have a pretty neat set of widgets if you are interested in adding some markets info to your blog or website – basically they ‘get it.’

Now the iPhone app is definitely not perfect. First of all it is a web app (runs in Safari) as Apple does not (yet?) allow ‘betting’ applications in the AppStore (to get the app for free on your iPhone, simply enter http://iphone.gnutrade.com on your iPhone’s Safari browser, and add the app to your homescreen.) Secondly, it’s beta so it has bugs (feedback and constructive criticism welcomed – send to @gnutrade for example) and thirdly – unless you have a blisteringly fast 3G connection – I would stick to wifi only for now.

They also have a very cool and fun beta application called NewsPools (similar to HubDub for example) that I for one would love to see on the iPhone (are you listening Lieven? 😉 )Newspools snapshot And while you are at it, let’s see a market on when (what year say) the US will wake up and legalize, regulate and tax online gambling!

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