3 Ways the Technology Industry Could be More like the Craft Brewing Industry

Generally speaking, I’ve noticed some glaring differences in the cultures of the craft brewing industry and the technology industry. Without a doubt, these industries are very different and I wouldn’t expect them to behave identically. Still, there are a few key ways the tech world could benefit by following the lead of the craft brewing industry.

1. In the craft brewing industry, competitors help each other out.
In tech, especially in recent years, it seems as though companies are waiting on baited breath for their competitors to stumble or fall on hard times. Any misfortune is an opportunity to pounce and win valuable market share. In the brewing industry, companies have the greater good of the beer at heart. For example, few beer lovers can forget the hops shortage of 2007 when poor weather, fungal outbreaks, and a significant hops warehouse fire caused a significant shortage in global hops availability. The shortage was so severe, some brewers ran the risk of not being able to acquire hops at all, and others were facing a decision to alter their recipes to utilize hop extracts. A moment like this can create a significant advantage for breweries like Samuel Adams Boston Lager who, due to their size, had a multi-year lock on hops purchase contracts and lucrative volume pricing. However, instead, Samuel Adam’s ­”looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year.” CEO Jim Koch announced a program to sell hops to struggling breweries at the same volume discounted cost they paid for them. “The purpose of doing this is to get hops to the brewers who really need them,” Koch said. Similarly, last year in Ottowa, a small Ottowa brewery needed help expanding to keep up with demand. Help came from an unlikely place, local competitor, Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company. Beau’s loaned the brewery two bright tanks (used condition and bottle beer) enabling the Ottowa brewery to double capacity. According to Beau’s Co-Founder, Steve Beauchesne, “In any other industry, helping a competitor would seem odd. But one of the best things about being in the craft beer world is our interest in seeing the craft movement succeed. When we started Beau’s almost seven years ago we were helped tremendously by Church Key Brewing in Campbellford, and without their help I don’t know how we would have made it past our first year.”

2. In the craft brewing industry, nobody is positioning themselves to be bought out.
More times than I care to admit, I’ve encountered entrepreneurs in the tech industry that are launching companies with the ultimate goal of being bought out. Time and again I’ve been quietly unimpressed to hear someone describe their company as “well structured for a buy out” or focused on a 3 to 5 year “exit strategy.” I’m not alone in being turned off by this attitude, according to entrepreneur and venture capitalist, David Skok, “I am far more interested in finding entrepreneurs that have no thoughts of exit, and who would love to see their company become a leader in its field, and stay with it as it undergoes that journey.” Brewers are typically into their breweries for the long haul. Certainly, it’s not the kind of industry that lends itself to buy outs and acquisitions in quite the same way that the tech sector does, but regardless, brewers are typically driven by the drive to embark on a labor of love. Brock Wagner, owner of Saint Arnold Brewing Company puts it best. “From the business standpoint, brewing really doesn’t make sense to do,” says Brock. “Having said that, you do it because you love it.” Kore Donnely, co-owner of Blue Stallion Brewery puts it this way, “The best thing about opening a brewery is that we can see ourselves making a living doing something that we really like doing.”

3. In the craft brewing industry, competitors embrace each other’s products.
If you’ve ever attended a brewfest or a brewers conference, you can’t help but notice that brewers are often the biggest attendees and fans. Brewers love to share their beers with each other and try the artistic creations of other brewers. In the tech industry (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) there is often a fanatical cult-like mentality surrounding product allegiance. I’m not saying that a passion for your products is bad, to the contrary, passion is a wonderful and abundant trait in the tech industry. But with that passion often comes a blind shunning of any competitive product. The longstanding feud between Microsoft loyalists and Apple diehards is evidence of this phenomena. It’s one or the other… never both. Contrarily, beer makers regularly step across partisan lines in the name of tasting something new and delightful. I still remember being slightly taken aback several years ago during a reception at a brewers conference when I asked then CEO of Pyramid Brewery, George Hancock, to tell me his favorite beer. I expected that I had asked a somewhat rhetorical question and that he would quickly rattle off a beer from the Pyramid line. Instead, he looked across the many different beers represented by the gathered brewers and then looked back to me and said, “that’s a lot like asking someone which of their children they like the most.”

Augmented Reality: Information at your Pupils

Augmented Reality Equation

The above equation intends to show some of the key factors leading to explosive growth of augmented reality scenarios.  Augmented reality refers to supplementing the real world with contextual computer generated information. While the concept of augmented reality is not new, the ability to “take it with you” is just becoming economical. The devices we carry every day (iphones, smartphones) will get smarter and more powerful, the bandwidth connecting us to the net will continue to increase, and the data being crunched for us in the cloud will continue to become more relevant.

Already, the GPS information in iphones is changing the way people interact with the world around them. Turn-by-turn directions are combining your location information with map data to get you where you wish to go. Smart applications provide details about real estate by using GPS to understand which property sits in front of you. Social networks can be updated with the click of a button to let your friends know where you are. Even so, in a few years we will shrug when we think about how primitive the technology was at this stage.

As I write this, applications are being authored that combine the camera, orientation, and GPS information from the phone with data in the cloud to provide rich information about every day things. Just by pointing the camera on your phone to a sculpture in the park, you will get detailed information delivered to your screen about the art and the artist. Pointing at a restaurant might reveal the day’s dinner and happy hour specials, the wait time for a table, and then provide you a way to place your order as you make your approach. New in town and not sure where to get a bite? Point your device down the street and GPS combined with image recognition will present you with rich data about the establishments that lie ahead of you. In order to make sense of the enormous amount of data, the information will be easily filterable (Food, Italian, Romantic – for example) . Many different devices will provide this functionality and it will become clear that the hardware at your hip is much more than a phone.

RIDEventually, companion devices such as smart-glasses (Retinal Imaging Display), will enter the marketplace. These glasses will connect to your device via technologies like Bluetooth to allow for more convenient access to your information. Think of it as the way Terminator viewed the world, only without the all the red tint and orders to kill people. Information at your fingertips will become information at your pupils. Voice recognition will allow you to easily navigate through the data that is being drawn onto the lenses of your eyes. Likewise, content will be very interactive, allowing you to receive and send information to the people and places that stand before you.

This brings me to the “people” part of this future. The dawn of augmented reality is neatly aligned with the maturing of social media. The data crunching cloud is not only taking in everything it can about where you are and what you’re looking at, it’s correlating it with everything it knows about you through your social networks, online profiles, search histories, and so on.

AR_Phone1

Content you are interested in will reach out to you in the form of real time alerts to let you know you are in the vicinity of something you’d be interested in (end-user customizable of course). When you pass a comic book store that has the rare issue of Spider Man you’ve been looking for on ebay – an alert notifies you. As you walk through downtown Seattle, you’re notified of an audio walking tour that can be streamed in real time to your ear as you pass monuments and places of interest. When you walk into a party or concert, your data is correlated with others in your social networks to show you where your friends are in a crowded room or auditorium. It will be as easy to find someone in a crowd and send a direct message to their ear as it is to send a direct message on Twitter today.

The device you carry with you will become your extended sense of site and sound (and maybe more) and the data rich, processor heavy cloud will become the distributed machine that is organizing information, processing it and serving it up. You may think this sounds overwhelming and perhaps even annoying. In fact, you’re probably right. But rest assured… though it may be too much information for you to stomach, your kids are going to love it.

Want to learn more? Check out the Layar platform for one approach or Tonchidot for another.

Note: This post was originally published for the CrapMonkey Podcast in 2009.

Plasticiety: Society Meets The MakerBot Revolution

MakerbotStickerEvery movie in the 80′s talked about plastics being the wave of the future. As I sit here in my office surrounded by plastic gizmos and gadgets, typing away on my plastic keyboard, and listening to music crank out my plastic speakers; there is no doubt that those predictions have come true… almost. In truth, we’ve only seen the first phase of the plastic boom – the top down, manufactured approach where companies make and consumers buy. Well strap on your seatbelts folks, because Plasticiety is rapidly approaching and the wave it’s riding is called MakerBot.

In the not-so-distant future, we will all have MakerBots on our desktops or in our garages. They will do to manufacturing what desktop publishing did to printing; put it in the hands of the commoner. Makerbots are open source 3D printers. Similar to how a hot glue gun works – plastic tubing goes in one side, gets heated up into a liquid stream and is injected onto a surface (layer by layer) to form a 3-D object. Today the 3D object is limited in size to 4″x4″x6″, but that will increase in the wake of Plasticiety. Products will dawn stickers that define what percentage of MakerBot printable parts comprise them. Consumer purchasing decisions will be partially based off of this volunteer rating because it will mean the products can be easily repaired. Did the knob break off of your stove? No problem, just go to GE.com and download the 3D knob object that matches your part number and print out a new one. Tired of losing or breaking the battery cover for your remote controls? Put down the duct tape and have Makerbot print a new one. Uh oh, the kids lost the toothpaste cap again, surf over to Crest.com, download the object, and print a few spares.

But that describes only the tip of the iceberg! Sharing and community will do to manufacturing what it has done to music… irrevocably flip it on its head. Just visit some of the many object sharing communities that this revolution will foster, download the object models that intrigue you, and then print them into existence. Objects will be simple at first: hooks and hangers, Jello molds, cookie cutters, spatulas, spoons, measuring cups, salt and pepper shakers, coasters, bottle caps, etc. – but they will become more complex as the phenomenon takes off. In addition to the plastic tubing (aka – print cartridges), our local hardware and office supply stores will sell bundles of simple parts like springs, hinges and simple motors. With easily downloadable instructions, you will quickly be able to assemble your homemade parts into more complex creations. Likewise, when you find or invent items that are useful, it will be easy to post them to the community and share them with your friends.

As noted above, today these MakerBots only make items that are smaller than 4″ by 4″ by 6″ and the objects they create have limitations – but that will change as time goes on. The bots you have in your home will become efficient at creating items of larger sizes and at higher qualities. Likewise, 3D object printing shops with new shop fronts that will definitely catch your eye will begin to show up around town (the Kinkos of Plasticiety) and enable much larger or specialized projects to be completed with the same relative ease and low cost.

You are Here. At the crossroads of hyper-manufacturing and consumer empowerment… where digital turns back into physical and where ideas become tangible objects. Welcome to Plasticiety.

For a glimpse of this future today, check out MakerBot’s website and the open source object marketplace at Thingiverse.com.

Office Poetry: Putting Out Fires

Putting out fires – that’s what I do
firefighter
From morning till night, all the day through

Well not in the true sense of the phrase
Never have I stepped into a blaze

Perhaps “fighting fires” just sounds more noble
Then shipping a package or faxing a logo

Then tracking a bug or installing a patch
Then configuring updates to run in a batch

Then running the conf call or training new hires
It’s much more impressive to be putting out fires

But all of these fires leave one open item,
Why does nobody ever claim to light em?