Growth in cycles: The boom and bust of technological innovation

If you believe in the boom-bubble-decline cycle of tech innovation, then the last few years have been mesmerizing.

To give some background, our company was founded a handful of years before that momentous Dot-Com bubble moment in early 2000 that eventually saw three-quarters of the value of the Nasdaq wiped out, along with thousands of businesses, in just 18 months.

We survived, many didn’t, and learned a valuable lesson about growth, cycles, and leverage. A lesson that would serve useful in the 2007/8 recession and again in the 2020 pandemic-driven panic.

But, back to cycles – if you concur that the scorched earth and reduction in appetite for risk by established players creates the space for disruption, innovation if you will, then we’re all sitting waiting for the next boom to start – in a year or three.

But, what will it look like? Looking backward and mapping major moments and cycles is a pretty good way to predict both when and what might win/lose. And if nothing else, should give you a steer in terms of where to look and what to watch out for. Perhaps more importantly, it should inform you what you shouldn’t be doing! You’d be brave to open a shop-based travel agency today – in the same way that the provision of digital services requires little in the way of custom programming, or even design. Canals no longer carry raw materials because they are too slow and the pinch point for transportation is now finished goods.

The digital world has, to date, been driven by infrastructure, end devices, interoperability (standards), and scale/users/adoption. In rough order, this is how the life of OUR business has played out over the major events of the last 25 years.

The first age (1995-2005)

Infrastructure: The emerging internet, dial-up modems, leased lines & ISDN
Endpoints: Cheaper home computers, lower-cost server farms
Standardisation: Web 1.0, the browser, 15” 4:3 screens, email
Scale: Search engine
Examples: Email and HTML web pages found on Google searches on your desktop browsing sessions at home. Gave us the beginning of the end of retail, the rise of the aggregators.

What we did: We built the early web, bespoke websites for early adopters, hired developers, vertically integrated, leveraged, and we were uniquely digital-native.

The second age (2005-2015)

Infrastructure: Broadband, 3/4G wireless,
End points: Smartphones, tablets, laptops
Standardisation: Platforms (WP) and walled gardens (FB, App stores)
Scale: Apps, always-on, cheap unlimited bandwidth, chat, social
Examples: Using Facebook on an iPhone in the street. Death of simple fixed lines, the rise of the big four.

What we did: We went mobile-first, WordPress platform, the Cloud, apps, shifted from large development teams to service-as-a-model, digital-everything.

The third age (2015-2025)

Infrastructure: Free and seamless ubiquity of connections, 5G, fibre, low power Bluetooth
End points: TV’s to doorbells
Standardisation: System-level interoperability (everything connects to everything), Rich communications
Scale: More devices than humans on planet earth
Examples: Alexa remotely controlling your house from anywhere. WFH and the death of the productionised working week.

What we did: Fully integrated digital services, everything as a service, automation, vendor agnostic/independence, reverse business integration (outsourcing), de-leveraged, went fully agile

The next age (2025-2035)

Infrastructure: The mesh – information and communications technologies become ubiquitous and invisible.
End points: Every device everywhere, IoT,
Standardisation: Metaverse-grade interoperability, digital trust, software eats the world, UX
Scale: Everyone on planet earth, slowing innovation for growth in scale and reduction in cost
Examples: AR and VR, Crypto pay, Smart contracts,

What will we do: AI, blockchain, big data, marketing-as-a-service, leverage the efficiencies of agile and on-demand working

Long term predictions

Is a dangerous game, fraught with dead-ends and preconceptions. But it’s worth a stab if nothing else than to share our thinking. And to finish off, if you are doing the same today as you were a decade ago then you’re behind the curve and will need to play catch-up.