A peek into the future

The many start-ups at the Web Summit in Dublin tell you where the digital world is heading

Last week I visited the Web Summit in Dublin. “Where the tech world meets” is their pay off. Indeed, tech leaders, tech investors, tech media and, last but not least, tech start-ups. Especially the latter got my full attention. They were all lined up in different spaces with different themes, hundreds of them. And every day there were new ones.

It was inspiring to hear the (mostly) young, smart and ambitious tech-minded people eagerly explain how they plan to digitally change the world. After being dazzled by an incredible amount of digital innovations, I learned that especially in markets that work inefficiently start-ups are likely to shake things up.

Take the banking industry; an industry that nobody trusts anymore and has no inclination to innovate because making money is just too easy. E-wallets, peer-to-peer loans (with a fairinterest), and smart algorithms investing money on stock markets are just a few innovations that will generate lots of fresh competition in the world of complacent dinosaurs.

Another area where (online) innovation will happen is by connecting people offline. Differently put; matching supply and demand. In forms like friendship, information, expertise and skills. So, employers and employees, travelers and locals, pet owners and pet sitters. And not just people and people, but also people and products. In Uber’s and Airbnb’s slipstream there will be many more apps connecting people with idle property.

A third start-up trend revealed to me exists in helping people collaborate more efficiently and effectively. Since collaborations become more complex there’s lots of room for tools that help us align our communication, agendas and documents.

Finally, since entertainment and social communication have become increasingly important in our lives, tools with which we can easily digitally enhance and share our experiences are abundant.

Apart from these start-up trends, I also quickly found out that most ideas presented at the Web Summit will never reach their mature form.

First of all because most start-ups can’t even properly explain what they have to offer. Take this one: “Our goal is to maximize the effect of having an online presence as a business cost-efficiently by using trending technology as a trigger.” One of the investors on the main stage said that if you can’t explain your business in one phrase, it’s probably not a very good idea. Some start-ups made it easier for themselves and simply compared themselves with existing services. But not always aptly. What to think of “Uber for sports and games” or “Airbnb for hobbies.”

Then there are start-ups that sound like the new Google: “Helps you to find whatever you want wherever you are.” Or Facebook: “a community and marketplace that helps people and businesses create, share and explore unique experiences all around the world.” But instead of improving Google or Facebook, they just seem to offer an alternative. And that’s not good enough.

Some start-ups combine unrelated services to make their product sound more enticing. I came across a futuristic-looking photo camera, shaped like a round ball that sits on your coffee table, takes 360 degrees photos, connects to social media and – last but not least – works as a remote control. Why? And if you really don’t have a clue what you’re doing, you just combine as many functionalities as possible: “The personal development social network. Community Driven blog, Q&A Discussion Board, Reviews, Cookbook & Goals Tracker.” Right.

There is actually quite a simple trick to find out if your proposition stands a chance in the incredibly competitive world of digital innovation. You just need to ask yourself: Am I solving a problem? (mind you, not already solved by someone else) I am guessing that 80% of the start-ups at the Web Summit can’t answer this question convincingly.

But, having said all that, one thing became clear to me at the Web Summit; the amount of people trying to improve our world with digital solutions is overwhelming. Even if only a small percentage succeeds, traditional markets will be changed more quickly than ever and our lives a lot more efficient.