fondation marie-vincentEn ce début d’année, j’ai décidé de donner un petit coup de main aux organisateurs (notamment Dominic Becotte) d’une soirée-bénéfice pour la Fondation Marie-Vincent. Cette soirée, animée par Gregory Charles, aura lieu le 25 mars prochain au Théâtre L’Olympia. L’événement réunira acteurs et entrepreneurs du milieu technologique de Montréal. Elle mettra en vedette une dizaine de leaders du milieu qui, dans un élan d’audace livreront une performance musicale sur scène.

Outre le divertissement et le réseautage, l’objectif fondamental de la soirée consiste à amasser des fonds pour permettre au Centre d’expertise Marie-Vincent de continuer d’offrir ses services spécialisés aux jeunes victimes d’agression sexuelle. Étant papa de 3 enfants qui ont complètement changé ma vie par leur simple présence, c’est une cause qui me tient à coeur.

J’ai convaincu Frédéric Harper d’être un des chanteurs de cette soirée et maintenant, j’aimerais vous convaincre d’acheter votre billet et de venir avec Annie Bacon et moi pour l’encourager. J’aimerais avoir 8 autres de mes ami(e)s avec nous autour d’une bonne table ce soir-là. Ne soyez donc pas surpris si je vous envoie un courriel dans les prochains jours vous invitant à participer! Et si ça vous intéresse, envoyez-moi une note.

Merci de tout coeur.

The Philosophers Mail
Over the last 12 months, if you’re like me, you’ve slowly seen your Facebook feed transforms itself into a river of feel-good garbage posts and trashy news report about drunken mayors and Hollywood stars mug shots. The Facebook dream of “if the news is important, it will find me” has slowly dissolved into the equivalent of the high-calorie, low nutrition meal. Growing frustrated, I have to admit thinking about shutting down my Facebook account many times but have not done it. I still find value with the real-time connections I have with my friends and acquaintances but I keep wondering why people feel the need to share worthless (in my opinion) content. Last week, the Philosopher’s Mail quietly launched and I finally started getting some answers to those questions.

Described as “a new media outlet rooted in popular interests, sensibilities and inclinations of the day – but that tries to read and caption the news with an eye to traditional central philosophical concerns – for compassion, truth, justice, complexity, calm, empathy and wisdom.”, the Philosopher’s Mail is a mash-up of typical tabloid-style newspaper articles with deep philosophical insights you can find… well, that you usually don’t find anywhere!

Led by Alain de Botton (one of my favorite young philosophers) on the editorial team, each article starts with a very mundane or typical daily news but ends up with deep insights into why we tend to focus on that news. Some examples:

In “Emma Watson on Caribbean holiday helps us to find love“, we start with paparazzi photos of starlet Emma Watson with her rugby-man boyfriend and we end up with a lesson in “tenderness and appreciation”.

In “Simon Cowell, on holiday in Barbados, proves that suffering is part of the human condition“, starting with pictures of Simon Cowell on vacation in Barbados,  we now understand he “is one of the earth’s perfect examples of a philosophical experiment about the role of money in a fulfilled life”.

Beautifully written, the Philosopher’s Mail
i) helps us understand why we’re attracted to trashy news
ii) creates meaning where we thought there wasn’t any
iii) helps us forgive ourselves and our friends for sharing these kinds of trashy articles.

Even though I still see as many trashy articles in my Facebook feed, I’m now much less frustrated by the situation. If only because of that, the Philosopher’s Mail is probably one of the best things that happened to the Internet in a long long time.

Boule de cristal 2014

Photo: Mark Skipper

As an observer of the local and international technology start-up scene, I have the opportunity to be quickly exposed to emerging trends. In this post, I’d like to share with you ten areas that I think are particularly promising in the coming year. And whenever possible, I’ve also identified Montreal startups already operating in the space. Without further ado, here’s what I see in my crystal ball for 2014.

1)  Local vertical marketplaces.

Players like Airbnb (hotels) or Uber (taxis) have shown in recent years that you could create next-generation local marketplaces by addressing a very specific vertical. These players are generally characterized by content depth, better consumer decision-making tools and/or complete vertical integration up to the final transaction. Knowing that there are 4,000 vertical categories in business directories, we are still in my opinion in the infancy of these next-gen vertical sites.

2) Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools for SMBs

2013 saw the emergence of companies offering a variety of SaaS software for SMBs (small & medium-sized businesses), especially in customer relationship management, accounting and marketing. I believe we will see other small enterprise software tools launching in 2014 particularly in the offline-to-online space, to optimize sales when a potential customer physically visits a retail store.

3) Small hardware + software products

Following Google’s acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion last week, this is the sector that will be the most active in the next few months. The democratization of hardware development in recent years is mainly due to the emergence of tools enabling rapid deployment (whether in prototyping or crowdfunding). Top projects usually include a user-friendly, well-designed software layer and are made by the best industrial design talents. With its smart watch, Montreal-based Neptune is a good example of this trend.

4) Digital currency platforms

In 2013, everyone was talking about Bitcoin, the emerging electronic currency, but very few people know that there are now dozens of other so-called cryptocurrencies. Most news articles focus on the increasing value of Bitcoin, the speculative side, but what’s really interesting with electronic money is the emergence of distributed currency/transaction platforms (and the potential around micro-transactions). If the topic interests you, do read Marc Andreessen’s take in the New York Times. Montreal startups Bylls and BitCredits operate in this vertical.

5) Cable companies ready for disruption

I think disruptive innovations will soon threaten CableCo monopolies especially around television broadcasting. Netflix’s strength, the “cord-cutting” trend, the availability of legal streaming content, forced bundles that consumers don’t want are all elements that support this trend. In my opinion, there are dozens of interesting opportunities linked to this trend.

6) Artificial Intelligence and ambient technologies

In 2013, my biggest revelation was Google Now, the almost magical mobile application that analyzes my data exhaust (geo-location, Gmail inbox content, etc.) to provide me with useful real-time alerts such as travel time, weather, flight itinerary, package tracking, etc. We talked a lot about “Big Data” in 2012 and 2013 but 2014 will be the year where we try to proactively make these large data sets useful to users. There are dozens of interesting opportunities here also.

7 ) Security and privacy

Revelations of massive spying by the NSA and targeted advertising abuse by large Internet companies is leading to the rise of new products enabling users to better protect their privacy. Montreal-based Syme is building a software solution that allows you to share content and messages in a private environment. Multiple opportunities exist in this area too.

8) Health

2012 and 2013 saw the emergence of the “quantified self” movement and the launch of multiple applications related to physical health improvement (sleep better, eat better, etc.). This sector stays red hot in 2014 with new applications that can help improve your mental health (relaxation, yoga, stress, etc.).  Montreal startups OMSignal  and Hexoskin operate in this sector.

9) Food

New food technologies in either infrastructure (better distribution, traceability, etc.) or next-generation food products (nutraceuticals, organic and local food, new types of food, etc.) will be top of mind in 2014. Lufa and Provender are proud Quebec representatives in this technology sector.

10) Robotics

Directly linked to trends # 3 and # 6, and the rise of the drone market and Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics a few weeks ago , I predict a great future for this area in the coming years .

This article originally appeared in French in my Journal de Montreal blog.

Update:  Boris Silver, Co-Founder and President of FundersClub, just blogged about 10 things the broader tech venture capital community is paying close attention to:

  1. Drones
  2. Bitcoin
  3. Wearables
  4. Big Data
  5. Crowdfunding
  6. Quantified Self
  7. 3D Printing
  8. The Internet of Things
  9. Mobile
  10. Virtual Reality

Definitely some overlap with the things I’m watching. Always interesting to compare.

As you probably know if you read this blog and follow me on Twitter, I’ve been thinking about local commerce, local search and discovery for the last 13 years. That means thinking how to create a better match between consumers and local businesses.

I’ve been following with high interest the rise of vertical peer-to-peer marketplaces like Airbnb and I finally had the chance to try the service a few weeks ago when we reserved a Florida house for a family vacation. As you probably all know, Airbnb offers homeowners the opportunity to rent their home or a room to tourists. You can build a very detailed profile and the site relies on strong identity checks and reviews to build up trust. After doing a lot of research, we finally settled on a house that seemed adequate for our family and it had 16 glowing reviews from strangers. Owner was extremely friendly in all his communications and we were looking forward to a well-deserved vacation.

When we arrived, the house was a little more rundown than expected (be aware that “rustic” has an interesting meaning in real estate) but nothing that we haven’t seen before, as we travel a lot in North America and Europe, and we’ve seen a wide variation of accomodation quality. I’ll skip the next two days for the sake of brevity but sadly, we had to take the decision to leave the house earlier than planned. We found too many ants and saw three roaches-like bugs over a 48-hours period in the house. The solution would have been to spray the house with repellent but we feared that this could be harmful to our toddler. I realize that Florida sometimes brings its lot of “domestic” insects but for the price we were paying, we felt it wasn’t worth it. This house wasn’t for us. We thought of complaining to Airbnb but, according to their policies, they require photos and we didn’t take any (it’s not the first thing you think about when you’re in a hurry to leave a place!) We lost our money and rented a hotel room for the rest of our stay. All in all, a very disappointing experience.

My local search mind started thinking feverishly (or maybe it was the hot Florida weather?): given that it’s probably a recurring problem in that house, why is it that, in 16 reviews, nobody mentioned ants and roaches?

Were they fake reviews? No, I don’t think so.

Were people ok with bugs? Maybe that’s a possibility, although I highly doubt everyone is fine with bugs (you just need to Google for the word cockroach in TripAdvisor)

And that’s when it hit me.  In Airbnb, you deal with individuals, not faceless corporations.  Tenants might be more hesitant to leave a negative comment about a fellow human being. There is a reason social media experts have been saying to corporations they need to have a human face and voice. It keeps the conversation more cordial. In addition, tenants and owners can review/rate each other, which means a negative rating from an owner can prevent you from possibly renting a house ever again on Airbnb.

Turning to eBay, the grand-daddy of marketplaces, I also realized that reviews from strangers in a peer-to-peer marketplace eventually become meaningless. You can read many complaints about that on the web. In a review site, what’s often missing is a like-mindedness filter, to let you know if people have the same taste as you. Yelp has that same problem.

I also realized that Airbnb is going after a vertical (hotels) that is more complex emotionally than many local purchases:

  • Vacation = positive moment in life. You mess up my vacation, I’m mad.
  • Dollar amount is bigger. I make a bad choice, I’m mad.

In addition, the hotel ecosystem comes with basic standard:

  • You know brands stand for something, a level of quality. Sheraton, Hilton, Best Western.
  • There is also a standard 5-star system, where in effect you can opt-in to lower quality (and lower prices) with full knowledge.

It also got me thinking about trust and social media. Ken Larson on Quora says:

“We really do not know who to really trust. To an extraordinary degree the age in which we live is requiring us to redefine trust and the degree to which communication and expectation contribute to it. Consider simpler times a few years past (say 50). Trust was necessary in many venues as a means of survival on a day to day basis. We relied on others extensively for our well being from our local store to our banker, from the policeman to the politician. And we knew them all better, we could reach out and touch them and we were not viewing them in sound bites and web sites, nor were we being bombarded with multiple forms of input to digest about them.”

Through all these reflections, I came up with an equation for trust. To have trust in an ecosystem, you need:

  • A strong brand (can be an umbrella brand or an individual brand)
  • Real identities (everyone uses real names and pictures)
  • Detailed Descriptions
  • Solid knowledge about local prices (being able to compare prices for same level of quality)
  • Reviews/recommendations
  • Social graph (friends or friends of friends have bought the product/service)
  • Detailed enforced standards via a certification program

Looking at this list, Airbnb is executing perfectly on almost all criteria except for one: standards. Airbnb has “host obligations” but I don’t think anyone is really enforcing those. Did you know BestWestern has a 30-page standards book you need to respect if you want to be a franchisee? Without solid standards and a certification program, I won’t be going back to Airbnb. They currently have a great brand, but they’re putting that brand at risk every day.

Update 1: less than 30 minutes after I posted this online, I was contacted by Airbnb to discuss my case.

Update 2: because we did not follow the “procedure” (contact the owner and/or Airbnb to try to solve the issue AND capture proof of our allegations), Airbnb could only offer us a $100 credit. Given that we lost about $600 and that we’re probably not going to use Airbnb again, that obviously wasn’t satisfactory.

 

Friends and colleagues who’ve known me for a long time know that I love to regularly polish and gaze into my crystal ball to try to forecast trends and predict the future of technology. It’s a game I really love to play. With a well curated Twitter feed, I’m able to “listen” to opinion leaders and early adopters throughout the year, day in, day out, and instinctively identify what technology trends seem to be important today. In addition, the end of the calendar year is also a great opportunity to digest and compare notes with other people via “2013 trends”-style blog posts. As you’ll see in the list below, those trends go much further than local & social (my blog’s theme since 2006), probably reflecting my personal interest list as well  (or maybe everything is social and local now, and we don’t need to mention it anymore!)

Without further ado, here are a series of technology topics that I think are important right now (in no particular order):

Screen and usage fragmentation

  • Internet usage is fragmenting and this has a tremendous impact on product design and features.
  • Size of screen and in-home/out of home use impacts design and usage patterns.
  • Without a doubt, today you should design services with smaller screens in mind (streamlined, fast loading, bigger-sized fonts, etc.).
  • I still believe product prototyping (or beta versions) can be done on the Web before working on native mobile apps.
  • If you launch mobile apps, launch iPhone & Android versions at the same time. Currently intrigued by the potential of Windows 8 and the Blackberry 10.

“Native” ads

  • The flavor of the month in content advertising: ads and content become interchangeable. This is not new (sponsorships and advertorials have existed for a long time in traditional media) but we see many experiments these days. By the way, I hate the name (same with “transmedia” but I digress).
  • Rebirth is probably related to the failure of display ads/banner advertising to deliver solid value/ROI. On a related note, the New York Times is trying to “save” the banner ad.
  • But beware! The Atlantic Monthly showed us that the format can be problematic (and The Onion had good laugh…)
  • Related: brands are now also becoming content producers, hiring journalists and creating new content.

Social media

  • Social media has matured. It’s now present across the organization, not just in one department.
  • We’re slowly seeing the disappearance of social media experts (being integrated in marketing-communication departments) and we will eventually see the disappearance of community managers (integrated in customer care).
  • Social media advertising is still unproven and, as executed today, is not exciting, very far from the original conversational marketing promise.

Big data

  • Important concept but there is a bubble. This will probably be part of every technology infrastructure and we will stop calling it that way.
  • Alex Howard (O’Reilly Radar) thinks that data will be more liquid, “ flowing across sectors previously stuck in silos”.

Enterprise products and services

  • Enterprise is hot again, as it generates faster (and more) revenue than consumers products.
  • It’s cyclical. We’ve seen that cycle before, circa 2002-2004.

Dark social

  • Dark social (defined by Eric Wheeler in Fast Company) is a form of word of mouth that happens in email and instant messaging. These still need to be leveraged and mined. Social media didn’t kill these methods of communication and they’re more alive than ever.

The sharing economy

  • We’re seeing more and more peer-to-peer marketplaces (often called Collaborative Consumption).
  • It leverages underutilized physical goods or resources (like time)
  • Examples include Taskrabbit, Uber, etc.

Marketplaces

  • We’re seeing the emergence of vertical marketplaces (players like Uber, Airbnb, etc.) that are completely integrated along the customer purchase decision process (from research/pre-shopping to merchant comparison to merchant selection to transaction to post-purchase, in one environment). I believe this is where the future of local search lies. Look at the top 100 Yellow Pages categories. They will each have a category killer in the next 10 years.
  • Related in part to the sharing economy.

Open Government

  • We’re seeing a push by citizens for a more transparent government, asking for open data and more accountability. Governments are slowly opening up. It’s still early but this is a huge democracy game changer. It obviously has tremendous impact in our local lives.
  • You can read about open governments in this Aeon Magazine article.

Privacy

  • Privacy will be top of mind for the next 3 to 5 years. It can now be an important feature of new services. For example, SnapChat allows you to share pictures with your friends and those pictures are available for up to 10 seconds only.
  • People worry that what they’re sharing can be used against them and I believe that a better social networking solution will come along in the next 5-10 years and change the game via “privacy” (and it’s probably not Path).
  • This trend leads us directly into “personal data ownership” where we own our data and we can transport it anywhere we want. We can also give permission to use it for marketing/targeting purpose, etc.

CRM/Marketing automation

  • Related to big data, these tools are arriving to provide marketers with a better understanding of customers and a better targeting of advertisers.

“Lead with design”

  • When markets are crowded, design becomes a strong differentiator.
  • This is the mantra right now in Silicon Valley.

Pricing management

  • Merchants/brands are being equipped with dynamic pricing/yield management tools to optimize pricing and maximize revenues.
  • Consumers will be equipped with solutions to help them time their purchase to get products/services at the lowest price.
  • It’s an arms race and is related to the big data trend.

Coupons

  • Now with less papers, more digital, more mobile (ex: Passbook on the iPhone)

Hardware

  • We’re finally seeing the return of hardware. Easier and cheaper to manufacture than before.
  • Expect many new hardware projects piggy-backing Arduino (open source electronics platform) or Raspberry pi or Beagle Bone.
  • 3D printing is probably part of that trend.
  • Hardware needs to marry perfectly with software. Both skills are needed now for new projects. Design is key.
  • New hardware solutions (like Fitbit) are enabling the capture of the “physical graph”.
  • Related to the “Internet of things” trend
  • Of note, if you have children, you should buy them toys that will prepare them for this new life. Pamela Fox recently wrote a great blog post about “Getting Kids into Programming

Local manufacturing/ Insourcing

  • Local manufacturing is back.
  • It’s better for local economies, for the environment, and companies can charge more today for “local” products.
  • You can outsource elements of production to Asia (take a look at Alibaba.com) but products are often designed and assembled in North America/Europe.

Crowdfunding

  • The great funding democracy movement. More money available for more projects.
  • Some growing pains: i) projects that are not delivered and ii) without a network (or help from traditional media’s amplification), it’s still difficult to raise big money.

Humans are data/bits

  • Rise of health startups (DNA analysis, life optimization, weight loss, etc.)

Smart Cars

  • Self-driving cars are being tested (Google, Audi).
  • Emergence of an in-car apps ecosystem.
  • Volvo’s Vision 2020: “By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo”
  • Will we still need a driver’s licence in 20 years?

Ambient

  • Symbolized by products like Google Glass or Memoto.
  • Things are happening around us and data is collected without friction.

Products/services that have seemingly magical properties or give consumers pretend super powers

  • Related to the design-first and hardware trends.
  • Heavy lifting done by hardware and software, not the human.

Time as a currency

  • I first wrote about the Temporal Web in 2010. Still a very important trend.
  • Trendwatching thinks that “in 2013, consumers will look to their mobile devices to maximize absolutely every moment. Hectic, urban lifestyles mean that no amount of (micro) time will be too fleeting, or activity too absorbing, to cram in more content, connection, consumption or simply more fun.”

Announcing My New Role

January 14, 2013

Today, I’m very happy to announce that I’ve joined HomeAdvisor Canada as Vice President of Product Innovation. Based out of Montreal (Canada), I will be responsible for growing HomeAdvisor in Canada and developing innovative new products for homeowners and service professionals.

For those of you less familiar with HomeAdvisor (formerly called ServiceMagic), it is a U.S.-based company that connects homeowners with pre-screened and customer-rated service professionals and provides a suite of comprehensive tools, products and resources to help with home improvement, maintenance and repair needs. HomeAdvisor’s international operations include Canada, France, UK and Germany.  HomeAdvisor is a subsidiary of IAC (NASDAQ: IACI). You can find out more about the company in its About” section.

I’m very impressed with the company’s senior management team and I’m excited to join the organization. This new senior role fits perfectly as a next step in my career, allowing me to continue building innovative local search products in a very entrepreneurial environment.

You can find the official press release announcement here.

Vous trouverez le communiqué de presse officiel ici.

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In less than two weeks, BIA/Kelsey is organizing its ILM (stands for Interactive Local Media) West 2012 Conference, a must-attend for anyone in the local media space. Held from December 4 to December 6 in Los Angeles, the team has put another yet another great line-up of speakers and panelists.

As I will be attending, I’ve put together a list of “can’t miss” keynotes and panels:

Day 1 (December 4)

  • The ILM West Kickoff: The View From BIA/Kelsey. That’s when the analysts share interesting data on “local”. Helpful for all those PowerPoint presentations you’ll be preparing in 2013
  • Opening Keynote: Bill Gross, CEO, Idealab. Bill Gross. ‘Nuff said.

There’s also panels on venture capital, on sales transformation and on innovative startups. Those are often “hit or miss” but you never know.

Day 2 (December 5)

  • The Google Executive Interview: Todd Rowe, Managing Director – SMB Global Sales, Google. Should be good.
  • Keynote: Jason Finger, CEO, CityGrid. Definitely interested to hear what CityGrid is up to. They’ve been silent recently.
  • SuperForum: Mobile’s Impact on Interactive Local Media: National to Local. Those 4 mini-sessions all focus on local and mobile.
  • Afternoon Keynote: David Krantz, CEO, YP. Like CityGrid, interested to hear the latest news at YP.
  • Targeting Local Audiences: Hollywood Shows the Way. Ah, I love when they bring new industries to the table. Lots to learn usually.

Day 3 (December 6)

  • A Discussion With Ben T. Smith IV, CEO, Wanderful Media. This one should be very very interesting. Ben’s company has been very active lately, including a huge $22M funding roundfrom newspaper companies in September.
  • Keynote Speaker: Dan Levy, Director, Global SMB Markets, Facebook. Facebook doesn’t usually share a lot of new information in these conferences, so stay tuned.

If you want to connect when I’m there, don’t hesitate to ping by e-mail: sprovencher AT gmail

In addition to the conferences, the event is great for networking. If you’re planning to attend and haven’t booked your ticket yet, Use my personal code to get $200 off the registration fees: ILMWSEB

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