Tag Archives: entrepreneurs

Copy and Steal — the Silicon Valley Way

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In a videoconference hosted by Indian start-up website Inc42, I gave Indian entrepreneurs some advice that startled them. I said that instead of trying to invent new things, they should copy and steal all the ideas they can from China, Silicon Valley and the rest of the world. A billion Indians coming online through inexpensive smartphones offer Indian entrepreneurs an opportunity to build a digital infrastructure that will transform the country. The best way of getting started on that is not to reinvent the wheel but to learn from the successes and failures of others.

Before Japan, Korea and China began to innovate, they were called copycat nations; their electronics and consumer products were knockoffs from the West. Silicon Valley succeeds because it excels in sharing ideas and building on the work of others. As Steve Jobs said in 1994, “Picasso had a saying, ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal,’ and we have you know always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Almost every Apple product has features that were first developed by others; rarely do its technologies wholly originate within the company.

Mark Zuckerberg also built Facebook by taking pages from MySpace and Friendster, and he continues to copy products. Facebook Places is a replica of Foursquare; Messenger video imitates Skype; Facebook Stories is a clone of Snapchat; and Facebook Live combines the best features of Meerkat and Periscope. This is another one of Silicon Valley’s other secrets: if stealing doesn’t work, then buy the company.

By the way, they don’t call this copying or stealing; it is “knowledge sharing.” Silicon Valley has very high rates of job-hopping, and top engineers rarely work at any one company for more than three years; they routinely join their competitors or start their own companies. As long as engineers don’t steal computer code or designs, they can build on the work they did before. Valley firms understand that collaborating and competing at the same time leads to success. This is even reflected in California’s unusual laws, which bar noncompetition agreements.

In most places, entrepreneurs hesitate to tell others what they are doing. Yet in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs know that when they share an idea, they get important feedback. Both sides learn by exchanging ideas and developing new ones. So when you walk into a coffee shop in Palo Alto, those you ask will not hesitate to tell you their product-development plans.

Neither companies nor countries can succeed, however, merely by copying. They must move very fast and keep improving themselves and adapting to changing markets and technologies.

Apple became the most valuable company in the world because it didn’t hesitate to cannibalize its own technologies. Steve Jobs didn’t worry that the iPad would hurt the sales of its laptops or that the music player in the iPhone would eliminate the need to buy an iPod. The company moved forward quickly as competitors copied its designs.

Technology is now moving faster than ever and becoming affordable to all. Advances in artificial intelligence, computing, networks and sensors are making it possible to build new trillion-dollar industries and destroy old ones. The new technologies that once only the West had access to are now available everywhere. As the world’s entrepreneurs learn from one another, they will find opportunities to solve the problems of not only their own countries but the world. And we will all benefit in a big way from this.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

Why You Need to Live in the Future — As I Do

I live in the future as it is forming and this is happening far faster than most people realise, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

I live in the future. I drive an amazing Tesla electric vehicle, which takes control of the steering wheel on highways. My house, in Menlo Park, California, is a “passive” home that expends minimal energy on heating or cooling. With the solar panels on my roof, my energy bills are close to zero. I have a medical device at home, which was made in New Delhi, Healthcubed, that does the same medical tests as hospitals—and provides me with immediate results. Because I have a history of heart trouble I have all of the data I need to communicate with a doctor anywhere in the world, anytime I need.

I spend much of my time talking to entrepreneurs and researchers about breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. These entrepreneurs are building a better future. I live in the future as it is forming and this is happening far faster than most people realise, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

The distant future is no longer distant. The pace of technological change is rapidly accelerating, and those changes are coming to you very soon. Look at the way smartphones crept up on us. Just about everyone now has one. We are always checking email, receiving texts, ordering goods online, and sharing our lives with distant friends and relatives on social media.

These technologies changed our lives before we even realised it. Just as we blindly follow the directions that Google Maps gives us—even when we know better—we will comply with the constant advice that our digital doctor provides. I’m talking about an artificially intelligent app on our smartphone that will have read our medical data and monitor our lifestyles and habits. It will warn us not to eat more gulab jamuns lest we gain another 10 pounds.

So you say that I live in a technobubble, a world that is not representative of the lives of the majority of people in the US or India? That’s true. I live a comfortable life in Silicon Valley and am fortunate to sit near the top of the technology and innovation food chain. So I see the future sooner than most people. The noted science-fiction writer William Gibson, who is a favourite of hackers and techies, once wrote: “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”. But, from my vantage point at its apex, I am watching that distribution curve flatten, and quickly. Simply put, the future is happening faster and faster. It is happening everywhere.

Technology is the great leveller, the great unifier, the great creator of new and destroyer of old.

Once, technology could be put in a box, a discrete business dominated by business systems and some cool gadgets. It slowly but surely crept into more corners of our lives. Today the creep has become a headlong rush. Technology is taking over every part of our lives; every part of society; every waking moment of every day. Increasingly, pervasive data networks and connected devices are causing rapid information flows from the source to the masses—and down the economic ladders from the developed societies to the poorest.

Perhaps my present life in the near future, in the technobubble in Silicon Valley, sounds unreal. Believe me, it is something we will laugh at within a decade as extremely primitive.

We are only just commencing the greatest shift that society has seen since the dawn of humankind. And, as in all other manifest shifts – from the use of fire to the rise of agriculture and the development of sailing vessels, internal-combustion engines, and computing – this one will arise from breathtaking advances in technology. This shift, though, is both broader and deeper, and is happening far more quickly.

Such rapid, ubiquitous change has a dark side. Jobs as we know them will disappear. Our privacy will be further compromised. Our children may never drive a car or ride in one driven by a human being. We have to worry about biological terrorism and killer drones. Someone —maybe you—will have his or her DNA sequence and fingerprints stolen. Man and machine will begin to merge. You will have as much food as you can possibly eat, for better and for worse.

The ugly state of global politics illustrates the impact of income inequality and the widening technological divide. More people are being left behind and are protesting. Technologies such as social media are being used to fan the flames and to exploit ignorance and bias. The situation will get only worse—unless we find ways to share the prosperity we are creating.

We have a choice: to build an amazing future such as we saw on the TV series Star Trek, or to head into the dystopia of Mad Max. It really is up to us; we must tell our policy makers what choices we want them to make.

The key is to ensure that the technologies we are building have the potential to benefit everyone equally; balance risks and the rewards; and minimise the dependence that technologies create. But first, we must learn about these advances ourselves and be part of the future they are creating.

 

This article is re-published here with the express permission of the author.