The Exchange

Fred Wilson: The search for the next platform

The Exchange

Fred Wilson is a venture capitalist who lives and works in New York City. He is a co-founder of Union Square Ventures and has made early investments in companies including Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy and Zynga. He writes smart stuff about technology, start-ups, finance and the like daily on his widely read blog AVC blog.

I found this part of Mark Zuckerberg’s post on the Oculus acquisition most revealing:

We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we’re in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences.

Facebook (FB) was a bit slow to get aboard the mobile train. Unlike Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG), they do not have a mobile OS. And they were slow to evolve the core Facebook experience from web to mobile. But once they got religion about it, they moved very quickly to do that and now have an excellent mobile experience on both iOS and Android. And with Instagram and WhatsApp, they have three of the top ten third party mobile apps globally (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram). So they have gotten to a good place on mobile (and that’s what the $19bn WhatsApp buy was all about).

And now Zuck and his team are looking up and saying “what’s next?”. It’s not that different from what Larry Page and his team are doing at Google. The Charlie Rose interview with Larry that I made Video Of The Week last weekend was a bit of a review of all the things Google is doing to figure out what’s next (balloons, driverless cars, Nest, DeepMind, etc).

If you look at these big acquisitions like Nest and Oculus, you might scratch your head. What does a Apple-style proprietary closed thermostat have in common with Google’s mobile strategy? What does a Virtual Reality headset have to do with Facebook’s social graph? Nothing in both cases.

But the roadmap has been clear for the past seven years (maybe longer). The next thing was mobile. Mobile is now the last thing. And all of these big tech companies are looking for the next thing to make sure they don’t miss it. And they will pay real money (to you and me) for a call option on the next thing.

It isn’t clear if the next thing is virtual reality, the internet of things, drones, machine learning, or something else. Larry doesn’t know. Zuck doesn’t know. I don’t know. But the race is on to figure it out. Trillions of dollars of collective market capitalizations are on the line. So a couple billion here or there is chump change. Except for the people who collect that chump change for selling them an option on the next thing. It’s real money to us.

So for the next few years (I have no idea how long this search for what’s next will go on), a game to be playing is building a platform that can plausibly be the next big thing. It’s a risky game. But the payoff can be large. And you can even start by crowdfunding your first round. Man I love this business.

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