The book I am probably not going to write
From time to time, I think about writing a book on the evolution of information technology.
I am designing it in my head. Sometimes it is divided into three sections, which are simply the past, present and future. Frankly, I am not that interested in the present. I love writing about the history of the computer industry since I have been around a long time and I was present for most of it. I also have a lot of anecdotes to share. However, it is the future that has always claimed my attention since I have been a child.
Many of you know that I was a very successful venture capital investor when I was Corporate Vice President of Business Development and Co Founder of Intel Capital. In fact, during my tenure, we were the most successful corporate venture investors, and maybe the most successful venture group over all. There were many others, especially Les Vadasz, that contributed to that accomlishment. I have written a great deal about that and there a many articles, interviews and even videos discussing those times which seem so long ago and will not go much into that here.
How to invest: Let me count the ways
There are different styles of venture investing. Many venture capitalists bet on the team. In fact, the core competency of many of the most successful VCs is identifying the right CEO. Frankly, I am not that good at identifying the best talent. What I focused on was determining the right areas in which to invest. I called them “neighborhoods”which were really business disruptions caused by changes in technologies. A great example was the impact on the media industry resulting from digital distribution of content direct to consumers (iTunes), a disruption that is still going on. Another is the impact of the internet on retail distribution (Amazon). A very recent example is the impact the “sharing” economy (AirBnB) is having on the hotel industry.
My talent was in identifying these opportunities well in advance of others. In fact, I would often be too early. The book that I will probably never write, will deal extensively with how I was able to identify these “neighborhoods.” It is not something I fully understand myself. I am also not sure if I am still able to do this. I certainly no longer had the considerable resources that I had when I was at Intel. By the way, my current focus is on the impact of technology on direct to consumer health care.
The impact of high-speed residential broadband
From about 1993 to 1999 (when I left Intel), one of my tasks was not just investing in the opportunities but helping others understand as well. That was one of the reasons I would write articles and speak at conferences of what would have been considered at the time, untreated industries. At first, it would seem strange that an executive from a Semi Conductor company would give a key-note address at the National Association of Broadcasters but in retrospect it all made sense.
My job at Intel was strategic. It was to create opportunities for intel by growing the market of PCs and as a result, the market for Intel chips. Venture Investing was a tool for accomplishing this but had a secondary benefit of earning billions of dollars of profit for Intel. Using some of this profit, I was able to use to fund very important initiatives like the creation of residential broadband which in turn created new investment opportunities.
I recently came across an article I wrote for Advertising Age in 1996 (about three years from the first deployment by Intel of Cable Modems with Comcast and Viacom (who had a cable business at the time.)
When you read it, please keep in mind this was written 21 years ago. Imagine you are in 1996 and have the point of view reflected in the article and the opportunity to invest in early stage companies. You can see, that it might not be so surprising that Intel was able to get such great returns from its venture investments.
TECHNOLOGY MARKETING; COMPUTERS LEARNING USERS’ PREFERENCES–AND ADVERTISING WILL GROW MORE SELECTIVE
By Avram Miller. Published on November 11, 1996 by Advertising Age
Twenty-five years ago, the microprocessor was invented. The first microprocessors were simple devices when compared to the advanced capabilities of today’s products. At that time, it was impossible to imagine that these devices would evolve into the engines of the Information Age.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, the co-founder, and chairman of Intel Corp., accurately predicted that the capabilities of semiconductor devices (of which the microprocessor is one) would double every 18 months.
Following that prediction, known as Moore’s Law, this would mean that a microprocessor’s capabilities would result in a tenfold increase over five years or a 100-fold increase in 10 years.
Since its inception, the microprocessor has had an amazing impact on many aspects of our lives. However, it is in its role as the brains of the personal computer where this has been most evident. Since the introduction of the PC in the early 1980s, we have witnessed an explosive growth in the use of computers, and have seen the computer expand from a central information facility to become the primary desktop tool of most business professionals.
In the last several years, we also have seen it become a major consumer product. About 40% of American homes now have purchased one or more PCs. While many industries have been completely transformed by the PC, its impact on the advertising industry has been mostly limited to a tool for production and business management. This is about to change in a fundamental way.
The personal computer is rapidly becoming a new medium for information, entertainment, education, and commerce. The microprocessors now in development by Intel continue the pace of Moore’s Law and will greatly enhance the PC.
Advanced video, audio and graphics capabilities will provide a powerful environment for media. Advances in communications technology over transports such as phone lines and satellites will greatly increase the access to media. The rapid growth of the Internet (itself fueled by the microprocessor) will combine with the PC to create one of the most powerful mediums for communications even known: the connected PC. And in becoming a new medium, it will have a profound impact on the ad industry, advertisers, and their customers.
There is a lot of discussion about advertising on the Internet. Some believe the role of advertising will be limited. Reasons for this belief include the limited size of the consumer market for Internet-connected PCs, the lack of compelling content, poor measurement systems, and privacy issues. Many believe the power in this new medium is its ability to target audiences even down to the individual-the promise of one-to-one marketing in the extreme.
NO OVERNIGHT ACTION
While we cannot expect to see a total restructuring overnight, the history of the PC teaches that its impact will happen faster and more powerfully than most expect. Hundreds of venture-capital-backed companies and most of the leading technology companies are working to make the PC a powerful vehicle for advertisers to reach customers.
Further, we are seeing the emergence of a new generation of consumers raised on interactivity, which is one of the most compelling attributes of the PC. As several studies show, members of Generation X are voting with their eyeballs as they spend more and more time using their computers and less time watching television.
The relevance of advertising will be significantly enhanced as PCs learn about their users’ preferences and select the most appropriate advertising. We will see a separation of advertising and programming so that customers may actually subscribe to advertising and use “coupons” to pay for programming (see http://www.cybergold.com for an example).
Ads will no longer be limited by time and space. Customers will choose to interact with advertising that truly assists them in making decisions. Not only will ads be more pertinent, customers will be able to order products while interacting with these ads, thereby increasing the value of the experience.
Currently, advertising on the connected PC suffers from poor production values. This results from the combination of limited communications bandwidth (the speed of sending information to the computer) and the inability to assemble the advertisement in advance of its use.
Consumers typically browse the World Wide Web on the Internet in a somewhat random fashion. When they reach a destination, small advertisements known as banners are displayed. In order not to introduce delays in a medium that currently is slow, (because of limitations of the communications links), the audio-visual quality of the ad is not compelling.
However, new techniques are about to be introduced that will allow rich audio-visual advertisements to be placed in advance on the consumer’s PC and called up at the appropriate time. This means that in addition to a high degree of customer relevancy, ads can be exceptionally entertaining. These Internet commercials will take advantage of high-resolution video, high-fidelity audio, and advanced 3D graphics to truly exploit the capabilities of the connected PC to deliver compelling advertising.
Avram Miller, VP of business development for Intel Corp., is charged with establishing strategic alliances for the advancement of PC technology and the growth of new media. Before joining Intel, he was president of Franklin Computer Corp. and a group manager at Digital Equipment Corp.