AgTech: Just Another Buzz Word?

In the past 12 months since moving to Silicon Valley, I have been hearing the word “AgTech” quite a bit.  Initially, my reaction was, “just what we need, another new buzz word.”  But I believe this trend is a noble one that will likely continue to be around for a long time to come. Technology in the agriculture space, I believe, is an important one due to the real world problems that we are facing.  The silver lining here, at least for me, is that this is a great example of where technology is being used to benefit humankind and the planet.
Recently I attended a talk about AgTech hosted by Keizai Silicon Valley.  At this talk, 3 start-ups talked about their products and shared ideas about how we can address some of the real world problems in the food industry.  Here are short snippets about each of the start-ups:
Zippin:  As they proclaim during the talk, this small start-up has the bold aspiration to banish standing in line—for good—with their AI check-out technology platform.  This solution is already being deployed by some retailers such as Amazon Go.
Byte Foods Provides retailers with a smart vending kiosk solution that allows them to offer fresh food, including perishable items in a vending machine.
Yo-Kai Express: Provides a fast gourmet restaurant in a box.  This service can be set up in a factory, mall, or in a company’s office.  Regardless of setting, end-users can enjoy quality gourmet ramen in less than 45 seconds.
Some of the key take-aways that I captured from this talk include the following:
  1. There is a seismic shift happening at retail — consumer demand is driving by convenience more than any thing.
  2. Today’s vending machines are not designed for fresh foods which also represents a real business opportunity for the AgTech industry.
  3. We may need an additional 70% more food to feed 10 billion people by the year 2050.
  4. A popular word in the industry has become “sustainable food”  The mindset here is increasing the resiliency, productivity, and profitability of food.

Certainly AgTech is an area that I am not knowledgable about but it is precisely that reason why I am glad that I went to this talk.  One key point this talk reinforced is that we all have a role in doing the right things now to ensure our food supply is used responsibly.  Rather than focusing on increasing food production — due to the 4th point above — we  should first ensure we are maximizing what we produce today by minimizing waste.  I believe that this sentiment was shared by all of the panelists at this talk.  

So, if you have not heard about AgTech, well now you know.  This will likely be around for a long time to come and companies that truly invest in solving food sustainability will benefit in result (and, just maybe, mankind, too).  

The Best Smart Glasses I’ve Seen But…

Last week I had a chance to experience Smart Glasses for the first time since Google Glass.  The company name is called “North” and is headquartered in the Bay Area.  They do not have physical stores at the moment but they have been demonstrating their product in pop locations across the country.

I do not recall how I came across the technology when surfing the web but somehow I saw their advertisement and inquired to learn more.  As you may figured by now, I’m an inquisitive person when it comes to technology.   The advertisement then took me to their site where I could sign up to visit one of the pop locations to actually do a “fitting.”  Other than time, I did not have much to lose so I decided to sign up for a Saturday visit at their popup location in Santa Clara.

My experience with the technology was overall OK — it seemed interesting and fairly fluid as I went in with really no expectations.  The idea that I could get notifications on my glasses unknown to anyone else seems very attractive and forward-looking.  The glasses has a red laser that projects a small image on to the lenses of the glasses which will only be visible to the person who is wearing the glasses.  The applications that I viewed included voice-activated Alexa, weather, SMS, and some games that can be controlled by using a ring that you wear on your finger and use like a joystick.  

As someone who wears traditional glasses, one will notice that there is a significant difference in weight vs. normal focals.  It might be something that you can get use to over time but that really depends on the person.  The cost of the glasses is about $599 with an additional cost for prescription lenses.  Yes, you read the number correctly…..

I truly believe that the technology is on to something but I am not sure how practical something like this will be now especially with the aforementioned price point.  North will have to convince end-users why this is better than using a smart watch which will be far less.  Personally, if I am looking for a reason to not look at my smart phone during dinner with family for example, I might just try discipline for now.  This is far more inexpensive and more healthy, too.  

Baseball is Getting Personal Again

From August 24th through the 27th , Major League Baseball will be introducing the 2nd Annual Players Weekend to baseball fans nationwide. If you are already a fan of the game then I do not have to tell you how successful this event was last year. Regardless if you love the game or not, it was a great example of how a little unconventional thinking and risk-taking together can create something wonderful in the process.

A Quick Description

Players Weekend is when fans are given a closer look at the personality of each and every baseball player on every team. Each player is allowed to wear a nickname on the back of their jersey for 3 consecutive games. Also, each player can wear a “tribute patch” on their sleeve that acknowledges someone or a group of people who they have great appreciation for helping them reach the Major Leagues. These two factors alone could be characterized as the genius of Players Weekend. Because of this, fans are able to get a personal complexion of almost every player on the field. This is coupled with colorful uniforms that are exclusively designed for the weekend. Moreover, players are allowed to wear colorful socks and kleets and unique bats — of their choosing — that would not normally be allowed in any other game.

Why I knew it Would be a “Hit”

I knew that Players Weekend was on to something special by watching how my wife reacted to the game. On most weekends we would have my hometown team, the Minnesota Twins, come into our living room. On most days depending on the score she will tune in and out over the course of 9 innings but during Players Weekend, my wife’s attention was acutely focused on the players. She was intrigued by the colors of the uniforms and the imaginative nicknames. Because of that, we had unchartered conversations about the players and their personalities the very first time. For example, Ervin Santana‘s — a Minnesota Twins pitcher — nickname was “Magic.” As we listened to the broadcasters we learned at the same time that Ervin (correct spelling) was a prolific baseball and basketball player in his home country, The Dominican Republic. And, it so happened to be that his boy idol was Earvin “Magic” Johnson. We also learned that Ervin’s real name was actually Johan but he changed it to Ervin to avoid confusion with another famous Twins pitcher who had the same first and last name. Without question, this conversation and mutual intrigue of the players that my wife and I had was singlehandedly catalyzed by this inaugural Players Weekend.

The Power of Being Personal

What Major League Baseball and the Major League Players’ Association did was a teachable reminder that organizations — no matter their industry, size, or location — should never stop to reimagine how to connect with customers in meaningful and untraditional ways. In this example, MLB focused on the product (i.e., the players) and made the overall platform (i.e., the game) experience much more personal in the process. By doing so, they were able to uncover new customers and deepen the loyalty of existing ones. It is because of this that I commend the MLB for their willingness to take a chance on this a year ago. I look forward to seeing this continue and only get better for years to come.

Truer Words Have Never…

Today I came accross the below quote that I had not read in a while. I felt it was a fitting and an eloquent expression of the struggle that many entrepreneurs / business owners have to go through to reach the other side of an industrious effort.

If you’re reading this for the first time, print it out or save it. #Evernote.

It is a healthy reminder of the underlying depth of greatness.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man/woman who points out how the strong man/woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man / woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself / herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he / she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his / her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

So…remember these words and remind yourself that you have already achieved more than most because you chose to step into the arena. Keep believing and fighting…..eventually you’ll get to the other side. And even if the outcome is defeat, you can keep your head up high knowing that you dared greatly.

Thank you Teddy Roosevelt.

Design Thinking is…Thinking

I attended a Design Thinking event hosted by the Keizai Silicon Valley association in Mountain View. It was a fascinating discussion about how design thinking can (and should be) used as a engine to spark innovation with Japanese companies. During his presentation, Aki Koto-san (a Partner at WiL), talked about Suzuki Motors as a use case who recently embraced this way of thinking.

Many know Suzuki as the makers of motor bikes but they also manufacturer wheel chairs. In an effort to ignite creative thinking and innovation, Suzuki sent a few of their engineers to the Valley to embrace Design Thinking as a way to reimagine wheelchairs. There approach included the following:

  • Interviewing 150 Elders
  • Volunteering at a Wheelchair Store
  • Using a Wheelchair in Real Life Situations

The 3 engineers also lived together and ultimately came up with new ideas that were empathetic to wheelchair users. We do not know exactly what the team conceptualized but, as Koto-san shared, Suzuki Motors approved their idea.

I look forward to seeing what Suzuki will be bringing to market. But, more importantly, I hope that other companies in Japan will take notice. Design Thinking is all about thinking in the right way to not only solve problems but to FIND problems that we did not know were there.