What you’ll need
My mom’s been recovering from ankle reconstructive surgery. It’s going to be a really painful next few months and I really feel for her. Since she’s laid up in bed, she’s been reading everything she can while I try my best to be on her good side. The other day, after apparently googling our whole family, she called me on the phone with bitterness in her voice. She told me she was ‘pissed off’ I never told her about this blog.
Which reminded me, I started this blog as an online home for my thoughts, ramblings, and weird ideas as a sort of journal to come back to. I never used it for it’s worth. In 2019, I think I published 2 posts. People have created followings and digital personas on the internet that have helped them tremendously in their careers. I don’t intend to do that. Instead, I want to do what this blog was originally set out for. I want to start sharing my thoughts, ramblings and weird ideas. Most importantly, I want to exercise the part of my body that hasn’t been getting enough attention, my writing muscles.
Growing up, I wasn’t enamored with technology. I was usually outside playing sports, or running from friends backyard to backyard. Playstation and xbox sat idly by while I perfected my free throws and curveballs. Books were common, but only until I attended college did the internet, cloud, and tech make a breakthrough in my life. Before meeting some more tech-minded friends, I was certain I would work at the intersection of the arts and something profound. I prided myself on my writing ability and persuasion with the pen and paper. Nowadays, I notice those skills fading.
Even though I get to write my fair share of emails and more short-form twitter literature, I miss exercising my creative and more eloquent writing muscles that have been neglected by limiting myself to only produce what needed to be completed for work.
So let’s hope that this isn’t the only post I make in 2020.
On May 5th, 2018, The World Surf League (WSL) held a tournament in a peculiar place. Landlocked and over 100 miles from the sea, the top competitors in the world gathered in Lemoore, California for what would go on to create a unique surfing-only type notation system. Since I haven’t seen anyone else coin this phrase, I’m going to make it my own: B.K.E – Before Kelly’s Era.
Kelly Slater is undoubtedly the king of surfing. He’s both the youngest and oldest person to win a world title, amassing an astounding 11 world championships. It’s safe to say his bald head has seen a lot. Kelly is a polarizing figure in the world of surfing – he’s been the driver behind much of surfing’s recent comeback, as well as the sports commercialization and prior downturn. Like Kelly, there are two sides to everything. Surfing is no different. With the advent of high-priced surfing technologies in the form of boards that make wave riding easier, wetsuits that keep surfers warmer for longer, and even earplugs that offset surfers’ ear, technology is segmenting the surfing population.
Traditionalists believe in an old-school view of a wave-riding hierarchy where those who’ve surfed the mush should have priority over visitors when the stars align. To them, surfing is a holistic, spell-binding ritual where surfers interact with an ever-changing wave that evolves with the ocean floor and wind. The boards they ride come from shapers who spend hours meticulously crafting every inch of the foam.
On the other hand, contemporary surfers, believe in almost nothing. There’s no rhythm or rhyme to when someone is supposed to drop-in. Beaches are littered with massively produced assembly-line boards with Go-Pro cameras stapled to the nose. There are meme pages associated with novice contemporary surfer. Often times you’ll see the newest Rip Curl wetsuit on someone holding a board with the fins on backward. It seems like surfers of today resemble a cutout of what technology has done to much of America.
There’s nothing wrong with either segmentation. Often times, traditionalists are assholes and contemporary surfers are dangerously ignorant just trying to have fun. The main point is that technology is impacting surfing in an unprecedented way. However, the debate among surfers as to where they should buy their boards from, or whether or not they were tough enough to last in the cold ocean is over. The new debate is no longer man vs. man, but instead, man vs. machine.
Flashback to December 5th, 2015 when Kelly unveiled his ten-year-long experiment to the world. A video was released showing him surfing a perfectly shaped artificial wave being ridden in none other than Lenmoore, California. The quest for the worlds perfect wave has ended. It’s not in Tavarua or Teahupoo, but in Lemoore California, and it could be coming to your backyard.
When Kelly unleashed the video back in 2015, the world flipped on its axis. The traditionalists condemned it – the contemporaries loved it – but everyone wanted to try it.
Here’s how the wave works.
- A 100-ton hydrofoil – named “The Vehicle” – run down a track with the help of more than 150 truck tires and at around 18 miles per hour (30 kilometers per hour);
- When the swell hits specific areas of the lake’s bottom, the wave starts to break thanks to the influence of the contour reefs
- Giant lateral gutters mitigate the bounce-back effect that occurs on the pool walls forming the wave
- It takes three minutes for the surf pool water to calm down and return to a completely static state
Today, the wave pool costs about $9,500/hour, plus an additional $288 booking fee. A high price for retail, but this is just the beginning. Have the stars all of a sudden aligned for surfings newest innovation? Or was it strategically positioned for global distribution? The 2020 Olympics will be held in Japan, and with surfing on the docket for the first time as an Olympic event, Kelly Slater’s Wave Pool technology is ripe for the masses.
Normally, surfers head to event locations weeks in advance to prepare for the upcoming tournament. Similarly, tournaments could last weeks at a time because of the sports unpredictable X factor – the waves. In surfing, scoring is subjective and with each wave, rides are incomparable – up until now.
Now, surfers can be scrutinized on a fair playing field, one in which every rider has the same course. Along with its technical predictability for unadjusted scoring, the artificial wave comes with a massive pool – one that’s ~700 meters long and 100 meters wide. At the recent WSL event, spectators came to what could be easily confused as a soccer stadium with big screen televisions publicizing every angle of the event.
Still, the International Olympic Committee, International Surfing Association and Tokyo 2020 maintain that surfing’s debut will take place in the ocean.
Despite being acquired by WSL Holdings in 2016 for an undisclosed price, kswaveco was an arduous project to undergo. It took $30M, ten years, and multiple iterations. Kelly brought the passion, and Adam Fincham, Associate Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California brought the brains. There were no feedback loops, UAT, or product market fit analyses. It’s now up to the consumers to decide whether or not this is something that will complement ocean surfing, or disrupt it. There will either be kswaveco country clubs, or just the infamous one.
I’ve been fiddling with the idea that tech enabled products will empower experiences for both enterprise and consumer. People will use tech enabled products to enhance their lives, rather than have tech be their lives.
Whether it be employees using AI to search and categorize unstructured data for insights regarding a customer inquiry, or something as simple as ordering a Sweetgreen salad, the world is moving towards tech enabled empowerment. The above examples illustrate how tech enables consumers to execute ordinarily mundane tasks, quickly and efficiently allowing them to spend time on high value activities.
It’s not all about speed when it comes to the future of consumer tech. There’s value in data-driven products. An already tested hypothesis, but some of the biggest winners of today have taken data to create a unique end product for users. Stitch Fix, Rockets of Awesome, and other retailers like MM.Lafleur have already incorporated data science into their core platform – something previously thought to be too farfetched when pitched to investors.
Between data and efficiency, experience can’t be compromised. Every transaction, purchase and service must be unique, drawing consumers back for repeat sales. Having a sleek and sexy design is a good start, but to truly reach the coveted Unicorn status, startups must create an experience-enabled [whatever] that draws a competitive moat in and of itself. Airbnb is a marketplace driven by experience. Spin classes were around long before SoulCycle, yet they created an addictively immersive experience.
In today’s digital age, marketplaces have been commoditized with D2C retailers, pop-up poké stops are on every street corner of NYC, and just about every app has built in recommendations claiming ‘AI’. Competitive marketplaces fuel innovation and the biggest winners of consumer tech will be those that have fully integrated and innovated upon today’s top business models.
The next generation of category defining consumer tech will come from Data + Efficiency + Experience = ?
Data to understand. Efficiency to execute. Experience to make it real.
Here’s what they might be: