Today at Aol West Headquarters, a number of entrepreneurs, VCs, and executives gathered to discuss the state of the mobile industry and mobile technology. After a series of individual panels, the day concluded with the crowd of panelists gathering together for a lively discussion about the future of mobile, current mobile trends gaining legs, as well as what’s missing. Chi-Hua Chien, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, stepped in to give an example of what’s missing in the industry by sharing three particular business models that he’d like to see make their way into the space.
In a prior panel, Chien, Skype investor Howard Hartenbaum, and Tango founder Eric Setton, spoke about how closing the “redemption loop” is becoming one of the most important goals in the daily deals space, specifically on mobile. (Something TC’s Erick Schonfeld talked about in a post earlier this week.) Chien pointed out that one of the big goals is to forge a future where a customer can walk into a store, and the merchant will immediately know who they are and what they want — and that someday soon Twitter and Foursquare will be acting in a way akin to a CRM platform for businesses to help make that happen.
But, as to the three companies that Chien wants to see, and invest in, for starters, he envisions a killer mobile company offering a completely automated personal assistant — something he said really wasn’t possible to do well “before mobile”. He cited the example of one having dinner reservations with a friend who lives, say, 30 minutes away. The user’s mobile device, thanks to location awareness, knows exactly where they are and how far away they are from the restaurant. What’s more, thanks to the fact they made their reservation on OpenTable, the automated assistant will know exactly what time they planned to meet.
But, based on the fact that you’re 30 minutes away from where you’re having dinner, and tapping into a traffic app, they know that there’s congestion on the way. It then might send out an alert to the person you’re having dinner with, or can, in an automated way, message both people to confirm that they’d like to push the reservation back by 30 minutes, make that change, and close that loop with no effort.
Part of what’s making that possible now, he says, is the very existence of mobile, but it’s also thanks to the maturity of the platforms that are now being accessed by maturing APIs. The automated personal assistant addresses a need set that couldn’t be solved in an asychronous environment on a desktop.
(For those who immediately thought of Siri’s Personal Assistant when reading this, check out the video below.)
Secondly, education is a trillion dollar market “that’s completely screwed up”, because it involves millions of children going to sit in a classroom for 7 hours, and it combines three different businesses for the state: the real estate business, the union labor management business, and certification business.
When, in reality, education should be delivered in a realtime basis to students who are learning at their own pace, who don’t have to sit in a room full of 30 people in an antiquated environment — a realtime, mobile solution that’s learning based as opposed to curriculum based. This second idea is a bit more nebulous, but Chien is hitting on an important theme here: How badly American education is in need of disruption and innovation, especially as that would relate to mobile.
The third model Chien alluded to was health and fitness. “We all wish that we could lose ten pounds”, he said, and now there’s a device in your pocket that can seamlessly manage its owner (personal assistant theme again), encourage the user to exercise, eat healthier, whatever the case may be. It can truly manage the pace at which you are paying attention to your health, your exercise regimen, and helping you to lead a healthier lifestyle.
There’s a huge need here, Chien said, something that never could have been tackled in a PC environment, simply because the overhead of checking a website every day (as opposed to a mobile device that’s portable and always with you) is just unsustainable. It knows what you’re eating, what the caloric intake of that food might be, can advise you against consuming that third ice cream cone, and can tell your heart rate after a 5 mile run. When one combines that with display information designs and notifications optimized for a mobile setting — well, it’s enough to make an entrepreneur water at the mouth.
Afterwards, Schonfeld asked Chien if these were actually three stealth startups that Kleiner Perkins had recently invested in, to which Chien laughed and said, no, but if there are companies out there making these products, Kleiner may very well be interested.
“And those aren’t just dinky features … those are companies”, Chien said. “Those are companies attacking trillion dollar markets.”
I also kept hearing a theme of automation in what Chien talked about, and clearly, at least in his mind, (though I think it’s in the minds of many others as well), that automated processes, whether they be customer service, healthy living, or retail processes, are going to be big not just because we’re lazy, but because they help us focus on doing the things we love.