At an investor panel, disagreement underscores broader uncertainty

During an investor panel at the Bloomberg Technology conference in San Francisco today, one thing was fairly apparent: the panelists, which included partner Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital; Aspect Ventures cofounder Jennifer Fonstad; and Samsung Electronics President and Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn, didn’t agree on much, somewhat underscoring wider uncertainty right now about the next big opportunities for investors, startups, and big companies alike.

When it comes to what the three see as the next giant opportunity, for example, Botha suggested gene editing. Sohn suggested it was sensors, which are poised to have “huge implications about the way we live.” Meanwhile, Fonstad suggested that she’s most passionate right now about security, given that companies have lost control over the devices “hanging off their networks,” and that IoT presents a host of other new challenges and opportunities, including to keep hackers from breaking into home networks.

Asked what’s currently “overhyped” by moderator Emily Chang, Fonstad suggested that Aspect is less interested in e-commerce companies, which do well at the beginning of a boom, and more in companies that do better toward the end of a long economic cycle, including those that have “positive unit economics,” or produce goods or services that “people are willing to pay for” and are a “must have.”

Botha meanwhile offered up security as overhyped, saying the “opportunities are tremendous, but a bit Malthusian,” in that there are now “too many niche products that don’t deserve to be standalone companies.” (Fonstad later joked that Botha was welcome to send her his security deals.)

As for where to expect the most innovation going forward, again, there was little consensus. While Samsung is investing heavily in virtual reality, Botha noted that its promise has gotten ahead itself in many ways and that it will likely take until 2018 for the tech and demand to fit together in a meaningful way.

In fact, Botha was frank about not knowing what the next big platform will be. He posited that there will likely be another large social network that succeeds Snapchat, saying, “I think we’ve all been surprised by Snapchat’s rise . . . Part of why it took off is I think adults didn’t understand it, and it provided a safe place for young people to communicate. And I think the same will happen again.”

He added later in the conversation that this current period reminds him of the “fog that hung over Silicon Valley in 2003, when everyone talked about the dot-com crash and kept asking, What’s next? What’s next?”

We should note that there was a point on which Fonstad, Sohn, and Botha all agreed, and that was the opportunity created by connected devices, from cars to refrigerators, almost all of which will be connectivity enabled soon. Indeed, Sohn said that “every one” of Samsung’s appliances will be a connected device going forward, suggesting there are plenty of service opportunities alone that the trend will create. (Think of having more of your devices repaired remotely.)

Botha meanwhile noted that voice — as with Alexa — could open up a “very interesting” channel. That is, assuming startups can find a way to compete with — or else complement — Amazon and Google, both of which look very interested in dominating that channel themselves.