New technological waves have often been great starting places for companies to burst onto the scene and make a significant impact, but equally so, these changes in the way things are done also allow for already established players to reinvigorate themselves.
Microsoft, as an example, started in an Albuquerque garage with Bill Gates looking to drive personal computing into a new age. Gates and his software company reached the pinnacle in 2000 with a market cap of over $600 billion, but what goes up inevitably comes down.
Having cornered the market at the time, the new technology wave to emerge was mobile which allowed Apple – a Microsoft competitor of the early days, a chance to re-enter the space and take over the baton of dominance.
And so the cycles continue, Google, also a startup, has overtaken the internet market, Amazon leads the way with E-Commerce, Facebook was the original social media doyen, but today we sit on the precipice of what is being called the fourth industrial revolution which will be focused around Blockchain, AI, IoT, and Big Data.
Already, companies are trying to position themselves to be leaders in this space; none more so than IBM, which has produced many enterprise blockchain solutions which have been snapped up. However, others are looking to be ready to jump on whatever the next big thing is.
One of these companies is the Spanish multinational telecommunications company Telefónica. Their push to keep an eye on the next “it” has seen them create Wayra, a startup accelerator.N
Telefónica’s startup accelerator, Wayra, with offices set up in London, is overseen by Gary Stewart, the Managing Director of Wayra UK, who admitted to The Daily Chain that there was a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) going on after they were stung by the global messaging giant, Whatsapp.
“Wayra was founded by Telefónica’s current CEO [José María Álvarez-Pallete López], and the idea was that it was clear that companies, like Whatsapp, which Telefónica had not taken very seriously, saw the company losing millions of dollars to a business that they didn’t even know existed! The same thing with Skype, entire business lines being wiped out by startups using technology in a way large corporates had not seen,” Stewart told The Daily Chain.
“The idea was, you could buy the companies later on, but then that was going to be really expensive. How many people have $22 billion to buy Whatsapp?” Stewart mused. “Or you can work with them at a lot earlier stage.”
Stewart admits that their tactic is now to have these startups working in their accelerator in order to not only drive innovation in a number of different sectors but to also allow Telefónica to keep a finger on the pulse of what the next big thing will be, and perhaps even help create the next Microsoft, Amazon, Google.
“Telefónica, but not just us, know the general idea is that people still don’t know what “It” is going to be – whatever it is. But that we need to be better positioned than in the past,” added the accelerator’s managing director.
Blockchain certainly seems to be the buzzword around the enterprise space at the moment. Its potential is widely known and acknowledged, but its application has not yet been seen in a way that can be called a benchmark for future development.
Stewart adds that Telefónica is looking at more than just Blockchain, however, but he sees the emerging technology as still early on in its development and that there needs to be work put in before its value is truly appreciated.
“In differentiating between AI and the Blockchain, AI seems to be more than a technology, it seems to be very specific verticals and applications already – healthcare being one that the UK government is seen as important,” explained Stewart.
“I think Blockchain is still early in its developmental path, but what Telefónica wants to understand is… It is not likely that we are going to be the ones to come up with whatever “It” is, but let’s make sure that we are paying attention to what the startups are saying it could be.”
“A lot of times what happens is the startups will come, and we will say to them: ‘How can this be relevant to Telephonica’? Part of it is screening, but also part of it is to get ideas.”
“For us right now, especially in startups, we don’t know what “It” is and we know we are not likely to be the ones who create “It”, but we want to be close to people who might be creating “It” – especially if they can tell how “It” can be relevant to us!”A
Telefónica may even already be a little late to the party as there are certainly other billion-dollar enterprises that have been running with the blockchain baton for some time now. Some other technology companies have taken one path – private Blockchain and enterprise solutions being an option – while others are looking towards startups with big investments; such as Google and Chainlink.
It now appears as if the arms race is potentially between those backing the innovation of the startups to find that killer app for Blockchain, and those who have forged ahead with enterprise solutions at this early stage. Who will come out victorious is impossible to call, but that is part of the development of this dynamic and disruptive technology. I