Harjeev Kandhari, CEO
Recently I have been spending a lot of time in our Tech Centre in Madrid and been thinking about digital marketing. I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you.
I think that the most important part of any marketing, especially digital marketing campaign, is the ability to build and maintain customer loyalty. But in the age of digital marketing achieving that has become much harder. What does customer loyalty even mean in the digital world and how does one go about achieving it?
I think that the most important way to build loyalty is to focus on gratitude. From a psychological perspective this is the emotion in most humans that is the best indication of whether loyalty is present. How do you get to gratitude? This needs to come through reciprocity. You need to give things first to your customers for them build this sense of reciprocity. And this is not just free things but something that recognizes their value to you. So for example if you have 24950 air miles and to achieve the next tier you need 50 miles. The airline should just give it to you and not make you buy it. If they make you buy it then you will never be loyal. But if they gave it to you they make you feel valuable and you reciprocate through a sense of gratitude. Now once you achieve that sense of gratitude you need to ensure you get advocacy which is the final step in achieving loyalty. You need these grateful customers to go out there and advocate for your products. So how do you get the customers to advocate for you? The way to do this is to bring consumers into your ORBIT.
What is the ORBIT?
This is where the digital world is changing the way people transact. Old school marketers focused on the transaction and the BUY. We need to change this. We need to not focus only on the BUY but the entire relationship with the customer both before and after the BUY. Infact, especially with subscription businesses, the customer is not so interested in the BUY. The focal point for the customer is the entire experience. We have to focus on the entire customer journey and ensure that we keep the customer engaged throughout the journey. More importantly we need create a long term relationship with the customer and embed the transaction within the relationship. It is these relationships that drive the transactions and not the other way around.
Creating the long term relationship is also recognizing that the internet has changed the way marketing is done. In the past marketing was one way with the usual customer segmentation and targeting customers and sending them the message. Digital communication has changed that forever. Firstly through social media the audience now starts to talk back. Secondly they are also the co-creators of content (think of sites like YELP and Opentable reviews). So now the job of a brand is to empower and enable that connection and collaboration where people talk back and then are part of the process with you.
All these thoughts that I think of when I am sitting on these long flights are great but perhaps a bit theoretical – although I like the ORBIT one as it is very appropriate for when I am on the plane. So I think that for our ‘round, black and boring’ industry we need some practical applications for these thoughts. So what do we need to do with this information?
We need to build a sense of community through a shared purpose that has to be aligned with our brand DNA. We need to ensure that we have continuous engagement with this community and this is particularly important in the case of a subscription model where a lot of people only focus on the renewal. Finally we need to create a social currency that we can offer to our community to further bind it together.
So if you want to build a community the best way is to align it around a purpose. But in the digital world we have to ensure that it is the right kind of purpose; one that is built with our customers. We have to try and achieve this purpose together with our customers and use it to connect disparate groups of people together. In our case what aligns best with our DNA is the Zenises foundation. We need to build a community of like-minded people who see the value in a company that not only wants to change the world but also the way tyres are consumed. Secondly we are an automotive company and we need to engage a community around people who love their cars and want to engage more with others who share that passion. We have a lot of knowledge and passion about both subjects and could easily curate communities around those purposes.
We need to ensure that we are with them through the customer journey providing content, content and content on a regular basis that is outside the transaction but focused on the customer need. This is ensuring that the relevant content is provided both for the demographic as well as the time. So we need to provide specialized focused content for different demographics such as women, millennials, and Gen Z. Then we also need to provide content that is time relevant. This is ensuring that before the summer we provide relevant content for people who may be taking long drives. Or in the Christmas period we provide more relevant content to holiday makers or perhaps people going skiing. With regards to the content on the Foundation we need ways to provide people relevant content which may allow them to connect with the children directly. This could be interviews with the children or more details on the homes that we build. Also we need to provide them ways to get involved should they want to.
This currency is valuable to build engagement within the community and also provide a sense of gratitude. All companies today have big data on their clients. Using that big data to provide little data to customers costs little to the companies but could be of value to the consumer. For example a large electricity company started providing its customers with data on neighborhood consumption patterns in the customer bill. This helped many customers understand how much their bills varied from the average and then to take actions to rectify this. Whilst this cost the company nothing it built a sense of loyalty with the customers. We need to look at the big data we generate and see what we can offer the consumer throughout the relationship that will enhance his experience. The other great thing about social currency is that consumers should be able to freely share it. As such we need to provide the customer with things that he can easily share online with his friends and community. This allows him to feel more part of the community and also bring more of his network into our orbit.
All the theories here are fine but it really boils down to treat your customer with the same level of respect and dignity you want to be treated with and ensure that you are there with the customer for the long term for the good and the bad! At the end of the day relationships are relationships – online or offline!
With a loud Bavarian fanfare at the Frankfurt Motor Show this year, BMW pledged to build 25 – yes 25!!! – new electric models by 2025. Raising the bar amongst the traditional car manufacturers, BMW also plans to launch the third model in its electric ‘i’ series at Frankfurt. But it’s not just the Germans pushing ahead with electric transformation. Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover has announced that all its vehicles will be in some way electric by 2020 and Chinese-owned Volvo will launch five new electric models between 2019 and 2021. So why does this matter to us in the tyre industry – these cars will still require tyres – right? So why can’t we just carry on with our steady evolution, making black, round things?
Well first of all that means we will again remain oblivious to the rapid technological advances happening around us! With electric cars there is a whole different design process that we, at Zenises, are now working diligently with many manufacturers. There is much to consider. Due to the large battery capacity, electric cars will need to carry more weight and be more evenly balanced than conventional cars – they are typically 20-30% heavier. Tyres for electric cars will also need much better handling characteristics due to increased torque and acceleration power. And finally (for now), rolling resistance will become even more important. Due to limitations on battery life, extending fuel economy (even in small increments) will be really important.
To match the requirements of the electric car driver, unique tyres will be needed for specific electric car models. For example in our conversations with the folks at Tesla, they want it all! I’ve already mentioned that smaller electric cars mostly care about rolling resistance to extend their journey range, but Tesla wants that PLUS good handling and grip PLUS low noise. But the Tesla is heavy, so you can’t just take a tyre off the shelf and expect it to handle the same. You have to reconfigure it to be able to absorb all those forces. So Tesla is demanding unique tyre requirements in sizes like 265/50R19. And it’s not just Tesla – the BMW i3 rides on 155/70R19 (a dimension that sounds rather strange to more traditional tyre people). In addition, for European tyre labels, the very top rating of ‘A’ wet grip and ‘A’ rolling resistance will become pretty much standard for electric cars.
But there is still one key element missing for our discussion that could add rocket fuel to the electric car revolution – CHINA! The world’s fastest growing and potentially largest automotive market has woken up to the potential of electric cars. Rumours abound that China is considering a total ban on petrol and diesel vehicles in the near future. Impossible you say – even crazy! But China always dreams big. And it’s now not just dreams, but action that could catapult China to the forefront of determining the industry’s future. Not only could electric cars help solve the chronic pollution in some of its major cities, but a determined focus on electric will allow Chinese car companies to leap forward over the inertia that old technology can entrench. What better way to take on the current global leaders – not on the battle ground set by petrol engines but in the new revamped arena that electric cars could require. And if this happens then the massive Chinese tyre industry will also start focusing on the needs of electric car consumers, largely ignoring the legacy strategies of petrol that the traditional European and American automotive giants have to still support.
This is such an exciting chapter in our industry’s history. There’s still so much to play for, but for sure it will be those in the tyre industry who embrace the technological potential and possibilities that electric cars will bring who will reap the commercial benefits for the decades to come. Simply making and selling conventional radial tyres is no longer the only future path for the tyre business. To stay ahead of the pack, you have to be nimble and aware of opportunities that our changing world will bring. Like BMW’s head of R&D said “We have become a tech company. Where once we were employing mechanical engineers, it is now about the software”. Maybe tyre companies need to start becoming tech/software companies too!
“I just don’t get China!”, “As a foreigner, how do you get anything done in that country?”, “How can you trust the Chinese?!!?” Having worked with China for nearly two decades now I get many of these questions from friends and colleagues. They realise the need to do business with China and are having some trouble navigating the choppy waters. So here are some of my thoughts – in the hope I don’t offend any of my Chinese friends!
Conventional wisdom and cross-cultural management studies often emphasise the collectivist nature of Chinese society. However, I’ve always maintained that the Chinese have the most individualist of behaviours. Chinese society is collectivist in that individuals identify with an “in-group” consisting of family, clan, and friends. Within this, co-operation is the norm. Outside, zero-sum competition is common. As a result, self-organised (as opposed to hierarchically imposed) co-operation can be difficult to achieve. In addition, zero-sum competition means that your Chinese counterpart may not believe in so-called ‘win-win’ solutions. One can observe this, for instance, in the tendency to re-open negotiations just as everything seems settled, especially if one seemed too ready to agree with the negotiated terms; one’s Chinese counterpart may interpret this as an indication that he or she has not bargained hard enough.
It is certainly difficult to gain trust in China. The Chinese tend not to trust until there is enough evidence of trustworthiness. Unlike in the West, the creation of personal friendship is a prerequisite of doing business. Building friendship takes time, which is another reason to avoid rushing into things. There are numerous invitations to events; I was once the chief guest at the wedding of the chairman of a tyre factory’s godson. The poor kid must still be wondering who the big guy is in the turban in his wedding photos! One major element in building trust is the long dinners during which everything but business is discussed. In these, alcohol plays an important role. Fortunately for me, my religion does not allow me to drink. This has saved me many times in China but also some people have refused to do business with me because they could not ‘trust’ someone who doesn’t drink with them. Their loss!
Company decisions are typically reached in a top-down manner, with only the very top of the pyramid involved in decision-making. Mistrust puts limits on delegation, and supervisory control at each level is high. Mid-level managers typically have little power to make decisions of consequence, and their main role is to pass on orders from the top and ensure execution. Be aware in negotiations that the decision is ultimately made at the very top. If your counterpart is not part of that group, he is typically not authorised to make major decisions but must report back to the top for instructions. Also, make sure your representative matches the status of his or her counterpart. Important dimensions of status are formal position, age, and education.
The Chinese are an extremely proud people. I’ve never known a person in China in my many years of experience to ever be wrong! The Chinese that I’ve dealt with do believe that they are a superior people (much like the rest of us!). One needs to recognize those sentiments and then ensure one defers to them if you want to get things done in China. For example, when I’m in China, I always wear a pin on my lapel with a Chinese flag and it’s always noticed and appreciated. In fact, one senior government official even told me that “You are wearing my heart on your jacket!” That meeting certainly went very differently after that comment.
Conventional wisdom holds that China’s governmental structure is highly centralised, with all key decisions made in Beijing. In reality, Beijing directs little of what happens throughout the country, especially in far-flung regions. To be sure, if Beijing truly wants something to happen, it will. At the same time, Beijing recognises that decentralisation of power plays an important role in taking economic reforms forward. By running things in a slightly different way, the thousands of localities throughout China constitute a large population of local experiments, collecting information about what works. From these experiments, the central government can select suitable future policies. Expect conditions to vary by province. In addition, to the extent you need to negotiate with government, it’s crucial to involve local government. Even if you have agreement from Beijing, if the local government wants to thwart you, it will.
There are so many more aspects about doing business in China which I would have to write a whole book to cover. All the usual statements like “In China you always have to have the long term vision”, or “Change is the only constant” or “The Chinese never say no directly and will always use the indirect route”. But the one piece of advice I want to leave you with is the one I find the most important about doing business in China. Nothing happens in China if you aren’t there! If you want to get anything sorted, get your ass on a plane and just go there!
Geopolitical turmoil, cyber hacks, Brexit and Donald Trump—many recent disruptive events have taken our industry by surprise. What is for sure more now than ever is that change is coming and it is coming fast. As such our industry needs to have new leaders, at all levels of the food chain, that can replace old thinking with new ways to innovate and manage that change. The old ways are going! The old channels are going! The old managers have already gone!
So what do our new industry leaders need? What does the industry need from our leaders?
We need leaders that can anticipate and drive change. This does not mean simply extrapolating today’s pace of change into the future. It means boldly imagining new possibilities—and understanding they will come sooner than expected. Leaders will have to get equally comfortable with what can be known and with exploring what is unknown. Today our leaders see future events as a new version of past events, presuming the pace of change will move in a straight line. In reality, growth is exponential and new variables—unforeseen technologies, for example—always enter the fray. In most organizations, the future is primarily projected through spreadsheets reinforcing a perspective that the world is an extension of what we know today. The problem is that the future is anything but that! Our new leaders need to get comfortable asking open-ended questions about unspoken assumptions to see new possibilities. They need to be curious about the future and blend imaginative practices of strategic foresight and science fiction design. But most importantly they need to ensure that this mindset permeates through their organisations.
In addition to imagining a range of new futures, our new leaders must also act as disruptors, discovering new ideas through open dialogue with all stakeholders and then ensuring a constant iteration of those ideas. Most leaders today are still primarily focusing on getting existing products to be better, faster or cheaper. But our leaders need to focus on the new breed of customer and invest in designing and developing new products and services to satisfy the emerging customer’s needs. They need to use human-centered processes, such as observation and questioning, to collect insights; and they need to embrace a growth mindset to test and gather evidence on what they’ve learned. Great leaders in our industry will do this continually, iterating over and over to uncover opportunities obscured by the fog of uncertainty.
As technology innovation accelerates, leaders have to understand which technologies will directly impact our industry and which will affect adjacent industries. Our leaders need to figure out fast how they can digitize, demonetize and democratize our products. Once we figure out how to digitize our products we can become an information-based technology and move to an exponential growth curve. Something digitized can be replicated and transmitted for a near-zero marginal cost. Once we have successfully digitized our products then we need to figure out how to demonetize them and eventually democratize them. In terms of demonetization one needs only to look at digital photography as an example of an industry that has demonetized. The first 0.01 megapixel Kodak camera is now generating a 10 megapixel image. The result of which is the complete demonetization of film photography. As products and services demonetize they become available to billions of users across the planet and this is the democratization of the product. This democratization now allows us a market size of not just one or several countries but the entire three billion people connected to the internet now and the seven billion potentially connected by 2026.
Now how do you digitize a physical product such as a tyre? We are not music or film that can be easily converted to zeros and ones. Well we can start by digitizing as many of the processes with the tyre as possible. Uber did not digitize the car – but it did digitize the taxi industry. Perhaps we have leaders in our industry who can figure this out. I am working on it with our teams both in the industry and in our venture capital fund. Honestly we have not figured it out yet but I can tell you we are having a lot of fun trying!
One of my recent articles, ‘How do we prepare our children better for the future?’, inspired lots of comments and questions, which I’d like to thank each and every one of you for. The main question that I was asked was how can we utilise the latest technologies in order to make the education process a personalised twenty-first century experience? How can we use robotics and AI to engage our children and inspire a sense of curiosity, passion and perseverance, those essential components of learning that are often somehow lost through the artisanal approach to the education process?
Having done some research on the subject and through conversations that I’ve had with some of the leading technological minds over in Silicon Valley, it’s clear that AI, virtual reality and 3D printing have a crucial role to play in the future of education. Tablets and laptops now sit on every student’s desk and have become as ubiquitous a part of the education process as the humble pen and paper. But if students also had 3D printers sat alongside their tablets and laptops, this would allow them to immerse themselves in subjects such as tech, science and engineering in a way that simply hasn’t been possible before. Just imagine the possibilities! Instead of simply reading or learning through a visual presentation, kids will be able to literally print out an object and study it in its physical form, thus making education a truly engaging and immersive experience.
Research shows that human beings learn best through action and simulation. The current education system still relies on visual and audio learning, so when we consider that we only remember 20% of what we hear and 30% of what we see, it’s of little wonder that many students are left feeling disengaged and under-stimulated in the classroom. But we remember up to 90% of what we do or simulate, which is why virtual reality is one of the most effective technologies for engaging our kids in the learning process.
Sure, hearing about the very depths of the Pacific Ocean and imagining what it might be like is interesting but imagine if, through virtual reality, teachers could simulate actually being there! So rather than learning about the respiratory system through words and images, students could take a virtual tour around the human body and experience the world as if they were a blood itself on its journey to becoming oxygenated. Combine virtual reality with augmented reality and suddenly the student becomes an active participator in the learning process, rather than a passive observer.
The other great thing about machine learning is that it can be adapted and personalised to appeal directly to each individual student, no matter what his or her learning style or educational background. AI teachers for example, unlike their human counterparts, will be able to use global networks and sensors to share and access unlimited information and intellectual resources such as interactive video content at lightning-fast speeds. They will be able to monitor our kids for signs of frustration or boredom and will adapt the model accordingly to ensure that every child gets a personalised, immersive learning experience that takes them far beyond the confines of textbooks and stuffy classrooms. So in a very real sense, such technologies could serve as a much-needed equaliser, creating a system where every child has equal access to education and therefore equal chance of unlocking their full potential.
However, from what I see happening across Europe and the Middle East, whilst such technologies are undoubtedly crucial to updating the education model for the twenty-first century, what seems to be missing both in education and in business is a tolerance for failure. So what we really need is a mind-set shift and we only need to look to Silicon Valley for inspiration. Because here, failure isn’t only expected but welcomed and embraced because they recognise it as being a critical aspect of the learning process. In fact, many investors won’t fund your business unless it’s experienced some kind of failure. This is a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult lesson to teach. But in some ways, helping our kids develop a tolerance for failure is even more important than ensuring that they have access to all the latest technologies.
We only have to look at the Millennial generation to see that the current approach to education is in desperate need of updating. Because it seems that rather than raising a generation who are adaptable and resilient, we have coddled them to the point that many now have such a strong fear of making mistakes and of being perceived to ‘fail’ that they have been crippled into complete inactivity.
The fact is that our kids need to be able to deal with criticism. So the best way to prepare our children for the inevitable changes to come is by teaching them that learning is by its very nature a process of trial and error and that being able to recognise the value of failing is a crucial ability, in life as well as in education. Because this is the only way that they will learn, grow and ultimately survive in what is becoming an increasingly competitive world.
So I have to start with a big ‘thank you’ to everyone for your comments and questions on my article, ‘Who Will Disrupt the Tyre Industry?’. Most of the questions and comments were focused around drone technology and flying cars. Since I was asked by many of you to write further on this topic I thought I would oblige and write an article on some of the developments in this emerging technology. Now, to the main question that you all asked me – will drones and flying cars disrupt the tyre industry out of existence?
Well simply put – I don’t think so! Although I think that this emerging technology will undoubtedly bring massive incremental changes, these changes will be innovative rather than disruptive. And to understand why it won’t be the disruptive force that many people imagine, we first need to look at the technology itself.
If you happened to have read some of the recent headlines in the world’s media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re all going to be travelling about in flying cars and that the skies are going to be full of passenger drones by this time next year! In the US, we read that Uber have just hired an engineer from NASA to lead their flying car project, while in the Middle East, The Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai in collaboration with the Chinese company Ehang, are due to launch an autonomous passenger drone in Dubai this coming summer. And let’s not forget Airbus who aim to have their flying car prototype ready by the end of the year. So there is clearly a lot of innovation happening within our industry and companies looking to collaborate with one another, but such stories can be misleading in the sense that they can make it appear as though this emerging technology is much further along in development than it actually is.
To get a more realistic sense of both the strengths and limitations of this technology, we need look no further than the recent collaboration between Matternet and Mercedes-Benz, who have utilised both drone and van technology create the Vision Van. So “M and M” have equipped self-driving vans with drone delivery systems, so the van does most of the journey and the drone acts as a ‘last-mile solution’. Whilst this is rather innovative it also serves to highlight the biggest problem currently facing the drone industry. Because although drones are brilliant for getting to inaccessible areas, they simply don’t have the power capacity to travel across long distances without running out of charge and dropping right out of the sky, which is a pretty major drawback! So “M and M” have created an elegant workaround to a problem but not really disrupted anything. When they solve the battery problem, that’s when things will get interesting!
The other important factor to consider is regulation. Implementing safety regulations and building flying car and passenger drone transportation routes in the sky isn’t one of those things that simply happens overnight. The logistics of creating a system that is safe and efficient enough to convince people to abandon their traditional cars in favour of a flying equivalent is complex to say the very least. In fact Elon Musk is worried about people not maintaining their flying cars well and hub caps falling out of the sky and killing people. So that futuristic ‘Jetson’s-like’ world of drones and flying cars that many of us have been envisioning is unlikely to become a reality for a while now, by which time we may have discovered an even better way to travel.
How can I be certain of this? I know that we’re not even close to seeing drones and flying cars become the everyday norm because of what I see happening in the tech startups that we invest in through our venture capital fund, Walpole Capital. Whilst I see great innovation happening, we are nowhere near close to solving the battery problem or implementing the regulations and safety measures that are necessary to make this technology a dominant commercial force within our industry. In fact, even the engineers from NASA are yet to find a solution to these problems! Although the way things are today with the NASA bureaucracy it will be that 14 year old I mentioned in my last article that will beat them to it!
So tyres aren’t going anywhere soon! But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep abreast of all the developments in flying car and drone technology so that we know who to partner and collaborate with. Because as we’ve seen from the partnership between “M and M” progressive incremental changes within our industry are inevitable and happening as we speak. And by collaborating with other companies, we can be involved in defining those changes rather than risk being left behind by them, and ultimately in the long-term our industry can only gain and be bolstered by this. We need to stop this fear in our industry of change and see new technology as the opportunity for progression and innovation that it is. And who knows the more we innovate perhaps the less we are likely to get disrupted!
At the Zenises Foundation we believe that education is the future for children especially if they have to break the cycle of poverty. With the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) and Robotics I was concerned whether the education that the Foundation provides to children will really prepare them for the future. In my recent trip to Silicon Valley I met with many tech insiders and posed them this question – how do we educate our children for a world where by 2035 years 40% of the jobs that will exist are not even conceived yet? Fewer workers will be needed for the jobs we have now, so children must be prepared for the jobs we cannot imagine. My basic conclusion after a week of discussions and interviews was simple. In the future there will be two types of jobs: people who tell computers what to do, and people who are told what to do by computers. So now how do I ensure that our children are the in the former half?!?
If we want our children to ‘rule the machines’ we really need to focus what makes our children individuals. We need to move on from a 19th-century, artisanal model of education — where knowledge resides with each classroom teacher — to a 21st-century personalised experience that technology can replicate on a global scale. The new model should focus on skills, not knowledge you can Google, and abilities that will be needed, whatever the workplace. So what are these abilities?
I believe that the most important things we need our children to focus on are around curiosity, passion and persistence. Rote learning needs to be done with — computers can now do this. Children need to have the interpersonal skills to work in groups, to communicate well, be creative, arrive at an answer in many different ways.
Curiosity is something innate in our children, yet something lost by most adults during the course of their life. Perhaps because we “educate” the curiosity out of our children making them “learn” things they don’t need. In a world of Google, robotics and AI, raising a child that is constantly asking questions and running “A/B Tests” can be extremely valuable. In an age of machine learning, massive data and the Internet of Things, it will be the quality of their questions that will be most important.
One of the most valuable resources our children have is an imaginative and passionate human mind. We need to ensure that we don’t “socialise” that out of them as they grow up. Children are the some of the most imaginative people on the planet. We need to help them find a passion or purpose that is uniquely theirs. Once they do that then they can imagine the world they want to live in. Their passionate mind will then help them create that world. I imagine a relatively near-term future in which robotics and AI will allow any of us, from ages 8 to 108, to easily and quickly find answers, create products or accomplish tasks, all simply by being passionate about what we imagine.
Teaching our children not to give up and to keep trying new ideas for something that they are truly passionate about achieving is extremely critical. Acceptance of failure as an integral part of this process is also key for us to inculcate in our children. I do believe that persistence is one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success. I always joke with my son about how many nights it took for Zenises to become the “overnight” success that people claim it is.
Once our children have the curiosity to ask the right questions, the passion and imagination to be able to drive them and the persistence to keep going there will be nothing that will stop them from ‘ruling the machines’. Einstein once said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” And look what he achieved – and that was without the help of AI and Robotics. God Bless our Children – Our Future!
People always confuse disruption with innovation. Innovation is evolution, whereas disruption is revolution. Innovation makes the old ways better, whereas disruption makes the old ways obsolete! But most importantly in business, innovation allows you a 10% growth while disruption allows you a 10X growth.
We’ve already seen two technological revolutions in our lifetime that have caused major disruption – the internet and the smartphone. And thanks to the digital revolution, disruption is now happening more frequently and at a faster pace than ever before. So we’re going to experience more disruption than previous generations ever did – disruption that will revolutionise business models and industries in ways that we can’t yet imagine. So who will disrupt the automotive/tyre industry?
In our industry, the last major disruption was the introduction of the motor car in the early 1900s. How many horse and carts do we see on the streets today? Clearly, the car disrupted the horse and cart out of commercial existence. So now our old school, white, male-dominated industry is ripe for disruption and trust me (from the startups that I see as a venture capitalist), it is coming sooner than we think! And moreover, I can tell you that it will not happen as a result of the legacy manufacturers making better tyres, improving distribution systems or selling tyres on the internet. Like in every other industry, disruption in our industry will come from the outside.
Look at the mobile phone industry – Nokia were undoubtedly one of the most innovative companies and arguably the industry leaders in this technology, yet in the space of just a few years, Nokia’s reign was well and truly ended. And this happened because of one reason – disruption, which Nokia just didn’t see coming. Because while Nokia had their eyes on their competitors, Apple came and ate their lunch! Let’s look at the medical industry for another example – CRISPR/CAS9 – (the genome editing tool that will enable scientists to weaponise human cells against cancer) could potentially be a cure for cancer and would ultimately disrupt the medical field. Where did this come from? You guessed it – from outside the medical field. Every industry has such examples!
So who will disrupt our industry? Some industry observers say that Zenises (along with Alzura) is well on its way to disrupting the industry, being the first company in the world to offer tyres as a service across the internet. To those people I argue that what Zenises has done is definitely innovative but not disruptive. To understand disruption in our industry, we really need to understand not just what we do but why we do it. What we do is sell tyres and if we see our industry from that narrow perspective then Zenises is disrupting it. But if we understand the reason why we do what we do, which is to provide mobility, then we can see that we are merely a small fragment of a much larger industry. From this position, we can see that there are many more companies and individuals that have the potential to disrupt our industry. So disruption in the industry could come from the company making flying cars – if that ‘takes off’ and we end up living in a world like ‘The Jetsons’, tyres would become obsolete. Or disruption could happen as a result of tech companies taking virtual reality technology to a level that it negates the need for travel. Perhaps the companies creating personalised drone transport could disrupt the industry, or maybe it will be a company that works with a combination of these technologies or different technologies altogether. Such companies may sound futuristic but they already exist, and two of them have even received investments from our venture capital fund.
My idea here is simply to get my colleagues to start ‘thinking outside the box’ and seeing beyond our industry, as this would perhaps enable them to come up with their own ideas for disrupting it. So what will the Apple or CRISPR for the tyre industry be and how will it work? I don’t know, but you can count on it that there’s a 14 year old kid somewhere outside the industry figuring it out (hopefully one whose company I have already invested in)!
The digital revolution has affected the auto industry in many ways, but perhaps one of the most exciting and potentially cataclysmic changes currently taking place is the development of automated vehicle technology. Up until the late 1970s, automated cars, or ‘robo-cars’ as they are otherwise known, only existed within the realms of science fiction. Fast forward to today and some serious advances have been made in perfecting the technology. In fact, during a recent visit to Silicon Valley I was lucky enough to see a Google autonomous car driving right beside me, so it won’t be long before they become a familiar sight on the roads of the world’s major cities.
Volvo for example, have stated that they aim to have 100 automated cars on the roads of Gothenburg by as early as next year, while Tesla have already released their auto-pilot software and plan to offer their customers the full self-driving experience by 2018. And let’s not forget Ford, who have recently tripled their investment in semi-automated systems in order to compete with technology behemoths such as Google ( who just spun out its self driving unit into a separate company called Waymo ) and Apple (who recently confirmed that they are working on an electric iCar to rival Tesla). However, there’s a good argument to suggest that the current leaders in the car industry are Daimler, who have been implementing a similar autopilot technology to that of Tesla in high traffic situations for quite some time. But fundamentally the issue boils down to are the car companies going to build a better car or are the computer companies going to build a better computer and put it on wheels. From what I have seen in the Valley my view is that that the computer companies will win this battle!
Companies such as Uber are also getting involved, having recently completed their first successful 120-mile delivery using a self-driving truck – it was 50,000 cans of Beer just in case you are wondering what they delivered! Industry experts such as Brad Templeton argue that as automated vehicles become more common, car sharing will increasingly start to become the norm. So although Uber may be behind in terms of the technology when you compare them to companies such as Google, they are undoubtedly the innovators when it comes to capitalising on the concept of car sharing. They have already started picking up passengers in Pittsburgh with their self-driving cars – although there is a driver sitting in the car so that the customers feel more comfortable!
So it’s clear that robo-cars are no longer confined to the realms of science fiction, they are very much a tangible reality. Astro Teller, director of ‘X’ (formally ‘Google X’) recently posed the following question “Is there a scenario in the future that doesn’t involve self-driving cars? No. So let’s just do it”, and I’m inclined to agree with him. So, if car/tyre companies wish to survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, then such technology needs to be embraced and utilised because progression in this area isn’t going to stop to allow those who aren’t already doing so to ‘catch up’.
There are also many benefits to using automated vehicles. Firstly, energy consumption and CO2 emissions will be reduced dramatically, which would have a significant impact on the environment and would perhaps even contribute towards slowing down climate change. Robo-cars would also provide a safer and more efficient driving experience because unlike human drivers, self-driving systems aren’t affected by distractions or ill health, and most significantly of all, robots don’t drink alcohol, which is one of the leading causes of road traffic accidents. In fact, statistics suggest that on average around 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured each year in drink drive collisions in the UK alone, and such accidents could be all but eradicated when robo-cars start to outnumber human drivers.
This technology is equally positive for the tyre industry because put simply, automated cars will increase mobility. Whilst there will be less cars in parking lots there will be more cars around as demand for mobility will increase. As such demand for tyres will increase but it does beg the question who will be the new customer for the tyres? Just imagine a world where driving on demand was accessible to everyone, where you could use your phone to order any car of your choice that perfectly suited your needs in that moment, all in a matter of mere seconds. This is a concept that appeals directly to the younger generations whose attitude towards ownership is completely different to that of their parents’. They don’t think about what car might suit their needs tomorrow, they only think what car will suit their needs today.
Of course, there are some drawbacks; In 2015, hackers worked out how to cut the transmission of a Jeep being driven at speed miles away — sparking a recall of 1.4 million cars. Autonomous vehicles will need a high level of connectivity in order to detect each other: vehicle-to-vehicle communication which — if hacked by terrorists — could cause carnage. Cyber experts routinely talk of “ransomware” attacks in which driverless cars will be hijacked, with a ransom demanded to avert disaster. But I for one think that the pros far outweigh the cons, and what’s truly exciting is that we aren’t even close to unlocking this technology’s full potential.
Social media is a medium that is used by a vast number of people each and every day. Not only does it provide a global platform from which we can highlight important political issues and social concerns, but it also allows us to work and connect with people on the other side of the world in a matter of moments. However, whilst the considerable technological advancements that have been made over recent years have undoubtedly brought many benefits, there are those who think that it has also had other less desirable effects. Some argue that rather than bringing people together, it is actually driving communities and families further apart, as the younger generation especially appear to become increasingly consumed in their digital lives.
Although such concerns are understandable, I think that they are also somewhat short-sighted. Because social media, if embraced and used responsibly, is one of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal for connecting with our children, uniting the communities in which we live and most importantly increasing our level of social impact.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and messenger apps such as WhatsApp have allowed us to considerably increase our social impact. They enable my wife and I to connect with the children that we ‘adopt and educate’ through the Zenises Foundation in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago. Through social media, we are able to communicate directly with these children at any time and from any place in the world. It gives us an invaluable insight into how they think, feel and relate to the world around them. And it is this insight that enables us to support and guide them more effectively on a real time basis.
This increased level of global connectivity enables them to develop their skills and confidence because they know that they can reach out to us at any time and that we will respond. Through the simple act of following my wife and I on social media, these children now feel as much a part of our lives as we do theirs. These are children who could not even speak English a few years ago, and yet through the power of social media, they are now able to ‘friend’ us and ‘poke’ us on Facebook! So it’s clear that this innate desire to connect has only served to fuel their education further.
More importantly, it also allows these children to communicate amongst themselves and build their own communities and support networks. Recently when we were in India meeting with the children, we found that the older children had taken the initiative to set up a Facebook group to interact and keep each other abreast of developments in their schools and personal lives. Even more pertinently, they also used this network to inform each other of the various job opportunities and training available. We couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly proud to see this network effect of social media that the children themselves had come up with in order to provide support to one other.
Another way in which social media benefits communities is that it enables businesses to spread the message about the philanthropic work that they’re doing. In doing this, companies can inspire others to increase their own efforts, and thus the actions of one business creates a stronger incentive for all businesses to adopt more socially responsible business practices. And just as importantly, businesses can harness the power of social networking to unite with other like-minded companies and organisations, which allows them to increase their social impact even further.
I recently had some first-hand experience of this when I happened to see a post on Facebook and discovered that an acquaintance of mine was working in India helping to provide education to disadvantaged children, in an initiative that seemed to share similar objectives to the Zenises Foundation. What I saw was that they were using innovative applications of technology to further reduce the cost of education in rural India. Upon learning of this fact, I decided to use this as an opportunity to connect with them through social media, and together, we helped to implement some of their educational programmes and introduce new and innovative technology into the existing curriculum. So, if a small company like Zenises can utilise social media to inspire others and affect positive societal change through initiatives such as Z Aspire and T OutReach, then why aren’t more companies doing the same?
A recent article in the New York Times described social media as being a “public space of seemingly limitless potential in which we can find common ground with total strangers and our closest friends, making progress towards solutions to our world’s crises”, and I am inclined to agree. I see the prevalence of social media as being representative of the absolute hunger that people have to connect with each other. Therefore, by choosing to embrace this most revolutionary of technologies, we are choosing to connect with other businesses, our children, our communities and the world at large on a purposeful and meaningful level. And in becoming more connected with those around us, we can achieve greater social impact on an individual, local and global scale.