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Vintage Future VIII

42 years ago this past Friday, Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first ever cell phone call to Joel Engel of Bell Labs. Cooper was calling Engel to troll him about the fact that Motorola invented the thing first, although it was another 10 years before the company released the DynaTAC 8000X. So yeah…even the very first guy talking loudly on his cell was kind of a jerk about it.

That decade between trash talk and commercial introduction brought to mind our Vintage Future series in which we take a tongue-in-cheek look back at the failed predictions of past generations of investors and futurists, and the sometimes tortuous routes to success of unlikely ideas.

In our line of work it’s good to guard against the hubris inherent in projecting conventional wisdom too far out into the future, and to remind ourselves that today’s trend can be tomorrow’s punchline – and vice versa.

Back in 2010 in “Entrepreneurial silver lining in today’s economic clouds” we mentioned that the patents for the Television, Jukebox, and Nylon were all granted during The Great Depression, and although we can’t confirm any patent information on the chocolate chip cookie, it too was invented at the same time (1930 to be precise).  In this, our VIIIth installment of Vintage Future, we share some of the less successful ideas from the Great Depression.

 

Vintage Future VII

Our Vintage Future series takes a tongue-in-cheek look back at the failed predictions of past generations of investors and futurists, and the sometimes tortuous routes to success of unlikely ideas.

In our line of work it’s good to guard against the hubris inherent in projecting conventional wisdom too far out into the future, and to remind ourselves that today’s trend can be tomorrow’s punchline – and vice versa.

Our VIIth installment takes a look at “the greatest thing” ever invented and a simple innovation that dramatically altered how we see the world.

Even sliced bread took 18 years to succeed.  Otto Frederick Rohwedder, a jeweler from Missouri, built his prototype “Machine for slicing an entire loaf of bread at a single location” in 1912 but saw it destroyed in a fire.  15 years later he filed his patent, but the end product languished due to its untidy appearance and concerns about freshness.  One year later a St. Louis baker named Gustav Papendick put it in cardboard trays and wrapped it in wax paper, yet even then it didn’t take off until it helped a little company called Wonder Bread go national in 1930.

Grok this:  Betty White is older than sliced bread!

Grok this:  Betty White is older than sliced bread!

Except for a brief ban during WWII (the steel used to build the slicers had more pressing uses), sliced bread grew quickly and became a platform on which others could dream and build – in this case new types of spreads and jams.

Sometimes a simple idea – like digging ditches – can change the world.  Before most cables ran underground, all electrical, telephone and telegraph wires were suspended from high poles, creating strange and crowded streetscapes.

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A phone tower with 5000 lines in Stockholm, Sweden in use 1887-1913

Vintage Future VI

Here is the long-overdue “VIth” installment of our Vintage Future series, in which we take a tongue-in-cheek look back at the predictions of past generations of investors and futurists.

In our line of work it’s good to guard against the hubris inherent in projecting conventional wisdom too far out into the future, and to remind ourselves that today’s trend can be tomorrow’s punchline.

Courtesy of “The Forgotten Firsts: 10 Vintage Versions of Modern Technology.

Predicting technology trends is not for the weak at heart – and that’s before one tries to protect the IP and find a way to profit from it.

These are among the reasons we affectionately call the really early stage of investing adventure capital, and consider ourselves a “growth accelerator” for established, rapidly growing businesses with strong management teams. We prefer to focus our efforts on assessing competitive and execution risk rather than product or business model risk, and we want to see tangible evidence of the unique value offered by a company’s product or service.

 

N.B. – previously featured in Vintage Future:

 

 

Vintage Future V – special ’80s edition

This is the ‘Vth’ installment in our Vintage Future series (see I, II, III and IV) in which we take a tongue-in-cheek look at predictions from the past to remind ourselves that today’s trend can be tomorrow’s punchline.

This vintage is more recent – the 1980’s – which makes it a little more real, and painful, and strangely entertaining.

Predicting technology trends is not for the weak at heart – and that’s before one tries to protect the IP and find a way to profit from it.  These are among the reasons we affectionately call the really early stage of investing adventure capital, and consider ourselves a “growth accelerator” for established, rapidly growing businesses with strong management teams.  We prefer to focus our efforts on assessing competitive and execution risk rather than product or business model risk, and we want to see tangible evidence of the unique value offered by a company’s product or service.

Vintage Future IV

Here is the latest installment in our Vintage Future series in which we take a tongue-in-cheek look at predictions from the past to remind ourselves that today’s trend can be tomorrow’s punchline.

This time, crazy patents from LIFE:  eyewear for chickens, animatronic rickshaws, moneyballs, dog power, and more.  Think: someone went through the effort and expense to protect this IP.

What has been will be again,” reads the Book of Ecclesiastes. “What has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Nothing new under the sun. Powerful words. But with all due respect to the ancients, they clearly never spent any time pondering the peculiar, mysterious world of patents, and marveling at the wonders revealed therein.

Vintage Future III: Far out, man.

From time to time we’ve written of the difficulties and risks associated with very early stage investing, sometimes with a tongue-in-cheek look back at the predictions of past generations of investors and futurists.  A “IIIrd” installment like this may mark the beginning of a tradition – but in our line of work it’s good to guard against the hubris inherent in projecting conventional wisdom too far out into the future.

This reminder is courtesy of William Shatner (in a snappy brown suit), who tells us that the telephone is “evolving into the ideal instrument of the electronic age – more and more like a computer terminal… and other far out uses.”

In a terrific example of how hyperbole intended for dramatic effect can end up a wild underestimation, Mr. Shatner tells us that, “… since WWII, the amount of information generated by our society doubles every 7 years.”

Vintage Future II

Kiplinger predicts Nine Technologies That Will Change Your Future, including personal bar codes and folding (!) cars.self-driving-and-folding-cars

We’ve written before that predicting technology trends is not for the weak at heart – and that’s before one tries to protect the IP and find a way to profit from it.  There are reasons we affectionately call the really early stage of investing adventure capital.

Since posting Vintage Future I we’ve encountered a few additional items worth passing along: Innovative Products from the Past that Never Were, the Ten Worst Internet Ideas, and for those who enjoy a blast from the past… The Chef of the Future from The Honeymooners.

Vintage Future

Predicting technological trends – let alone profit-making opportunities within those trends – is not for the weak at heart.  Here are a few brave & bold predictions from the past:

Even if you predict the trend, and the profitable opportunity within the trend, correctly – there’s still the matter of protecting the IP.

BPV sees its capital as a “growth accelerator” for established, rapidly growing businesses with strong management teams.  We prefer to focus our efforts on assessing competitive and execution risk rather than product or business model risk, and we want to see tangible evidence of the unique value offered by a company’s product or service.

UPDATE: 5/19/2010

Chef of the Future: “Yes – it can core a apple.”

89 years worth of “the greatest thing since sliced bread”

On this day in 1928, the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, MO, sold mechanically sliced bread for the first time in the history of the universe.  This gives us a great opportunity, on a Friday, to re-post a Greatest Hit from our Vintage Future Series – originally published on November 13, 2014:

Our Vintage Future series takes a tongue-in-cheek look back at the failed predictions of past generations of investors and futurists, and the sometimes tortuous routes to success of unlikely ideas.

In our line of work it’s good to guard against the hubris inherent in projecting conventional wisdom too far out into the future, and to remind ourselves that today’s trend can be tomorrow’s punchline – and vice versa.

Our VIIth installment takes a look at “the greatest thing” ever invented and a simple innovation that dramatically altered how we see the world.

Grok this:  Betty White is older than sliced bread!

Grok this:  Betty White is older than sliced bread!

Even sliced bread took 18 years to succeed.  Otto Frederick Rohwedder, a jeweler from Missouri, built his prototype “Machine for slicing an entire loaf of bread at a single location” in 1912 but saw it destroyed in a fire.  15 years later he filed his patent, but the end product languished due to its untidy appearance and concerns about freshness.  One year later a St. Louis baker named Gustav Papendick put it in cardboard trays and wrapped it in wax paper, yet even then it didn’t take off until it helped a little company called Wonder Bread go national in 1930.

Except for a brief ban during WWII (the steel used to build the slicers had more pressing uses), sliced bread grew quickly and became a platform on which others could dream and build – in this case new types of spreads and jams.

Sometimes a simple idea – like digging ditches – can change the world.  Before most cables ran underground, all electrical, telephone and telegraph wires were suspended from high poles, creating strange and crowded streetscapes.

A tower with 5000 phone lines in Stockholm, cused 1887-1913

When You Change the World and No One Notices

crop380w_istock_000018298852xsmallWe’ve written that it’s a long and difficult journey from idea to successful business, and entrepreneurs need partners who intuitively understand the right kind of support to offer over the long term during which failure can be counted on to make at least a cameo appearance.  In other words, the road to both successful and failed business models can be paved with “innovation.”

That road can also be long and involve a great deal of anonymity.  A friend recently passed along this article about how long it took for the Wright brothers to get even passing notice for an invention that would have seemed miraculous at the time.

(T)he first passing mention of the Wrights in The New York Times came in 1906, three years after their first flight. (I)n 1904, the Times asked a hot-air-balloon tycoon whether humans may fly someday. He answered:

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That was a year after the Wright’s first flight.

One would like to think a breakthrough of that magnitude that would kick up the equivalent of a tweet-storm, but even today one never knows.  For further evidence check out our Vintage Future series, a tongue-in-cheek look back at the sometimes tortuous routes to success (or not) of unlikely ideas. E.g., it took sliced bread 18 years to succeed.

Back to the article, which offers a seven-step path “big breakthroughs typically follow”:

  • First, no one’s heard of you.
  • Then they’ve heard of you but think you’re nuts.
  • Then they understand your product, but think it has no opportunity.
  • Then they view your product as a toy.
  • Then they see it as an amazing toy.
  • Then they start using it.
  • Then they couldn’t imagine life without it.

This process can take decades. It rarely takes less than several years.

The author echoes our earlier point, that “invention is only the first step of innovation,” and also adds that while Zen-like patience isn’t a typical trait associated with entrepreneurs, it is sometimes required.

If you are interested in reading a little bit more about the history of the Wright Brothers’ invention, please check out “The only thing he ever made fly was government money,” one of our all-time most-read posts.  It includes a great lesson about the process of productive capital allocation.

If you are interested in a related bit of trivia:  Neil Armstrong carried a piece of the Wright flyer with him to the moon.  In “The Wright Stuff” we recount that story and Mr. Armstrong’s explanation for why they experienced “only” 150 separate identifiable failures per flight when, statistically, they expected 1000.

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