Remember back in the late 1990s when Kodak dominated the photo paper industry? The company had more than 150,000 employees and 85 percent of the camera market, according to a Harvard Business School case study. I’m sure at the time it seemed like a great company in which to invest.
Very few people had a clue that within a few years they wouldn’t be taking pictures on paper film anymore. Kodak’s business model was no longer relevant and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Because digital cameras were actually invented in the mid-1970s, maybe more people should have seen this coming.
If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re searching for a business idea, look for businesses with much potential and little to no overhead. Do businesses like that actually exist? They sure do.
Just examine what companies such as Uber Technologies have done. Despite the fact that this company does not own a single car, it has become the world’s biggest taxi company. Meanwhile, Yellow Cab goes bankrupt. That may seem mindboggling, but Uber is not the only company creating and following a business model with so much potential and so little risk.
Airbnb, Inc. is similar. They do not own a single hotel property, and yet they’ve become the world’s largest accommodation provider. Both Uber and Airbnb became hugely successful through software rather than hardware.
Another area in which business is being revolutionized is artificial intelligence. For example, many of us assume there will always be a need for lawyers. But not so fast. IBM Watson, a technology platform using natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data, makes it possible to receive legal advice within seconds at a 90 percent accuracy rate (compared to 70 percent from humans). And, IBM Watson is also helping diagnose cancer more accurately than human doctors and nurses can.
What about out on the roads? For as long as most of us can remember, teenagers have been anxious to get their driver’s licenses. But in 10 years, maybe nobody will be driving anymore. Self-driving cars might make it possible to just call a car with your cellphone, wait until it picks you up, and then use your phone to pay for the charge. Car insurance companies could go out of business.
How about education? Right now, many poor people around the world are unable to gain the education they need to compete with those who are more affluent. But soon everyone will be able to afford a cellphone and everyone with enough inner drive could choose to use that phone to get educated. Businesses that develop educational software that can be easily accessed by a phone should be able to thrive.
The lesson here is that if you’re thinking about starting up a new company, think long and hard about avoiding businesses that may cease to exist due to the emerging technology that could make their business models obsolete. Instead, try to latch onto the ones that show great promise to accomplish a lot more with a lot less.
Allen Baler is a leading entrepreneur and Harvard grad. Allen Baler is a Partner in 4Patriots LLC, based in Nashville.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not a substitute for the sound advice of a business professional with expertise in the subject matter discussed. Please seek appropriate counsel on what strategies make sense for your business.