Startup Strategy

Catalog, solving real problems

Catalog is a DNA storage startup trying to solve the problem of the exploding cost, complexity, carbon footprint and lack of longevity of data storage. To do so, they’re exploring how protein-based ATCG code could someday replace silicon-based 0s and 1s. We’re not talking pizza delivery anymore. It’s smart, ambitious and forward-facing. It’s the kind of startup I’m despairing to see more of.

And no, damn it, they’re not based in Europe.


No, technology is not neutral

But even if we pretend that technology is inherently neutral (which is not), we need to face that tech has facilitated so many terrible outcomes these last ten years. From climate change to the end of privacy as we knew it, saying that “tech is neutral” is a weird form of rampant negationism. In 2020, anyone creating tech that still decides s/he can shed responsibility of the outcomes, should know better.

The most frequent objection I’m dealing with when voicing this is: “How do take responsibility of something that we might have created, but with no idea of how it’s going to be used?” (Cue in the chorus of the open source software community singing their dismay.)

There are three key answers to that:

  1. Maybe you can’t do anything (maybe), but you can’t be complacent anymore about at least short-term obvious consequences. There is a fine line between laziness and being criminally careless. These line has been crossed too many times, we need to be better.
  2. At an age of interconnected global networks, any tech requires some sort of normalized hard kill switch as soon as it gets out of the lab. And yes, I do understand that it’s a tricky question in an era where the US government keep on asking for backdoors in our phones.
  3. Patent laws should evolve to make sure that in exchange of exploiting rights they are now extended responsibilities as well for both patents holders and licensers. Again, an icky topic while we see China rising as the #1 patent issuer on the planet, but also an even more urgent reason to get there.

I don’t think this narrative of technology as a neutral force can hold anymore. And OK, my ideas are probably not the best, but what is worrying me is that not many of us are having this conversation right now. Stroll, this is one of the key things that the next decade has to deal with.

Innovation Strategy

The case for self-cannibalization

The term “self-cannibalization” appears when a company launches a new product line, competing with one of its own. It is mostly a classic strategic move, implying that said company is phasing out some products to update their offer. In some cases, like in the fashion industry and their seasonal cycles, this is theorized as a core value for the customers. (I will let you discuss the merits of slow fashion at this point.)

Innovation Strategy

Do you need your own Apple stores?

Today, Bose announced they’d be closing all of their stores in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. In their original 1993 thinking, the idea for such a chain of international retail stores seemed clear enough:

“Originally, our retail stores gave people a way to experience, test, and talk to us about multi-component, CD and DVD-based home entertainment systems. At the time, it was a radical idea, but we focused on what our customers needed, and where they needed it – and we’re doing the same thing now.”

Colette Burke, vice president of Global Sales, Bose Corp., Jan. 2020

Are European startups solving real problems?

Cover is a startup I’ve been following for quite a while. It’s based in Los Angeles and its job is straightforward:

We design, permit, manufacture, and install beautiful backyard homes in Los Angeles. Completely custom to your property, no subcontractors to deal with, and with a fixed price contract.