Friday, June 17, 2005

Every old product is new again.

That’s the message from Ken Nickerson, a former tech guru with Microsoft who now invests full-time in technology firms through his own private investment company, Toronto-based iBinary.

Nickerson was a featured speaker yesterday at the PROFIT 100 CEO Summit, for the leaders of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. The attendees are pretty sharp themselves, but they were hanging on Nickerson’s every word. (He’s the guy who convinced Microsoft to buy HotMail.)

In his first public speech in five years, Nickerson said new information technology – digital processing, storage and communications – is transforming consumer and business markets. “Everything gets a chance to be new again. Everything we’ve invented is getting smarter and able to communicate or store more information about themselves.”

Nickerson says that is creating upheaval in a range of markets – which of course means opportunity for fast-moving entrepreneurs. Music, photography, video and security are niches already neck-deep in change. Other sectors that Nickerson believes are ripe for revolution: money, homes, cars, education, health, entertainment, privacy and (of course) sex.

To get ahead, look at how you can add information storage, processing capacity or one- or two-way communications capability to a wide range of products and services.

He also has a warning for old-line producers: “If you can’t incorporate intelligence into your products, outsource it – because you’re competing on price.” And you’re not going to win against lower-cost producers.

Based on the success of Apple’s iPod, which was neither the first MP3 player nor the cheapest, Nickerson offers this advice. “Invest in design,” he says. “We’re seeing a new idea that you should expect good design in everything you buy and touch – and it’s having an impact on business.”

Incredibly enough, he says the changes we’re going to see from infotech are tiny compared to the coming impact of biotechnology and nanotechnology. That’s where he’s investing now.

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