Category Archives: Technology

Our Profile In The Wall Street Journal: “Globality Wants to Turn Facebook, LinkedIn Connections Into Real-World Success”

This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal here

You have enough Facebook friends to fill a stadium, but how good is your network really?

Globality founder Eric Tyler

Globality says it can tell you.

The service runs your Facebook and LinkedIn connections through an algorithm and scores your network according to its global reach and its diversity of connections. A good score of 200 or above means your network is global and diverse. A low score, 50 or below, means it needs some help.

The company, an “online accelerator” with users in more than 100 countries, will soon add Twitter, Google+, AngelList and other social networks into its scoring.

Globality’s algorithm is based on research from Stanford UniversityMassachusetts Institute of Technology and Osaka University showing that strong online networks correlate with offline success. Studies comparing entrepreneurs’ use of social media with their business success found that those who were well-positioned in online networks were the most successful.

Globality is one of a few companies to create social-media scoring or tracking tools. Another is Klout Inc., which devised a scoring system to measure a person’s online influence. The company recently merged with Lithium Technologies Inc., which helps brands build online customer communities. Others include PeerIndex, which identifies, ranks and scores experts online, and Little Bird, which enables users to get ranked lists of peer-validated experts by topic.

Eric Tyler got the idea for Globality last year while participating in Unreasonable at Sea–a program in which a group of entrepreneurs boarded a ship and traveled to 13 nations in 106 days. They met with investors, government officials and other entrepreneurs to learn how to turn their startups into global businesses. Mr. Tyler, an adjunct fellow at the New America Foundation, had been invited to share his expertise in mobile technology with the entrepreneurs and to write about the trip.

In each port, he asked entrepreneurs about their challenges, and frequently, they cited the difficulty of building networks that would position them for success. After returning to the U.S. he founded Globality and launched it in November.

Simply having a lot of virtual connections doesn’t guarantee a high score from Globality, especially if most of the connections are in the same location or are in the same industry. The system maps out the global reach of your network, finds the gaps in it, and helps identify people in various locations you should get to know. As you extend and diversify your social-networking ties, your score improves.

One Globality user, Catlin Powers, co-founder of One Earth Designs, scored a respectable 286 when she put her network to the test recently. Ms. Powers, whose company makes SolSource, a solar-cooking product, has strong entrepreneurial and scientific connections. With Globality’s help she said she hopes to expand her network among social entrepreneurs and to make new ties in other fields, such as media and retail.

Globality also provides users with access to more than 1,000 tools that entrepreneurs have found useful, such as online courses and project-management and project-design resources, Mr. Tyler said. These services and the network scoring are free to individuals. But Denver-based Globality plans to profit through enterprise partnerships, including alliances with corporations that want to score their own social-network following.

 

Balancing Risk & Regret in Building a Startup

A version of this op-ed was originally written for Forbes.

Before being worth an estimated $25 billion and certainly before there were Amazon delivery drones, Jeff Bezos went to his boss to seek advice about the risk of quitting his established finance job to pursue a startup. On a walk around Central Park, they candidly discussed his current hedge fund job and his startup idea. At the end of the two-hour conversation, Bezos’ boss confessed that he thought it would be a huge risk for his mentee to chase after his idea.

Bezos weighed the pros and cons over and over again. And finally, he came to a realization that made the decision to pursue his startup idea “incredibly easy.” He called it the regret minimization framework, in which he imagined himself as an 80-year-old man looking back at his life. Foremost, as an elderly man, he knew that his life’s regrets, more so than anything, would keep him tossing and turning late into the night. At the same time, he strongly believed that the 80-year-old Jeff Bezos would not regret having tried building a startup that had a chance to make real impact — even if it most likely ended in failure. What would deeply haunt him would be the regret of having watched the opportunity pass him by.

Now almost a decade after Jeff Bezos made the decision to start Amazon, the barriers to building a technology startup have never been lower. New technologies have equipped a wave of entrepreneurs around the world to build startups faster and cheaper. Open source technologies have allowed users to “fork” and build on top of existing software rather than reinvent the wheel. Massive open online courses have brought top university classes and teachers to computer screens across the world. And social media has provided a platform to scale across networks and connect directly with leaders as never before.

Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to keep up with these evolving and expansive technologies. Jeff Bezos might have said it best when he commented on the pace of technology. “We humans co-evolve with our tools. We change the tools, and the tools change us, and that cycle repeats.”

I am seeing this first hand. This week, teammates and I launched a startup toolbox that opened up findings of our market research with technology entrepreneurs across three continents. The toolbox compiles a range of resources from prototyping tools and online courses to technology accelerators and influential Twitterati that entrepreneurs identified as most useful in their endeavors. In an attempt to evolve with users’ preferences and keep up with new breakthrough technologies, we decided to crowdsource the ongoing curation of its contents. Already we have seen new tools and iterations of technologies added that we never came across in our research, and the users’ rankings of tools have changed our thinking on what technologies current entrepreneurs actually find most useful.

Globality Toolbox2

And it is these technologies that also have Jeff Bezos thinking about the future again. A recent study of almost 2,000 millennials found that 58 percent classify themselves as entrepreneurs and more than 60 percent say they’re likely to quit their job within two years. These millennials are following in Bezos’ footsteps but have more powerful tools to build the next Amazon.

In Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview, Bezos was asked if he was worried about Amazon being disrupted like so many other companies. He responded with candor:

“I don’t worry about it because I know it’s inevitable. Companies come and go. And the companies that are, you know, the shiniest and most important of any era, you wait a few decades and they’re gone.”

The Momentum Behind the Entrepreneur Movement

This article was originally written for Huffington Post.

Still overcoming their sea legs, the founders of 15 social enterprises took to the stage at the State Department to pitch their technology-driven solutions. After travelling to 13 countries with the shipboard program Unreasonable@Sea, they had finally arrived at their last destination and were standing in front of a crowded amphitheater of government leaders, business executives and social innovators.

unreaosnablestate

Their lightning talks, with slides rotating non-stop every 20 seconds, showed their impressive entrepreneurial efforts: capturing carbon pollution from factories in India and processing it into materials used to make Boeing airplanes; expanding a fleet of sailing drones that were used to clean oil spills in the gulf of Mexico to other needy marine environments; spreading teacher training software being utilized in more than 3,000 schools in India to better achieve educational outcomes in other parts of the world; among other bold efforts.

During the event, the State Department’s Director for Global Partnerships, Thomas Debass, announced, “we believe throughout the State Department that these models are game changing.”

In many ways, these hybrid companies are changing business as usual by not only balancing social impact and financial returns but also by blurring borders by prioritizing needs above country’s boundaries. “Communities approach us to develop our products,” Scott Frank, founder and CEO of One Earth Designs, explained to me after his presentation. “We collaborate in the design and ideation, and we work together to test, iterate, and refine in-field to ensure the product meets both the needs and wants of users.”

Working in tangent with Himalayan populations in China, Frank’s company developed a solar-powered cooking stove that can abate approximately four tons of carbon dioxide a year and reduces as much as 70 percent of the fuel they use. The product stemmed from the nomadic populations concern with smoke being emitted from their wood-fired and coal stoves (globally, it is estimated that these pollutants contribute to four million premature deaths a year). One Earth Designs is the first company based in China to be certified as a B-Corp, joining the likes of Patagonia and 732 companies that meet the nonprofit’s legal and performance requirements of “benefiting society as well as their shareholders.”

However, as these social entrepreneurs break the molds of traditional business, they are being confronted with uncertainty that comes with this unchartered domain. “Across many geographies we’ve come to see a variation among definitions of social entrepreneur,” Frank explained to me. “In some cases, people see this term in a positive light. In others, it elicits confusion or skepticism.”

And this confusion is causing some traditional investors to shy away from social enterprises due to an uncertainty, in the end, of how they prioritize both monetary and social returns. However, this sector is also evolving, and increasingly a new type of investor – referred to as impact investing – is building metrics and filling this gap. Last year, an estimated $4 billion worth of impact investments were made, and this amount is expected to reach $1 trillion in the next decade, according to a report by J.P. Morgan.

Although crucial, funding is just one piece of the puzzle. This new breed of entrepreneurs also requires support systems to evolve with them. Unreasonable@Sea is one of the more elaborate programs to rise to the challenge. The business accelerator is focused on building entrepreneurs’ networks by sailing around the world and bringing together a collage of different mentors on the ship including Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Laureate), Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress), and Hunter Lovins (Time Magazine Hero of the Planet), among others.

The bold and borderless endeavors of these social entrepreneurs are also quickly inspiring a larger global movement. And it is these increasingly plugged-in and globally engaged supporters that are proving to be a crucial platform and legitimizing network for these social entrepreneurs. In the end, policymakers, funders, and social innovators are smart to not overlook the momentum behind this increasingly global and connected movement. And although some will dismiss it as naive and youthful, the creative bravery of its pioneers and resoluteness of its supporters will make you reconsider.

Entrepreneurs take to the seas for inspiration

This article was originally written for CNN International.

What happens when you mix 11 budding startups with Google executives, Stanford professors, a Nobel Peace Laureate and 600 college students and put them on a ship to circumnavigate the world?

The project

An experiment launched this month called Unreasonable at Sea hopes that this eclectic group will unleash global entrepreneurship.

Continue reading

What is the universal impact of mobile technology?

Last week, as part of their Mobile Economy Project, the Brookings Institution invited me to participate in panel discussing the universal impact of mobile technology. The event highlighted how mobile technology is affecting economies, politics, education, and healthcare, and only just getting started. In my remarks, I argued three main points: Continue reading

Research Update: A New Direction for Financial Inclusion in India?

After months of research, data collection and interviews with almost 30 of India’s leading financial institutions, colleagues and I released a report this month titled “From Social Banking to Financial Inclusion: Understanding the Potential for Financial Services Innovation In India“.

I was excited to see that The Wall Street Journal wrote up a nice summary of some of the takeaways from the research here: “Why So Few Indians Have Bank Accounts” along with the social enterprise blog, Next Billion: “Innovative Banking Strategies for the BOP in India“.

Continue reading

Idea for Mobile App to Assist Low-Income Families Wins Award

I’ve been excited by the recent recognition and support shown for a project a colleague and I have been working on in our free time called MOOLAH, which is a mobile application that seeks to empower low-income individuals with personalized financial information and services (more details in the press release below).  Last week, the App design won an award in the US Treasury’s MyMoneyAppUp Challenge and also got some airtime in the White House’s “West Wing Week” Video.

(The press release below was originally posted on The Ladder)

Continue reading

Event: Networked Nation – How Technology Is Transforming The Economy

I recently participated in a panel hosted by The Atlantic and National Journal to discuss how technology is transforming the economy and the way individuals interact with companies and institutions. Clive Crook from The Atlantic who was moderating the panel (and did a great job) put me on the spot right at the start by asking how I saw technology disrupting the norm in my work and research. See the video of my panel below: Continue reading

The Big Idea: Taking Mobile Money Forward

This article was originally written by Eric Tyler for Next Billion.

The excitement of mobile money has been dampened by an inability of deployments to take hold outside a handful of successful markets. Driving the enthusiasm forward is the opportunity to bridge the gap between one billion people in emerging markets who have mobile phones but no bank account. On Tuesday, McKinsey & Company released a report “Mobile money: Getting to scale in emerging markets” seeking to cut through this excitement and identify critical success factors for implementation.

Through interviews and workshops with 40 mobile money providers, the report stresses three important elements as critical for a successful mobile money enterprise post launch:

(1) Pay close attention to managing the agent network;

(2) Create a compelling product offering;

(3) Maintain a corporate commitment.

The report also rightfully acknowledges other pre-launch factors like regulation, market structure, technology execution, and partnerships, as being central to a mobile money deployments’ success.

There is also a clear need to answer the important questions before launching a product. After comparing developed mobile money environments with the developing environments of Brazil, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, the IFC has worked to develop a framework to assess a country’s potential for a successful mobile money deployment, including demand and user perception surveys and current regulatory and financial services assessments.

As part of the SPINNAKER project, we have focused our research in Kenya and the Philippines on two of the leading mobile money environments in the world. And in a report being released next month, we examine the regulatory framework and financial management behind the growth of agent networks in Kenya and early examples beyond mobile transfers of integrated mobile money and financial products.

With 130 mobile money deployments underway and 93 in planning according to the GSMA, it’s helpful to evaluate what lesson we have learned so far, and the McKinsey findings and IFC framework help to refocus the excitement of the field. But what is also needed is a re-evaluation of the end goal of mobile money, which is an opportunity to progress mobile money beyond money transfers into mobile banking and deeper financial inclusion for the next billion.

Are Mobile Solutions Overhyped?

This article was originally written by Eric Tyler for CNN.

Yes, if you are predicting that mobile technology will mean the end of the digital divide and that a mobile phone in every hand will solve all problems. No, if you are saying that utilizing mobile phones already in the hands of nearly 6 billion people is profoundly better than dropping tablet computers out of helicopters.

Mobile phones are leading the developing world into the information economy and digital age. Already, we’ve seen the potential of the devices to transform an entire industry, as mobile money did in Kenya. And for a large portion of the developing world’s next generation, it will be through mobile phones that Internet connectivity is gained.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and throw mobile phones at every problem we see. The sustainability and effectiveness of mobile solutions will be closely tied to the human reality and context that surrounds these devices. And important questions still need to be asked around replicability and costs. For example, why has mobile money not yet taken hold outside of Kenya? And how can prices come down for those who cannot afford mobile phones?

A promising sign of mobiles phones’ potential are early randomized evaluations of projects showing a range of positive impacts. One such study of a mobile money transfer project in a drought prone village in Niger showed a huge reduction in distribution costs and greater diversity in crop allocation, purchasing decisions, and diet for mobile transfer beneficiaries.

“Mobile development” is still in its infancy. After all, the first call was made from a mobile less than forty years ago. The inventor Martin Cooper picked up the two and half pound handheld and dialed his rival company’s head researcher to gloat. Martin couldn’t have envisioned the implications of his breakthrough for helping the world’s poorest, and the picture is still coming into focus today. Whatis already clear is that this is just the beginning, and as mobile phones get smarter, cheaper, and more widespread, they will continue to play an integral role in adapting international development to the digital age.