Power to the People – Supplied by the Market
The passing of the JOBS act was supposed to herald a new era in which regular people have access to fantastic opportunities previously restricted to industry experts (in this case accredited investors). To an optimistic few, it seemed like the Government was beginning to understand the possibilities for greater individual freedoms in our internet age.
Unfortunately, over a year after President Obama signed the bipartisan bill into law, the two most important elements of the bill (Titles II & III – the crowdfunding provisions) are yet to be agreed upon, 6 months after their January 1st deadline. Party politics have once again taken precedent over substantial change. Many crowdfunding startups are dismayed (a serious understatement) and increased individual liberties have been put on hold.
Fortunately, the market’s ability to enact change is not affected by upcoming elections or peripheral interests. Over the past year, the market has capitalized upon existing technologies to enhance the autonomy of the 21st century public. Democracy in the West has long been touted as a sacred right, yet in many areas of life people are still subjected to monopolies, or restricted in their own ability to perform autonomously, often at a huge expense of both time and resources. The two areas in particular that I want to use to illustrate recent changes are energy and healthcare diagnostics.
Energy has been an industry throttled by monopolistic competition for much of the past century. The colossal capital that is required to compete in the energy industry, combined with its indispensable need throughout the world, have allowed energy companies to reap vast profits annually from consumers who lack alternatives to their local supplier. While generators and solar panels have long been available for individuals looking to power their own homes, the economics has always favored the energy companies due to their economies of scale, an insurmountable competitive advantage. But not anymore. SolarCity is the least celebrated of Elon Musk’s ventures, but it has become the largest full service solar provider in the US by coupling the latest solar technologies with an innovative business model. SolarCity installs the panels on its customers roofs for free, allowing them to pay the company back over a defined period with payments that are lower than their monthly energy bill. For the first time in modern history it is now more affordable to generate your own energy than to use an energy supplier, which is hugely empowering to the general public. In one of my favourite TED Talks of all time, Musk talks about Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity, telling TED Founder Chris Anderson that SolarCity is helping to democratize the energy market (the bit about SolarCity begins at 07.36, but I recommend watching the whole thing).
Healthcare is another industry that is so indispensable that we entrust industry experts called doctors to diagnose and take care of our bodies, but a complex insurance system in the US and an under-served NHS in the UK mean that a trip to the doctors can be both expensive and time consuming. In developing markets, burgeoning middle classes are beginning to demand healthcare, and governments are seeking new healthcare models that are leaner than the antiquated, resource draining systems that dominate in the West today. Fortunately, the market is again coming to the rescue. Today, the ubiquity of smart phones throughout the Western world and their fantastic processing power has allowed entrepreneurs to develop a set of basic diagnostic tools specifically for iPhones and Androids, giving consumers the ability to conduct their own physical without coming in sight of those ghastly hospital paper gowns. Measuring your heart rate and blood pressure, taking a picture of the back of your retina, keeping track of your glucose levels and even scanning your own brain are now as easy as downloading an app and connecting an affordable peripheral device to your phone. This healthcare revolution is providing access to medical diagnostics in rural areas around the world that have never previously received medical attention, but closer to home the impact could be even more profound. “Dr. iPhone” empowers people to keep track of their own health much more effectively, reducing both the individual and state fiscal healthcare burden, and allowing doctors to focus on more serious or extreme areas of diagnostics and medicine. As consumers begin to adopt this new technology, I expect the smartphone’s capabilities to become more and more sophisticated. This new healthcare model shifts some of the burden on health and well-being from the doctor to the individual, putting the onus (and therefore the accountability) on the individual to maintain their health, while simultaneously reducing the resource drain on the national healthcare systems.
More and more industries are giving autonomy to the consumer. Prototyping a product used to be an arduous and expensive task, but 3D printers are turning a 6-week process into a 60 minute task; mainstream apps such as Garage Band make it easy to record high-quality music; Zazzle and Moonpig make it simple to make high-quality shirts and greeting cards.
The lesson is clear: don’t wait for the government to increase personal liberties, look to the market. If you are still frustrated that you aren’t able to do what it is that you want to do, then start a business and make it happen yourself!
Until next time!