You may have already thought to yourself, “Every day I am seeing new inventions and technologies that blow my mind. What is going on?” If you’re an entrepreneur you’re probably also wondering how to develop the most profitable business in this seemingly frenetic—i.e. all over the place—market.
Setting the Scene
Elon’s going to Mars, Bitcoin’s a multi-billion dollar currency, lifelike robots are rising, virtual worlds are blurring the lines of reality, and artificial intelligence is advancing so quickly that futurists are talking even more fervently about “the singularity” (the point at which technological advances push artificial learning to a level reaching—then surpassing—human intelligence).
Once you distinguish between the various emerging markets, you’ll have a better idea of how to lock down your own niche and remain focused. The last thing you need is to see every trend and jump on it, or even be distracted by it. Focus is key. So let’s look at the environment, beginning with some history.
First, a note on the above multidirectional, leapfrogging progress being made. None of these are fads. They are all long dreamed about markets that have massive inertia. Your challenge is not to choose one or two that will outlast the others, but rather, to invest in those with the best fit for you and your teams. These will all get bigger. Much bigger.
Online Was Just the Beginning
When Swivel first launched services in the 1990s, we focused an inordinate amount of our marketing efforts on convincing customers they needed something called a “website.” That might sound laughable today, but it’s instructive for these emerging markets.
You probably don’t know a business that’s entirely offline. Online everything blew up in a big way. The rest is history. But it was just the start.
We knew that every company would soon need a way to be online or be left behind. Your job today is to determine what your customers will need or want in the years ahead. But you’ll need to see it now, before the wave crests. Otherwise, the value you provide will be limited.
Online Went Big as a Horizontal Market
What made the web so monolithic? The Internet opened up what we called a horizontal market—horizontal because it served more than one niche or industry. Over time online technologies laid the foundation for innumerable vertical markets—more narrowly focused spaces (e.g. news outlets, e-commerce stores, file and video sharing, marketing services, search, ad agencies, consultancies, nonprofits, crowdfunding, etc.).
Some of those industries didn’t even exist in the early 90s. Now they had a global platform to generate revenues for viable businesses.
Ten Enormous Horizontal Markets
Today, a similar though perhaps even more stunning convergence is happening. Just as the Internet opened up a horizontal market enabling millions of users to buy, sell, and interact in new ways, at least 10 emerging horizontal markets are providing new opportunities for an almost unlimited number of people. Most of these are launching innovations only dreamed of in science-fiction plot lines.
The following list of each horizontal market along with potential vertical applications is not exhaustive. There are others still, but these ones are worth watching and evaluating for industry analysis. Subsequent articles will break down each of these in more detail.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
- Robots and Robotics
- Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Big Data
- Financial Tech (Fintech) and Security Tech (Securetech)
- Medical Tech (Medtech) and Biological Tech (Biotech)
- Commercial Space Exploration Tech and Services
- Autonomous Vehicles
- Green Tech, Clean Energy, and Agritech
- Cloud Technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Horizontal #1: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
The immersive nature of VR and AR has content producers and tech manufacturers sprinting to develop new experiences. Our post on VR and AR explains why this previously failed tech has rebounded and appears to be here to stay.
- Video Games
- Immersive Films
- Medical Services (even surgery—see Horizontal #5)
- Virtual Presence (immersive video communications)
- Wearable Devices
- Mobile Tech
Horizontal #2: Robots and Robotics
Headlines and news ledes are filled with details of the competitive landscape of robotics. From competitions to meet-ups, the rise of humanoid robots as well as machine replacements for human jobs beyond the factory is an important development.
Our post on Robots highlights current victories and opportunities.
- Personal Assistants
- Labor Replacement
- Artificial Limbs/Prosthetics
Horizontal #3: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Big Data
While each of these are significant in their own right, we’ve grouped them together because they are collectively about (a) input, (c) analysis, (d) learning, (e) iteration, and (f) control/autonomy (output).
Ultimately these are about intelligence, whether for autonomous application or human intellectual augmentation. Big data was hailed as important in its own right but experts have realized the need for algorithms and processes to make it useful.
Our subsequent article will explain the significance and importance, along with pitfalls of the tech.
Vertical (and Horizontal) Applications
- Autonomous Coding
- Robots (See Horizontal #2, above)
- Public-Private Project Planning and Budgeting
- Internet Packet Routing
- Security and Counter-Terrorism (#4, below)
- Autonomous Vehicles (#7, below)
- Financial Investing and Stock Prediction
- Climate Modeling
Horizontal #4: Financial Tech (Fintech) and Security Tech (Securetech)
Due to the wealth involved in fintech and the disproportionate spending on security by both it and government, we discuss these as linked in this market. They could be viewed separately. However, significant overlaps aid in analysis.
Banks and exchanges along with government agencies develop important technologies that spill over into general public use cases. Our post on fintech and securetech will highlight opportunities in the marketplace as well as vulnerabilities and ways to guard against theft or fraud in your business.
- Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple)
- Payment Platforms (iTunes, GooglePlay, PayPal, Stripe)
- Personal and Enterprise Surveillance Tech
- Fraud Prevention
Horizontal #5: Medical Tech (Medtech) and Biological Tech (Biotech)
Medical technologies are beginning to provide benefits to elderly and disabled groups that were unheard of a decade ago. From something as simple as improvements in crutches, to remote operated surgery, developments are surreal. Further, in biotech there is much to see.
Plenty of opportunity exists but there are significant debates as well, over ethics and best practices. This is especially true with new innovations like the ability to edit genetic material with CRISPR. Our subsequent post on medtech and biotech will detail the ups and downs, as well as some significant opportunities.
- Remote Medical Assistance
- Needle-less vaccinations and other pain-reducing improvements
- Personal Medical Advances (home defibrillator, realtime health monitoring, etc.)
- CRISPR and similar technologies
Horizontal #6: Commercial Space Exploration Tech and Services
The space race has begun again. This time however, it’s not between the USA and the former USSR, but rather between private citizens and their public companies. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sir Richard Branson are among the most prominent advocates pushing ahead to a new era of space exploration.
Unlike previous government-led exploration, the competition now underway commercially and privately promises to springboard this sector far beyond the stalled progress of the past. A forthcoming post on space will outline exactly what is being planned and evaluate what it means for businesses and enthusiasts alike.
- Freight Services
- Research & Development
- Future Travel Services (the Moon, Mars, Orbiting space stations/hotels)
- Satellite Connectivity (beyond earth)
- Laser-Based Telecommunications Between Planets, Moons, and Orbiting Objects
Horizontal #7: Autonomous Vehicles
The conversation around autonomous vehicles arose before electric cars were fully embraced publicly. But the innovators pushing the envelope on cleaner, more high-tech rides knew early on that the same vehicles were ideal for automation.
Now automakers like Tesla and ride share companies like Uber are making plans for self-driving technology for the masses. Our upcoming article will take a look at how far this industry has to go before it’s mainstream, and how far the innovators plan to take it.
- Flying cars
- Newly envisioned highways (e.g. the Boring Co’s planned underground networks)
Horizontal #8: Green Tech, Clean Energy, and Agritech
Green technologies like hydro- and wind-power have been around for a long time but these, along with solar solutions, geothermal tech and everything in-between continues to broaden this market and its applications. Additionally, agricultural technologies from drip irrigation to hydroponics, and amazing water filtering innovations likewise spell opportunity in every direction.
While the US may have pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, businesses and billionaires around the world continue to move ahead in these areas. We’ll provide detail soon on progress and current predictions as to how rapidly clean services are overtaking incumbent technologies.
- Water Reuse and Reclamation
- Electric Power Generation and Storage (Solar, Hydro, Wind, Batteries)
- Hydroponics and Desert Irrigation
Horizontal #9: Cloud Technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Online continues to be massive, and to have significant opportunities for all business types. Further, the expansion of cloud and virtualization technologies to IoT products and applications means the largest interconnected network on earth is only going to get bigger.
Beyond connected refrigerators, the IoT extends to wearables, drones, home automation devices and more. As space exploration opens up further (Horizontal #6 above), cloud and IoT technologies will even extend to the outer limits of our solar system.
Our article on Cloud and IoT will review progress over the past 10 years, and list opportunities currently available as new verticals open up.
- Apps and App Platforms
- Entertainment Streaming (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, radio, podcasts)
- Online Gaming
- Next Generation Social and Communications Media
- More Innovative Websites and Apps
- Connected Home (appliances, security, climate control, devices)
Horizontal #10: Enegotiation
The final horizontal vertical in this list is the only one that has not yet reached critical mass. This also makes it one of the most exciting. As an industry it is underdeveloped and still building its case to utilize the tech in everyday negotiations.
We’ll define it and provide some of the theory behind it in our tenth forthcoming post in this series. It’s in a similar place and time that EVs were at 15 years ago. But it’s one to watch as it will disrupt the following processes:
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Real Estate Negotiations
- Labor Contracts
- Collective Bargaining
- Buy and Sell Marketplaces and Bidding
- Dispute Resolution
- International Resource Negotiation (e.g. global water supplies)
- Public-Private Projects
- and several others…
Each of these horizontals have features in common which enable leaders to invest in core competencies without putting everything into one opportunity.
As high-tech fields, all of these will continue to involve programming and development skills, statistical/analytical abilities, marketing genius, and the software and hardware necessary to create viable products and components.
Further, all of these industries are hot (or in the case of enegotiation, getting hot), meaning that investment capital is available. See this recent discussion on capital availability for robotics as an example.
Zoom Out and Gain Perspective
By looking at each of these 10 horizontal markets from a 30,000-foot vantage point (rather than from your twitter feed) you will more clearly understand the bigger picture. You’ll see which trends connect to a given vertical, and which verticals are part of a broader horizontal market.
Ask the Right Questions
With greater clarity, you can answer several questions to get you started:
- What market do you want to enter (based on your talents and resources)?
- What are the barriers to entry?
- What is the size of the market?
- What size of market share could you own?
- What are the market’s demographics?
- Is there available capital and where is it found?
- Who are the major competitors/contributors?
- Who are your potential partners?
- Who are your potential employees and what skills and resources will they need?
- What niche opportunities are available?
- What needs are currently unmet?
Build A Solid Business
Whatever market you’re in, or hope to enter, remember to build value for your customers. Some of these markets have astronomical opportunities (literally), but it’s never a good play to build a company just for the opportunity. Build a company that solves real problems and provides serious opportunities for your customers in the process.
Build trust wherever and however you can, as that is one of the rarest commodities in any market. Establish good rapport with those you serve and you can enjoy growth in any market, new or old, vertical or horizontal.