In 2007 The Caffeine Partnership was born. We wanted to help leaders in a different way to traditional consultancies; to help them grow, fast. We wanted impatient senior teams to work out things quickly, but at that time we could not have foreseen how necessary that would become. In the decade since we started numerous transformations took place in the business world.
This was mainly driven by a technological explosion. It has made the roles of the leaders we work with more exciting – and significantly more challenging.
Let’s look at what happened in 2007. It was a noteworthy year in many ways. That was also the year when the phrase “credit crunch” became common parlance. This term was first used in the 1960s but 2007 was the year it took hold. The start of the financial crisis which manifested first as a liquidity crisis, is technically dated from 9 August 2007, when BNP Paribas terminated withdrawals from three hedge funds citing “a complete evaporation of liquidity”.
Massive bailouts of financial institutions and other palliative monetary and fiscal policies followed, attempting to prevent a possible collapse of the world financial system. The crisis was nonetheless followed by a global economic downturn, the Great Recession. May you live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.
It was also the year when the tech disruption of business really kickstarted. Here are ten transformations that started in 2007.
(1) A micro-blogging company called Twitter spun off from a bigger startup and started to scale globally. Now it is the mouthpiece and amplifier for a variety of political persuasions, discussions about biscuits and TV shows, a source of humour and a source of news with 500m tweets being sent every day. Saudi Arabia has the highest number of internet users who are active on Twitter. Another micro-blogging platform Tumblr was also founded in 2007 – a company acquired by Yahoo! in 2013 for $1.1bn.
(2) Your choices for where to stay on a holiday were likely to be renting a house, staying in a hotel or motel or staying with a friend. The idea of staying in someone else’s house was limited to a bed and breakfast by the sea. In 2007 Airbnb was founded. The following year the founders handcrafted bespoke cereal boxes to get the business of the ground. A decade of transformations later, the business is valued at $31bn, disrupting the hotel and travel industry.
(3) The way in which we worked was part of these transformations thanks to the forgetfulness of Drew Houston. Dropbox was founded in 2007. This file hosting service allows users to send videos, transfer documents and keep photos safe online – and it was founded by MIT students Houston and Arash Ferdowsi after the former kept forgetting his USB flash drive while working on assignments at college. The company grew and now is looking to an IPO, already surpassing a $1bn run rate with a staggering 500m users.
(4) In 2007 our relationship with music was totally different. Spotify didn’t yet exist. Founded in 2008 the company now has 140m active users. It is still not yet a profitable company and faces numerous challenges in a highly-competitive environment, but it’s a truly revolutionary organisation which transformed the music industry and our interaction with artists beyond all recognition.
(5) The first real wearable and health-tech device hit the wrists of the world. The award-winning Fitbit was founded on 1 May by James Park (CEO) and Eric Friedman (CTO). Its IPO in 2015 was filed for $358m. After Fitbit’s stocks fell more than 50 per cent in 2016, Park announced in October that the company was undergoing transformations that would take it from “consumer electronics company” to “digital healthcare company”.
(6) Google launched Android, an open standards alternative platform to Apple’s iOS; this was just after they had bought YouTube (at the end of 2006). 1/3 of the world now are users of YouTube.
(7) Amazon released the Kindle. The e-book revolution began. Now Audible, an e-book App, threatens to make Kindle redundant.
(8) IBM began building “Watson,” the first cognitive computer, combining machine learning and artificial intelligence. Most well-known for winning “Jeopardy” in 2011, IBM’s World of Watson convention in October 2016, introduced new AI services for marketing, supply chain management and workplace collaboration. It already had offerings for health, education, financial services, and the “internet of things”. It’s now working on a smart assistant for cars through GM’s OnStar programme.
(9) Facebook had just moved beyond being a campus-only offer. Its global scaling started 26 September, 2007. There are now more Facebook users in the world than there were people alive on the entire planet 100 years ago.
(10) We spent our days looking at things differently. In 2007 mobile ownership and usage was common but most phones were “dumb”. The launch of one of the most disruptive pieces of technology in 100 years changed that; the iPhone. Steve Jobs’ launch announcement on this is a textbook example of public speaking at its best – a simple message built with drama and crafted in a memorable and impactful way.
Time rightly dubbed it innovation of the year. The ubiquity of the iPhone has brought computing, media consumption, dating, shopping, connecting into our hands with ease. It has helped disrupt a number of industries – making Uber, Instagram, Tindr and Twitter what they are today, decimating the published newspaper world and making the IPod and MP3 players dated and delisted.
So, now let’s look forward. What do we see on the horizon? Another decade of exponential transformations ahead (political disruption permitting), this time moving even faster as tech stacks on tech, people learn, people move faster and the demands of investors, shareholders and consumers drive a greater acceleration everywhere.
Make sure you have on board people who understand that and can operate at speed. Make that a filter for those you work with; comfort with acceleration as well as ambiguity is essential in your key people and your key partners.
I’ll give the last word to Bill Gates. In 2007 he was the world’s richest man. Since then he has given millions of his money away to fantastic causes but ten years later is still worth $86bn, rich enough to give everyone in the world £10 each at Christmas. “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
Sophie Devonshire is CEO of The Caffeine Partnership
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