Manish Patel’s passion for building began when he was a kid. Whether it was on his brother’s Commodore 128 or with a bucket of Legos, he loved to create experiences that stretched the imagination. Today, that same excitement drives his involvement in the start-up community, where Patel helps countless teams realise their potential as they evolve from an insight to an experience to a business. As partner at Highland Capital Partners, Patel invests in consumer internet, mobile and digital media companies that observe patterns in our everyday lives and use technology to help solve problems on a human scale. Prior to Highland, he held several leadership roles in Google as it grew from a search engine to the dominant company that it is today.
If you ask me which companies have infinite potential, I would say companies solving problems on the “human scale”. What do I mean by the human scale? These are problems that affect you and me on a daily basis. A good example is Google, which made it easy for people to look for information online. Facebook bridged another gap — the human need to connect with others. The same logic applies to many other hugely successful companies — Zynga and YouTube satiate the human need to be entertained. Likewise, Flipkart in India has given people the option of buying stuff online rather than going to a store, thereby simplifying their lives. Amazon ships my groceries home every month and there are many more firms making instant deliveries. Companies solving human-scale problems often end up being consumer-oriented companies because individuals outnumber businesses.
And the list of consumer internet firms keeps growing longer, with new ones being built every day. This is because it’s a lot easier to build a company today than in the past. Information is abundantly available and people are so well-connected through social media that they instantly get to know about and help promote the next big thing. It’s pretty incredible when you think about companies such as Snapchat or Instagram — the number of users they are able to acquire with such small teams is amazing.
At the same time, it’s tough to build a successful firm because so many others are attempting the same. The bar is being raised all the time. Either way, consumers win because there’s more competition, so more innovation will happen as companies race to survive. Without that competition, the industry gets stifled. You get large players that don’t have enough reason to innovate faster because they aren’t worried about losing their market share.
As for information search, one of our portfolio firms, Aviate, is designing the next generation of tech for finding information on mobile phones. Google is an amazing company and Bing is a great search engine, but they started on the web first. Now, we spend most of our day on mobile devices and because of the form factor, design and context in which it is being used, the type of search we are doing is very different.
Another firm we invested in that is working on something extreme is called Leap Motion, which is changing how people interact with machines through gesture computing. Everybody in the world needs to interact with computers — that is inevitable. But that interface has to become much richer and more intuitive than it is today. While early implementations of Leap Motion are taking shape in the gaming industry, the technology has the potential to alter how people accomplish day-to-day tasks. For instance, imagine a doctor performing surgery. He can’t use a keyboard or touchscreen if he has scrubbed up or started the surgery. With Leap Motion, he can interact with machines with intuitive hand motions and gestures in the air. That is a powerful application.
The other category I am excited about is the internet of things, which is this idea that all devices will be connected to the internet, and become “smart” by learning from each other. It’s not so much about my refrigerator talking to my microwave, but about my entire home becoming smarter in how I engage with it. Nest is a great example — its thermostat is smart, which not only leads to energy saving but improves life as well. The internet of things can improve my life in subtle but important ways. For example, if I forget to close my garage door, I should get a SMS telling me to shut it. What’s even more powerful is having a platform that allows developers to imagine and create various experiences that make our lives better — that’s what our most recent investment, SmartThings, will enable. For instance, perhaps the components of my household security system have been made by different manufacturers. With SmartThings, someone could wire them together in a way that makes sense for me. Clearly, the consumer internet space is only getting more and more exciting and if you have a great idea and exceptional team, you can stay relevant.
Be warned, though: very few early-stage companies are able to run with the same idea until they become a company of consequence. Most pivot several times. That ability to react to the market and see where it’s going is important and critical for success. You need to be clear about the market, the space you will operate in and then focus on the product. And, of course, on the revenue model.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT