I like to look ahead. I like to guess at trends and watch them develop. That skill, talent, and habit is why I live on Whidbey Island. It is why I invest in individual stocks. Decades of looking ahead is why I am less likely to laugh at ideas that seem silly now.
(If all you want is the MVIS portion, skip ahead a few paragraphs. I got on a roll that made sense to me, but hey, you may not care.)
From what I remember of Mainstream America, the most common question at a party was, “So, what do you do?” Occupation is important because it defines a person’s potential social scene. America does have a class system, even though abandoning that was one reason for the Revolution. Here on Whidbey, and probably in other small communities too, the most question is, “So, why’d you move here?” Motivation is important because it tells whether a person moved to get away from something, or was drawn to something, or both, or was simply random. Whidbey has enough people who were just driving through and decided to stay. Some didn’t even stop in Seattle. They just saw it as they drove through on the Interstate. I found more reasons before making my move.
Whidbey is close enough to Seattle that I can drive to downtown in less than an hour if the traffic’s right. (Ha!) The city has a lot to offer. You’re probably seen a lot of it in some movie. Yet, it is far enough out that last night’s stars were more obscured by marine moisture than urban lights. Most of the day, the loudest noises are from birds. A car driving by is an odd event. I’ve traveled across and through a bit of the world (bicycling across America, bicycling across Austria, walking across Scotland, hiking New Zealand, etc.) and realized I want to live near the ocean and snow-covered mountains, where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have few external constraints, where I could watch sunsets over the water, and where I knew the language. Those criteria eliminate a lot of the planet. So, yeah, I moved to Seattle. But Seattle is growing and hemmed in by geography and resources, so density, noise, and urban troubles arise. Whidbey is inconvenient enough to discourage many. And Whidbey’s water and septic constraints limit growth better than any regulation.
When I moved to Seattle in 1980, it was considered to be so silly that few wanted jobs here. According to Boeing HR, one of the reasons I got the job offer was because I didn’t balk at the weather. Now Seattle is trendy and those days are hard to imagine.
When I moved to Whidbey in 2005, friends didn’t say the move was silly, but they made it apparent that they thought it was odd. I think I’ve found a haven within the Salish Sea that will become much more apparent as Seattle’s growth resurges.
What’s this have to do with Newton, and what’s a PicoP? Trends. As Seattle grew it developed and attracted entrepreneurs. Living amidst them made it easier to watch simple ideas that were laughable to some become incredibly valuable to others. Rewind to 1980. How much money can anyone make on software for small computers, selling books without a store, serving fancied coffee, selling airplane tickets without an agent? I watch for trends, treat them with respect, and pay particular attention to the ideas being laughed at.
I bought a Newton MessagePad in about 1994. It was a personal digital assistant that recognized handwriting and was far easier to carry around than a laptop. Despite being made by Apple, it flopped and people laughed. The handwriting recognition was one of the first introductions to the joke of auto-correct. The synchronization was effectively overnight. It was handheld, but only because I have really big hands. Eventually I returned to paper notebooks. The MessagePad was either too early, poorly designed, or not given enough time to develop. Yet, almost all of its features are part of every cell phone and tablet (though some are transformed: wi-fi instead of IR, Siri instead of handwriting, etc.). Ten years later the iPhone is introduced and becomes a phenomenal success.
In March, 2010 I bought a ShowWX pico-projector made by a company that I own shares of: MicroVision (MVIS). The idea was great. An always-in-focus projector the size of an iPhone that lasts long enough to play a move and that can create a display the size of my house. Granted I have a small house and the display is only visible on a dark night, but hey, it does it. I watched DVDs that way for a while. Making a thirty inch display made a much brighter image, but even then it was simpler to use a conventional monitor rather than arrange furniture to hold up the device. The product proved technical feasibility, but was too expensive to make. The company may not be the object of laughter, but it certainly isn’t being heralded as exemplary entrepreneurship.
I think few are laughing because many see the potential. The main guts of MicroVision’s projector (the PicoP part of the ShowWX) have shrunk and can fit inside a cell phone, or a laptop, or almost any electronic device. The costs are down. The manufacturing hurdles are being cleared. Volume production is hinted at. And we investors wait. Some wait to prove themselves to their friends. Some wait as champions of new ideas. Some wait because the stock can’t go down further, right? Some wait because, like me, they may remember a report from years ago that provided a market valuation for MicroVision that would result in roughly a $125 price for MVIS. (I searched, but can’t find the article. Post int the Comments if you find it.) That was years before the 8-for-1 reverse split. Multiply $125 by 8 and get $1,000. Laughable.
The other trend I’m watching now is entrepreneurship. Re-entering corporate life is difficult (Saturday I’ll post my My Jobs Report Month 18) and many are relying on themselves and collaborations. The internet and delivery services enable home businesses, saving the cost of storefronts. A loss of confidence in institutions increased interest in simpler, more personal solutions. Dealing with a person is more appealing than trusting a corporation or government regulation. On average, every ten days someone asks me to participate in a collaboration. They are widely varied, though almost all are based on simple, local ideas. Others laugh. I listen. Eventually, some will succeed. Sign me up!