It was better than fireworks. There was a time when you could stand on the palatial north east corner of Old Street roundabout and watch flaming comets scream by.
How we laughed. The screaming came from entrepreneurs. The whoosh came from the hover boards they were riding and the flames roared from a fault in the mechanics.
The motorised skateboard is a form of transport whose day will come but not while co-working spaces are sprinkled with techpreneurs dousing their still-smoking socks when they arrive at the office.
It’s not surprising that a high proportion of those people orbiting us like the offspring of Violet Elizabeth Bott and the Human Torch should be tech start-uppers. After all, we speak of people who are by nature early-adopters and future-gazers, forever trying to see where the market opportunity-to-be is opening up. So if someone declares that hoverboards are ”in” but walking is for squares and deadbeats then the theory will be tested and business opportunities sought.
Yet, by the same token we are also dealing with people who are data-driven. (It goes without saying that data-driven early-adopters see no conflict in wearing the latest fitness trackers as they explore the pros and cons of travelling while not walking) In any event, when the data is your melted Stan Smiths it’s back to the drawing board.
In addition to the observation that burning hoverboards are not ready for prime time what else can we learn about the immediate future of entrepreneurial transport. Let us simply stroll around the Old Street neighbourhood and notice how the tech startups who are shaping our future, criss-cross Tech City to meet investors, poach developers, practice their pitch and seek out free pizza. After all, whatever they’re doing today we’ll all be doing in years to come.
I can report with heavy heart that there are no jet packs nor is anyone riding giant robo-dogs to work.
During the day the intrepid ‘treps scuttle from co-working space to coffee shop and back by traditional means: Bicycles, unmotorised skateboards (of the physical exertion sort)and from time-to-time a bus.
It would be remiss in this column not to mention the Boris Bikes, the bright red-sponsored hire bikes whose serried ranks face on to Old Street like Caesars’s 13th Legion on the banks of the fateful Rubicon. But far more interesting is a new genus of road (and pavement) users that zap around the neighbourhood for it is these who tell us something about the future which the startups are creating.
Think of the moment at dusk during your Mediterranean Summer holidays and recall how, as the sun goes down, the swallows and butterflies give the sky over to the erratic flight of bats and moths.
At EC1Y 1BE, dusk signals the moment when the roads are handed over to Uber and Deliveroo cyclists. Instructed by their phones Toyota Priuses cruise the streets at energy-efficient 20mph while the teal-jacketed food couriers of Deliveroo scurry back and forth on scooters and bicycles.
Food deliveries require the transfer of atoms and molecules from one place to another but do meetings? Why, we might ask, in the age of perma-connectedness should tech entrepreneurs (of all people!) even need to go places anyway? Surely they can simply use Holograms, Virtual Reality or Skype to have lean, efficient data-rich online meetings.
But the truth is that anything other than face-to-face is not rich in the sort of data we really want. No amount of financial info, market or social metrics can transmit a team’s energy, enthusiasm, sincerity or determination. Millenia of socialisation has trained us to prefer looking each other in the eye and picking up on subtle cues like micro yawns, jaw-clenching and fidgeting. Like the hoverboards, virtual reality will take us there one day soon and without question both tech giants and ambitious startups are working on this but we’re not quite there yet.
So let us accept, happily, that today people do still want to meet. This in fact is one of the reasons behind the neighbourhood’s growing success. A world class innovation cluster like the Old Street hub occurs where like-minded (but different) people congregate, form a scenius, and feed off each other’s energy, friction, creativity, competitiveness and burritos.
And all these people; The startuppers, investors, mentors, baristas, marketers, coders, angels and accelerators are so close to each other that the perfect mode of transport in this high tech, future-obsessed world is in fact, Shank’s Pony. The isolated bubble of a car would smother creative friction. Walkability, in contrast, is one of the fundamental pillars of the the roundabout’s success.
But I miss the flaming comets.
This is my May Column for BA Business Life magazinePosted by Richard Newton | 0 comments