by Manuel Stagars, CFA, CAIA, ERP
When drafting a business plan, we usually project a few years into the future. Conventional wisdom asks for a five-year forecast. More often than not, we come up with a graph that in some form exponentially speeds up towards the upper right, like the old hockey stick or the more modest J-curve.
Most of these projections are garbage of course. Not the numbers and the graph are important, though. The reasoning and underlying assumptions in your startup are much more interesting. If your cost is just too high, this tells a venture capitalist a better story than then huge revenue you will make in year five. Most entrepreneurs who claim they take a more long-term, more disruptive view. Still, they end with the same uninventive hockey-stick forecasts like everybody else. If we bet more on the people than the play, it’s obvious that entrepreneurs have to try harder than that.
Not all innovations are inventions, of course. Most projects and startups have a short shelf life. However, if entrepreneurs speak about disruptive innovation, they must have an opinion about the longer term future. Not three and five years matter in these startups, but twenty and thirty years. When I ask entrepreneurs about their plans until the year 2030, it quickly becomes apparent they have none, have not researched the subject, and have spent little time forming an opinion. Think about it: The year 2030 is less than twenty years away. Rewind twenty years. You will notice that we live in another world today. I vividly remember 1990, and a lot has changed since. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s incredibly tough to make a forecast into the future, let alone twenty years. But entrepreneurs should at least make an honest effort if they shoot for the stars.
So what will change until 2030? There are a few things we can be sure about:
- Conventional wisdom will not apply when making a forecast.
- We cannot project on a linear scale (so-called meta-trends prevail).
- “Me-too business” has no chance of survival.
- Technology will most likely be subordinated to geopolitics.
Have you seen geopolitics in a startup pitch recently? When thinking long-term, it is mandatory we think of it. This even applies to fast changing markets like software and B2B/consumer Internet, let alone cleantech/energy, infrastructure, and life sciences plays. Just one example of many: Around the turn of the last century, the scientific community was convinced they lived in a global, friendly culture with a prosperous future. Then two world wars happened in rapid succession. Twenty years after the turn of the century, the world had completely changed.
A good primer about the topic (from an American perspective) is the 2025 Global Trend Forecast by the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which can be accessed freely here. It obviously does not have all the answers, and don’t be dismayed when you read it. The report serves the purpose of introducing a different viewpoint into the debate of disruptive innovation, sustainability and purpose.
I look forward to the year 2030, and have a positive outlook for entrepreneurship. The more problems there are to solve, the more opportunities exist for entrepreneurs. I invite you to join the debate, and look forward to hearing your opinions.