Tag Archives: innovation

Oh! I must be a #linkybrain

#Linkybrain #Linkybrains

#linkybrains — it all started with this post by Doug Scott, then this enlightening piece by Chris Tottman, and this by Alex Dunsdon.

The virality of this conversation across LinkedIn and Medium shows how deeply the concept has resonated with people.

And I can understand why.

Most of Chris Tottman’s points struck close to home for me.

I’ll briefly pull out a couple before hitting my own confession.

# 1. Extended or Semi-permanent Adolescence

My curiosity and dislike of the well-trodden path mean that I am averse to the idea of a job for life and all the trappings of it.

#3. High Creative Output

I am brimming with new ideas and always have some form of personal project on the go. However, I’ve got to get better at completing and monetising them!

#4. Own Boss

I have a deep-seated need for control of my work and life in general. Autonomy and freedom are key tenets of my life.

#7. Restless – prone to multiple careers, verticals and j curves

I am always looking at the next thing. Honing this instinct and forcing myself to finish tasks before the next one has been a key project of recent years.

#10. Outsider

Yes. My distrust of the herd mentality folly runs deep.

#15. Obsessive Nature

When I find a problem that captivates me. I can’t let it go. I’ve got solutions to problems that have been bubbling away on the stove for a decade.


So, it’s time for my very own #linkybrain confession:

  1. My curiosity is like a black hole, slowly pulling everything in the universe towards it.
  2. I AM ALWAYS DAYDREAMING.
  3. I see problems, and therefore opportunities, e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e.
  4. I am unsatisfied with my achievements to date, even though people advise me otherwise.
  5. A stable job doing the same thing for life is my own version of hell.
  6. If I am not working on something risky, new, and potentially world-changing, I lose interest almost immediately.
  7. I am a voracious reader.
  8. Many people have told me that I am the hardest person on myself that they have ever met.
  9. I cannot stop having new ideas. The flow is relentless.
  10. I work best in an empty room in silence. Libraries are my heaven.
  11. I am both an introvert and extrovert.
  12. My desire to empathise with other people means that I can see and hold multiple viewpoints at once. This can often make it confusing to choose a side of the argument or make a decision.
  13. Inefficiencies and illogical legacy issues enfuriate me.
  14. Deep down I feel I can do anything (except give birth, obvs).
  15. All conversations with me will drift towards the deep and meaningful if left unchecked.
  16. People who are not altruistic scare me.
  17. I will never understand how people cannot be curious.
  18. Historically I left many projects unfinished.
  19. I frequently wonder whether I’m working on the wrong project or if I will ever finish anything.
  20. I instinctively distrust something that is trending. (Yes, even this #linkybrains fiasco!).
  21. My mind is a battleground in the war against perfectionism.
  22. I believe there is no such thing as a bored person, only a boring one.

From time to time I publish new business and product ideas on my blog, davidjohnkaye.com. Here is a little list of the ones so far.

New business idea: SecondChance – reducing retailer waste

The inspiration: Dumpster diving

I recently read this excellent WIRED article on a professional “dumpster diver” in the US.

Matt Malone makes $65,000 dollars a year as a part-time scavenger from dumpsters behind retail stores in Austin, Texas.

Diving has yielded many interesting and lucrative finds for Morgan, such as printers, laptops, and gifts,  with office supplies being (somewhat counter-intuitively) one of the most profitable sources.

It’s a great way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, but this is a niche hobby so the impact on landfill volumes will be minimal. This got me thinking.

What if there was a way to monetise this? Instead of having dumpster divers, could there not be a profitable business or social enterprise that would systematically give retailers the ability to reduce the amount of potentially-valuable waste from going to landfill?

Existing enterprise: FoodCloud

There is an existing version of this in the food retail industry: FoodCloud.

FoodCloud connects supermarkets and food retailers to local charities that can make good use of the food before it becomes unfit for human consumption.

This a win for the charity beneficiaries, environment and retailers alike.

If this could be done with other resource-intensive goods such as computers and printers, it would be like having an army of Matt Malone-style dumpster divers all over the country!

SecondChance: reducing retailer waste

The idea of SecondChance would be a for-profit version of FoodCloud for non-food products.

It would need better branding as that’s just a shorthand, but here’s how it could work:

  1. Retailers would upload any unsold goods that would otherwise be thrown away to the site.
  2. SecondChance would collect the goods for free and warehouse them.
  3. Local organisations or maybe even individuals could browse the site to look for bargains.
  4. They would buy them from SecondChance’s site.
  5. SecondChance would facilitate delivery to the end user after taking payment.

Risks and challenges

  1. It would probably be too tricky for individuals to be allowed to use the site, as it would be too expensive to have proper consumer rights for the goods sold.
  2. SecondChance would presumably have to have some smart buyers (or a very smart algorithm) to weed out the unprofitable goods as each collection would have a cost associated.
  3. The business model would be highly dependent on having no procurement costs at stage 1. As SecondChance takes off though, would the retailers want to charge for this?
  4. The business model is highly linked to the fees charged to retailers for discarding high-value items. If there are no fees or other penalties mandated by government in the area of the retailer, then the business case for participation in the SecondChance ecosystem would be diminished.

Potential entrants

1. Amazon

This is essentially a version of the Amazon business model but plugged into the back end of the retailer business process rather than manufacturers. Could it be something that Amazon would be interested in pursuing?

Without modeling the business directly, I suspect the margins would be too low to justify it for Amazon unless the cost of all goods were to remain at (or very near) to zero.

However, it is a good fit for their existing business model, with warehouses, delivery, and online retailing being the key infrastructure. It also marries well with their mission to bring goods to consumers as cheaply as possible.

2. eBay

Could an eBay business model work better? Would it make more sense to have the retailers simply auction all goods to consumers directly?

I personally think this would be too much of a challenge, as it would require a totally new shop area to handle the turnaround for the unwanted goods.

Arguably, why would the retailers even bother with listing the items online and then handling the traffic, when they could just resort to the low-cost alternative of having a very-steeply discounted bargain bin?

N.B. The name for this idea was changed from TrashNet to SecondChance on 11/02/2018 as I thought it better reflects the mission. Nobody wants to buy trash, so it shouldn’t be reflected in the company name!

Tackling Homelessness with Social Impact Bonds

One of the methodologies to achieve positive social change that really interests me is the concept of Outcome-Based Payments.

I recently saw a great example launched by The Big Issue, one of my favourite charitable organisations.

Homelessness in the UK: the challenge

Shelter estimates that there are about 300,000 people classified as homeless in the UK, with the National Audit Office estimating that there are about 4,450 people sleeping rough on any given night.

These are shamefully high numbers in such a rich and developed society as the UK.

How do Outcome-Based Payments and Social Impact Bonds work?

Social enterprises and charitable organisations target the social improvements that they want to achieve.

They find the relevant local authorities that would benefit from having these challenges dealt with and then enter into contracts with them. These contracts guarantee that the organisation will receive a certain payment once a measurable improvement has been made, known as an “Outcome-Based Payment“.

The organisation then provides the service in question and measures progress via the agreed methodology. Once this agreed target has been met, the local authority releases the agreed payment.

Of course, there is a delay between the provision of the service and the payment, meaning there is a need for startup capital. This capital can be issued in the form of a bond that is linked to the future income stream of the Outcome-Based Payments. Therefore, these bonds are often referred to as “Social Impact Bonds“.

Why are Outcome-Based Payments important?

This is a great model for local authorities because it means that the payments are made only after successful outcomes are achieved.

This means less taxpayer money is wasted on schemes that don’t work and it also means that funds can be diverted to the most effective strategies, obtaining maximum impact for the local authorities.

Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, launched the £10m Outcomes Investment Fund to target just these sorts of opportunties.

How could this work for homelessness?

Big Issue Investm via its Outcomes Investment Fund, has backed Changing Lives in its target to get 150 rough sleepers in Newcastle and Gateshead into long-term accommodation.

Source: The Big Issue, November 20-26 2017

I think this is a fantastic model that has potential to stimulate improvements for many other social challenges, such as mental illness.

What other organisations invest in Social Impact Bonds?

A non-exhaustive list of organisations that would make these sorts of investments are listed here.

Farewill: a great business idea!

I recently came across this amazing idea for a business: Farewill.

What is Farewill?

Farewill is an online service that helps you to make a last will and testament for £50.

Farewill claims that the wills are legally binding, takes 15 minutes, and will be reviewed by experts. For an additional £10 a year, you can also get coverage for updates to the law and unlimited revisions.

This is a really important idea as dying without a will (“intestate”) can cause major problems for your family and can cause major confusion over who inherits your estate. I know this from first-hand experience, as my father passed away suddenly without a will when I was 16.

Why write a will?

Leaving your loved ones with the burden of complicated legal procedures at a time when they are least able to carry them out causes a lot of anguish. Anything that gets more people to write a will gets my approval.

Providing this service makes fantastic business sense for Farewill, as around 60% of British adults do not have a will written up. That is an extremely attractive market size.

WillAid – cheap wills from a solicitor

Previously I had referred people to WillAid, a partnership between the legal profession and 9 UK charities. The participating solicitors draft your will for free in exchange for a donation to the targetted charities. £95 is the suggested donation but it is voluntary. It’s a great way to get a will at a cheaper rate than normal from a solicitor (usually around £200) and it runs every November.

However, this Farewill service has got my attention.

It’s one of those rare occasions where I see a new business and I am genuinely annoyed I didn’t think of it!

Elon Musk: Making Life Multiplanetary 2017

Below is the keynote speech at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) from none other than Elon Musk of SpaceX.

Elon outlines his plan to build the “BFR” rocket which can be used to launch over 150 tonnes of payload into orbit at the lowest marginal cost per launch of any rocket in history. Key to that is the vertical propulsive landing approach, which is becoming so precise that the future versions of their rockets won’t even have legs to stabilise the landing. It is a beast of a rocket at 160m tall and 9m in diameter.

The BFR project has already commenced, with the tooling ordered and construction of the facilities underway.

Elon’s targets are:

  • Landing so precise that risk tends to zero and compares to commercial airlines
  • Establishing a Moon base (no propellant plant needed as they can be refuelled in upper Earth orbit and have enough to launch and land on Earth)
  • BFR able to dock with the International Space Station (ISS)
  • BFR able to refuel in space by docking with another BFR upper module and “sloshing” the fuel over using control thrusters to apply milli-g acceleration
  • 2022 for the first cargo mission to Mars (to scout for resources like H²0)
  • 2024 for the first cargo and crew mission to Mars (to build the propellant plant among other things)
  • BFR upper module able to fly from surface of Mars back to Earth as Martian gravity is weak enough to allow for a booster-free launch
  • Use of BFR between cities on Planet Earth could massively reduce journey times (e.g. 25 mins from LA to NYC)

Oh and here is my favourite little nugget of wisdom from Elon’s talk:

“On Mars, sunrise and sunset are blue and the day is red. It’s the opposite of Earth.”

My ICS Project with Raleigh International in Nicaragua: Coffee

5 years ago, I led a team of international volunteers on a climate change project in Nicaragua.

It was run by the British NGO, Raleigh International, under the UK government’s International Citizen Service (ICS) program.

Our project focused on improving the relationship between the communities of El Pajarito and El Tular (near Achuapa) and their environment.

Here is a short 5 minute video of me description our team’s project along with my host family!

Nesta Inventor Prize

Nesta, a UK-based innovation foundation, has just launched the Inventor Prize.

It’s a new challenge prize aiming to support and inspire inventors to come up with physical and digital solutions to 4 major challenges in UK society:

  1. Financial Inclusion
  2. Mental Health
  3. Ageing
  4. Air Quality

The finalists get a £5,000 grant and mentoring support to help develop and test their invention. At the end of the competition, the top prize is £50,000.

The inventor must have a working model of their idea and it must have a clear market to improve lives in the UK. The final version will be developed through the prize with extensive user testing.

The deadline for submission of ideas is 11 pm on 22nd October 2017.

If their previous Dynamic Demand Challenge is anything to go by, this new Inventor’s Prize will be a great little initiative to support upcoming inventors.

Upgrading Our Energy System: Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan from BEIS – my thoughts

Early in 2017, the UK Government called for evidence and views on how to move the UK to a smarter and more flexible energy system. They received over 200 responses and I am informed that the vast majority related to energy storage.

The UK Government took the views into account and have produced a plan of 29 actions that BEIS, Ofgem, and industry will take for the future of the UK energy system called: Upgrading Our Energy System: Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan. I’ve sketched out some of my main thoughts on the document below.

Introduction of an energy storage licence to UK grid code

Tantalisingly, the UK Government plans to recognise the overwhelming noise from industry and amend the Electricity Act 1989 to include a definition of storage, but frustratingly only as a subset of the generation asset class. It will be based on the Electricity Storage Network definition and Ofgem will begin consulting on this in the summer of 2017.

The licence changes will allow storage to be exempt from final consumption levies and will de-risk investments that co-locate alongside renewables. Ofgem will improve the connections process and will use financial incentives to make the DNOs do more to help their customers.

In some ways, it is great news that the Government is finally making this move. However, by merely adding it as a sub-set of generation instead of making it a separate asset class, I interpret this solution as a bit of a bodge-job.

Creating a separate asset class would have opened up a much deeper discussion about which organisations can own the asset (i.e. can DNOs? Can National Grid?). By not creating a separate class, it seems that this vital conversation is off the cards entirely. Indeed this is consistent with Ofgem’s view (plainly reiterated in the document) that “network companies should not own or operate storage”, as they think it will “impede the development of a competitive market for storage and flexibility services”.

In my mind, this is the wrong conclusion. For me, DNOs are the perfect customer for energy storage assets. They already own the wires on the network that do the spatial arbitrage of taking energy from places of low price (supply) to places of high price (demand). Surely it follows that DNOs should be trusted to do the same with the temporal arbitrage that storage provides?

If DNOs will be continuing to make decisions about investing in the capital equipment of wires, transformers, and the rest, then surely they should be allowed to own storage at the same time, as it is being lined up as a potential rival for these traditional assets ( one of the major touted benefits of storage being “Transmission and Distribution Upgrade Cost Deferral”)?

Removal of other barriers to energy storage and Demand Side Response (DSR)

Apparently, Ofgem has already consulted on a proposed Targeted Charging Review (TCR). The consultation stated Ofgem’s views that storage should only pay one set of balancing system charges (not two as currently) and that storage should not pay the “demand residual” element of network charges at transmission and distribution level. This is obviously a sensible move as it removes a major source of unfairness and will make the business case for storage projects a lot healthier.

Ofgem are looking at giving aggregators access to the Balancing Mechanism (BM) and clarifying the rules for DSR and energy storage to participate non-exclusively in the Capacity Market (CM). This is really great news for the UK energy market. Firstly, clarification of the CM rules will finally allow the much-talked-about revenue stacking that underpins almost all energy storage projects.

Secondly, allowing aggregators access to the BM will boost DSR and energy storage as it will allow them to compete with traditional generation in the provision of this vital service to the System Operator, National Grid. Professor Goran Strbac of my almer mater Imperial College has frequently spoken about the potentially huge benefits that energy storage assets could provide to the BM, so this development would pave the way for his predictions to become reality.

Removing barriers to smart meters and “time of use” tariffs

The document refers to the UK Government’s commitment to ensuring that every household and small business is offered a smart energy meter by the end of 2020.

To make the most of these hard assets, domestic half hourly settlement of electricity payment has been possible on an elective basis since June 2017 and Ofgem will consult on whether it will be made mandatory. If so, it would be dovetailed to coincide with the smart meter roll-out.

Intriguingly, these two developments would allow me to introduce my PowerCube product idea if I decided to move forward with it, as the smart meter and half hourly metering requirements were the two major limiting factors holding back the product’s successful launch.

The document talks about the need for consumer protection, standards, and cybersecurity protection as part of the smart energy revolution. In an increasingly interconnected and rapidly-changing world, these factors will be extremely important if the benefits are to be safely secured.

Recognition of smart energy entrepreneurship

On a final note, it was great to see the inset case studies of various innovative smart energy startups such as VCharge and Open Utility included in the paper.

It was particularly great to see Upside Energy mentioned, which is a company that formed as part of the Nesta Dynamic Demand Challenge competition that I supported as a mentor back in 2014. Graham and the team were one of the winners, so it’s encouraging to see them still going from strength to strength.

My talk at Hello Tomorrow: The Future of Energy

In November 2016 I had the privilege of being invited to speak an event in Turkey on The Future of Energy.

It was run by Hello Tomorrow, an NGO that aims to empower early-stage science startups, and coordinated by my ex-IEA colleague, Timur Topalgoekceli, at the Sabanci Centre in Istanbul.

It was very exciting to see such a high-level panel of speakers from the Turkish public and private sector, showing that the clean energy revolution has a dynamic future in Turkey.

I was one of a group of innovative energy technology startups that were invited to present to the conference to spark debate about what the future of the energy system could look like, and how could Turkey position itself to capitalise on this and influence the upcoming change.

My talk starts from 59:00 minutes into this video. To be honest, I’m not happy with my performance as it was quite a different stage to the ones I’m used to presenting on!

It was very much a TED-style podium with no lecture to hide behind, so my nerves get the better of me during the talk.

No matter: it was a great learning experience and it was a fantastic event to meet the movers and shakers of the Istanbul clean energy scene.

Amazon and eBay rentals – business model of the future?

Isn’t it amazing that neither Amazon and eBay let users lend and borrow items between themselves? There are plenty of websites chasing the rental market currently, so why aren’t the e-commerce giants chasing it as a business model?

Connectivity = efficiency = sustainability

Connectivity within a system allows for greater efficiency, as it allows different elements of a system to pool resources and reduce the duplication of effort. From a sustainability standpoint, the rise of the internet is incredibly exciting as it facilitates the sharing of resources, meaning fewer items need to be fabricated for human use, which in turn reduces the total amount of effort and investment wasted on items that have a low usage factor.

Prior to the internet, the pool of objects and items that human beings could “leverage” (i.e. use) to achieve their goals without an outright purchase was mostly limited to those held by their within their own network of friends, neighbours and family. This was a pool constrained by the mind’s numerical capacity for relationships, the lack of a complete and quick way to search a person’s hypothetical inventory of items available for use, and also by the ability to convince others of trustworthiness.

Internet marketplaces facilitate sharing

The internet can disrupt this status quo through the use of marketplaces that can be used to connect borrowers and lenders of items. Items could be listed as available for borrowing/renting, and potential users could search for them. Possible features include:

  • rating the condition of an item by both parties before and after the transaction
  • insurance products could be offered to cover the item
  • payment (if needed) could be handled via the marketplace site/app
  • location of the borrowers/lenders could be matched quickly through mobile GPS
  • the option to buy the item could be provided if desired

There are startups working on this very concept as we speak, such as StreetBank in the UK. Watch their company trailer below:

Business case for Amazon and eBay rentals

Given the interest in the rental model by many startups around the world, driven by the fundamental capability shift that has been enabled by the internet, I find it intriguing that Amazon and eBay do not offer their customers the opportunity to search for rentals (with the exception of holiday home rentals on eBay and Amazon’s e-book and online film/movie rentals).

In my mind, allowing customers to lend/borrow in addition to buy/sell would be a source of additional traffic to the site, adding additional opportunity to grow revenue. The rental model itself would also be extremely appealing to the two companies as, in the case of popular items or items rented for long periods of time, it could yield regular cashflow. For example, it would be perfect for those who want to rent big items like TVs or sofas.

This business model would also hedge their position against a potentially disruptive market force and allow them to stay ahead of the curve (and potentially kill any upstarts dead in the water).

But why don’t they want to offer it as a service to clients? There may be a few reasons:

  • They do not want to lose the focus on their primary business model
  • They don’t want to create a new market that could potentially disrupt their current operations
  • They don’t believe their is a real demand for the service
  • They do not believe that the potential revenue streams do not justify the costs of lost sales and investment in their site infrastructure

I believe that the last two are the more plausible ones, as Amazon in particular are not known for shying away from innovation!

One thing worth noting here is the ingenious “Subscribe & Save” feature of Amazon that allows users to create a regular repeat transaction for an item they buy regularly (such as food or toiletries) and save up to 15% of the cost in the process. This is win-win for both parties: customers save money and Amazon gets a regular cashflow. The service is a step in the direction of the rental model and creates much more of a recurring relationship between the parties (making the user of the site a “client” rather than a “customer”).

Disrupting the very concept of “ownership”

Having wider access to use the items around us (i.e. having greater “personal leverage” of your community’s assets) will suddenly change the very concept of ownership. If an item is readily available to be lent or borrowed by thousands of people via an online marketplace, who will really “own” the item? Technology will blur the lines between group and individual ownership and the old definition of ownership being “the moral right to categorically control something” may begin to feel like an anachronism.

The economist and activist Jeremy Rifkin recently wrote an article for the New York Times heralding “the rise of Anti-capitalism”. He argues that the “zero marginal cost economy” being driven by technological mega-trends such as the Internet of Things will increase collaboration. This will reduce the opportunities for capitalists to make profits and increase the relevance of social enterprises and non-profit organisations.

Given how this could represent a threat to megacorporations, this is a concept worth serious consideration.

Business case for rental not sales

In my mind, this highlights the potential business case for companies renting items to us rather than selling. This is the lifetime cost model versus the upfront cost model of a transaction.

Upfront cost model characteristics

  • immediate access to cash = lower risk of cash loss via customer churn or default
  • Lack of cash flow predictability
  • Upfront cost is a barrier to customer acquisition
  • Vendor has no incentive to take responsibility for maintenance or disposal of product = higher margin

Lifetime cost model characteristics

  • Lower initial cost = lower barrier to purchase = more sales
  • High predictability of cash flow
  • Greater emphasis on client relationship = greater emphasis customer service = greater chance of add-on sales/repeat business
  • Responsibility for life cycle of product (maintenance and disposal) = incentive for sustainability = better quality products made and less wastage

Can you imagine a world where, instead of buying a pair of Jeans outright, you would instead rent them? The borrower would sign up for a certain amount of time (say 5 years) and the lender would be responsible for ensuring they last the allotted length of time (perhaps offering a post-back service to have them fixed or tailored).

This business model would reduce the amount of unused, unnecessary items in circulation, would save customers money, and would allow more responsible and competent companies to thrive. I for one would be keen to see this model take off!