2013: The Year When Things Get Real Again

Sometimes you start off a new year with no idea where things are headed. But this year the tech industry is starting off with a clear agenda. It’s all about the enterprise and B2B, and frankly I can’t wait.

I’ve been thinking about it this way: 2013 is the year when things get real again. By real I mean we’re going to be focusing on real companies that make real products that cost real money and get bought and used by other real companies. Not those crappy, kooky, consumer-focused startups that can’t raise any more money. I’m talking about companies whose products involve real engineering, stuff that goes beyond what three kids can do in a weekend on a startup bus on their way to SXSW.

This is the year when value received falls back into proportion with effort invested, the year when a trillion-dollar wealth transfer begins to take place in Silicon Valley, as companies around the world, big and small, start to rebuild their computing infrastructures in huge, profound ways.

Of course for decades this was what companies in Silicon Valley did. So in a sense we're just returning to our roots.

Was It All A Dream?

Honestly I can’t believe we have taken this long to come back to our senses. Sometimes I look back on the last few years and it seems like a bad dream. More than a few times I’ve thought that if I had to read (or write) about yet another startup that just raised a seed round to pursue a new twist on scooter rentals or photo filters I would just lose my mind and turn into one of those guys who walks around on the sidewalk shouting obscenities at the air.

Investor Dave McClure of 500 Startups says everyone is bailing out of consumer too early, that there’s still so much work to be done on the consumer side and that “anyone deciding to leave this ballgame early is gonna punch themselves in the face hard in a few years when they realize how much they messed up / missed out.”

The big problem he wants to see fixed? Restaurant menus.

Well, okay. I’m sure menus could be better, and I’m sure that’s a problem that someone will solve. And maybe there are people who find that super interesting. I’m just not one of them.

My Hot List For 2013

What’s on my hot list this year?

Acquia, founded by Dries Buytaert, the creator of Drupal. Drupal is open-source software but Acquia has built a business around supporting it. Think of them as the Red Hat of content management systems. I met with them recently. They’re killing it.

FuzeBox, a company in San Francisco that has created a low-cost videoconferencing system that blows away stuff costing 10 times as much and runs on any device, including an iPad. Steve Jobs loved their software and used it all the time. Now it’s catching on inside huge companies all around the world, places like GM and Kellogg’s.

Leap Motion, maker of a revolutionary little gizmo that lets you control a computer with hand gestures. But computers are just the beginning. Soon, Leap’s technology will be embedded all over the place. As I wrote recently, these guys could be the biggest break-out story of 2013.

Who else? Box, which pivoted toward the enterprise years ago and now is reaping the reward. Cloudera, GoodData, MobileIron, Zendesk, Okta, Ping Identity.

Wow, Money!

Sure, things like identity management and content management and cloud infrastructure don't sound very sexy. Truth is, they're not very sexy. But you know what is sexy? Money. And these companies are making real stuff and they’re charging real money for it.

This means they’re not trying to make money by selling ads, which in turn means they don’t have to resort to a business model based on tricking people and exploiting them. They don’t have to resort to doing sneaky things with terms of service agreements or privacy policies.

Nope, this is straight-up business. You give us money, we give you our stuff. This is good for the tech companies but also for customers. The great thing about using money to pay for things is that it creates accountability. There’s an implicit or explicit service level agreement.

It means you can’t rely on the big cop-out that consumer Web companies use every time they get caught doing something sleazy: Hey, it’s free, so if you don’t like it, just leave. No, companies that charge money for their products have to do a little better than that.

So let’s raise a glass to 2013, the year when things will get real again. And please, no more photo filter apps, I beg you.