Things I wish for in the new year

Fred Wilson · January 2, 2009 · Short URL:

iTouch, secondary market and a cultural shift from cars to mobile devices

 No predictions for me. I'm done with that thanks to Brad Feld.

And I am also done with resolutions. I resolved to get off of Microsoft products in 2007 and failed miserably.

But I am looking forward to 2009 on this new year's eve and so I am going to list some things I am hopeful for in 2009. These are in no particular order, they are listed as they came to me.

1) A gas tax - Tom Evslin made the case for a $1.50/gallon gas tax the other day and I totally agree with him. His proposal would be to immediately refund the gas tax in the form of a lower payroll tax so that it doesn't actually take money out of the economy and people's pockets. That's a really good idea. But one way or another we are going to have to make using carbon energy more expensive so that alternative forms of energy and conservation can take hold.

2) An iTouch - I blogged about the iTouch recently. It's funny because it's now the number one search term driving traffic from google to this blog (other than my name and the name of this blog). I don't want to get caught up in whether it can play music or not or whether it has a 9" screen or not. I just want Apple to come out with an agressively priced touch screen mobile computer that can be used to read books, blogs, watch movies, listen to music, and work as a home remote too. This is a huge opportunity for them and others too.

3) A cultural shift from cars to mobile devices - It's already happening in Japan. Cars are no longer cool. Bikes, skateboards, scooters, trains, and subways are cooler and the coolest thing is mobile communication devices:

"Young people’s interest is shifting from cars to communication tools like personal computers, mobile phones and services,” said Yoichiro Ichimaru, who oversees domestic sales at Toyota.

We need to follow suit in america. I realize we have a large suburban and rural population and not everyone can make the shift from a car to a bike or train. But even a 10-20% shift in the US would be huge.

OK, those first three are really the same thing. But this is a big deal. The world is changing. We must get on the train before it leaves the station.

4) The development of a real functioning secondary market for private companies - This is another thing I've written a lot about. The IPO market is dead. The M&A market is on hiatus for the most part and even when it works, many companies get bought and then slowly die inside the parent company. We need a way for founders, employees, and investors to get liquid on their investments or the whole startup ecosystem is going to get messed up. I am not talking about dumping our shares on widows and orphans. I am talking about a marketplace where seasoned, savvy, and qualified investors can transact in private company shares. The good news is that there's already one well financed company operating in this space, called Second Market, of course. I am rooting hard for their success and also for anyone else who gets into this business. We need it.

5) An end to the housing slump - House prices are going to drop until they get to a sustainable price level. That price level will be determined by affordability levels (generally 30% of income), a rent vs buy analysis, the availability of credit for investors and/or homeowners, and the amount of foreclosures coming onto the market. It may well be that house prices in the aggregate need to drop another 15-20% before hitting bottom. And it's also true that some markets are closer to bottom than others. But it's the housing mess that got us into this economic crisis and I don't think we can start getting out of it until housing bottoms. So I'd just like to see prices drop to sustainable levels quickly and be done with it.

6) Facebook gets profitable and cash generating - This is not a prediction, as I said, I'm done with that. This is a wish. I think Facebook is a great company and I witness my teenage children using it as I use outlook/exchange/blog/twitter/etc. They run their world on Facebook and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Facebook now has 200mm unique visitors per month worldwide and it's growth has picked up again in the US after being flat most of this year. They've launched a compelling new service in Facebook Connect. And there are a number of examples of significant new businesses being built on top of its platform. It's accomplished most of what we'd agree that only the best internet businesses can accomplish. But it has one big dig against it. It's not profitable and self sustaining. And so it taints the whole social media/social networking sector to some degree. I am hoping that 2009 is the year that Facebook gets serious about revenue, cost control, profitability, and ultimately cash generation. Once they do, I think the whole sector will benefit (and the whole sector should be doing the exact same things for the same reasons).

7) Google starts cutting products and services - This is a bit of the same wish as the last one. But very different in some other ways. Google can do almost anything they put their mind to because they have the engineering resources, the infrastructure, the balance sheet, and the huge revenue stream to support it. But that doesn't mean they should try to do everything. As a shareholder, as a VC active in the internet market sector, and as a fan of the company, I think Google needs to "rationalize" their business in 2009. I don't know how much cost they could cut if they really tried to get serious about a Jack Welch/GE style business unit analysis, but I know it would be significant. I wish they'd pick five to ten businesses they want to be number one or two in and invest heavily in them and forget about everything else.

8) Obama turns out to be a closet conservative - This one is fantasy of course. But Nixon went to china, LBJ brought us civil rights, Clinton eliminated welfare as we knew it, and FDR betrayed his "upbringing" and became the champion of the common man. Hell Sharon was close to bringing peace to the middle east when he was stricken. Anything can happen when someone realizes they work for everyone and everybody and have the world riding on their shoulders. In the case of Obama, I hope he realizes that the world is changing and not every company and industry can be saved, not every worker can keep their old job, and not every problem can be solved with money (money we don't really have).

9) We all figure out how to do more with less - As I see it, about 40-50% of the world's wealth was vaporized this year. It's not even clear that we ever had that wealth. That's the lesson I learned in 2000/2001 when the gotham gal and I saw 90% of our wealth vaporized. But the fact remains that most of us are a lot less wealthy than we were at the start of 2008. So we'll just have to figure out how to do more with less. That will mean different strategies for different people, different countries, different regions. But I think that's where we are a world right now. And I don't think it's a bad thing. We'll adapt, change our ways, and move on. The important thing is we cannot dwell on the loss. You can't change what you had for breakfast. So don't try.

That's it. I stopped at nine to be different. Happy new year everyone. 2008 was kind of sucky with a few notable exceptions. Let's hope for a better 2009.

(For more from Fred, visit his blog)

(Image source: Wired)

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