Star Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Max Levchin stopped by the DLD conference in Munich today to provide a brief update about what he’s up to these days – which is apparently exploring how the vast trove of digital data output by analog devices can benefit humanity.
Levchin, a co-founder of PayPal and Slide, was recently in the news when he joined Yahoo’s board, but the majority of his time and attention goes to his new, rather stealthy data-focused venture HVF (which I gather stands for Hard, Valuable and Fun – the three criteria that any project must live up to for Levchin to be interested in it in the first place).
Another conference. “Great.”
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On its website, HVF is described as an ‘umbrella project’ for all of Levchin’s data-focused undertakings. Don’t call it ‘big data’, though.
“Many, if not most, of today’s big data companies are focused on problems that aren’t big enough,” Levchin said on stage. “The next big wave of opportunity will come from capturing and processing data that come from analog devices.”
On stage at DLD, Levchin mentioned that he has learned a lot about how data can predict human behaviour – often better than humans ever could – in the early days of PayPal. In this day and age, there are way more opportunities for companies to gather and use heaps of data intelligently for the benefit of society as a whole, and they are exactly the kind of opportunities Levchin plans to explore.
The core thesis for HVF is described thusly:
“Thanks to low-cost sensors of every imaginable type, near-ubiquitous wireless broadband, advances in distributed computing and storage, data is becoming our most plentiful, and most under-exploited commodity.
The insights mined from it will unlock enormous productivity gains, create efficiencies where none existed before, and meaningfully improve lives. The mission of HVF is to be the catalyst of that transformation.”
Levchin was careful not to share too much about where HVF is heading and what projects are being worked on now, but he did draw some analogies to collaborative consumption companies such as Uber (which he invested in) and Airbnb, as they are essentially turning real-world data into a competitive commercial advantage in the digital realm.
He called this ability to take digital data produced by inherently analog sources and being able to repackage and reorder it into information and services that can improve our lives “a beautiful thing”, and dubbed the real world “painfully inefficient”.
More about where he’s going with this, from the HVF website:
“This takes form of seed and early stage investing, rapid prototyping of internally-generated ideas (some of which develop into companies funded by HVF), getting together with the brightest minds in the many industries that will benefit form the data explosion, looking for (and at) interesting data sets and sources, and just geeking out on data.”
Don’t call HVF an incubator, though. On its website, Levchin states: “Projects we are prototyping or developing all start here, but this is not an incubator or a co-working space.”
Hopefully we’ll learn more about what projects HVF is currently working on in the near future, but Levchin does know how to paint an enticing picture.
Without giving too many examples of what kind of businesses can be built on this proliferation of data, Levchin talked about how off-duty cops could potentially be called upon as private security agents in crime-heavy areas in the same way black cars and private jets can be used more efficiently thanks to services like Uber and Blackjet, respectively.
He also asserted that data could potentially be the key to solving the patent troll problem, while services such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo could be a potential avenue for the redistribution of excess cash.
Other examples included a marketplace for ‘dynamically priced priests and therapists’, the ability to rent out spare capacity of people’s brain cycles to others when they’re sleeping, and cars that could transmit data about a driver’s skills and behaviour to insurance companies (in order to get bids and, ultimately, perhaps a better deal).
“Big data shouldn’t be about the creation of another version of Excel on steroids, but about how we can take all this information and process it so we can make a lot of lives better.”
Image credit goes to Joi Ito / Flickr.