The Waving Cat GmbH turns 3

The company just turned 3. Happy birthday!

As every founder knows, the early years of a company can be intense and the outcomes are often unclear at the outset. Yet, I’m happy to report it’s been three pretty darn great years. And productive, too!

Anniversaries are always a great opportunity to take a look back, like on the company’s first and second anniversary. And an even better opportunity to look ahead. So let’s do both, shall we?

(Always) evolving our service description

Over the years I’ve been evolving the way to describe what we offer to correspond to the ever-changing environment we operate in. (I’m using the we here because a lot, if not most of the projects TWC is involved in are collaborative in nature, and some trusted friends and collaborators are often brought on board on a per-project basis.)

After year one, this was the description we used:

…exploring the impact of emerging technologies and helping apply the insights of innovators through consulting, conferences and publications.

The current iteration is this: 

Future-proof your organization. We help you explore impact and opportunities of emerging technologies—especially the Internet of Things (IoT)—to help organizations excel in an environment shaped by connectedness, uncertainty and rapid change.

Both of these descriptions have been working well, and we’ll keep updating them as needed. They’re more like a super high-level pitch sentence anyway, and the metaphorical meat is in the details. The new statement is pretty dense, so let’s parse it in detail. The key bits here are:

Future-proofing: We like to focus on looking ahead rather than back. To shape constructively rather than to be on defense. To embrace changes and direct them in a positive direction. Also, tackling the type of individual day-to-day challenges brought about by “future”-induced stress points tends to be like a game of whack-a-mole. Instead, prepare the organization on the systemic level: By developing tools—culture change, mindset, signal filters—to thrive on uncertainty.

Explore impact and opportunities: As an external party we can only help map out the lay of the land and how it relates to our partners’ positioning, and identify opportunities for getting to the best place for the future. Preferably a future that has positive social impact.

Emerging technologies: We’re good at exploring newly emerging technologies, their impact, their potentials. And we really shine in doing that while things are still in flux.

Internet of Things: Currently a field that’s clearly still emerging and in flux, and holds huge potential both economically and societally is IoT. So we figured a shout-out is in place.

To help organizations excel in an environment shaped by connectedness, uncertainty and rapid change: Organizations of all types (large and small, commercial and non-commercial) operate in a tricky, ever-changing environment. This environment is defined and shaped by connectedness, uncertainty and rapid change: Digitization, globalization, and hard-to-predict changes (political, societal, technological) as well as fast-changing user behavior means it can be hard to keep up and prepare. Smaller, agile, tech-savvy orgs are best prepared for this environment today; but not every organization can be small, agile, and tech-savvy. So organizational change is the key to prepare. This means looking at culture, roadmaps, R&D, digital transformation. Again, future-proofing!

Diversified structure

TWC is a small company by any means. But I pride myself on thinking we’ve been punching above our weight.

Part of that is a bit of diversification both in terms of client engagements and structure.

Over the last few years client engagements have included a range of work including business strategy, mapping out R&D roadmaps, policy advisory, research, curation, and forecasting.

Our client list has been pretty diverse as well, including organizations across Europe and the US. Among many others, this includes organizations like the German government, Google, Bosch, Museum of the Future, Alpine Electronics, and many more.

Maybe even more importantly, the overall structure is diversified as well. It’s not all client work, but a healthy mix of client work and self-initiated projects. Some of them are products (magazine, pants), others are more abstract (advocacy, research):

  • Chief among the self-initiated projects is ThingsCon, a global community of IoT practitioners and event platform on a mission to foster the creation of a responsible & human-centric Internet of things. (It certainly is chief in terms of time spent and potential impact, anyway.) But there are many others, too.
  • Dearsouvenir is a travel & souvenir magazine we spun out into its own company together with Netzpiloten AG.
  • Zephyr Berlin is a passion project that turned into a Kickstarter: Together with Michelle Thorne and Cecilia Palmer we’ve made 100 pairs of super versatile premium pants from performance fabric.
  • The Good Home has been a lovely research-type exploration of 21st century home living in collaboration with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Designswarm). We exhibited around Europe including in Milan as part of Fuori Salone and in London’s V&A museum.

This list of some of the 2016 project highlights gives a pretty good overview of recent projects, too.

Also, there’s a wide range of outputs of our thinking besides the directly applied: Namely publications and media, as well as talks.

Publications & media means things we co-published as well as media appearances like interviews or mentions of our projects. This includes:

  • Understanding the Connected Home explores the implication of living in tomorrow’s connected home. The ebook was co-authored with Michelle Thorne.
  • For WBGU (the German federal government’s Advisory Council on Global Change) I co-authored with Prof. Dr. Christoph Bieber a research paper and policy recommendations on ensuring that smart cities work for citizens rather than vendors.
  • The Good Home was a newspaper to accompany the identically named project in print, together with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. (Newspaper Club named it Newspaper of the Month!)
  • Connected was a print newspaper of collected essays co-edited with Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. In two editions we discussed IoT and wearable technologies.
  • In two giant, whopping issues of Dearsouvenir we explored travel through the lens of souvenirs with a story to tell. Coming in at several hundred pages each and published both in English and German, this has been one seriously big project.

During these three years I—or the projects I was involved in—also had media appearances in outlets large and small. The list includes BrandEins, Thingcast, the Arduino blog, Kress, W&V, Netzpiloten, RBB, and a number of future/trend reports.

Talks, or what I think of as “conference inputs of any sorts”, include all the work around ThingsCon as well as being co-chair of the most excellent global annual conference of IxDA, Interaction 16. It also includes talks, presentations, or workshops at conferences including Mozfest, Retune, NEXT, V&A, O’Reilly Solid and FooCamp, and meetups and other events around the globe.

On top of all that, I got to do some mentoring for startups, joined some juries and reviewing boards, and Postscapes even included me in their Top 100 Influencers in IoT.

So how does all this go together? Really well! All of these activities feed into one another.

So how does all this go together? Really well! Many client engagements are confidential in nature. The mix of publicly visible projects and those that are confidential has been working great. All of these activities feed into one another. They give us better, deeper insights, build out the network of collaborators, make sure we’re part of all the relevant conversations. One wouldn’t work without the other.

What’s next?

So what’s next? The overall structure TWC has grown into has been working really well. It allows for enough diversity and range of projects to be constantly engaging while also contributing to my overall expertise, experience, and skill level. I believe that’s really important—only outputting makes life dull and reduces the chances of staying at the cutting edge of the field.

There’s been more interest in IoT policy and strategy, both of which I’m very interested in. (I very much enjoy helping companies and not-for-profit orgs explore what connected products or services mean for them.) There are promising collaborations with China and the Netherlands that we’re planning to further explore. It’s not clear yet where Zephyr Berlin and Dearsouvenir will go—we very much like both projects and see potential in both. ThingsCon has been growing organically and really nicely, and I’d love to grow the network into a sustainably funded organization (we’re in the process of setting up a German e.V..) while expanding our global footprint.

There’s also, as much as possible, going to be a lot of writing. One bit of long form writing will be out after our upcoming trip to ThingsCon Shenzhen. It’s going to focus on collaboration opportunities between European IoT practitioners and the Shenzhen hardware ecosystem, and how to put both to good use for a more responsible Internet of Things. There might be other long form writing engagements.

All in all, this paints a picture of exciting years ahead. Can’t wait.

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