You’ll never truly innovate without these 3 things

In my current Product Management job with a Privacy software company, my team is in the process of building something that’s pretty freakin’ cool. The only thing holding us back is a bit of ambiguity on what we are actually building. 

Sounds crazy, right? When it’s time to innovate, this isn’t what you want to hear. Simply put, we’re trying to get ahead of a trend by introducing a product that not all of our customers know they need. But we’re still scratching our heads on exactly what to build and how best to build it.

We know the basic problem we’re solving from a high level. The question is how far we want to take it with each component. AKA what is a waste of time and what will stick? What are people actually going to care about in 2–3 years?

As a product of this, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about innovation. What it means, who stands to benefit, at what level is it too much, how to compare, the works. 

What I’ve boiled it down to is that 95% of the magic happens before pen ever even hits paper.

Thinking of the big picture first

So many people miss this because they dive head first too quickly into the detail. What is the point of what we’re building, and does that point differ with where we’re trying to go? Because the truth is there are different flavors of innovation. Those that create new revenue streams, those that better the common good, and some that just make a process smoother.

How are your engineers and designers viewing the initiative in the grand scheme of things? Oftentimes I realize that this is a point that’s missed. I find myself backtracking on a design call to align our understanding of where we fit in the market and where we’re planning to be. 

The building blocks are there. Your team just has to be in the loop on the direction you need to go. Without the big picture you’re building blindly.

Thoughtful preparation is a derivative of innovative design

Try going into design with your architect, a blank slate, and no plan of action as to what you need to solution. On the contrary, go into it with too structured of a plan that you conjured up yourself. You’re going to come out with rubbish 2/2 times.

Designers, engineers, and architects possess a creative brilliance. One of the most critical things I’ve learned is to step aside and let them do what they do best. 

But to actually innovate and create a game-changing product, we have to think ahead to what tomorrow’s problems are going to be. To help guide our design in the right path and make sure we are designing for tomorrow, I make a list of as many of these problems (and some of tomorrow’s hypothetical problems) as I can think of. 

Enough to get wheels turning while hopefully considering the right constraints and assumptions to account for some of those what-ifs. Then, I get out of the way. 

The clueless mindset

A mentor and respected colleague of mine had good advice for how he tackles problem solving with a team. “Sometimes I go into a meeting and ask dumb questions like I don’t know how the hell anything works.” 

We pride ourselves on being in the weeds with the technical details and understanding the intricacies, but sometimes the exact opposite approach is what can drive change. A simple “why” or “why not” goes quite a long way when you’re rethinking a solution.

When you’re laser-focused on the big picture and show up with an anything-can-happen mindset, you’d be amazed at what people will come up with.

Solopreneur? Four ways to build sustainable businesses

You started a business to build a path to freedom. Why does it feel like the exact opposite is the case? 

Every single business owner on the planet agrees; scaling and managing a business is a ton of work. That does not mean all of it is necessary.

Truly successful business owners, those that have built sustainable businesses that can operate without their presence, are particularly adept on just two things: maximizing net income, and reducing the amount of personal time required. 

There are four things you can do right away to make your build sustainable businesses.

Take control of the books

It starts with organization of your business expenses. It can certainly feel difficult to balance this with competing priorities, but it is important to manage your business expenses completely separate from your personal finances. This helps you get a picture of the true cash inflows and outflows of a business, but it also helps put more money in your pocket at the end of the year.

Tax deductions can be the difference between taking money home at the end of the day. One powerful example? The IRS Standard Mileage Rate for personal car use is 57.5 cents per mile for business use, meaning that every 1,000 business miles you expense is $575 in direct deductions. But you have to be able to provide a mileage log showing the trips in the event of an IRS audit.

Deductions can apply for tons of other business expenses, and you can likely audit your expenses to understand where the business isn’t seeing the proper ROI. But you are likely to miss out on these efficiencies without the proper organization and expense tracking system in place.

Luckily for business owners, we live in the internet era. Many of the arduous tasks like maintaining mileage logs or tracking expenses are now managed by applications. Cloud tools like Quickbooks help easily manage all expenses, and apps like Everlance record your trips for automatic logging. 

Grow revenue and save time by focusing on your strengths

No one is the best at everything, and Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is the perfect reminder of that. Even if your venture has seen success, you may be seeking growth, more free time, or both. 

Getting to the next level may require honing in to focus on what you’re best at. Whether it’s sales, building a product, or simply networking with clients, focus on it. It doesn’t have to be all at once, and when you step into a more focused role you’re taking a step to increase the overall autonomy of the business.

Know when to outsource

Then comes the question of whether to outsource part of the day-to-day activities. Start with the task you spend the most time on. Ask yourself “could someone else do this just as effectively?”, and if so, consider your options for outsourcing. There are numerous opportunities for automation and outsourcing like freelance platforms, virtual assistants, and intuitive tools that may eliminate the need altogether. It just takes a quick Google Search.

By doing this, you’re increasing your potential on the business, while reducing the amount of time you have to spend. 

Remember the reason you started

Lastly, take care of yourself. Running a business or solo venture can be taxing on your personal well-being. When you weigh the benefits of it vs. just being employed, you have to take everything into account and make sure that you’re fairly compensating yourself and preparing for your future. 

Don’t let your business run your life. Start from step one and take control by leveraging the tools and resources that are available today to build sustainable businesses.

Technology meets Agriculture: How Ag is evolving

Since humans began practicing agriculture thousands of years ago, technology has consistently changed the way society has farmed. From rough hand tools in the BC era, to the cotton gin in 1793 and McCormick’s reaper in 1831, technological advances have made it possible for humans to grow and produce crops much more effectively. 

It can be difficult to discern at times, but technological improvements are still advancing agriculture across the world today. The next ten years are promising to bring incredible advancements to farmers, and we are going to cover some of the most significant ways technology will change the way we farm.

What does it mean to advance?

Farming may sound straightforward. You plant a seed, water it, harvest, and sell. There are air-conditioned combines with Sirius-XM radio and irrigation systems that make rainfall largely irrelevant. What else could be needed?

Let’s take a moment to break agriculture down into some of it’s moving parts. As it turns out, when we peel the onion back a couple of layers (had to do it), it’s actually incredibly complicated. 

The average farm size in the US in 2019 was 444 acres, per the US Department of Agriculture, and over 70% of the total farms had less than $100,000 in sales. This likely means that most of the farms in the US have the bulk of operations managed by one person. For one person or even a small team, the list of roles and responsibilities can be quite exhaustive.

Peeling the onion back

Let’s start with planting. The most common nutrients needed for plant growth are nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen and potassium. Before a farmer plants, the soil must be sampled and properly fertilized. Farmers must have a working knowledge of these elements and what a specific plant species may require.

After planting, the crops must be monitored. Depending on the crop, location, and climate they can be subject to diseases caused by various insects or pathogens such as fungi or bacteria. Lack of a specific nutrient in the soil can cause growth to stall. Animals can also destroy crops and reduce yield. Farmers have to constantly monitor the crops and know what symptoms to watch for in order to prescribe a solution. This can be both time consuming and costly.

What about equipment? While the specific equipment varies depending on what is planted, one thing remains true. Modern farm equipment is incredibly expensive. Farmers have to be able to gauge the equipment need based on the size of the operation they have. In addition to already being chemists and botanists, knowledge of accounting and finance is required here as well.

Farmers have to be able to map out future cash flow projections when considering equipment options. For new equipment, depreciation is tracked heavily in the financial statement to help ease tax burdens. For many farmers, used equipment may be the only viable option, so they must also be able to resolve any mechanical issues that may arise. 

There’s more

All of this, and the plants are still not even out of the ground. In most places, farmers at least have a couple of different options in what crops to grow. Therefore, when choosing where to invest an entire growing season, it’s important to have an understanding of the market. Farmers have to stay connected with international trade, tariffs, and global supply and demand to understand what prices may do. 

In addition, it’s often essential for farm owners to be fluent in the more complex financial products, such as insurance and derivatives. In some cases, farmers will insure part or all of their crop or livestock to manage risk and protect against disaster. Larger operations may even engage in futures contracts on commodities to help hedge the risk of drastic price changes.

There is a point for explaining all of this. In order to truly understand all of the avenues that technology can have an impact, it helps to first break down the art itself. Agriculture has a ton of moving parts, and over the next ten years technology is set to bring sweeping changes.

Autonomous driving? Ag had it first

We hear all the buzz about autonomous vehicles on the roadways. As 5G is rolled out across the globe over the next few years we will begin to see this. But, what many may not know is that this has already been introduced for agriculture. 

Autonomous tractors use much of the same technology that autonomous cars use. It begins with GPS to assess location, and leverages built-in sensors to avoid objects. Without the added complexity of other drivers on the road, this technology is already fairly stable and is largely available today in agriculture.

However, as 5G continues to be rolled out we will see this technology improve. With the ability to collect and transmit more information to the cloud, vehicles will become smarter and have the ability to report additional insights and metrics on the ground it’s covering. We’ve barely scratched the surface on what will be available here.

Agriculture and the Internet of Things

There are so many use-cases and opportunities here, so let’s first break down the meaning of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT refers to the new wave of connected devices that we are starting to see throughout our homes. Smart refrigerators that can order new groceries or send tweets, cameras that allow you to view your pets from your smartphone, and thermostats that can sync to your calendar. Most people are familiar with at least one example by now.

But with IoT thus far, there’s been one limitation that has effectively confined the uses for this tech. That holdup is the internet, or more precisely, the lack thereof. To truly get the connectivity and reap the benefits of these tools, they have to be connected to some form of internet or cellular service. This has largely confined the devices (and the market for the devices) to be tethered to a structure or area with a WiFi connection. 

Over the next ten years, we will see a drastic increase in the number and variety of devices that enter the market. The primary driver for this? Enhanced cellular and internet technology such as 5G. With the emergence of 5G, for the first time ever we will have high-bandwidth connection abilities, even in rural areas. This will bring connectivity without the need for a WiFi connection, which will enable low-power devices to transmit data even without a power cord. Companies have already begun on this tech and are rolling out new devices as we speak, so let’s take a look at what is coming.

Crops protruding from soil

Monitoring made simple with IoT

Enhanced IoT is coming for agriculture in all shapes and sizes. One of the technologies making the largest impact happens to be one of the smallest physical devices: sensors. These are small devices built to gauge and transmit a specific level or indicator for tracking.

Sensors are already being implemented across farms to help monitor various parts. Moisture sensitivity sensors are being placed in the soil to provide a more accurate reading of moisture level. This then opens the door for efficient, automated irrigation. Fuel tank and equipment sensors are helping to determine when preventative maintenance is needed or a fuel shipment is required. There are also livestock monitoring systems that track temperature on the animal as well as water levels and GPS positioning. 

These sensors then are linked to other IoT devices that can act on the information provided. For example, smart irrigation systems can determine which range of sensors reported a lower moisture level. Once the area is determined, it can send a stream of water to that specific region of the field. This can serve to save water while also increasing plant cultivation.

And this is just some of what is already available. As these technologies improve, we will have better tracking on specific chemical imbalances in the soil or plants, oxygen flow, vital functions for animals, and pest control. 

All of this is made available today via technologies such as Bluetooth, LoRaWAN and existing cellular service. As 5G is rolled out, we will see increased connection and deployment abilities as there will be a reduced need for these to be located near a central “hub”. Rather, all communication can be transmitted directly to an application for processing and analytical analysis.

Aerial imaging improvements

Drones are here, and they are proving to be quite useful for a variety of applications. One of these is through aerial photography. Farmers, real estate agents, surveyors and plenty of other disciplines are using drones to capture shots of land from the sky. One constraint with this, however, is the need for a human operator. 

Autonomous drones are already being introduced and implemented today. These drones are able to deploy on scheduled missions to capture and transmit data before returning to the dock. Without the need for human intervention, these drones can begin to help immensely by capturing enough shots for an effective time lapse progression. 

Now, farmers will be able to view the aerial footage of their crops on a daily (or even intra-day) basis. This means better monitoring of pests and diseases, as well as the ability to pool these pictures and use for AI-based modeling. For example, a cloud service that gathers thousands of daily photos of soybean fields will be able to leverage machine learning / AI to identify diseases and signs of nutrient deficiencies. This will lead to much earlier indicators that a crop may be in trouble. In addition, it will save time and fuel costs as it will reduce the need for a farmer to continuously drive around and monitor crops.

Over the next ten years we will see this technology become cheaper and more effective as it matures. With the continuous enhancement of solar power we will also see this become almost fully automated, as a drone will be able to operate solely off of the power from a solar panel, deploy on scheduled tasks set up through an application, and automatically transmit findings. This will all be able to be monitored through a smartphone. 

Drone with camera

Solar power

You can’t write about the cross-section of tech and agriculture without mentioning solar power. There are a couple of applications that, combined with some of the other advancements covered, could prove to be extremely useful. 

We now are aware of the sensors, autonomous vehicles, and new cellular technology that makes some of this possible. With the addition of maneuverable solar paneling that essentially allows power anywhere the sun shines, we will now be able to see even further enhancements. 

Solar power will enable some of the tech that does require a power connection to be automated. Take feeding troughs or irrigation spigots for example. When a sensor sends a signal indicating that levels are low, or a scheduled job is set to run, a solar panel in an otherwise hard-to-reach area could enable motorized gadgets to run and help maintain appropriate levels. 

These are simple use-cases, but farmers are a creative bunch. The concept of remote power mixed with cloud-based computing is important, and we will likely see a variety of applications introduced for this in the next few years.

Smart greenhouses

Precision agriculture takes an entirely new meaning when greenhousing is introduced. Think of the same technology we’ve mentioned. Smart irrigation systems connected to soil sensors that can accurately assess when to water. Cameras that can watch plant growth and analyze image data to understand what cycles are normal. The added benefit of greenhousing? You can control even more variables.

With greenhousing we will start to see the most autonomous version of agriculture we have seen thus far. With the ability to monitor plants in a controlled environment as well as controlling for temperature, humidity and UV light, smart greenhouses allow incredibly precise cultivation. 

These greenhouses are already in implementation. But, as the technology matures we will likely see rapid expansion of these. This is primarily due to the fact the overall start-up costs will be lower. Smart greenhouses will likely even begin to appear on rooftops and in backyards. 

Final Thoughts

There are so many moving parts in agriculture. Until recently, the lack of connectivity and efficient power placement have made the industry suffer in the realm of technical innovation. 

However, a new era of agriculture is beginning to emerge. Advanced technologies like autonomous driving/flying, artificial intelligence and IoT sensors, paired with enhanced connectivity and power generation, are going to completely change the way we farm.

Agriculture will be an extremely exciting industry to watch and invest in over the next ten years. 

5G’s Direct and Indirect Effects on Real Estate

5G is coming, and it’s promising to affect industries from gaming to agriculture and from retail to public safety. One sector that is often mentioned but generally understated is real estate. There are numerous effects, both direct and indirect, that 5G will have on both commercial and residential real estate. We will first cover the technological changes that make 5G different from cellular previous generations and then outline the effects on real estate.

What makes 5G different from previous generations?

5G simply means “fifth generation” of cellular technology, and with that comes not one, but multiple technological advancements. These advancements and changes provide lower latency (learn more here), increased bandwidth and better connectivity. Some of these changes, however, lead to an increased need for hardware to support the signals.

5G leverages radio frequency signals on a much higher spectrum than previous generations. While the latest LTE frequency range ranges from 600 MHz to 6 GHz, telecom companies implementing 5G will have signals still within the previous range, as well as higher frequency signals in the 24 GHz to 60 GHz range.

Get to the point

What makes this different is that higher frequency signals have a shorter range. Where 4G and past generations could suffice with a few large cellular towers that covered thousands of people, 5G will require a much more densely packed network of hardware. 

Enter “small cells”. Small cells are miniature cellular “towers” that transmit and triangulate the signal. With a range of only 500-5000 ft. (depending on the frequency and amount of interference), 5G will require hundreds of small cells in densely packed urban areas. Thankfully, small cells live up to the name and are not like the gargantuan cell towers we know today. In fact, these are the size and shape of a pizza box, and can be deployed on light poles and existing structures.

Now let’s talk about real estate

One of the most obvious effects of 5G on real estate is the amount of places these small cells will need to be deployed. At least in cities, most people will spend the majority of their time indoors. As signals have a hard time penetrating walls, it will be necessary for almost every commercial building to deploy a small cell. This will typically come in the form of a lease, where telecom companies work with building owners to lease space on the roof for a small cell. 

The real estate effects are not only limited to small cells. 5G will bring increased connectivity through the form of a massive Internet of Things. This will bring efficiency for developers who act and upgrade the technology for buildings. This should lead to improved margins and profitability. 

What about residential real estate?

Small cells won’t only be used in densely populated cities, but in suburban areas as well. However, the current trend across small cell deployments has been to leverage existing infrastructure such as power poles. There may not be a significant opportunity for homeowners to lease space on their own homes for 5G cells.

Residential real estate may be affected by more indirect effects of 5G. The first of these effects? Autonomous vehicles. As 5G brings the connectivity and ultra low latency that enables autonomous driving, some speculate that the increase in use of autonomous vehicles will result in a shift away from large cities to suburbs and less densely packed areas. This is due to the perceived notion that autonomous vehicles will cause less accidents on the road and vehicles will operate in sync, reducing traffic. 

Workers will also have enhanced connectivity while on the road, leading to the ability to begin/end their workdays from their vehicles. This makes a longer commute more manageable. In addition, the recent shift to increased remote work, along with improved connection speeds, may mean less time in the office altogether.

Other effects of 5G and autonomous vehicles on real estate

Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” (link) describes a futuristic world in which the costs of producing some goods and services becomes negligible. With this, ownership in some assets, such as a vehicle, becomes obsolete. This idea, mixed with the well-known “sharing economy” concept, paves a plausible path to a world where less vehicles are owned in densely populated urban areas. Instead, autonomous vehicles are utilized via automatic scheduling and simple ride-hailing to transport passengers.

What this could mean for real estate is a reduced need for parking. With more people using autonomous ride-hailing services, there will be a higher utilization rate of vehicles. After all, how many hours a week does your car sit in the parking lot? But this will translate to a reduced overall need. Some existing parking lots may be replaced by structures, and space in parking garages may be repurposed.

Last but not least, Virtual Reality

5G’s bandwidth and latency enhancements will make augmented/virtual reality more widely used across multiple industries. Real estate will certainly not be missed. VR will give the ability to view and tour homes, virtually, from brokerages or even a consumer’s home. This may translate to increased volume of viewing numbers of homes, which could have varying effects on purchase decisions. Perhaps with more consumers viewing homes they will go under contract more quickly. However, consumers may also feel that they can be more selective and under less pressure to commit from viewing virtually.

Virtual reality may also have effects on the short-term rental market for vacation homes. As users are able to take virtual tours, they will be able to select exactly what they want. This may also translate to a short-term spike in home renovations when this technology is rolled out as property owners will increase the marketability of their rental.


While some of the points above may be more speculative, there is no question about it. Real estate will be affected by the 5G revolution. As the world becomes more connected than ever before, there will certainly be even unforeseen effects to the way we live, where we live, and how we congregate.