Reinaldo Normand is an accomplished entrepreneur with extensive experience in founding and running bootstrapped and venture-backed tech startups. We are pleased that he is part of BayBrazil Mentor team and recently spoke with him about his e-book Innovation Squared and the steps leaders can take to adapt their businesses in a rapidly changing tech landscape.
BayBrazil: What is the main purpose of your book Innovation Squared?
Reinaldo: Over the last years, I’ve had the chance to discuss technology, innovation and entrepreneurship with hundreds of businessmen, government officials, entrepreneurs and academics from other countries and, of course, with a lot of Brazilians. What surprised me is that 99% of them had no idea of what is going on in the tech world and how the exponential advancements in technology and new business models are affecting business sectors, the competitiveness of entire countries and our own lives.
The book is my humble contribution to help addressing this knowledge gap between creators and user of technology. Innovation Squared is, essentially, a compilation of the latest advancements in tech and trends that are impacting or will impact the world in the next 20 years. I want people who read the book to open their minds. My goal is not to explain how these technologies work but to showcase how they’re influencing our future.
In the long term, my concern is that the advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotech and biotech might steer the world into the wrong direction. So we should talk about it as a society and understand the consequences of our own technical prowess. My goal is to bring this debate to the masses, one person at a time.
BayBrazil: Give us your vision on the main tech innovations in the world today.
Reinaldo: There are so many that it is difficult to name a few. What impresses me most are technologies that I would never expect to see in my entire life being just 5 years away. Technologies that will make a difference in our world.
Autonomous vehicles are certainly one of these innovations that became possible thanks to the hard work of thousands of scientists and entrepreneurs and advancements in sensors and artificial intelligence in the last decades. I remember watching Knight Rider when I was a kid and thinking how cool would be to have a car that drives itself. Actually, in a couple of months, the Tesla Model S will have most of these capabilities through a software upgrade. It will be 90% autonomous. In the not so distant future you’ll literally be able to summon your car through your Apple watch or smartphone and it will leave your garage and come to you. But much cooler than that is the fact this technology will save tens of thousands of lives. Just in the US, there are 35,000 automobile related deaths per year, 94% of them caused by human error. Imagine the millions of people that wouldn’t need to be treated at hospitals and how many billions of dollars it will save to our healthcare system. 50 years ago, they promised flying cars to us and we got autonomous vehicles; that is a pretty good deal to me.
In 5 years we’ll also going to experience broadband Internet beamed by satellites, balloons or drones. That is a dream coming true for all geeks out there and great news for most of the Earth’s population which is still not connected. Internet ubiquity seems to be upon us, finally. I believe it will make a huge impact in the world and I salute all the companies involved in this initiative. Tech innovation must be a force of good.
BayBrazil: With the rapidly changing tech landscape, what are some of the steps business leaders can take to adapt and keep evolving?
Reinaldo: Basically, there needs to be a change of mindset on how leaders see and experience the world. They need to reinvent themselves and think different. For instance, I believe knowledge or academic titles are not important anymore. With the Internet, anyone can be a specialist in any subject. Ask Elon Musk how he was able to build rockets and electric cars and he’ll tell you he learned it throughout books, Google or by simply asking people. So, in my view, what is really important is to excel at learning. This changes everything as most disruptions are coming from entrepreneurs who have no previous experience or expertise domain in their business.
Also, cultural norms like deference to authority, seniority and hierarchy need to be rethought. Innovation can only thrive in very dynamic environments where meritocracy and lack of censorship for new ideas are the rule. It is not compatible with these old concepts. My sense is that most business leaders still don’t get the new world looming and they’ll be disrupted along their companies.
BayBrazil: You just returned from week of speaking engagements in Brazil. What are the challenges faced by Brazilian tech companies? How can they overcome?
Reinaldo: Every-time I go to Brazil I am amazed at how many opportunities are being missed by the local business community. The main challenge facing Brazilian companies is their short-term focus and lack of understanding about technology in general. Brazil is still a very protectionist and provincial country and most people there are not aware of what is going on outside their borders. Brazil must change the status of follower and believe it can be a creator of innovation. The only way to overcome this situation is with a mindset overhaul and becoming more open to the world. The first step is to learn English which seems to be a huge deficit in Brazil even for the elite. Another simple idea is to create an immigration program so qualified foreigners can move and find jobs in Brazil more easily and with less bureaucracy. Something akin to the programs run by Canada or Australia.
BayBrazil: How can Brazil better foster tech innovation?
Reinaldo: I think one way to become competitive internationally is by investing lots of resources so the local culture and mindset may change in the period of 20-30 years. Traits like thinking big, being ambitious and fostering role models need to become the rule. This is what Chile is trying to do with initiatives such as Startup Chile.
People need to stop thinking that car manufacturers are the only way to generate jobs. Uber will generate 1 million jobs in the world in 2015; this is more than the entire US automotive industry. Brazil’s educational system belongs to the 19th century and still today the academia does not get along well with private money which setbacks the country. Brazil needs to be more modern in the country’s approach to innovation and new ideas. I think most people need to be better educated about the paradigm shifts of the new world.
Also, the government must invest more resources in order to help kids pursue STEM subjects. Follow the Estonia and the UK which are teaching computer science starting at Age 4.
BayBrazil: You were born in Minas Gerais, worked in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai, San Diego and now SF. How this experience has impacted you as an entrepreneur?
Reinaldo: Dramatically. I’ve learned that culture is the main driver of the competitiveness of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is not money, universities or buildings. When entrepreneurs think big, are open minded and hungry to make things happen, they succeed and generate a positive effect in their ecosystem.
Innovation2, by Reinaldo Normand, can be download for free