From Industrial Designer To Founder To Corporate Venturer — Five Questions With Nic Hodges.
“You need to meet Nic Hodges”. This was the urgent suggestion of my friend Gautam Mishra when we founded AirShr. Gautam was right. To say that Nic has a handle on media and ad tech is an understatement. He’s an unassuming, insightful and hyper-connected guy and a founder’s founder who understands what it takes to bring an idea to life. Nic has founded Robot Deputy and Sneaky Cycle and helps the world make sense of emerging tech through this blog, Blonde3.com.
Beyond our friendship and the sounding board he is to AirShr, Nic also helps to shape how corporate businesses approach start up investment, particularly at NewsCorp. So here we chat a bit about Nic’s background and the future he’s nostalgic about.
So what was the path that led you to work in media agencies, become an entrepreneur and writer and then lead commercial innovation for News Corp?
I studied as an industrial designer, then became a creative director at an ad agency before jumping across to the media side of things. All the while I’ve been working with startups, particularly in Melbourne.
My work and career are totally unplanned. This used to freak me out a bit (and my Mum a lot). Last year Brian Eno delivered the John Peel Lecture, in which he says “My way of working has always been not to set a goal and try to reach it, but to see what I do anyway and see how I can make use of it”.
I like that approach, and it’s very much how I work. I don’t have the attention span for lofty goals or lengthy career tracks. I do things I’m interested in, and see how I can make use of those things.
I’m a big fan of your blog Blonde3. You’re a busy guy, what inspires you to write?
I’ve always felt it’s important to do your thinking in public. It’s one of the great things about the internet, that we can talk about ideas across all sorts of boundaries. That’s an amazing privilege to waste if you’re someone who loves ideas.
Most of my writing happens off the back of conversations or reading. I do habitualise it, and spend 10 minutes every day writing.
Given your roles and ventures you have a unique vantage point on emerging tech. What are your top five most interesting trends in tech that you see capturing the hearts and minds of people over the next two to three years?
At News Corp we actually track these via a project called Alpha. The five trends we’re focusing on currently are:
- Transport: From how we experience media in-car, to how our online shopping gets shipped to us, innovation in transport is changing our physical world more than any other technology right now.
- Intelligence: As more and more data is collected and analysed, the future for many businesses becomes “take X, and add AI”. I don’t think we truly understand the impact this may have within three years yet.
- Digital Reality: It’s “The Year of VR”. Virtual- and augmented-reality could change everything from travel to education to entertainment and beyond. I’m still on the fence with VR, but if it succeeds I feel it will succeed with massive impact.
- Video: The mobile ecosystem has made the capture and distribution of video easier, cheaper, and higher quality than ever before. Video is the new HTML, and one third of the world has a video camera in their pocket.
- Messaging: As social and mobile take over the digital world, messaging is be the new web browser. That provides amazing opportunities for commerce and services, and an amazing threat to the existing web-based advertising and content ecosystem.
Each investor has their own set unique questions they ask founders as they consider investing. What are yours?
Early-stage investment is about creating velocity, not direction. So I usually ask questions to understand whether founders understand their direction, and whether investment would increase velocity in that direction.
Ultimately any conversation about whether I’m involved in a startup revolves around me being able to answer one question: “Can they make it on their own?”. If not, it’s probably not going to succeed regardless of external involvement.
You meet with a soon-to-be, first-time founder and over coffee she asks “If I had to develop three habits to be a successful founder, what are they?” what would you say?
- Read Roman & Raphaelson and habitualise good communication. People underestimate how much success depends upon clear communication.
- Do your thinking in public and seek out other people’s thinking beyond your filter bubble.
- Always be asking whether you’re building a world that you actually want to live in.
Sign up here to receive posts like this in your inbox, every week.