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Jim can see the next big trend, and he’s not going to let it go by.

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I get asked the following question quite often:
“Jim, what’s the next big trend?”

Sure, the internet is always growing, and social media, Facebook, Twitter, geolocation, group buying, online video, and mobile are still at the top of everyone’s list. But I think there’s something bigger. Am I qualified to guess at trends? Sure, why not.

As I look back on my life, I see a few examples where I did see a trend and acted on it:

– Joining an interactive video multimedia startup in 1994
– Going to a fast-growing Internet market leader in 1998
– Seeing that technology will continue to influence business and culture when I joined Wired in Jan 2007

But there were some trends that I missed:
– I purchased an HD-DVD player — not Blu-Ray — a few years ago
– I thought a Netbook was going to be one of my favorite devices (I was wrong)
– Staying stuck at one job position too long

Strangely, sometimes you are so immersed in the trends around you, you don’t see them clearly and take advantage.

One example sticks out.

In the podcast, I talk about working at Staples in the fall of 1991, and my exposure to a new computer company called Dell.

– The other computers we were selling at Staples were horrible
– Acer was probably our best model, but it was far from the sleek netbooks of today
– Example: Solitaire was standard; MS Office was not
– Terrible disk space and memory options

Dell changed all that, with a little-known, custom-order 3-ring binder in the back office:
– Users could order custom specs
– There was a review of entrepreneur Michael Dell, then 27 years old (read his fascinating bio)
- People gave glowing reviews
– Great value for the dollar

I saw how Dell could be sold at retail (albeit back then through the secret back-room, special order), then I saw how they worked with my own eyes:
– In my first job, the performance of Dell vs other PCs was astounding
– They had a clearly superior build quality
– They rarely broke down or crashed
– They were the fastest by far of any computers
– This trend continued at my startup

How could I take advantage of this?

Investing Guru Peter Lynch once said ‘Buy what you know.’

If I were an investor, this was a no-brainer:
– I was in the computer industry
– I knew the background of Dell’s founder
– I saw sales at retail
– I saw usage on the job
– I saw incredible productivity
– I saw customer loyalty and repeat sales

– And adjusted from Yahoo Finance, it was trading at 24 cents.

So did I purchase 5,000 shares and ride into the sunset a few years later? Not quite.

But I won’t beat myself up…
– I was 23 years old, with no experience buying stocks
– I didn’t really have enough money to really make huge impact
– There are other factors to consider when buying stock
– I would have had to sell in 1999 or 2000 to get the best gains

But what did I do?
– At least I used the knowledge for myself
– I bought 3-4 Dells in a row over the next 10-15 years
– I told everyone I knew to buy Dell

Now, we’re approaching 2011, 20 years later.

Taking a step back, I’m here to tell you that I think eBooks, apps, and tablets like the iPad are the next big thing.

Yes, yes, it might be ridiculously obvious.

But maybe not to all.

Maybe you’re like I was and so immersed in the business, that you didn’t step back to look around and ACT on the trends you’re seeing.

Let me build a simple case:
1) eBook growth – Amazon has already come out and said they sold more eBooks than hardcovers in the second quarter
2) App growth – Users are on pace to download more apps than songs
3) The Web is Dead – Well, at least that’s what Chris Anderson argues in the latest issue of Wired. Reading further, you’ll see he talks about the rise of apps.
4) Tablet sales growing – As of mid-September, the iPad has sold roughly 3.27 million units, and there’s even rumors that a second version of the iPad will be ready for the holidays (or at least Q1 2011).
5) More tablets are on the way – Samsung announced their reader, and unlike some other competitors, this is a brand I trust. It looks solid and while I predict it won’t beat the iPad and Kindle, it will help build the overall market
6) Strength of the Amazon Kindle – A new version was recently released, and like any good computer upgrade, it is smaller, lighter (8.5 oz), faster, and has a 50% better contrast.

The new Kindle already has 700 positive reviews and most importantly, it is only $139 for the WiFi version (vs $379 for the DX); can’t you see this FLYING off the shelves for the holidays? Is it a coincidence that they also have a slate gray version? Does anyone else remember that you could only get computers in off white before graphite colored cases finally became a hit?

What I know:
– I’m seeing interest and success of iPhone apps and iPad magazine apps at Conde Nast, one of the world’s largest publishers of content
– I’m tracking the industry and seeing new releases weekly
- I am an iPad owner, and am starting to use it more and more, seeking out great apps
– This product is in its infancy — it’s only been available since April! — we’re going to get more apps, better apps, multimedia integration, more video, more interaction with the web, and more social media extensions
– More friends are calling me asking about the iPad; Do you like it? Should I wait to buy one? Can I get a discount anywhere?
– It still blows people away when I show them in person, from my 5 year old nephew (just tried the free Toy Story app) to a college senior (showed him what a “tablet portfolio” looked like)

What you can do about it
– If you have a company, figure out if an app can help your business
– If you’re a marketer, track this stuff. Know the demographics that are adapting these products and appeal to them
– If you’re an individual, think about how you can take advantage of it, such as creating an app in a niche you love, writing content, or becoming an expert in design or development

What I’m doing about it
– Monitoring this and getting involved at work
– Maybe I’ll talk to my financial adviser to ask how we can take advantage of this through stocks or funds
– Immersing myself in it; I’ve bought an iPad, and am downloading any kind of app or magazine or content that looks interesting
– Jumping in with both feet. Disclaimer that some of this is outside of Wired, but for fun I have a fully completed eBook content I want to test and am investigating opportunities around this

I’ll leave you with this:
– If you’re in this industry, keep an eye on this
– If you do something completely different, step back and take a look around you. What are the trends and opportunities in your area of expertise that YOU can take advantage of? In other words, what is YOUR “1991 Dell moment?”

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