Interview: Murray Newlands on Startups, Crowdfunding and the Future of Computing

In its latest earnings guidance, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) highlighted the company’s big push to build and develop VR and augmented reality technologies as part of what it believes will be the major evolution in computing platforms in 10 to 15 years’ time. “Every 10 to 15 years, a new major computing platform arrives and we think that virtual and augmented reality are important parts of this upcoming next platform,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the investor guidance call.

It seems convenient for Facebook to make this bold claim, says entrepreneur and PR strategist Murray Newlands, co-author of How to Get PR for Your Startup: Traction. In an interview with VR World, he says that the social network is obliged to say VR is the future of computing platforms, given its huge investment in acquiring the hardware startup and its plans to develop the ecosystem around it. “Having spent a lot of money on Oculus, I think that Facebook needs to say that is where the future is.”

Given the fast-changing nature of computing and technology, however, the future of computing is still fair game for enterprises and startups alike. “I think it is very hard for anyone to predict where we will be and what will be hot in three years, let alone 10 to 15 years. If Google, Facebook and Apple knew where we were going to be in 10 to 15 years they would be spending a LOT more money on just that one thing.”

Startups: Focus on Both Traction and Business Model

Newlands also talks about startup marketing, crowdfunding and the changes in the venture capital community, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is based. He says venture capitalists are increasingly looking to fund entrepreneurs at latter startup stages. This might mean a crowding-out effect for early-stage startups looking for early funding rounds. However, mature startups often mean less risk and better potential for actually gaining traction and profit.

In terms of marketing, Newlands finds concern in how some startup companies are focused on gaining traction first, but leave the business model for later. Investors also need to see potential profitability rather than just market share, he says. Newlands cites the case of MySpace, which had millions of users, but eventually fizzled out after being overtaken by other social networks. “Having tens of thousands of users is a great sign, but not does not necessarily mean profitability.”

Given the recent trends in crowdfunding, Newlands says this method of raising money may not necessarily work for everyone. “People also need to recognize that a successful crowdfunding campaign takes a lot of time,” he says. It may only run for 30 days, but they will need to prepare for a lot longer than that beforehand.” In fact, crowdfunding has been criticized by some quarters as a way for trivial products to proliferate, but without adequate accountability (say, if the product fails to ship on time). Newlands does praise crowdfunding as a good “litmus test for success” for one’s business.

Read the full interview on BSN*’s sister site, VR World.