The Consumer Electronic Show, which was just held in Las Vegas, attracts every year more enterprises, and not only start-ups, as media interest. It is shown there the new products and services which will be offered to consumers and which will make their inventors rich. Countries are also looking after a showcase of their dynamism there. France is not the last one because we are praising ourselves to be an innovating nation: the number of French enterprises which are making the trip put us at the second place, after the U.S. So France would have become a start-up country. The State is supporting this trend and generously finance through the many institutions it controls, a lot of these which are present in the gambling capital.
The financial stakes are not negligible. Even if few Nasdaq stars started their successful carrier at the CES, the engine get well into its stride. An innovation can profit from a cash collection if its notoriety is enough, then from a listing in the stock market and, according to the credulity of investors, and it can see its market quotation prospering during several years and even if it suffers heavy losses like Tesla. Has innovations market become a casino, which would justify Las Vegas choice to host this event?
In roulette, result is unpredictable. Each move is independent from the previous one. In poker or in Black Jack, a good knowledge in the theory of probabilities allows to increasing your chance to win against partners or against the casino. Innovation market lies between these two logics. The partner or the opponent, it is the client. At the moment innovation is appearing, does that one answer to a real need, which will generate outlets? After that, in the case of a success, does the business model of the product or of the service allow to cover its production costs, to reimburse banks or the market which have financed the activity and become profitable enough to offer remuneration to shareholders? Past examples show it is possible and sometimes at a very large extent. Rapid enrichment, thanks to successful innovations is exercising a real fascination but they rarely realize. It is very difficult to forecast the success of an innovation. It is for these reasons that we are near casino logic.
During the Seventies and even more the Eighties, it is the space which has monopolized interest and financing. There was, from States, the expression of their power will but it laid into the background, behind the fascination, and even the dream the space was arousing. It was thought it could be possible to delocalize productions because the accurateness reached outside the atmosphere was going to revolutionize products, like today artificial intelligence and the human brain. It was imagined to build in the space solar power plants which would reflect toward earth the captured energy and would, transform it, with a good price, into electricity. It was thought it would be possible to extract natural resources on the moon when, on earth, they will be exhausted. Of course nothing like that happened. The only major application, but it came much later when there was a need, was the communication satellites which allowed to process volumes of data, whose, until that time, nobody had imagined their importance and their usefulness.
During that period, two men, who know each other but who became rivals, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, under a general indifference and sometimes incredulity, were going to transform the world. Bill Gates had understood that it was possible to create software which would offer to a large public the access to a computer. With the FORTRAN, it was too difficult. He invented Windows. Microsoft was born. Steve Jobs had done the same analysis. He created computers whose cost made them available to a large public. Apple was born. Both of them were right. There was a universal need to have access to knowledge through communication. The success of an innovation is only guaranteed if it answers to a need. If it comes too early, it fails. Japan was fascinated by robots for forty years, maybe because its demographic situation made it aware of a manpower scarcity. Dancing robots or automatic assistants in retired people houses never got success. It is only with artificial intelligence progresses that it is observed, in priority in manufacturing, an acceleration of their utilization.
But innovation always let some room to imagination. For decades, it was dreamed about flying cars of rapid as rockets transportation systems. It is called science fiction. Its capital is not Las Vegas but Hollywood. But these projects never came into reality, even if they were technically possible because they did not answer to a demand. The Concorde failure was not only caused by the hostility of American authorities but by the growing exploitation and maintenance costs which were difficult to pass on customers. The lack of enthusiasm, except in China, electric cars and tomorrow autonomous ones to be sure, results from doubts consumers have about their interest, due to their costs and legal uncertainties regarding liabilities. To the opposite, payments bank practices have been transformed by credit card equipped with electronic chips, internet access to their accounts and daily life operations. Visa has entered the Dow Jones index, when General Motors and Ford exited from it. Regarding IBM, its market value is inferior to LVMH one and six times Apple one.
Connected home is a beautiful project as energy consumption management and optimization. After cash, is daily life will be managed from everyone mobile phone? In theory, it is possible. In practice, that would necessitate a training program and, mainly, homes new equipments. Until now, solutions have not been found due to the high diversity of situations, to incite households to resort to these innovations. Transportation sharing platforms, to the opposite, enjoyed an immediate success. They were easy to put in place and were corresponding to a real need. But they revealed themselves difficult to financially manage because users did not behave as they were in charge of the good preservation of items they don’t own. Their degradation has quickly affected costs. For instance, in France, the condition, after a few years, in which were Autolib shared electric cars is revealing. Service-sharing platforms frequently find their financial balance only when they take advantage of fiscal loop holes (touristic renting activities) or legal ones (chauffeur driven cars). But, quickly, States restore rules which make the economic models on which they were based to lose their profitability.
An innovation and its success come both from the logic of a gamble and the logic of a dream, both from Las Vegas and Hollywood. It is why caution is necessary when a judgment is issued and especially when forecasts are made and enthusiasm is bursting. Life of start-ups is frequently short-lived. It is why France is not a “start-up”.