In the fall of 1998, I was a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, on track to graduate in three years. I had recently spent the summer in California, working the front desk at the Hyatt Embarcadero in San Francisco. The Internet, a new medium at the time, was beginning to make headlines. AOL was making it possible for anyone with a computer and dial-up connection to surf the World Wide Web. Debates about the future of this new technology were widespread, but for me, it was clearly a game changer. The web was a blank canvas for savvy entrepreneurs to make their mark. For the first time in history, the barriers to reaching people had been shattered. With the ability to connect with individuals across town or across the globe, the possibilities seemed limitless. I was determined to be a part of it.
That fall, I spent much of my free time at the UK Public Library developing a website for the campus. I named it Kentucky Swap Shop (KYSwapShop.com), and its goal was simple: to allow college students to post ads for various items they were looking to buy or sell, much like a bulletin board system or virtual swap meet. At that time, Craigslist didn’t exist, eBay was just taking off, and Amazon only sold books.
Despite encountering people who struggled to grasp my vision, I was confident about the direction I was headed. Just like the Wildcats’ victorious run through the tournament that year to clinch their 7th NCAA championship, I believed that the World Wide Web was destined to transform commerce. I envisioned a future where everything could be accomplished online.
KYSwapShop quickly gained traction, and I soon realized my vision was too narrow. I rebranded the site as MetroZip.com and expanded its scope to include local listings for everything from restaurants and hotels to apartment rentals. At one point, our vision board even featured ambitious goals such as home delivery of groceries and restaurant meals.
Despite our forward-thinking vision, we were early to the game. After a few successful rounds of fundraising, we were swept away by the dot-com bust of 2000 and decided to close shop. This marked a humbling learning experience.
What excited me the most about the World Wide Web was its potential as a platform. Entrepreneurs could leverage it to create a multitude of scalable business opportunities. If they could dream it, they could build it, and if it could generate revenue, even better.
In the 25 years since, the internet has evolved and blossomed beyond even our wildest expectations. From ordering steak to printing t-shirts, from fundraising for a startup to monetizing social media followers, the internet has been revolutionary.
Recently, I’ve been writing about the Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) movement, and I want to express just how early I believe we are in this revolution. Like the blank canvas of the internet’s early days, AI is still in its infancy. At the time of this writing, there are only a handful of plugin options available for ChatGPT 4. This technology is a new frontier, and entrepreneurs are currently designing businesses and technologies using AI. These businesses are raising billions of dollars, and they are the enterprises of tomorrow that will revolutionize our daily lives.
If I were a college student today, I’d be seeking out or creating these opportunities. Here are a few areas that intrigue me:
AI Education: Currently, Kentucky is short 11,000 teachers. I envision an AI-powered educational system for students looking to supplement their current education or study entirely online.
AI Recipes: Have limited ingredients in your fridge? Imagine an AI-driven app that generates recipes based on your available ingredients, complete with YouTube tutorial links.
AI Travel Recommendations: Seeking unique vacation ideas? Imagine inputting details from your last five vacations and having an AI system generate personalized trip options based on your preferences and budget.
AI Dating: Forget traditional matchmaking sites. An AI-backed platform could result in more successful matches and marriages than any other site.
The late 90s saw Blockbuster dismissing Netflix as a passing fad and Barnes & Noble belittling Amazon’s lack of browsing experience. Today, I wonder who will fail to embrace AI and who will disrupt the market.
While I’ve been enthusiastic about the Electric Vehicle (“EV”) and Virtual Reality (“VR”) revolutions, the AI movement captivates me the most. I believe it holds immense promise and I’m more excited about the potential it presents than I have been in a very long time.
Buckle up, this is going to be a fascinating ride!
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