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Here are some random thoughts that have been on my mind over the last few months.

Sometimes, my random thoughts develop into an investment. And sometimes an investment develops into a River of Inquiry. The Future of Food started out like this and now represents roughly 25% of the companies in Blackbird’s third fund.

Most of the time though, random thoughts are just that, and evaporate. But if I share them somewhere outside of my consciousness alone, someone might help develop them, or challenge them, and that could be fun. If you have anything to add, jump into the comments or tweet me @holasammy and I (or my toddler) will respond.

Zoom is Dead

Joking. However, it is getting increasingly more clunky to use when the original addictive quality of Zoom was ‘it just works’. I’ve noticed not insignificant numbers of people start to suggest Whereby before Zoom, mostly in personal settings.

It probably doesn’t matter because the market is so big, but what is interesting is the acceleration in the adoption of a technology is greatly compressing the timeline on which the new entrant, the market disruptor, starts to suffer from the innovator’s dilemma.

Houseparty for Grown Ups

Isolife revealed an area of digital social communication that is really broken: inter-generational communications.

Zoom works, but is awkward. It’s not a natural product experience without a business purpose, like a board meeting or a product demo. It doesn’t feel social, or delightful.

There are other products like Houseparty, or Discord, to name a couple.

Houseparty must have had one of the most enormous DAU/MAU spikes during lockdown. I’d love to see the chart but I would not be surprised if the shape is something like a witches hat. Pretty much dead, huge spike at start of lockdown, heading back to the deadzone well before the end of social distancing.

When everyone is home in iso, starved of human connection, suddenly your entire social network is available at exactly the same time you are. Plus you have something to talk about: #isolife.

As the grind of social distancing wears us down, as days blend into nights and then into weekends, there is simply not that much to talk about. Our lives are, by definition, so much more boring than before.

My guess is that other than local hotspots where there is overlap of high restrictions + something urgent and specific to talk about, overall the engagement is going down on Houseparty. When the pandemic ends, the essential precondition that a critical mass of your network is available at the same time, goes away. Eventually, in an bi-annual spring clean of apps, it gets deleted.

Also, while Houseparty is a great video chat product, I am just on the edge of the age group that can master its UI. I cannot use Houseparty with my 69 year old father or my 89 year old grandmother.

But I do think there is a need for a video communication (not conferencing) experience that is more natively social, but not necessarily cool. Something designed with inclusion in mind, so that it is a friction-free experience for intergenerational communications.

Some product thoughts:

  • Many inter-generational families these days do not share a common native language. Onboarding and UI probably looks different to anything out there right now.
  • Delight features are unlikely to be hidden. They need to be so obvious that a septuagenarian could find and enjoy them.
  • Hearing and visually impaired people need to be able to participate as actively as any other participant. My Dad is nearly 70 and losing his hearing but usually the most outspoken person at a family gathering. On a Zoom call, without the benefit of body language and lip reading, he doesn’t always catch something the first time. Someone on a call repeating something 3 times is not a fun experience for anyone.

Sometimes, there isn’t that much to talk about but you want to be in the presence of each other. In real life, you would share a meal, maybe play a board game, play sports. There should probably be a developer marketplace where people can create digital equivalents of this.

These are really challenging product design challenges, but solvable. And at least worthy of experimentation.

The business model potentially looks different in this landscape. Maybe people would pay for it, kind of like a family tax. Maybe in-app purchases of digital gifts etc become more likely. Maybe you just clip the ticket on digital games and activities. This is probably where my ideas are the least developed.

Discord started in the gaming community but is clearly trying to move more into digital social communications. I really like this direction, but the experience right now still assumes a young user. There is no way I could get my grandparents or parents onto Discord today.

So, for some period of time that leaves white space for someone to purposefully, proudly, create a more natively social, inclusive digital product.

Written by

Partner @blackbirdvc | Ex-founder @startmate | Ex-lawyer | Dog-whisperer

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