Request for Startups
Below is a scattered list of themes/projects/startup ideas I’ve been thinking about and would like to see in the world. If you’re working on something like this or know someone that is, I’d love to learn more, brainstorm and see what I can do to be helpful –shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m particularly interested in speaking to domain experts in the areas I define below. My skills are primarily in customer experience, human centered design, UX/UI, storytelling, brand building, organizational design and fundraising.
Future of education
· Tuition free education: I absolutely love what Lambda school is doing (free computer science education until you get a job) and think this is only the beginning for more outcome based higher ed that combines online and real-world collaboration. Lambda is focused on more technical fields (data science, engineering), but what does the future of education look like for storytellers, marketers, excel modelers, and designers?
· Life school: While the future is highly uncertain, we know that mental health, resilience, and emotional intelligence will help the next generation face anything that comes. What would a tech-enabled General Assembly for life skills look like? And how can we leverage the growing importance placed on wellness and deliberate lifelong learning to encourage business model innovation in this category? My bet is today’s generation has a much higher willingness to pay for life skills than previous generations.
· Early child education: Child care is a hot mess. It is increasingly unaffordable for parents and teachers/day care workers are grossly underpaid. Wonderschool is an interesting company that helps caregivers and teachers set up shop at home, while they handle the admin and logistics. By saving on real estate, staffers can earn more while parents pay less. How can we build and scale more models like this, perhaps with a more managed approach to ensure quality control? How can we adapt childcare to changing work models? Most childcare is meant to address the 9am-5pm working parent but as the gig economy increasingly permeates our economy, how can we design childcare to better reflect true working hours?
Solving problems for the 99%
·Understanding other people’s lives: How can we create bridges so people understand others? As capital increasingly concentrates, I worry about our capacity to think about problems that are not first-world problems. More expensive olive oil, or matcha infused deodorant is great, but I wonder how much we are leveraging technology for maximum impact. How can we all live in this world and enjoy the conveniences we have access to, and at the same time, be aware of the severity of problems that affect people not like us? I grew up in Colombia and saw poverty first hand but I worry about my children growing up in a privileged bubble. We need to close this gap in a way that is engaging and helps people understand how people of different means think and live their life. How can we get people to answer surveys so we can build products that better serve the masses? What’s the channel? How can we weave different POVs into our feeds — we might imagine an online reader that always gives you opposing viewpoints to a given story or perspective.
·Carta for cooperative mechanics: As the network effects brought upon by technology accelerate, I worry about the power wielded to a few individuals — the largest company in the world, Cargill, has 150k employees and less than 500 shareholders. There are examples of companies like Chobani, REI, Patagonia, and more recently Airbnb issuing equity to employees and customers but the vast majority of workers will never own the firms they work for. What if issuing equity were as easy as paying a salary? We know that ownership and passive income are the only sure routes to financial freedom, so how can we democratize ownership in the process and reduce income inequality? I think there is an opportunity to offer distributed ownership models as a service. Ownership changes lives and many companies are waking up to the fact that a fairer future of work means pulling wage-earners out of the debt stack and into the equity stack. Companies need tools to make this process easier. Carta has done fantastic work in this space, but I think this is still an early and huge market there are novel approaches and applications, particularly for serving the long tail of SMBs.
·VC model applied to investing in people: VC is the business of identifying and believing in ambitious people who need someone to believe in them. But why is this VC thinking not applied beyond startup firms? If you’re a musician doing odd-jobs, what if you could raise capital to release your first album and go on tour? If you’re a freelance photographer, instead of shooting birthdays, maybe you could get pro gear, shoot at an exotic destination, and make a name for yourself. If you’re a startup consultant doing uninspiring projects, maybe you could be more selective about the projects you take on and chase those projects you’ve been dreaming about. If you’re a new mom that left her job to stay home with the kids, maybe you could use some cash to pay for childcare and start your interior design practice? You might think — isn’t this what Kickstarter does? But Kickstarter is for investing in projects, not in people. In many ways, Kickstarter validates this idea, because projects are far riskier than people. The idea here is to sell an ownership stake in your future income on an open market — for investors to buy and sell . Individuals will be able to raise capital for use exclusively in advancing their career and business interests. The system would be based on transparency and trust, and individuals would be expected to actively disclose information about their business activity.
Direct to consumer brands and next-gen commerce experiences
I’ve written extensively about D2C brands and how the next wave isn’t going to come from companies selling toothpaste in more visually appealing packaging, but instead will come from those that use digital technologies to radically improve the customer experience.
Specifically, here are some areas I’ve been thinking about:
· Full-stack D2C brand for lighting including installation: If you buy a pendant, chances are you will need it installed, you will need to coordinate with the electrician to get the wiring in the right place, and you may even need architectural drawings of the space to make sure it fits the space nicely. Retailers today are divorced from the service/installation experience, yet this is a category where the post purchase is incredibly important. I think selling products bundled with services makes sense in this category, coupled with some curation/aggregation — it’s a very fragmented industry.
· Same as the above but for plumbing fixtures. I am building a home from the ground up and the process of finding and selecting plumbing fixtures has been a nightmare. The salespeople have very little technical knowledge and online channels(build.com, etc…) leave a lot to be desired — I spent hours trying to find the matching shower to the faucets I selected, trying to understand what a drain looks like in real life because the pictures were non-descriptive. A curated bundling approach, coupled with a service component, informative FAQs, and inspiring content would eliminate the burden of choice and significantly improve the customer experience. Unclear whether you build a D2C brand or represent existing brands (need to do more research).
· Tech gadgets purchase and support service: Technology is advancing at an overwhelming pace and it is scary for people that don’t have a safe place to ask questions and get accessible education. This is only getting worse with topics like AI and blockchain. We need a service that makes technology accessible and explains concepts simply and in a way that is delighting, educational, and accessible to the average consumer. There is an opportunity to make people of all types more technologically conversant while building an e-commerce business. Hellotech ventured into the space but I think there’s lots more to do here, particularly with smart home, wearables, etc... As an aside, I think a parallel opportunity exists in the market for SMB software — there are tools for nearly every imaginable use case, and the learning curve for learning to use these tools is getting steeper. Imagine a service that recommends the right software for your use case and helps you optimize your usage of airtable, zapier, etc…
· Crowdsourced product lists: I would love to see a destination that reduces the burden of choice for consumers by crowdsourcing curated product lists for specific categories in organized templates. Imagine lists of products showcasing furniture in people’s apartments, lists of baby products from people you trust, household cleaning products, etc… It could be monetized through affiliates and be a source of passive income for contributors. Kit tried to do this, but I think a focus on productized templates and category-specific GTM would make more sense here. Lots of product rec companies have failed because people have no incentive to share their lists. I think a “come for the tool, stay for the network” approach might be interesting here, where you build powerful template tools for people to organize their home shopping experience, etc… and then open those to a network to generate affiliate income.
· AR enabled furniture shopping: There is currently no way to preview furniture and visualize it in your home, leading to a clunky, painful, and frustrating customer experience. That, coupled with the rise of non-traditional furniture retailers and consumers desire to beautify their living space has made furnishing your home a huge headache and really expensive. The inspiration challenge has been largely resolved as consumers turn to Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. But there is a huge gap between inspiration and action — will this table go with my couch? Will this couch be too big for my living room? I think there is an opportunity to turn inspiration from your social feed into a simple home design experience. Companies like Modsy and Hutch are already tackling this space, but I think they’ve only just scratched the surface. The key is to empower the consumer to design their own space.
· Container store reimagined with AR: I have been wanting to organize my pantry/laundry/playroom with storage baskets, but the limiting factor has been “will the box fit in my cabinets?” Sure, I can measure it at home. But I think this experience can be reimagined with AR, and layered with personalized content to help you organize your space.
· Vitamin brand based on actual science: There are so many companies touting evidence-based vitamins — Ritual, Gem, Careof. They all claim personalization and science as a core differentiator but vitamins aren’t even regulated by the FDA. Consumers are skeptical by nature, and I think there is an opportunity to leverage DNA testing, microbiome analysis, and more to create a vitamin brand based on actual science.
· Next gen children’s toy brand: If you’ve ever watched a three-year-old operate an iPad, you know how much potential kids have with technology. And yet, as parents we tend to limit or ban screen time out of fear of ruining our children’s brains. That fear comes from a rational realization that most technology doesn’t foster creativity — my three year old naturally defaults to unboxing videos. In a world dominated by technology, kids should be exposed to it from the time they’re babies in productive ways. From better ways to spend time on a screen to business models that discourage accumulation of plastic, I think there are lots of opportunities here.
· Urban herb gardening made easy: Just like The Sill has made shopping for plants tech-friendly, helping customers determine which types would be most suitable for their living circumstances and delivering plants directly to their door, I think there’s an opportunity to build a digitally-enabled herb gardening brand for our generation. A lot of this activity happens on Home Depot and small gardening shops, but this is a category that can be enhanced and enlarged by educational content and convenience.
Many of the above ideas require an infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist. I’d like to see more companies building solutions to address:
· Inefficiency in customer acquisition: In a bifurcated world where you have Amazon in one extreme, and tens of thousands of micro-brands on the other, the problem of discovery is being amplified for smaller brands. We need new distribution channels that are cheaper. Sparktoro is an interesting company on my radar addressing audience intelligence, but I think we need a new wave of companies that help micro-brands discover customers and be discovered. Neighhborhood Goods is reimagining the department store experience for the micro brand generation, but what else can we do to help brands discover their target customer and get discovered? Perhaps Adwords for real world advertising? Billboards are still sold manually. If you could offer a platform to buy them online, and couple that with software to track its effectiveness you could give SMBs and micro brands more tools to acquire customers.
· Interface that rethinks grid-like e-comm: As commerce has evolved into more complex categories, we need to evolve the e-comm interface to accommodate a discovery experience. We can’t shop for toothpaste in the same way we shop for furniture. What does the e-comm interface of the future look like? We’ve been talking about content meeting commerce for years, but what does a successful combination of the two look like?
Staff on Demand
By 2020 nearly half of the US workforce will work independently. While outsourcing for larger projects has been mostly addressed, for many skills and specific industries, outsourcing continues to be very hard.
· Marketplaces for micro-task experts: The future of digital team augmentation has yet to be built. Freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr, Upwork, etc… are time consuming as they require lots of time to properly vet resources, an overwhelming experience that isn’t suitable for microtasks (i.e. add an SSL certificate to my website). The next wave is a platforms apt for: a) microtasks and b) non commoditized tasks where trust is required. I advise a company called Joule doing interesting things in the coding/design category and think there is plenty of more work to be done in the space. McKinsey made almost $9B in 2016 — I think an unbundling of consulting is bound to happen and industry-specific digital platforms that consolidate fragmented supply and enable targeted talent discovery through smart match is a natural evolution of consulting.
· Small jobs designed for commuters: As autonomous driving takes over, people will have more free time. What jobs can people do while they’re commuting? If people commute 1 hour a day, that’s a total of 5 hours per person per week
· Jobs for the “unretired”: We are the first generation that doesn’t respect elders, despite their knowledge and experience. As life expectancy goes up, how can we ensure older people find meaning and purpose? How can we help them leverage their knowledge and experience to serve future generations?
Consumerization of healthcare
· One Medical for X: Today, a diagnosis consists of a physical visit, unstructured oral conversations, physical exams, and broad testing. Healthcare spending in the U.S. has risen to 17–18% of GDP, completely out of line with other comparable nations. In an age where you can get an Uber in 3 minutes, people are logically expecting the same for healthcare, yet the healthcare system rarely thinks of the patient as a customer. I am very excited about the One Medical model and think that there are still untapped verticals, like pediatrics. A One Medical for pediatrics that couples teleheath solutions with an app for tracking of vaccines, etc… would make parents lives much easier. Primary care needs to transition from unscalable one-on-one, local, in-person expensive transactions to scalable, mobile-first, inexpensive data-driven diagnosis and treatment services. The innovation is in bypassing existing companies and giving patients control and understanding of their own health data.
· Diagnosis to delivery model that bypasses the traditional supply chain: For every $100 spent on prescription drugs, $41 goes to intermediaries in the supply chain. For things like acne treatment, hearing aid, UTIs, sinus infection, psychiatric drugs etc… where a remote diagnostic is possible, there is an opportunity to prescribe and deliver drugs directly, resulting in reduced costs and a radically improved customer experience for the patient. A bottoms-up approach outside of the regulated healthcare system yields faster adoption, and we’ve already seen companies achieve early success with this model — Modern Fertility, Nurx, Scanwell. I’m interested in seeing how this can be applied in other areas.
More authentic social media
· Passive photography: It is impossible to experience a moment fully if you have the pressure to photograph it. For creators whose livelihood depends on social media, the pressure is even worse. We’ve become the generation where photographs aren’t just a way to memorialize a night, but rather a night’s main event. The impulse to document everything has taken precedence over simple focus and direct human connection. How can photography be more passive and less forced? Is it drones? Something else? The next wave of social media should be more authentic, and that should come from being able to both live in the moment without sacrificing visual documentation of your life.
Rethinking the home and home services
· Home concierge that facilitates the home ownership experience: Being a homeowner is time-consuming and expensive. The list of things that break and need upkeep is endless. Today, the industry is reactive (we wait until something breaks), and homeowners have little insight or organizational tools to help them proactively manage their homes (how many people change air filters when they should?). Connected devices can make owning a home easier yet there isn’t a cloud-enabled concierge service to make homeownership easier. I don’t think the home service marketplace approach (Handy, Angie’s List, etc..) solves the problem for the home owner — it is reactive, requires vetting of resources, and from a platform perspective leads to leakage and churn. Instead, I think these services can be decommoditized through powerful, proactive software that emphasizes a long-term concierge like relationship instead of a quick transaction.
· Reduce cost of housing: The U.S. has a housing shortage of 7.3 million units and home prices continue to rise (6.2% in 2017, 2x more than income). Americans are severely rent burdened as a consequence. Coliving solutions and ADUs are helping to reduce the cost of home ownership, but what else can be done here? I think companies like Bumblebee that make space or construction more efficient are promising, and think there are opportunities to address lower-income populations (not just millennial, white, urban hipsters). In particular, what business models exist that can leverage existing assets and don’t require property ownership? I think this is still an early and huge market.
· Remodeling as a service instead of GC as a service: The renovation and construction market is massive, untouched by software, and relies on inefficient intermediaries. What would it look like to remodel your bathroom/kitchen/closet without a GC? I think there is an opportunity to offer remodeling as a service through curated bundles of tiles/plumbing fixtures/cabinetry/etc… How can we productize the remodeling process and standardize options to reduce the burden of choice? I imagine a modern, aesthetically beautiful, easy to use, and delightful interface to manage a remodel. You could introduce collaborations with well-known interior designers and build a strong brand. Of course there is complexity in getting accurate drawings of a space (including where electrical wiring and plumbing pipes are located) but how can we leverage tools such as 3D mapping, AR and digital distance tools to reinvent this process? Having just built a home from the ground up I think there is a huge opportunity here. It’s interesting that Home Depot is a $180B retailer that has not seen significant threat from internet disruption. The company is trading near its all-time high and has outperformed many other brick-and-mortar retailers.