I’ve written several of these “Request for Startups” posts throughout college, and I’ve found them to be fruitful and engaging creative exercises. I view writing as a tool for thought, and these posts are mechanisms through which I can get my ideas out in the open, as well as starting points to keep expanding my knowledge on a certain topic. This is a long way of saying the ideas can often be half-baked. After I graduate, the format or structure of these posts may change, but I plan to continue actively writing online. None of the concepts have materialized into a real company (yet!), as ideas are abundant, and special founders drive the future forward.
Low-Code / No-Code Training School
Here’s the scheme I outlined a few weeks ago: teach people Retool / Airtable / Zapier / Figma / Clay on one end of an online marketplace and create easy ways for companies to hire these people as freelancers or full-time talent and onboard them into existing systems for projects on the other end. You could even assign talent programmatically through an API. This would solve problems on multiple dimensions. The first, evidenced by the emergence of companies like Lambda School (for a wide-ranging conversation on the future of education [and not just ISAs!], I’d recommend Austen Allred’s interview with Y Combinator) and Career Karma, is that people are looking for technical skills to power personal mobility in the economy. The second dimension to pay attention to is that there has been a surge of tools, which enable programming to become even easier — through ‘low-code’ (ex. Excel-like functions, understanding of APIs) or ‘no-code’ (WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop) means. The tools I listed above fall within these buckets.
If you make it easy for people to learn about and access these tools, they can provide meaningful, tactical assistance to companies that need programmatic functionality and automated procedures. Alex Bargmann, COO of Outline, sketched out a few concrete examples he would use a service like this for:
There are a few questions to ask and answer on the supply side. Would the trainees become employees or contractors of the central entity (like Compass or Newfront), which then sells services to buyers? Alternatively, the school could make money by placing its talent in companies as freelancers or full-time employees. I don’t hold the answers, but strategy and determinants of value to this business would dictate organizational strategy.
Mobility Asset Investment Marketplace
I have commented frequently on alternative investment markets and continue to be interested in their dynamics. The Internet can unlock ways for investors (institutional or retail) to access unique assets and provide liquidity to these markets. It’s easy to view this with rose-colored glasses, but one should also remember there is an illiquidity premium.
However, I’ve started to pay attention to mobility assets as investments recently. These include new modalities for ground transport (Bird, Lime), next-generation forms of aircraft (Joby), as well as things like shipping containers. A platform or clearinghouse that could move these off the balance sheets of transportation companies, and investors could capture dividends off fleet lease payments. In terms of business structure, my friend Niraj and I discussed these alternative investment startups and ultimately felt more encouraged that a marketplace approach could lead to scalability over an integrated buy-and-hold business.
APIs for Physical Space
Similar to the manner in which Plaid goes beyond the vault to offer developers access to banking data such as transactions, balances, etc., could a startup offer developers the ability to GET building and floor-level data for a host of different real estate property types? This could enable dynamic and flexible use of physical space, enabled through programmatic means. Just as API-driven businesses like Shippo or Twilio abstract the complexity of shipping or messaging, respectively; the platform I’m outlining could do the same for the development and construction of physical space. There would need to be a combination of human and technical services operating in the background.
One challenge would be the extraction of proprietary data from property managers and landlords’ binders across the country. I wonder if there is a way to create a form of virtuous loop to incentivize these profiles to share their data with outside parties, where they learn something about demand for their properties in exchange. This is a hard problem, but one worth pursuing.
I’d like to see better ways to track outcomes to decisions made in organizations — connecting organizational inputs and outputs. There’s so many interesting SaaS businesses being built, and future tools will stitch together to integrate the next-gen business cloud suite. You could put this wave of SaaS into two-broad buckets:
- Inputs: Threads (decisions), GitHub (code), Greenhouse (hiring), etc.
- Outputs: Looker (business intelligence), Lattice (HR & feedback), etc.
Mechanically, I’m not quite sure what a tool that maps inputs and outputs would like, but it should help close the loop within data-driven organizations, which I believe there should be more of. Maybe it’s like Segment. If Segment pipes together customer data, what pipes together design data, strategic data, financial data, etc.? You couple this product direction with a bottoms-up GTM strategy, and you could have something that’s viable.
Smart Devices and Financial Product Distribution
There should be more well-designed, lightweight IoT products like Kangaroo that replace sleepy incumbents such as ADT, spanning uses cases in the home and commercial environment. Pulling aside the issues associated with building hardware products, I also thought Kangaroo’s angle as a distribution mechanism for insurance was compelling. Distribution is the name of the game in financial services, where commoditized products rule the day. These sensors collect data that could improve the underwriting process for insurance providers, lenders, and banking platforms.
I have a few variants of this idea in mind. One could be a marketplace where IoT brands and financial services companies negotiate contracts. In another scenario, insurers and banks could bid for IoT data in auctions — there’s some tricky things there around privacy. Alternatively, financial service firms could subsidize the cost of development for an IoT device, which could solve problems in hardware production. There is a whole host of ways this could go. Ultimately, actors on both sides (devices and financial products) need to be working for the end customer (be it a consumer or business). However, I contend there are interesting ways for them to work together to make the end experience even better.
If you enjoyed these ideas and would like to chat, I'm available at aashaysanghvi[at]gmail.com