If you’re operating in the startup space, or innovation & technology more broadly, it’s important to pay attention to the various demographic, ideological, and societal shifts that are occurring today. It’s in these shifts that tremendous potential for investors, and company builders exists. As the needs, and desires of the population change, new businesses have to emerge to address these new realities. Here are some of the shifts that I have been most interested in:
Work 2.0 and the rise of the 1099’er. In the past, a worker in the US joined a company, and usually spent their entire career with that same company. Today it’s estimated that average worker will hold ten different jobs before the age of forty, and this number is projected to grow! This is a tremendous shift. People are starting to approach a job as more of a tour of duty, where they come in, do a job, learn a new set of skills, and then feel like they are ready to move onto the next thing somewhere else. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but it is the current reality. In addition to the workers who move jobs every few years, there is an increasing number of people that are choosing to work for themselves. They are freelancers, who work for many different clients, or provide services to many different companies. Personal finance, insurance, healthcare, education, and the tools used for work all need to evolve in order to address the changing landscape of the workforce. If more people opt to start small businesses, and companies, then governments and businesses need to adapt to cater to a new set of needs.
Collaborative consumption. The shift in consumer behavior from ownership to one focused on access. Think Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Zipcar, WeWork, Citi Bike, and many more. With the smartphone, and the technology it allows us to access from anywhere, we’re seeing companies bring together consumers, and providers efficiently, on a level that allows many people to move beyond ownership. Knowing that you can get what you need, when you need it — for a fair price- is more than enough to make many people rethink the value of actually owning something. This trend will continue as consumers become more comfortable accessing things when they need them, rather than owning something that spends most of its useful life sitting idle.
Aging population. For the first time in history we have more living people over the age of 65 than we have under the age of 5. This shift has huge implications for social programs, housing, healthcare, transportation, the economy, and home life.
How do we care for all of these people? And ensure that they receive high quality healthcare?
How do we rethink the infrastructure around elderly care/assisted living? What technologies can help older people continue to live independently as long as they want? What services need to be created to cater to this huge population that is retired, and has newly found free time? How do we empower a new generation of caretakers? There are serious questions to be answered, and untapped potential for new businesses to be created.
More health conscious. For the first time in history there are more obese people on the planet than there are underweight people. This is obviously a huge public health issue. Obesity is responsible for causing a host of other serious health problems. Awareness is the first step in battling any problem. In the US, and throughout much of the world, there is a new focus on clean eating, combined with a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps nothing more clearly illustrates a shift in consumer attitudes around food than McDonalds recent struggles. People are no longer just blindly putting unhealthy food into their bodies regularly. Consumers have shown that they want to eat at restaurants that are health conscious, care about the environment, source ingredients locally, and practice sustainability. This explains the rise of new fast-casual chains that are quickly supplanting the traditional fast food players in many markets around the country. A new kind of fast food is on the rise, one that is transparent about what it’s feeding its customers, and how it’s going about doing so. The bar has been raised.
Value driven companies/responsive brands. In a world where many of the most well-known large companies have been caught up in scandals with questionable labor practices, poor environmental controls, practically non-existent customer service, and extreme markups on prices, the door has been left open for new kinds of companies to emerge. We’ve seen new companies that are value driven enter the marketplace, and start to impact real change. Warby Parker, Tuft & Needle, MakeSpace, CircleUp, and many more are showing that there is another way to conduct business. A better way. Shoppers are coming to expect companies to be mission-driven, share their values publicly, and to follow through on them in practice. When things don’t go perfectly, people also expect brands to be responsive to their concerns, whether it be through phone, email, or social media. Customers are tired of being ignored, and are happy to finally be listened to. The internet allows new brands & companies to bypass traditional channels, and to connect and transact directly with their consumers. This is a powerful change, one that benefits the customer, and challenges the traditional retail model.
Cities as a platform. Today more people are living in cities than outside of them. Most cities around the country have become safer than they were in the past. This is part of the reason that when people start families, they are choosing to stay in cities with their children, rather than moving out to the suburbs. Combine this with the fact that young people want to be in cities, be able to walk places, be close to work, and to use public transportation. The cost of living in cities is rising, yet cities aren’t adapting quickly enough to meet the rising demands of their residents. It’s an exciting time to be working on changing cities. Self-driving cars, co-living spaces, on-demand storage, affordable/healthy food delivery services, improved public transportation, cheap sensor technology, electric vehicles, co-working, connectivity, and many other factors all coming together at this moment in time make cities the most exciting platform to innovate on today. I’m so excited by what the future of cities could look like. My hope is that companies choosing to work in this space, are open, and transparent with local governments, so they can work together to implement real changes, rather than battling against one another, costing everyone real meaningful progress.
Diversity. By the year 2040, the US will be majority-minority. Blacks and Latino/as will make up the majority of Americans. This is a powerful shift, the effects of which are already being felt today, and one that people ignore at their own peril. If the success of Empire, Hamilton, and Bevel came as a surprise to you, it just means you haven’t been paying close attention. The world’s culture is informed by American culture, which is informed by minority culture (Black/ Latino/a). I’d argue that hip-hop is our country’s greatest global export, it has touched every part of the world. Creating companies, services, and content for diverse groups of people is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also just good business. Studies show that diverse teams are higher performing than homogenous ones. Building a team that can offer varying viewpoints, informed by different backgrounds is an advantage that every business hoping to be relevant today, and in the future should be focusing on. The composition of our corporations should more accurately reflect the composition of the populous.
These are some of the areas I’m most excited about in the coming years. There are already some exciting companies that are working on addressing the opportunities created by these various shifts, and I imagine we are going to continue to see even more. It’s an exciting time to be working towards building a better future.