These are the first 100 ideas from RFS 100, a newsletter that compiles great “Request for Startups” from leading investors, founders, and operators.
Myspace where profiles are shared Figma workspaces.
When I look at the last ~8 years, we've moved wholly toward "feed-based-broadcast-yourself" networks like The Gram, TikTok, and Twitter. These networks are content-first, ephemeral in nature, and effectively a stream of forgettable nothingness — an infinite scroll leaving users without any memory of what they just consumed.
Myspace allowed users to creatively represent themselves in a semi-permanent manner. It allowed us to create a space that evolved over time. How your profile looked was a direct reflection and snapshot of what was happening in your real life, how your friends interacted with you online, and the overall movement of culture. If your favorite images, music, and friends were each a flower, Myspace was the garden in which you organized them to reflect you.
I remember vividly scouring the web for the best photo to tile as my background, f*cking up HTML snippets, and flipping through my Limewire to find a new song to feature. Friends and acquaintances got a grasp of what you enjoyed and how you thought of yourself.
Meanwhile, software has undoubtedly become more collaborative in its experience. Word/Excel/Powerpoint to G-Docs, Imgur Memes to TikTok, Sketch to Figma, iMessage to Muze. Almost every great piece of consumer software provides a powerful single-player tool that shifts dynamically as it enters multiplayer mode.
I think there's room for a renaissance. There could be a lot of fun at the intersection of profiles and collaborative tooling. I envision a platform that enables a semi-permanent embodiment of who you are, where its progression is driven by social interactions. A 2020 Myspace where your wall is a collaborative document between friends. A piece of graffiti that leverages the content of the internet.
Better grocery bulk dispensing
Smart, more efficient, sanitary bulk dispensing in grocery stores
The bulk area of the produce section of the grocery store is usually unappealing. Think dried nuts, lentils, and coffee. Everyone knows that it’s cheaper, but that picking a branded packaged product is a safer bet when it comes to quality, particularly in the COVID era.
Unfortunately, this leads to greater use of plastic packaging and more food waste, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Part of the issue is that dispensing of that bulk product has stayed the same for decades. The bulk dispensing equipment you find in almost every grocery store is made by Trade Fixtures, a Berkshire Hathaway company that has a monopoly on the market. They leverage the pricing power that comes with that position.
It’s time for grocery to modernize and use a smart, efficient, sanitary, internet-enabled product for bulk dispensing. I see a world in which the dispenser and the consumer’s receptacle are recyclable, reusable, and communicate with each other. That would provide the grocery store with both real-time inventory data and consumption data, all while using less plastic, wasting less food, and growing an overlooked category in the store.
Auto carbon-offset for life
Behavioral psychology meets carbon offsetting
Have you ever tried to offset your carbon footprint? It's tricky to get an accurate assessment (though there are some good estimate apps). Even once you have an estimate, buying carbon "credits" or other related products is hard.
There's room for something better, more seamless. Estimating and buying credits is just the start. A truly "self-driving" solution would be a game-changer.
Plum is an example of this philosophy applied to money. The company's "Beast Mode" mixes behavioral psychology with saving and investment to help users optimize their financial health.
For example, on a random Tuesday afternoon, you'll receive a message from Plum's AI assistant saying, "Do you think you can save $24.19? Dare you..."
The timing of that message (and the amount) is intelligently optimized by the company, all to help drive results. Imagine if you could do the same for your carbon footprint — offset everything you do automatically, go net negative by buying credits in response to prompts, and even get encouragement to invest in ESG funds (which outperform the market, generally).
Ethical is the new luxury, and embedded finance is a $3.6T market. There are companies tackling parts of this puzzle, but nobody's pulled it together yet.
Toilet as a Lab (TaaL)
A "smart" toilet for biometric data
Smart toilets have been ubiquitous in Japan since the 1980s but have only focused on flashy comfort-focused features (think seat-warmers, built-in driers). Wearables have become increasingly common in tracking health data —it's time to bring the IoT playbook to the toilet.
We passively "deposit" so much data while sitting on the toilet that could be used to assess our daily wellbeing holistically. Urine samples could undergo physical and molecular analysis to test for urologic and prostate cancers, kidney failure, or even highlight a potential pregnancy. Stool samples could provide markers for colorectal cancers, bowel diseases, or metabolic disorders. While these could be particularly appealing to those genetically predisposed to such conditions, the ability to detect responses to lifestyle patterns (nutrition, exercise, drug use, sleep) broadens likely interest. A team of researchers at Stanford Medical School have developed the disease-detecting technology already.
The primary challenges are cost and scalability. That's kept many out of the market, or forced the discontinuation of others. If solved, TaaL might have a chance to take off, serving as a source of supplementary health data and giving consumers more control over monitoring their wellbeing. In the process, it would help move the healthcare sector towards preventative treatment.
A vertical social network for floraphiles
This summer has seen a fair amount of discussion on the opportunity of "unbundling Reddit." The thinking goes that by building for a particular interest group, a vertical social network can provide more value than a horizontal one. A few companies have followed this playbook, consciously or not, including Doximity (r/medicine), Supergreat (r/beauty), and Pipeline (r/streamers). Soon, we may see r/gardening disrupted.
There's reason to believe that gardening may make a particularly strong target. A Statista global survey found that 25% of US respondents consider gardening a hobby, placing it above "playing sports," and "photography." R/gardening itself boasts 2.9M members, and comments per day have increased over the past year. Despite its associations with older demographics, millennials are increasingly interested. Just as importantly, spend is rising: the average household in the US spent $503 per annum in 2018, an $100 increase from the year prior.
A vertical social network dedicated to the hobby would face little competition. DigtheDirt and other players are fusty, tired, and unlikely to appeal to a younger audience. While social is a particularly finicky, chimerical sector, focusing on our botanical buddies seems to stand a good chance of success.
Private banking solution for the FIRE movement in Europe
The "Financial Independence, Retire Early" (FIRE) movement is growing at a rapid pace, as more and more people look to attain financial freedom. There's an opportunity to build for this group, helping them attain their goals. I envision a FIRE-focused private-bank that combines commission-free trading (like Robinhood or Public), banking (Revolut or Monzo), and retirement features.
I'd love to see a European player emerge with this value proposition, courting the movement. It would be personalized and geographically-specific, taking into account local and national tax policies, among other differences.
All told, a fintech player here could capitalize on a growing movement, and capture a client-based committed to growing their wealth.
Shopify for opening restaurants
Infrastructure to launch restaurants at lower cost
Independent restaurants were already hurting before COVID. Many will never reopen after the pandemic, and chains are expected to eat up even more market share. The ones that do survive might have big opportunities to grow into the spaces (both literal and figurative) vacated by defunct restaurants. There will likely be a flattening and homogenization of the restaurant landscape. Byrne Hobart wrote about this, referring to the phenomenon as "frontend corporatization," noting, "Starbucks will grab the spot your neighborhood coffee shop was in...your local gym will become a Planet Fitness."
Byrne also wrote about the opposite vision: "Backend corporatization." He suggested lenders might step in, keeping restaurants afloat but forcing them to modernize through technology. While that might be a good place to start, a tech company offering a restaurant OS could level-up by combining such a system with franchise-quality playbooks.
Someone who lives and breathes restaurants might recognize the less-publicized benefits of doing business as a restaurant franchisee. In the best case, it's a business-in-a-box, including every necessary tech and operational solution, even providing step-by-step educational materials for the business. This is tremendously valuable, but the default model makes this inaccessible to restaurants without the requisite capital.
There's an opportunity for a Shopify-style company to help provide these benefits at a lower cost. While the restauranteur would own the brand, the platform could assist with everything else, including menu planning, ingredient and consumable ordering, and marketing (both tactical and strategic). This could be coupled with software solutions, including point of sale, online ordering, kitchen management, and delivery service triaging.
While not all restaurants fit into neat categories, this type of platform would allow food entrepreneurs to pick-and-choose the pieces that fit their business. The end product would be a modern restaurant that boasts the benefits of franchising without the onerous capital requirements, forced branding, and hefty fees.
The Neil deGrasse Tyson x Charli D'Amelio Mashup
Enable parents to cultivate and nurture their kids' interests
The problem: Parents want their kids to love learning. The easiest way to do that is to nurture their kids' interests by helping them access interest-aligned content. However, if parents get too involved in learning, they risk diminishing their kids' intrinsic motivation to learn.
One possible solution would be a content portal that enables kids to discover and pursue their academic interests, attached to a marketplace that gives parents suggestions for ideal products to nurture those interests.
To make engaging, rigorous content, you could pair subject matter experts (SMEs) with Instagram and Tiktok stars that appeal to younger audiences. The SMEs would craft the lesson plan, and the celebrities would teach it. The combination of the great lesson-planning of the SME and the social proof of the stars would make it easier for a kid to engage with the topic, whether it be dinosaurs, space, history, or something else.
You could track the time kids spend learning about different topics, delivering a report to parents along with suggestions for age-appropriate books, activities, summer camps, computer games, field trips, all designed to nurture their interests. Those items could be bought (or booked) on the platform, offering a clear path to monetization.
A rewind to WWDC
A wrapper for App Clips
When Apple releases a new OS or development primitive, you should pay attention. Thanks to Rick (who I met through RFS!), I was introduced to Apple's new App Clips. The SDK is fairly nascent, but the idea of "miniaturizing" applications, making them ephemeral and integrating with Apple Pay + Sign-In is fascinating. I'm interested in a tool that makes development and marketing *super easy* with App Clips. Perhaps it's a combination of Expo and Attentive for App Clips.
Unlock real estate data
An API for the multiple listing services
Plaid enabled a generation of financial apps by exposing bank account capabilities through a modern API. The same goes for Twilio with telephony capabilities and Google Maps with maps data. We’ve seen the story play out again and again: make inaccessible resources accessible to developers and be surprised by what gets built. One untouched frontier is the real estate listings data trapped in multiple disparate systems called multiple listing services (MLS), often in proprietary XML-based formats.
I have no idea how, but lowering the barrier to building the next Zillow or Trulia could be big — property data could also be used in ways we can’t even predict. The first challenge is getting access to existing systems, which is nontrivial in itself.
Deep learning for animal understanding
Applying deep learning to identify patterns in animal behavior
Deep learning is great at finding signal in noise. There's been more and more compelling research surrounding understanding things like pain or other communication/emotional patterns within animals using ML techniques applied to audio and video. You can envision a slope where we end up able to better understand animal health and preference through patterns, similar to how we can identify these things visually and aurally in humans (though this is controversial). I don't know where the exact business model is here (CPG? Healthcare? Dog friendship?), but I'm only partly joking when I talk about TAM creation/expansion if we can unlock the next level of animal understanding.
Headspace for hypnosis
A modern, accessible hypnotherapy platform for clear minds and clear hearts (Ed: can't lose!)
Mental healthcare is the #1 public health crisis in America. Today, 38M Americans are on antidepressants, while 20M Americans are on anti-anxiety medication. With 46% of Americans experiencing mental illness during their lifetime, US annual spend on mental health treatments and ancillary services has reached $238B. Today’s treatments are far from sufficient.
Enter hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy, which induces a state of intense concentration or focused attention, could clear the way for deeper psychological processing and acceptance. Research shows strong evidence surrounding the potential for hypnosis to treat pain, irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD, and insomnia while an emerging body of study suggests hypnosis might also be applicable for depression, anxiety, smoking cessation, and weight loss.
Might we be able to bring such world positive change to the masses through a digital application or experience? What meditation is today, hypnotherapy might be tomorrow.
The self-actualization bundle
A personal advisory board for every pillar of well-being
There is a massive impact gap in the consumer wellness market. Spend is increasing rapidly, but results are hard to come by. We struggle to stay fit, manage our finances, and maintain healthy relationships (among a plethora of other disappointing shortcomings). Content and one-size-fits-all advice abound, but truly personalized experiences that drive adherence and results are largely inaccessible. The complexity and costs associated with assembling a support team leave it off-limits to all but the very highest earners.
A company could bundle access to an "advisory board" of personal coaches, counselors, and educators, pairing expertise with tools that allow practitioners to scale. Such a solution could significantly bend the cost curve of access down while helping tens of thousands of practitioners build thriving small businesses.
Your health OS
Unified "smart" health metrics aggregator
Apple Watch to track fitness, Oura Ring to track sleep, Whoop Band to monitor strain, Qardio for blood pressure — we each have a heterogeneous array of trackers monitoring various aspects of our health, each with a different dashboard. There's no way to monitor all the metrics that matter, making it harder to get a picture of your overall health.
What if there was a health aggregator platform that ingested data from all tracking devices, providing a snapshot of overall health? This device could then be paired with software that ran predictive analytics, creating a model of what your levels were today and what they should be tomorrow. Anomalies could be flagged and potentially shared with a doctor. Beyond the metrics widely available already, it's easy to envision how such a system might encourage further quantification — think electrolyte consumption, stool inflammation, blood oxygen levels, or even the presence of COVID antibodies. Individuals with chronic diseases, like celiac, could begin to grasp how different behaviors impacted how they felt and performed. In the long-run, that could be used to enhance care.
There's reason to believe there's a market for such a system. Peloton and Mirror indicate growing consumer fitness spending, while at-home testing companies like EverlyWell, show the wisdom of bringing health and hardware directly to consumers. If the collected data were sufficiently robust, a Livongo-esque play might be possible — developing benchmarks and providing rich care management.
Nathan Baschez has a good take on why Apple is uniquely poised to build something like this (but hasn’t yet!), and Frank Chen describes Life in 2030, painting the picture of a world in which we track health metrics every day.
A wearable subvocalization device
"Talk" with a virtual assistant without needing to speak out loud
Voice assistants have mostly fallen short of their expected promise. Siri, Google, and Alexa are nice for small things, but most people don't really use them. One of the biggest barriers is the human behavior change required to feel comfortable talking out loud to your phone when other people are around. And of course, talking to your phone in a noisy environment isn't great either.
Instead, subvocalization devices worn on the jaw are able to leverage ML to understand the imperceptible mouth and tongue movements made when speaking to yourself, internally. This wearable allows you to "speak" without opening your mouth, allowing instructions to be passed silently to a device. It can be paired with headphones so you can receive responses.
You could use this in noisy environments, in quiet office settings — really anywhere.
The tech has been validated at a basic level in an MIT research project, and with further advances in language models, the ability to more accurately convert subvocalizations to text and understanding should be even more doable.
Touch-less and voice-less interaction could be the next step-change in computing interfaces if subvocalization devices are commercialized.
Founder-friendly debt terms
SaaS credit scoring with a marketplace
Buzz surrounding the future of startup financing has surged this year and is further accentuated by the tech industry’s antifragility in the public markets. Despite the relatively predictable nature of recurring revenue businesses, many banks and investors still don’t have the capability to lend to startups as their models rely on GAAP metrics instead of more relevant measures such as retention, LTV: CAC, sales efficiency, and so on. While there are now numerous lenders with dedicated venture debt teams, there is an opportunity to build an underlying startup-focused credit scoring model and sell it to less innovative lenders.
With the powerful new underwriting model in hand, the next step is a SaaS-enabled marketplace:
On one side, you connect to a startup's internal systems to assess creditworthiness and assign a credit score. Startups benefit because the marketplace produces the most competitive term sheets rather than going to a few lenders for one-off requests.
On the other side, banks and investors, armed with an underwriting model, can bid for a given startup. Lenders benefit by gaining exposure to a previously inaccessible asset class.
A flywheel would ensue where more transactions generate more data and more accurate pricing. The challenge is in gathering the initial data set to build an accurate, robust underwriting model.
Grubhub for in-person dining
App to order ahead at restaurants, particularly during COVID-19
Most restaurants in New York have transitioned from physical menus to QR codes. A service could be offered that further minimized interactions, allowing customers to order prior to arriving at a restaurant. With location services enabled, the restaurant could properly time service. Thanks to the tech developed by delivery apps, integrating with a restaurant's order queue is fairly straightforward.
Ultimately, I see such a solution as a "COVID play plus." The tailwinds of the pandemic could precipitate adoption — this service would accelerate turnover, minimize need for staff, and theoretically give customers peace of mind — but the model could be enduring. In the long run, customers will not want to lose the ability to pre-order food, given the obvious convenience and time-savings.
Headless identity and user monitoring
Continuing to power the developer economy
There has been a bit of scrum in recent weeks over how the next generation of SaaS will be developer-first. The basic logic is that data models, logic, and clients/UI for traditional business applications will be decoupled into "headless" solutions, where developers build on top of a robust API and configurable backend. Examples in e-commerce include CommerceLayer and in automation, Robocorp. This trend also falls in line with the JAMstack movement and ecosystem. I think it'd be interesting to expose user, identity, and account behavior data to developers through an API, similar to what Castle does. Then, they could build custom experiences for access policy, bot detection, and account takeovers to fight fraud and risk.
Stripe Atlas for cooperatives
Self-reinforcing, non-dilutive growth
With the rise of the “every startup is a bank” narrative, I’m intrigued by the “every startup is a credit union” opportunity.
Credit unions are cooperatives. There are 29K cooperatives in the US alone. They generate $500B+ in annual sales, hold $3.1T in assets, and employ 856K people who earn $25B in wages.
It’s a pretty straightforward model that’s hundreds of years old. Members — individuals or companies — pay a fee to become owners, benefit from quality, cheap goods or services, and receive a distribution of profits at the end of the year. The capital base grows over time and is used for expansion.
Straightforward, but antiquated to stand up.
This is the request: a Stripe Atlas-inspired method of organizing and deploying an outside-capital-ready organization centered on cooperative mechanics. That could be as a standalone new entity, or as an injection into an existing business.
For the underrepresented, the underserved, and the repressed, this is the flywheel for economic power. For the acquisitive, this is the best source of cheap capital that you own. You can imagine a Twitch cooperative committed to building and selling tools for streamers, or a teacher's cooperative that runs a distributed school.
Visa, Land O’Lakes, REI, Ocean Spray, Liberty Mutual, and dozens of other large companies operate as cooperatives — there's every reason to think this model can reach scale. I'm investigating building in this space and would love to talk to others that are interested. Please reach out!
How 5G and "voice attribution" will kill conversation
This may be less of an idea and more of a warning. Or perhaps an invitation to burgeoning supervillains.
Have you ever discussed a product, then found it populating your Instagram feed moments later? That experience, and others like it, have contributed to 43% of Americans believing their phones are listening to them. Whether it is true or not, we have made our peace with some degree of surveillance. That's without mentioning the devices we ask to snoop on us like our Alexa or Google Home.
There's every reason to think that such surveillance will expand during the coronavirus pandemic and once 5G attains ubiquity. That may change cultural mores too — rather than resisting oversight we could learn to embrace it. Few inducements work as well as money.
I imagine an app that lives on your phone, and perhaps other listening devices, always-on, waiting for one thing in particular: recommendations. We still value the endorsements of friends more than information gleaned from other sources. Building on Alex Lieberman's RFS from last week — perhaps we should be paid for it.
In this world, I might tell my friend about an Airbnb I stayed at upstate, a jacket I bought, a book I read. The app would log all three recommendations and the human entity to whom they were suggested. If my friend went on to follow any such recommendations, even months later, some portion of affiliate revenue would pass to me, and perhaps be shared with others who reinforced recommendations over time. Essentially, an integrated system of "voice attribution."
On one end, it might provide passive income. On the other, we would observe the death of conversation. Each of us using our allotted moments to sell, sell, sell until language is fully mercantilized.
Rakuten for people
Putting the power of promotion in the hands of the consumer
Turning your customers into your champions should be turnkey. For every product you buy as a consumer, you should have the ability to amplify that product to your network if you like it and benefit in some way.
I think there's room for a B2C referral platform aimed at the consumer market. Think Rakuten for individuals. Whether you just got a Peloton or rented a new apartment, you should be able to benefit from passing on a recommendation. A platform to organize and track those different offers could be really valuable.
A tech-enabled PE firm focused on e-commerce merchants
In short-order, Thrasio has become the “fastest US company to reach profitable unicorn status” (self-described in a recent press release). The company reached a $1B+ valuation after ~24 months in operation by rolling up a number of Amazon merchants under a single umbrella and optimizing operations and growth. Although there is platform risk associated with selling on Amazon alone (a platform becoming increasingly notorious for private-labeling), a Thrasio-style company can mitigate some of that by diversifying across categories, purchasing brands that have stronger brand affinity and retention, and expanding products to other industries.
Given the fast growth and high GMVs across hundreds of marketplaces around the globe, this approach should be replicable across markets. The approach could hypothetically work even better outside of the US in countries that ban marketplaces from selling private-label products (ex. India). Ping me if you're interested in exploring this!
Digitizing the industrial economy
New ideas for systems of records
The presumption is that “software has eaten the world,” but there are large swaths of the global economy — manufacturing, energy, mining, infrastructure development — that remain relatively untouched. These industries support massive companies that run on pen, paper, and maybe even Excel. See tweet from @Post_Market.
The atomic unit of these organizations is the frontline worksite. Better systems of record for data management, workforce planning, inventory management and procurement, safety and compliance, and so on should form around frontline worksites. In the past, the problem for startups has been enduring long sales cycles in the hopes of getting enough initial customers to have a market tip in their favor. One wedge I find fascinating (especially given COVID)? Business continuity planning and disaster recovery. How can you make it easy for operations managers to plan headcount, forecast different scenarios, and understand the health of their existing assets (ERP, cyber/edge networks, etcetera)?
Home rolled devs
Teaching technical skills, practically
Many of the people I know who have successfully learned to code post-college have found that applying new skills to actual work is the best way to make sure lessons stick. As a product manager who was taught by a data engineer how to write SQL, who has then gone on to teach other product managers how to write Python and SQL, I can attest that it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
I’d love to see a startup serve this use-case. Specifically, the company would help employees learn how to code by leveraging their employer's existing APIs and codebase. Lessons would be immediately applicable, and arguably much stickier.
The unbundled MBA
High-quality network curation supporting lifelong learning
What Chief has done to modernize and uplevel Young Presidents' Organization and intra-company women's networks, a NewCo should do to business school.
Roughly 200K students graduate with MBAs annually, many of whom spend almost $200K for the privilege. That equates to $40B in aggregated annual spend. While some matriculators return to school to acquire new tangible skills and pivot their careers, many enroll for (1) high-quality network expansion beyond their undergraduate and siloed professional networks, and (2) intellectually engaging discourse surrounding topics of the time.
Might one be able to fulfill these latter two variables through a modernized program? Could diverse and intellectually complementary cohorts coming together in high impact environments — think dinner series, week-long offsites, and so on — be the answer? In our increasingly interdisciplinary world, it's time for greater accessibility in higher education and between industry networks.
The Yage Letters
Commercializing ayahuasca for a broader audience
As the saying goes, ayahuasca packs ten years of therapy into a single night. The oleaginous brew has been used in South America for generations, hailed for its healing properties. It is only in the last few years that American audiences have taken note.
For the mindshare it captures — frequently appearing in film and TV (including the disastrous recent season of Billions) — domestic usage is confined to religious groups and niche communities. Part of that is a question of legality, of course, but form factor plays a role. By all accounts, drinking ayahuasca is a mentally revelatory but physically repulsive experience. Users frequently vomit. The effects last for hours.
There's movement on both sticking points. Denver and Oakland decriminalized psychedelics, recently; a statewide statute may be adopted by Oregon in November. Lifting legal limitations will go some way in opening the doors, but modifying the product itself may be more important. ATAI Life Sciences has been dabbling with DMT in the hopes of delivering a potent but more palatable product.
Those with expertise could compete on formulation, but once that has been unlocked, plenty less specialized opportunities will emerge. Ayahuasca has shown to be particularly effective in addressing treatment-resistant depression, as well as potentially aiding in the reformation of inmates. Sector-specific service providers will emerge, along with discovery and review platforms. Ayahuasca is not without flaws, posing a risk to those with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, among other issues. But I am optimistic it will do more good than harm.
P.S. Before you ask, I have not done ayahuasca. Disappointing. That said, I'm game. Would love to hear anyone's stories, confidentially or shared with the group.
Okay, what's really wrong?
Improving audits and compliance in healthcare
I wrote a long thing about how we’re in a golden age of healthcare fraud that’s yet to be uncovered. Money is flowing through the system with virtually 0 traceability or understanding of how it’s being distributed. Most audits require a physical presence, ad-hoc spot checks, and are generally not scalable relative to the complexity of the system. How can we make audits more scalable and consistent?
This is not just limited to outright fraud, but also better monitoring of behavior to identify waste. As a thought experiment, what would happen if patients wore bodycams as they went through the health system? What behaviors on the care delivery side would change?
Separately, identifying fraud and waste is one aspect, but actually collecting owed payments and enforcing collection is tricky. Are there companies that help with these processes?
Calendaring for coaches
Infrastructure for solopreneurs
I'd love to see a tool that allows teachers, trainers, and coaches to create information-rich, multi-event or recurring calendar cadences for clients. I picture a drum teacher, or diabetes coach, giving clients a structured GCal event to learn and practice a new skill or behavior. While the reminder would be useful, there are ways to make it more valuable. These calendar events could integrate with curriculums, articles, to-do lists, and other resources. If the client's work was captured in a system of its own, these prompts could become increasingly intelligent with time, automatically prompting them to improve upon weaknesses.
In sum, a system like this would solve the client's question of "what should I practice, read, or do today to achieve my goals?" It might also drive more revenue for coaches as they deepen customer relationships.
Not just a coronavirus play
Pickup-only grocery stores
The supermarket and grocery industry is estimated at $682B as of 2020, growing at a rather torpid 0.5% a year. While the trend of the last decades has been towards ever-larger superstores (think Walmart and Target), there's an argument that more opportunity lies in moving in the opposite direction.
Smaller, pickup-only grocery stores could offer a few advantages, particularly in metropolitan areas. On the business side, they would reduce two of the biggest cost centers: headcount and footprint. Less expensive sub-street level space could be leveraged for storage, in addition to facilities outside a city. Customers could place orders ahead of time and have their orders ready to go when they arrived. Having customer's phone numbers would also be an advantage, allowing for special offers or other incentives to be shared.
Of course, minimizing social interaction is particularly important right now. But there are reasons to think this model might work post-pandemic, too.
A trend-driven fashion house for Gen Z
Although e-commerce company Revolve hasn't fared well since IPO'ing in 2019, it remains a big business. It's current value stands north of $1B. The company's success has relied on responding quickly to trends and leveraging social media instead of traditional paid advertising. As social morays change, I think there's an opportunity to take that playbook and serve a new generation of consumers.
With Gen Z, we're seeing a shift away from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous participation. Fashion brands are becoming a critical part of social movements, serving as a form of expression. LGBTQI+ issues are becoming increasingly mainstream, partially driven by a more fluid conception of gender amongst the young. A recent survey found that 52% of Gen Z participants don't identify as "completely heterosexual," while 78% agree that gender no longer defines a person in the same way it used to.
There's the potential for a community-driven, media-savvy insurgent to build an iconic brand and business off of these changes. Phluid is an interesting player right now, as is Machine A. I think there's room for plenty of others.
Good stock photos
Text-based synthetic stock photo generation
Finding good stock photography that suits your needs is a huge pain. Custom photo shoots are expensive and time-consuming. Off-the-shelf images are often cheesy or forced.
Why not combine Natural Language Processing (NLP), Computer Vision (CV), and Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to create a text-based system for generating stock photos? Sites like thispersondoesnotexist.com can already generate picture-perfect humans; the next step is to put them in context. Unlike high art or fashion photography, the images don’t need to be perfect (expectations are already low), providing time for the technology to improve.
While the market for stock photography is modest (~$3-4B), the use cases for this technology are virtually limitless from movies to meme machines.
Infrastructure and services for locums
Hospitals are too consolidated, and it's extremely hard to start a new practice in healthcare. There's a significant opportunity to unbundle the hospital by making it easier for physicians to get patients, open up a practice, and build processes that are specific to that service line. A few questions that are worth thinking through:
How can we enable physicians to take part in more virtual work and build patient panels with a lower upfront cost?
How can we enable independent physicians to make more money, participate in new reimbursement models, or have access to services that they wouldn't necessarily be able to hire a full-time employee for? I'd love to see a new tech-enabled managed services organization that can wrap around a practice to boost it.
How can we make it easier to identify a doctor that's actually good at a given service? Referrals right now are entirely based on word of mouth or relationships, not quality of service.
Can we bring the doctors to patients, instead of requiring patients to come to clinics? Can we embed physicians into areas patients already congregate?
Plenty of great companies can (and hopefully will) be built in solving these problems.
A productivity meta-layer for super-users
As we spend increasing time on our computers, saving milliseconds on an often-repeated task can add up. One way to improve efficiency would be by creating a central shortcut library. The product would standardize shortcut keys used across different applications, allowing consumers to customize keys for canonical behavior. Users should be able to create a new email and create a new to-do with the same shortcut key, as opposed to memorizing "C" for Superhuman and "Cmd+N" for Things, for example.
Society will grow accustomed to shortcut keys as younger generations age and use more business and productivity applications. There should be a simple way for developers to support this behavior and allow cross-app defaults.
Stripe for payroll
An API to manage earnings
Payroll is incredibly complex. There is a plethora of different local, state, and federal taxes to consider, as well as retirement and withholding rules to navigate. Not to mention, HR professionals and employees want their payrolls to be highly configurable. There is also a lot of risk for the payroll vendor, as they are subject to fines if they mess it up. It's so complex that Gusto notoriously doesn’t use their own payroll system. Two structural changes make this market interesting:
The rise of contractors and distributed work piles onto the complexity
More HR-related companies want to tack on payroll because it reduces churn
An otome studio for the US
Though originally from Japan, otome or "maiden" games have found an eager market in China. These story-based games are geared towards women, with the explicit goal of forging romantic relations between the player and game's characters. In this respect, it serves a similar purpose to the romance novels of Danielle Steele or even soft-core pornography, albeit with a primmer wrapper.
A year after its launch, hit otome game "Love and Producer" brought in as much as $47 million a month from players, suggesting a run rate of as much as +$500MM.
As of yet, few attempts have been made to penetrate the US market. While the anime-style artwork might require some rejigging, the fundamental mechanisms of such games are replicable. While an otome studio would be subject to the same power-law dynamics of other game makers (it's a hit-driven business), sparse competition provides plenty of white space.
Metrics, metrics, metrics
How do organizations actually become data-driven?
Companies talk a big game about how they let data drive decision-making. One roadblock to data-driven orgs is culture and practice. But, the other is better tooling. There’s a surge of apps and companies that support data infrastructure, quality, testing, and so on. However, I believe there’s still opportunity for inventive product design in the space, especially when it comes to user-facing business intelligence software. We need to go beyond visualizations! A few ideas come to mind. There should be a way to see past queries and questions users have asked. The system should also be able to parse natural language. An everyday business user might not know SQL, and the data team should not be the last line of defense. There should be workflows to actually align stakeholders around the most important metrics, and the software should support collaboration from 1 to 10 to 100 stakeholders who care about certain metrics and queries. A few companies worth noting include Preset, Sisu, and Transform.
Using OCR to extract data
By my estimates, somewhere between 5% and 95% of the world’s information is locked in bitmap charts. That's a colossal waste of information.
One solution could be deploying OCR to scrape the charts, transforming the visual information into queryable data. While there could be some trickiness in monetizing, there's no doubt a compelling, valuable dataset could be accumulated.
It's screenshot piracy, but for the greater good!
Stripe Atlas for Individuals
Infrastructure for solopreneurs
Managing a business alone can be hard, but in the United States, over 70% of companies are "soloprenuers" and there's an accelerating trend that these businesses are digital-only. These hard working folks are tasked with managing finance, accounting, purchasing, sales, marketing and customer service. It can be daunting and veer the business-owner further away from their strengths.
We think there is an opportunity to build Stripe Atlas for individuals. This suite could span the creation, management and growth lifecycle of individuals ready to begin building their own company. Think "one click" and individuals have ready access to corporate entity formation, accounting, health insurance as well as website creation and marketing tools. The product begins first as a software offering to make the entire lifecycle formation and management easy but over time, there's opportunities to connect with various service providers as part of a marketplace.
Kickstarter for product features
Aligning interests and funding small software teams
Since its inception, over $5.12B has been pledged to Kickstarter projects. In the process, ~185K products have brought in the money needed to get off the ground. Although Kickstarter remains the obvious destination for new artistic projects, CPG brands, and some gadgetry, it is not built to drive software development.
I think a platform focused on that use-case could have legs. Product teams would be able to outline their proposed features and solicit upfront subscriptions from customers. In addition to funding new products, it would provide hugely valuable market feedback, aligning companies, and their customers.
Feed the animals
DTC pet care beyond cats and dogs
The most common pet in the US? Freshwater fish. Roughly 140MM aquatic friends are owned, beating out cats (94.2MM) and dogs (89.7MM). That indicates how many opportunities lie beyond the two pets that dominate mindshare. Indeed, over 20MM birds are owned, 14MM small animals are kept (think hamsters or rabbits), and 7.6MM horses. While spend varies across species (it's a very different financial decision to support a horse versus a guppy), there are nevertheless viable plays to be made in each category.
The Farmer's Dog has led the way in the dog food space. Could we see analogous companies emerge serving beloved steeds, parakeets, and bunnies?
Podcast search and discover
It would be great to have a way to blur the lines between audio and text content to improve search and discovery. Most podcasts have a title and sometimes a paragraph on what the episode is about. We trust a handful of podcasts, but we’re typically going in blind which isn’t always preferred. It’d be interesting if podcasts had automatically generated notes that could be annotated by listeners, searched for by prospective listeners, timestamped for playback, and so on. Right now, the lines between audio and text mean you can’t have the best of both, but ideally we get to a point where we have the flexibility of audio listening with the searchability/annotation capabilities of text.
Memories in the cloud
A treasured home for digital keepsakes
When someone dies, their memories often die with them. Quarantine has gotten me thinking about how little time we have with our loved ones and how precious those moments are. I've been talking with some of the elderly people in my life about their memories and recording them on my phone, but I haven't found a home for that audio, photos taken over the years, videos, and so. I would love to find a startup that provides a home for those memories and allows for sharing and linking to other family members so that we can create full digital records of the lives of the people we love.
New methods of bringing IRL socialization online
I’m interested in finding companies that are building tools, products, and/or services that allow people who are not in the same physical space to build an intimate relationship. Catalyzed by COVID-19 tailwinds, companies are onboarding new employees in an entirely digital process, while friends and families have halted travel plans to reunite in person. I’m looking for solutions that go past video conferencing, but rather truly replicate in-person interactions between those you are closest with or new acquaintances you met but would like to get to know. Much of the technology we interact with on a day-to-day basis - from our financial tools to entertainment channels - are increasingly geo-agnostic; I believe there is an opportunity for relationship-building to be enabled in a similar vein.
Learning stuff is HARD but memes make everything EASY AND GOOD
Whether it's remembering equations or keeping track of who conquered Constantinople, why do we have to learn only from blobs of text and linear video? Memes are the internet's native vessel for ideas and shared experiences, and with so much learning now happening online, let's apply it to education! I'd love to see a marketplace for study material driven by original, nutritious memes.
Ro for gastrointestinal issues
DTC stomach care
I have spent many a foul night sitting on my couch, drinking bottles of water and bingeing on Tums, all in the hopes of mitigating a devilish case of heartburn. That is a complaint common in the US, where 60MM suffer from the fiendish feeling each month. While over-the-counter remedies can be relatively effective, they only palliate chronic cases which may require stiffer doses of medications. Just as importantly, pharmaceutical solutions provide no care guidance. Behavioral changes can be effective at treating GERD, a service that could be bundled into an app. Finally, virtual visits could be arranged with remote doctors to discuss more serious care, including non-surgical interventions, and pH testing. While the real difficulty for insurgents is competition (Ro's excellence means they may become "Ro for gastro" themselves), the depth and variance of care may require deep focus. A company that made that their specialty could have legs.
Bridging design and development
Modern product organizations now resource full-fledged design teams, but many times, design and engineering maintain siloed workflows. This leads to a “last-mile” handoff problem of getting high-fidelity designs actualized in production code. There have been various attempts to solve this over the years, such as Zeplin and more recently, Plasmic. These solutions put the tools in designers’ hands without much input from engineering. I’d like to see something that tightens the loop a bit -- give developers ways to share their pre-built components, APIs, and workflows with design to use as building blocks. Storybook is a project worth checking out.
AWS for going global
All-in-one platform for internationalization
Companies are increasingly global in their ambition. The tooling has yet to catch up. I'd like to see a platform that helps businesses internationalize and localize. That could bundle legal entity creation, bank account initiation, contracting, global payroll solutions, hiring, local vendor discovery, office space discovery, and actual translation. Though there are point solutions that solve many of these needs, I visualize a slick dashboard that allows companies to go end-to-end in addressing a new market. While the dream would be to make this as close to a SaaS product as possible, the reality is that for the medium-term at least, this would probably be driven by services and partnerships. That might result in thin-margins, but if you're able to build technology around processes as they mature, the opportunity could be big.
A marketplace for digital twins
Algorithms and digital twins are essential in the design of complex projects and physical products. Lots of these algorithms and the resulting work gets siloed in organizations and projects. I think there’s an opportunity for a product that allows engineers to build, buy, and trade their algorithms and digital twins. There’s a lot of redundant work done at the moment. This would decentralize product development and design.
Google Maps for financial freedom
Charting better banking pathways
For all the financial apps available, I think there's room for a more automated, intelligent process. I imagine something that leverages Plaid to assess the entirety of assets and liabilities (investments, savings, loans, credit debts), and takes automated action on your behalf, all to improve your financial health. Consumers wouldn't have to worry about which debt should be paid off first, or how much is needed to save for a certain goal: you're given a clear direction, a path, with alternatives available. Beyond that, the product could help with proactive refinancing, and maybe even suggest jobs that could help meet financial goals, especially leading up to retirement.
As part of an initial launch, I'd leverage personalized onboarding à la Superhuman to let consumers know there's a real person on the other side of the screen, ready to answer questions. While we might not see it in tech circles as much, there's still a huge reliance on bank tellers and physical branches. This could bring that human touch while leveraging the power of technology.
Jupyter for business
A productivity supra-layer
Running a team today involves coordinating colleagues across a combination of docs, dashboards, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. While individual tools are often excellent, they're static and siloed. The result is a disjointed process. What's needed is an orchestration layer that sits on top of these tools, something that's dynamic, deeply integrated, and flexible. A one-stop solution to create and manage — essentially, a Jupyter notebook for business with an accessible query language and clean presentation.
Bringing transparency to healthcare
Consumer-facing pricing tech for hospital
Hospital leaders need to fulfill a 2021 CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services) mandate to disclose the rates they negotiate with insurers. Most hospitals are woefully unprepared because of the complexity of claims, billing, and adjustment. This could be a billion-dollar opportunity for a new company — bringing tooling to organizations that need to adapt and show how rates are struck under-the-hood. Vendors and revenue cycle management companies are likely to try and solve this problem too, but there's an opportunity for an insurgent to win market share before these businesses roll-out their solutions.
If Twitter and Pocket had a baby
Improving social reading
Pocket was supposed to become the aggregation layer for reading, showing what each of us consumed, pulling it together in a beautiful interface, and facilitating sharing. It hasn't happened. The product is unchanged from five years ago, and nothing has stepped in to fill the gap. There's an opportunity for a company to take the best of Twitter (and others), and apply it to information consumption. I'd like to see a product that tracks my reading across platforms, digests everything I've read (on a weekly, monthly, and yearly cadence), and analyzes that consumption. How much have I read? Which topics did I delve in to? The annotations and highlights I make could be shared in a visually appealing closed feed. There are lots of great references to draw from: the visual experience of consuming content might look something like Pinterest, following influencers might mimic Twitter, and the closed feed might be most similar to a Whatsapp group.
To start, I'd focus on onboarding a small, high-signal group, like the YC founder community. You could pay $20/month to see what this group is reading, learning, and annotating. I think a lot of people would be excited to learn from high caliber operators.
Paying Woodward and Bernstein
Finding a better model for thoughtful journalism
Investigative journalism is so crucial, but figuring out a business model that works is close to impossible. I'm an optimist, though. There will be many lessons from 2020, and a big one for me is the absolute necessity for deep-dive, well-researched, trustworthy news and information. Subscription-based models are making a comeback, but other alternatives may emerge too. I think it's a fruitful starting point for new entrepreneurs.
Bitmoji Game Studio
Simple games, with a personalized touch
I think there’s a clear opportunity to build the next Voodoo Games by leveraging Bitmoji Kit. It doesn’t have to be high-brow or thoughtful. Just a fun, casual time that takes your mind off of the world. Leveraging SnapKit allows for high virality, social connection, and personalization. Build the underlying game engine and then go to town with simple game loops.
Zoom for Millennial Evangelicals
Faith-based video streaming
Joel Osteen, the American pastor, is believed to be worth $60MM. That accumulation of wealth would not have been possible without television. But as millennials increasingly consume content on their phones and computers, old terrestrial networks may not offer the same scale of opportunity. We can expect video-streaming to mint the next generation of moneyed holy-men, presenting an opportunity for a Zoom-competitor focused on the faith-based market.
Specific features could be built for this use case, including the integration of holy books (that might allow for annotation), the ability to upload sermons, the concept of digital "confessionals" or rooms for smaller audiences, and the gathering of collections. There's a reason to think the timing might be particularly good, even beyond the broader rush to video-streaming. Times of crisis tend to produce an uptick in religiosity.
I’m interested in Temporal (and it’s parent project Cadence) as a new primitive for developers to orchestrate tasks, data pipelines, and other functions in a large, distributed system. If you read the documentation, one can use the declarative framework to run distributed cron jobs, better DAGs, or even the stitching between various business process APIs. I’d like to see the ecosystem of products built in and around the workflow primitives to offer better visibility, security, and performance.
Inventory for Shopify businesses
B2B marketplace for fashion retailers and suppliers
There's a need for a managed marketplace for fashion retailers to buy inventory from multiple suppliers. This would allow retailers to increase inventory and assortment while easily experimenting with new inventory. It would be especially powerful if you could enrich basic information, adding HD photos and product data.
One place to start would be the LA Fashion District. You could focus on connecting Shopify merchants with wholesalers through a slick tech platform that leverages APIs to grab product SKUs. Shopify merchants would be able to get set up and start selling without needing to worry about inventory.
Lemonade for companies
It's a hassle to get business insurance. Though there are some tech-forward providers, there's still lots of room for optimization. I imagine a simple UI wizard that asks for information about your business, then tells you what insurance you need to buy, packaging it up in a single purchase. You should only need to enter the information once and deal with a single provider that handles the details.
In terms of design, it could take pointers from the user-friendliness of Lemonade. Ultimately, what you want is one place to login, make changes, and pay. Make it simple. Make it pretty.
(If you want to read more about Lemonade, you can check out Mario & Co's dissection of the S-1)
A social network for live cooking
As more and more people spend time in the kitchen due to COVID, there should be a better way to share the experience of cooking with your friends and family. One way to do that might be over livestream. A food-specific streaming platform could boast a nice interface for recipes, opening them up to collaboration. You could also set a "dinner time" so that different cooks could try to sit down to their meals synchronously. The result would be something like a virtual potluck that brings people together.
Making bills fun
Infrastructure to enable bill payment
Current bill payment APIs from companies like Fiserv leave a lot to be desired. Add that to the fact that existing banking apps (from the big players, at least) are badly designed and unpleasant to use. It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, with the right design, bill payment could be delightful. You could gamify the process, building a rewards system for responsible behavior (ie: paying on time) that allows you to unlock discounts at local stores. An API that bundled this functionality could sell to both fintech companies and other financial institutions.
A dependency graph for system architectures
Fortune 500 enterprises have so many disparate systems, with knowledge transfer mostly siloed. To adopt newer tech, they need help understanding what's currently happening under-the-hood. A dependency graph showing how systems interact with each other would help these large enterprises reduce technical debt, streamline operations, and level-up their tech stack. It would also be a really cool thing to look at :)
Visor for startups
A better service for managing tax filings
Tax f*cking sucks. It's an endless headache for startups that can ill-afford to spend time on tasks beyond their core focus. Apart from wading through the morass themselves, startups can choose to hire tax firms. The problem is their extortionate pricing. There's so much room for improvement. Visor's combination of automation and outsourced labor seems to work well for consumers. A solution targeted at SMEs could be similarly effective.
— Joe Chittenden-Veal, Head of Automation at Invisible
Lambda for non-coders
Skills-based education with ROI for students and employer
Employers need workers trained with the right skills. Students need training programs that lead to employment and don't increase their debt. Both are craving ROI. By connecting both sides, and using creative financing solutions (ISAs and scholarships, to name just two options), training programs can deliver ROI to both employers and students: bridging the skills gap while tackling the student debt crisis. Lambda School, but for everything else.
Figma for data
A comprehensive and collaborative solution for data
Despite how much companies tout how data-driven they are, data collaboration is where design collaboration was pre-Figma. Before 2015, the design world was fragmented. There was Sketch (editor), Zeplin (version control), InVision (presentation), and others, all doing different things. Figma brought things together and created design systems. Data is similarly fragmented. There's Mode (editor), Looker (visualization), Alation (catalog), DVC (version control), Notion (documentation), and so on. If these tools were brought together, a data system could be created that enables rigorous and systematic data protocols across companies.
Streamlining internal processes
Process mining and automation software
As the saying goes, "when you know better, you do better." For many teams, they may not know, in detail, how they really spend their days. Every team should have an easy and automated way to document their day-to-day processes. That visibility would allow them to understand bottlenecks and inefficiencies with greater clarity, allowing for operational improvements. Over time, workflows could be standardized or automation deployed to level-up.
Call your grandparents
Hyper-simple hardware and software for video chat
Now, more than ever, we are looking for ways to connect. While we have a superabundance of solutions, everything is too complicated, especially for an older generation. I think there's space for an incredibly simple hardware/software product that allows for video calling, only between trusted contacts. That would allow me to chat with elderly relatives who can't figure out Facetime, Portal, or the other solutions on the market.
— Anonymous, Founder
The silent epidemic
Treating sleep apnea, end-to-end
80% of people that have sleep apnea don't know it. It truly is a silent epidemic, often contributing to diabetes and obesity. The 20% of people that make an effort to get help face a terrible treatment process. In many cases, they have to wait 3-6 months to get a bed in a sleep lab. Once there, they're hooked up to a range of systems, then asked to sleep as if they would at home. Across the board, it's a fractured, subpar experience. Better at-home diagnostics are part of the solution, but an end-to-end treatment would be a game-changer.
— Jason Fiedler, Partner at Left Lane Capital
Segment for payments
Distributed payments as a service
While it’s hard not to love Stripe and its operational excellence, they're often not the sole payment processor a company uses. Companies with scale tend to integrate with a handful of payment processors, gateways, and banks to manage payment inflows and outflows through a distributed architecture. On top of integrating across many payment systems, companies need to manage cross-border conversions, payment failures, transaction immutability, and many other issues. I wonder if a new, cloud-native service could serve as the undergirding infrastructure. It might look something like Segment, but for payments data, rather than customer events. It could look something like Panther (in the SIEM world), which intriguingly latches onto Snowflake's data warehouse. There’s a lot of possibility here, and I’m excited to see what people build!
Robinhood for retirement
I was an advisor to a company that sold last year and made enough that my accountant told me I should put some in a retirement account. Otherwise, I'd just be giving it to the government. Going through the process of making the account, funding the account, and getting it funded was painful. There were no mobile apps that simplified the process and had great UX like Robinhood does for buy and selling stocks. I think there's room for a company to make radical product improvements and serve early customers, growing with them over time.
Monument for gambling addicts
A digital Gambler's Anonymous
There are as many as 5.7MM pathological gamblers or "problem gamblers" in the US. Signs indicate a sharp rise over recent years. The BBC reports that in the UK, an analogous market, gambling-related hospitalizations have risen by 114% over the past six years. The pressure from this addiction can induce sufferers to commit crimes, or fall into psychosis.
The suicide of Alex Kearns last week, a 20-year-old with a negative balance on his Robinhood account, illustrates the way in which a gambling mentality has permeated other corners of the internet. We are increasingly conditioned to chase dopamine highs meted out at uncertain intervals — over investment platforms, and social media, as much as anywhere else. A telemedicine solution could better reach younger users, taking the digitally-savvy messaging of a Monument or Tempest and provisioning care online. That would include self-guided courses, targeted therapy, and even medication. Mood stabilizers and antidepressants are presumed to help.
Cameo for normies
Product reviews from real people
As an e-commerce entrepreneur, I'm always looking for great user-generated content about our products. Whether from "influencers" or regular people, video testimonials, reviews, and unboxings are extremely powerful. They can be used in ads, on social media, and product sales pages. It would be great to have a streamlined platform to solicit and receive high-quality user-generated product shots and videos without relying on existing customers to post or send content ad-hoc (which you might not have rights to).
A secure exchange for synthetic data
There's an opportunity to create a platform for enterprises to share sensitive data with vendors. Security is paramount, of course.
At the moment, many independent software developers require customer data to prove out the value of their technology. When those requests are made, customers may dismiss them out of hand, or delay the process, particularly at larger companies. Can you imagine if every enterprise startup coming out of YC or Techstars got secure, instant access to data sets from hundreds of enterprises? Producing a proof of concept would be as simple as signing onto a platform, choosing your target customer, receiving their data set, and making the sale.
Why doesn't this exist now? Because enterprises keep sensitive data — PII, PCI, HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA — behind their firewall for security reasons. So how would this platform work? Synthetic data. Neural networks can learn the features of a data set, and generate synthetic information that retains the utility of the original data set while providing mathematical guarantees against de-anonymization. Vendors love it because it’s a customer acquisition channel, and saves them time and money. Enterprise loves it because it keeps their data private, and saves them time and money, too (right now they manually anonymize data for vendors). Even better, this is a business with network effects: each new enterprise and vendor makes the platform more valuable for existing enterprises and vendors.
A modern platform for book recommendations
Amazon acquired Goodreads in 2007 and has sadly neglected it since. I consider myself a voracious reader, and while Goodreads has remained my platform of choice to track my reading history, there is so much potential squandered! I’m not the only one who thinks so.
First, the recommendation engine needs to be completely rethought: user-generated lists don’t cut it. Similar to Foursquare’s place ratings, book suggestions should be personalized based on personal rankings and taste graphs ("Sam, this biography is a 9.8 based on our algorithm"). Show me deep personal analytics. Rich media, like author interviews from YouTube, podcasts, New York Times book reviews, relevant news articles and user-generated book notes and summaries, should be a click away. While highlighting popular passages is great, take it a step further with Genius style annotations. Bring back social and community elements: help me better find and connect with friends, follow thought leaders (like Linkedin), or institutions (example: my college publishes a summer reading list). Following a Patreon model and leveraging video, reimagine the modern book group or host interactive events led by authors or curators. There is so much potential!
Intelligent contacts for soldiers and civilians
Maintaining a good field of vision is critical in combat situations. Interesting developments around flexible "micro-batteries" offer the potential to create a contact lens that compensates for visual deficiencies oraugments existingabilities. Such a device could display additional visual information in users' field of vision, and scan documents, for example. DARPA has been interested in AR for more than a decade and engaged with some interesting academic projects, but there's yet to be a definitive commercial solution. Over time solutions could make their way to consumers to enhance work and day-to-day life.
Zestful for home healthcare workers
Retaining and rewarding caregivers
Demand for home healthcare workers should grow rapidly over the next ~8 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2018-28, the number of jobs will increase 36%. Average growth across industries is 5%. That's set to exacerbate existing issues for personal care providers, namely, retention and turnover. Poor salaries (that have not kept up with inflation) and inconsistent working schedules have resulted in an industry-wide turnover rate of 25.36%. This is a space that needs an overhaul. Well-capitalized insurgents like Honor have entered the fray but struggled to achieve a breakout trajectory, shuffling between full-stack and partnership approaches. Controlling supply appears vital. To that end, a platform like Zestful or Onaroll targeted at this group could prove an interesting wedge. The sell to agencies would be that perks like a Starbucks gift card or Netflix subscription reduce turnover and save money in the long-term. In the process, a direct relationship would be established with the home healthcare workers, themselves. Over time, that might allow for more meaningful benefits (healthcare, non-extortive loans) to be provisioned to a group that has been historically excluded.
A data hub for your partners & vendor
Vendor data infrastructure
Segment, along with a few other open-source alternatives, pioneered “customer data infrastructure” — a central repository that collects customer events and pipes them to the appropriate sales and marketing tools. In the HR tech space, there’s a bit of a scrum about “employee data infrastructure” to connect disparate ATS, payroll, and HCM systems. I wonder if the same principles can be applied to a company’s vendors, suppliers, and counterparties. Think a central data repository stitching together business process APIs like Checkr, Modern Treasury, Lob, and Middesk. One company to watch in this space is Backbone.ai. The open questions would have to do with how replicable this type of infrastructure is across businesses and what data can be exposed through APIs and standardized internally.
Low-code for SMBs
Easy to use RPA to increase efficiency
SMBs have more and more process automation needs. Giving operators control over which applications to build, rather than forcing them to buy out-of-the-box systems that may not perfectly serve their needs, can meaningfully increase their efficiency. One example product would be an RPA solution, purpose-built for SMBs. If simple enough to use (or augmented through sector-specific templates), a solution could help businesses like accounting firms, local law firms, and dental offices reduce overhead and compete more directly with bigger players on price and quality.
— Anonymous, VC Partner
BarkBox for Mom & Pop
Smoothing income on Main Street
Just like the rest of corporate America, small businesses benefit from recurring revenue. At the moment, there are few ways for them to orchestrate a compelling solution. BarkBox provides an interesting example for an insurgent to follow. Namely, create the infrastructure for small retailers to expand their audience, access e-commerce, turn-around inventory faster, and be a part of a subscription service. This would be particularly helpful at the moment, or in other periods of reduced foot traffic. Among its features, the software could handle online user management, shipping labels and lists, and returns. All the business would need to do is pack the boxes and have them picked up.
Manual for health
Giving knowledge workers the tools to improve health and wellness
Elite knowledge workers, especially those operating remotely, will become increasingly coveted assets. As a result, they've already begun to "train" their brain for peak performance just as professional athletes train their bodies. Apart from learning, strategy, and productivity training regimens, I'm fascinated by how this curriculum will manifest in the health and wellness space. Compelling guidance is needed for sleep, fitness, nutrition, mental health, community, and plenty of other verticals.
TikTok x WebMD for being an adult
Engaging, authoritative personal finance and adult education
Technology has meaningfully improved access to information. Too much of anything can be a bad thing, though — and I believe that much of our day to day struggle as consumers is now attributable to a lack of filtering ability versus a lack of access. Because of this, I believe there is immense value in doing something very simple: getting the right information to the right person at the right time. I would love to see a product that packages personal finance and "adulting" content in an engaging form factor and becomes the pocket tool for the modern adult.
FiveThirtyEight for Enterprise Risk
Real-time risk assessment tools
Companies with global operations face a huge amount of complex and interconnected risk that they have little visibility into — making them susceptible to the cascading effects of shocks like trade wars, severe weather, and global pandemics. At the same time, new tools are getting better at modeling complex systems and their emergent properties in close to real-time. That makes it possible and valuable for businesses to have a "live" probabilistic model of their operations to make decisions and monitor real-time risk. Similar to FiveThirtyEight's election models but for your business!
Amazon for buying companies
Marketplace for buying and selling small businesses
SMBs make up 99% of US businesses. Right now, the current buying and selling methods are broken — they occur primarily offline (newspaper ads, posters, word of mouth) There are a few online competitors (a signal of demand), but they are outdated. The experience can be reimagined and automated. Lifestyle businesses are becoming more popular — a marketplace like this can facilitate financing and discovery to make owning one of these businesses possible.
Taking Apple's lead
APIs for differential privacy
While the transition is far from complete, privacy is slowly moving from a “save your ass against GDPR/CCPA ” to a feature set that consumers and enterprise users demand from applications. While some companies like Transcend and BigID help enterprises navigate existing PII and non-PII data, why collect it in the first place? Evervault seems promising with their “privacy cages” approach, though the actual functionality is a bit vague. There are unique ways to encrypt data at the device or client-level so that it never leaves users' hands, but can still be analyzed, understood, and interpreted. Apple is a leader in differential privacy, and it’s often easy to say, “why don’t we take what BigCo does and democratize it?” There’s more nuance here, but making differential privacy methods available for legacy enterprises could be a useful endeavor.
Pinduoduo for the US
Social e-commerce platform
In just five years, Pinduoduo has attracted 585MM users and reached ~$140B in annual GMV. Much of the e-commerce platform's success has come from its "social buying" features, which encourage consumers to team up, order in bulk, and receive discounts. This premise could work well in the US. We're continuing to see a shift from thinking about supply-first (how much can we produce) to demand-first (how much do we need to produce). Solutions like Pinduoduo can limit supply chain waste, give consumers lower prices, and flip the cost structures of incumbents on their heads. It's a win-win.
A Chrome extension for embedded product information
In a world deluged by advertising, it's hard to know who to trust. Can you trust the products on marketplace or online stores? Most of these companies are advertising platforms now. To find a reliable product review, I usually have to do a huge amount of research myself. A dream of mine is to browse the internet and see product information embedded on individual shopping pages. Is the product legitimate? Who are the primary competitors? What are the key trade-offs? It could even show me when my friends bought something so I could get their take! A Chrome extension sounds like the easiest way to pull that off.
— Anonymous, VC Investor
Portuguese prayer app
Faith-based Calm focused on the Brazilian market
I remember I was sitting on a plane when I listened to the episode of "The Startup" about the Spanish Bible app. To get to the point: Trevor McKendrick, an atheist, realized that Spanish language Bible apps were high-grossing but relatively underbuilt. Spending as little as an hour a month, McKendrick created two modern Spanish Bible apps that brought in over $100K a year in revenue. That was in 2012. Since then, audio products have only become more popular with meditation a particularly busy space. Though crowded at this point, the underlying dynamics of meditation apps — subscription-based, high-margin, habit-forming, evergreen content — remain attractive. Companies like Hallow have capitalized on these characteristics in the US market, but there may be equally attractive opportunities elsewhere. While there are an estimated 100MM Catholics in Mexico, Brazil has closer to 140MM. A Portuguese language prayer app could prove a relatively low-cost build and promising revenue stream. Other ways to play it would be a Spanish language app across all of Latam, or even a product serving different faiths. With 1.9B adherents of Islam and most existing apps focused on prayer times rather than prayer itself, the Muslim community might represent another intriguing segment. It should be noted that McKendrick apparently felt rather guilty earning his money from believers while being atheist. As such, this may be an idea best suited to those with real conviction.
Virtual try-on for apparel
Avatar for online shopping
I often wish for something that would recommend clothes based on my body shape, then virtually show me how they'd look. On a personal level, it would drastically improve the online shopping experience. On a more global and environmental level, it would result in fewer returns and more efficient production as retailers are able to better forecast customer sizing.
Declarative CLI for business tasks
I hate redundant work. Employees spend countless hours on tasks that could be automated. Tools like Zapier have democratized building automation. Personally, I love the UX of the CLI. Imagine running quick scripts, backed by Zap-like recipes, to accomplish weekly tasks and pull data. Companies like Command E, and Akido are just starting to make inroads in this space. I'm excited to see increasingly powerful capabilities built!
— Anonymous, VC Investor
Twitter x Second Life
This sounds like the standard "let's build the metaverse!" idea, but I'm thinking of something simpler. I would love to combine something like Twitter, this real-time global conversation, with homes for each user. The normal feed would be the same, but when you pop into someone's profile, there could be a live chat going on, the music that person is listening to would be playing, a movie streaming, even audio or video drop-ins. I spend so much time in Twitter anyway, I would rather stay in there than pop into twenty different apps for each of those different things.
Tracking your vitals
Visualizing personal healthcare data
1. I use an Excel sheet to log, track, and visualize my health data. That involves a mix of data from my Garmin (sleep, RHR, HRV, etc.) and various blood tests. I know too many people that do the same. An app with a simple, intuitive UX to consolidate this would be incredibly beneficial.
2. I'd be a subscriber for life if the company also had an easily accessible and affordable (not Forward Health prices) network of tiny retail centers (could also be tents for all I care) that collect basic blood and health data once a month.
3. Pre-coronavirus I would've said this was really needed. Post-virus, it's a no-brainer.
Remote work management
Delightful sourcing and onboarding for a distributed workforce
Talent exists everywhere. Opportunities do not. The current HR software stack for sourcing, hiring, onboarding (HRIS), payroll, and benefits make up a $40B market. There is a gap in the market for a one-stop solution for hiring for an increasingly distributed, global, and dynamic workforce. Currently, the challenge lies in both sourcing the best available talent around the world, while remaining compliant with local laws and regulations.
Teaching from home
Alternative homeschool options for households with two working parents
Traditional public school isn't the best option for every student, but it is often the most affordable, reliable, and manageable for families with two working parents. It's possible the shift towards remote school during COVID-19 will accelerate student/parent propensity to look for affordable alternatives that provide a more tailored/exciting/impactful learning experience. While I do not know what the right solution looks like, I think there is significant room for innovation and experimentation in the space.
Unlocking monetization in "sleepy" industries
Programmatic ad network for B2B marketplaces
Every major wholesale industry or supply chain is digitizing through B2B marketplaces. Some monetize through take-rates or added financial services, but others have seen advertising as a successful avenue towards monetization. Targeting customers at the point of sale is effective but needs the right infrastructure to make it happen.
YC for VC
Accelerators and distributed scouting programs for new investors
It's too difficult to develop an investment track record If you aren't independently wealthy or a part of existing homogenous VC networks. Additionally, fund of fund data shows that emerging managers outperform compared to legacy funds. Our industry should be reimagining ways to boost returns via expanding the pool of qualified investors. Emerging manager accelerators and scout programs like the one led by Indie.vc, can unlock new, diverse investor networks in an increasingly distributed world.
Galvanizing digital currency innovation
Cryptocurrency crowdfunding platform
The world is moving toward globalized and hyper-connected financial interests (community and geographically based). Despite that fact, there is no crowdfunding platform built for the kind of deep, impactful collaboration that will happen over the next +10 years.
Infrastructure for e-commerce
Cross-channel order management software for e-commerce marketplaces
Global e-commerce is pegged at $3.53T as of 2019, poised to grow to $6.54T by 2022. Of course, the current pandemic is only accelerating this trend. Despite its size and acceleration, many aspects of the industry remain underbuilt. I think there's a market opportunity for enterprise order management that works with out-of-the-box e-commerce marketplaces.
Aging in the metaverse
Virtual senior centers
Church and prayer are an order of magnitude more common than the trendy products and services we talk about so much in the Valley. But most people, especially vulnerable senior citizens, don't have modern ways of keeping in touch with their communities or faith. I'm looking to fund or incubate a founder excited about building a social web product for seniors, starting with "21st Century [ethical] Televangelism" as a beachhead.
A timer and checklist add-on inside Google Hangouts and Zoom calls
As we spend more and more of our lives in video calls, I think there's room for productivity tools to support this behavior. One example of that is a plugin that serves as a timer and checklist inside existing solutions. Even something as simple as this could better structure SCRUM meetings, pitches, and calls, ensuring visibility and alignment. This is more of a tool than a company, but I think there's a real need for it in the work-from-home era.
Honey for credit card points
A Chrome extension and unified card
It's strange to say, but a dollar is worth more or less depending on where, and how you spend it. If I buy a flight on Expedia with a Chase Sapphire card, I might receive considerably more reward points than if I went to Kayak and made the same purchase with an American Express. Great content businesses have been built around this quirk — namely The Points Guy, and much of Nerdwallet. But humans are ineffective at snuffling out weird arbitrages across an expanse of changing financial offerings, at least when compared to software. Just as Honey works at checkout, a chrome extension could advise which card to use when buying online to maximize rewards. It could account for your preferences (travel v. restaurants v. cash-back) and propose new cards to apply for based on your purchase history and goals. To round out the solution, a unified card (perhaps an Apple Pay card and a piece of plastic) could be added, ensuring that even when you're out and about, you can be sure you're using the most cost-effective purchase method.
Affirm for healthcare
Installment-based medical billing options
Some systems are more amenable to market-driven, bottoms-up evolution than others. I don't believe the American healthcare system is one of them. The root causes of our healthcare affordability crisis are perverse incentives that demand top-down intervention, from increasing payor investment in preventative medicine and primary care to reviving the individual mandate and revisiting Medicare For All. But we also shouldn't wait for systemic change to address the issue. We can help the 41% working-age Americans who carry healthcare debt by providing a simple, trustworthy, and transparent way to pay bills over time, amortizing the financial burden while decreasing delinquencies for creditors. You could kick-start this business without explicit integrations with doctors or payors by asking patients to send EOBs and bills to you, effectively "refinancing" their bills, and offering quicker payment if they join your network. If consumers can "Affirm" a new sofa or iPhone, why shouldn't they be able to do the same for their own well-being?