The novel Howards End, considered to be E.M. Forster's masterpiece, finishes with a famous epigraph:
As we continue sharing ideas with this budding community, that's become something of a mantra: connection, above all else. Edition 2 hammered that core philosophy home even more deeply as we had the chance to connect with readers, writers, founders, and investors. Better yet, we had the opportunity to connect you to each other.
One example: the contributor that wished for a "Universal Wirecutter" connected with the founders of Lustre.ai, a company building just such a solution.
Beyond that connection, we received requests for new startups, heard from builders tackling some of the suggestions, and generally got the chance to talk to many of you.
All to say: thank you.
And with that, we turn to this week's quote, to focus the mind.
The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. A second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. A first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.
That comes from A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh. Thank you for thinking.
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.
Thank you for reading. If you have someone in particular you'd like to hear an idea from, let us know. We'll do our best to get them into the mix. If you have an idea of your own that you'd like to share, ditto.