Hello to all inquisitive souls,
There was fairly equal love for last week's ideas, with "Twitter Podcast App" receiving most votes. If you're working on that, or any of the other ideas featured this season, feel free to respond to this email and let me know. You can also vote for your favorite idea of the week and note your interest below. I'd love to hear from you!
Now, onto the ideas. This week we're hearing from:
- Charles Hudson, Managing Partner at Precursor Ventures
- Jillian Williams, Principal at Anthemis
- Naveen Selvadurai, flâneur
- Jeb Balise, CEO Drop Fitness
- Shruti Gandhi, General Partner at Array Ventures
- [Extra idea from me!]
This extra idea is only available to those that have referred 3 or more folks to the RFS newsletter. Subscribers have access to a referral link that can be shared. (Check the email for details.)
With that, I'd like to end with a quote and a question.
Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.
— Thomas Szasz, Psychiatrist
What are you thinking about that could use a little more courage? I always love hearing from you.
In curiosity and experimentation,
A lightweight professional social network that doesn't feel like work to maintain
Despite the presence and popularity of social networks, it often feels difficult to keep track of the people you’ve met. I think there’s room for a service designed to solve that specific problem. I imagine a tool that notes the people I interact with over the course of the day, drawing from Zoom, my calendar, email, and maybe even existing social networks. This product wouldn’t offer friending or connecting, and contacts wouldn’t need to verify they know each other. It would simply compile and visualize interaction data, creating a passive graph of all the people I’ve encountered. You could then use that to figure out who to spend more time with or connect with on other platforms.
Company credit lines
Credit cards underwritten by employers, paid via payroll
Given credit scores do not accurately reflect the risk of many people today, we need to find another way to provide consumer access to credit.
There’s an opportunity for employers to step in. Companies could offer a line of credit to employees, underwritten by employment status. Employees would get better access to credit and would be able to pay off dues seamlessly via payroll services.
Existing platforms, like Health Savings Account services, provide a version of this for pre-tax spending. Others in the space focus on leveraging payroll to provide access to other financial services like home buying or investing. But a startup designed to manage the creation of an in-house consumer-facing credit facility feels novel and potentially very valuable.
Rethinking elder care
Distributed care homes and senior communities
When thinking of new ideas, I’m reminded of a saying: “Find a good solution to a problem that’s only growing bigger.”
One of the things that’s been on my mind this year is aging. Not only because I’m growing older myself, but because the population is aging in every developed country around the world.
Four considerations frame my interest in this opportunity:
- The pandemic has made elder care even more top of mind since it disproportionately affects seniors, especially those living together in nursing homes. They’ve proven to be hotspots time and again.
- I read Atul Gawande's Being Mortal recently. I learned that moving seniors into retirement communities and nursing homes is a recent (~50 years) development. Traditionally, across cultures, we’ve cared for our parents at home, or in their homes, for as long as possible. Multi-generational households used to be the norm.
- The medical device industry is incredibly dusty. Companies like Medronic are massive, but old-school, founded decades ago. No newcomers have risen to massive prominence.
- Meanwhile, IoT devices have entered a new phase of maturity. And, of course, we’ve seen sharp improvements in other areas of tech like smartphones, sensors, wearables, cameras, WiFi, and video communication. Much of this wasn’t around ten years ago.
So, why not rethink the status quo, leveraging developments in hardware and software, to allow elders to stay at home or with family?
New tools can help monitor and care for seniors. I imagine a sort of “distributed care home” model where we use widespread tech (smartphones, smartwatches, cameras, and so on) to reimagine necessary functionality. Pieces of the puzzle might include smart pill dispensers, a hospital-grade bed that doesn’t cost $25K, meal delivery, on-demand staff, or a taxi service specifically monitored for safety. One platform might orchestrate these different elements to simplify the process.
This might not work in all cases. For instance, it might be more expensive to distribute certain processes this way and care is already expensive as it is. Equally, it might be hard for care to adapt to immediate demand, making it difficult to serve elders. But if there's a way to strike the right balance between convenience, independence (in many cases, that's what people want), health and safety, then it’s worth trying.
Modern mood ring
A skin patch and watch app for your emotions
Humans should be able to understand their brain chemistry in real-time. It would provide a wealth of insights, and potentially alter the way we live, day-to-day.
I imagine a skin patch paired with a smartwatch that keeps track of an individual’s neurotransmitter levels, in the moment. Getting a numerical reading on, at the least, Serotonin, Dopamine, GABA and Norepinephrine, you’d be able to quantify what “happiness”, “optimism”, or “anxiety” looks like from a brain chemistry perspective. In many ways, it would be a modern-day mood ring, but one that leverages science.
This would allow humans to optimize for feeling good, on an individual basis. If we can quantify what it means to feel good, we can try different behaviors to achieve optimal brain performance. A depressed person might realize that going for a walk helps improve their outlook more than they’d realized. A trader might mitigate risk by recognizing she is more focused after listening to music. The average person might regulate their caffeine intake once they understand that one latte gives the feeling of being "dialed in" while a double shot of espresso produces “jitters”.
Pooled results may spark insight on a population level, too. For example, we may find that after several members of a population metabolize a certain food, it causes anxiety. Understanding these general trends could have therapeutic ramifications.
Matching corporates and startups
Marketplace for interest-based startup discovery
Signing a big corporate client can represent an inflection point for a startup. Not only may it drive meaningful revenue, but it adds credibility that can be leveraged in future sales conversations.
Standing out from the crowd is difficult, though. Corporates are inundated with ideas and outreach, making it hard for them to parse which new product might solve an acute pain point, and which might represent a waste of time. There’s a lot of noise to get through to reach the high-potential businesses.
I think there’s room for a curated platform that bridges the gap. Corporates could search by interest to discover available startups. Those on the platform would have to be of a certain size or meet some other metric that demonstrates their corporate-readiness. This might exclude very early businesses but would meaningfully alter the trajectory of many looking to make that next step.
Infrastructure to run progress-based communities
Increasingly, VCs and businesses are seeing the value in the creator economy, and the communities they galvanize. This year has seen a wave of community organization tools like Circle, Comradery, Geneva, and others come to prominence. Just behind them are newer (unannounced) tools that seek to do something similar for corporations, empowering them to create and manage a band of evangelists.
There's a great deal to recommend these products, but one element that seems to missing is the concept of progress. How are community members helped by being a part of the group, and how can these benefits be visualized?
Pioneer, a community for founders has seemingly cracked one version of this code — the platform is explicitly designed for competition and progress. Founders enter Pioneer's "tournament" with the hopes of growing their company and accessing rewards, including investment. As part of that, they post updates on the platform, receive feedback and validation from the community, and rise through the ranks. Some may "win" investment of up to $1 million and access mentorship from sectoral experts. While there are some dystopian aspects to this gamification, it does allow for considerable collaboration, and unstructured learning.
This "tournament" framework could be modularized such that other communities and companies could adopt it. A software company might use it to supercharge their open-source community, while a podcaster might leverage it to discover (and invest in) new voices. Both points and rewards would change to fit the community, managed through this new company's dashboard.
At the moment, community tools are focused on communication. That's a great place to start, but there's a lot left unexplored. I look forward to communities increasingly serving as a home for creating new work, challenging each other, and playing long-term games, together.