Back to the suture: The future of healthcare is in the home

The pandemic has highlighted some of the brightest spots — and greatest areas of need — in America’s healthcare system. On one hand, we’ve witnessed the vibrancy of America’s innovation engine, with notable contributions by U.S.-based scientists and companies for vaccines and treatments.

On the other hand, the pandemic has highlighted both the distribution challenges and cost inefficiencies of the healthcare system, which now accounts for nearly a fifth of our GDP — far more than any other country — yet lags many other developed nations in clinical outcomes.

Many of these challenges stem from a lack of alignment between payment and incentive models, as well as an overreliance on hospitals as centers for care delivery. A third of healthcare costs are incurred at hospitals, though at-home models can be more effective and affordable. Furthermore, most providers rely on fee for service instead of preventive care arrangements.

These factors combine to make care in this country reactive, transactional and inefficient. We can improve both outcomes and costs by moving care from the hospital back to the place it started — at home.

Right now in-home care accounts for only 3% of the healthcare market. We predict that it will grow to 10% or more within the next decade.

In-home care is nothing new. In the 1930s, over 40% of physician-patient encounters took place in the home, but by the 1980s, that figure dropped to under 1%, driven by changes in health economics and technologies that led to today’s hospital-dominant model of care.

That 50-year shift consolidated costs, centralized access to specialized diagnostics and treatments, and created centers of excellence. It also created a transition from proactive to reactive care, eliminating the longitudinal relationship between patient and provider. In today’s system, patients are often diagnosed by and receive treatment from individual doctors who do not consult one another. These highly siloed treatments often take place only after the patient needs emergency care. This creates higher costs — and worse outcomes.

That’s where in-home care can help. Right now in-home care accounts for only 3% of the healthcare market. We predict that it will grow to 10% or more within the next decade. This growth will improve the patient experience, achieve better clinical outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

To make these improvements, in-home healthcare strategies will need to leverage next-generation technology and value-based care strategies. Fortunately, the window of opportunity for change is open right now.

Five factors driving the opportunity for change

Over the last few years, five significant innovations have created new incentives to drive dramatic changes in the way care is delivered.

  1. Technologies like remote patient monitoring (RPM) and telemedicine have matured to a point that can be deployed at scale. These technologies enable providers to remotely manage patients in a proactive, long-term relationship from the comfort of their homes and at a reduced cost.

    #column, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-health, #ec-insurtech, #ec-market-map, #health, #healthcare, #startups, #telehealth, #telemedicine

Taking consumer subscription software to the great outdoors

The pandemic has been extremely painful for many. But as lockdowns lifted and people began resuming their outdoor hobbies, mobile-first businesses have seen growth accelerate as consumers turned to digital tools to improve their time outdoors.

The Dyrt, for example, is the top camping app on the Apple and Google Play App Stores. The app sits at the confluence of two trends: An increased interest in outdoor recreation and travel, and an explosion in consumer subscription software (CSS).

The Dyrt launched its premium offering in 2019, The Dyrt PRO, in time to take advantage of the rising number of Americans making the great outdoors part of their lifestyle. A year later, it had a new subscriber every two minutes paying for features like offline maps and detailed camping information.

CSS businesses at the forefront of outdoor activities have closed major deals in recent years such as hunting app OnX (Summit Partners), hiking app Alltrails (Spectrum Equity), Surfline (The Chernin Group) and mountain bike leader Pinkbike (Outside Media). Companies like Netflix and Spotify have trained consumers to pay monthly or annual fees for software that enhances their lives, creating a business model investors view as reliable and poised for growth.

I think of different outdoor activities almost like individual genres on Netflix. Dominating camping or surfing might be like capturing the streaming market for comedy or horror.

Fitness and the outdoor passion space is one of the most exciting CSS categories in a growing landscape that includes everything from family planning/management services to entertainment and education. I believe CSS is still in the early stages of its growth — perhaps where B2B SaaS was a decade ago.

So what sets apart the great CSS businesses from the good ones?

Passion equals profits on the CSS flywheel

The beauty of the CSS model is the complete alignment between the business and its customers. CSS companies don’t have to please advertisers, and they can design purely for their users.

This dynamic is particularly powerful for CSS companies in the outdoors space, which make your favorite outdoor activity better with performance analytics and enhanced information such as maps, reviews, air quality reports and fire warnings. Consumers are happy to spend money on the activities and hobbies they enjoy, and CSS companies are able to make pleasing those consumers their top priority.

The result is what I call the CSS flywheel, in which a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users. Those users contribute their data through posts, photos and reviews, which creates a better product that further attracts new users, and so on.

The CSS flywheel shows the cycle that results when a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users.

The CSS flywheel shows the cycle that results when a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users. Image Credits: GP Bullhound

When companies get this flywheel right, it’s incredibly appealing to investors, because of the advantages of scale in CSS. Each niche will probably be dominated by one or two players, and a given niche can have tens of millions of consumers.

#alltrails, #column, #css, #duolingo, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-market-map, #fantastic, #netflix, #saas, #smartphones, #spectrum-equity, #spotify, #startups, #summit-partners, #venture-capital

Startups and investors are turning to micromobility subscriptions

Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murky path to profitability for shared electric micromobility, an increasing number of companies have turned to subscriptions. It’s a business model that some founders and investors argue hits the profit center sweet spot — an approach that appeals to customers who are wary of sharing as well as paying upfront to own a scooter or e-bike, all while minimizing overhead costs and depreciation of assets.

Many investors think the subscription model will broaden the micromobility market, positioning it essentially as a software-as-a-service business, which achieves a higher multiple.

Across the United States, Europe, some of Canada and at least one Middle Eastern city, existing mobility companies are adding a subscription business line to their repertoire, and entirely new companies are being formed on the basis of the hardware-as-a-service model. But will this new playbook push the unit economics of micromobility in a positive direction? And what will determine which companies win at the subscription game?

In general, subscriptions for everything from groceries and streaming video to exercise equipment and clothing are on an upward slope. Subscription businesses are expected to grow at a rate of 30% this year, according to a 2021 study by digital services monetization company Telecoming.

Micromobility vendors keen to follow other industries into this model are focused on several factors, according to experts following the industry: the ease of scaling, return on investment and cost-per-mile to operate.

“Subscription services for a single vehicle are far more interesting and scalable than the subscription model that was trialed by the shared mobility services,” Oliver Bruce, angel investor and co-host of the Micromobility Podcast with Horace Dediu, told TechCrunch. “The cost per kilometer is just an order of magnitude smaller, and it’s not constrained by citywide caps.”

Shawn Carolan, managing director at Menlo Ventures, is also bullish on the micromobility subscription model because it makes more sense for the consumer, as most people will prefer to pay a low monthly fee rather than a higher upfront fee.

“The best customers are repeat customers, commuters or local neighborhood trips,” Carolan said. “Repeatedly paying per ride is both expensive and cognitively taxing. People want low friction in transportation. Getting from here to there shouldn’t require a lot of thought.”

The key players: E-bikes

Bird and Lime might dominate the shared micromobility space, but they’re not leading the subscription market, largely because their bikes and scooters are built to be heavier and more robust in order to handle city usage. Their operating systems are also designed to manage fleets and keep the vehicles in specific territories within a city. Bird and Spin have announced intentions to offer subscriptions, but so far there’s only been a chance to sign up for a waitlist.

Meanwhile, subscription services tend to offer lighter-weight vehicles that can be carried up flights of stairs or even folded down.

Swapfiets, the bike-sharing company with the distinctive blue front wheel, is one of the pioneers in the world of bike-sharing. In 2015, Richard Burger, Martijn Obers and Dirk de Bruijn started the Dutch company as university students in Delft when they realized that owning a bike could be somewhat of a hassle. The Netherlands is renowned for having more bicycles than people, but that doesn’t make it any easier to buy, sell and maintain them, especially with such high fees at bike shops.

“We asked how we could shift this and get only benefits from using a bike to go from A to B and not have all this hassle,” Burger told TechCrunch. “And for us, the subscription model was really the realization that would fix that.”

#bird, #bive, #cabify, #e-bikes, #e-mopeds, #e-scooters, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-mobility-software, #electric-mobility, #grover, #lime, #revel, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #unagi, #venture-capital, #wire-rides, #zoomo, #zygg

Telemedicine startups are positioning themselves for a post-pandemic world

Telemedicine, in its original form of the phone call, has been around for decades. For people in remote or rural areas without easy access to in-person care, consulting a doctor over the phone has often been the go-to approach. But for a large swath of the world used to taking half a day off work just for a 15-30 minute doctor’s appointment, it may seem like telemedicine was invented only last year. That’s mostly because it wasn’t until 2020 that telemedicine, in its myriad forms, debuted into the mainstream consciousness.

It’s impossible to predict how healthcare institutions will operate post-pandemic, but with so many people now accustomed to telemedicine, startups that provide services around virtual care continue to be poised for success.

Telemedicine has faced an uphill battle to become more relevant in the U.S., with challenges such as meeting HIPPA compliance requirements and insurance companies unwilling to pay for virtual visits. But when COVID-19 began raging across the globe and people had to stay home, both the insurance and healthcare industries were forced to adapt.

“It’s been said that there are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen,” said StartUp Health co-founders Steven Krein and Unity Stoakes in the company’s 2020 year-end report. That statement couldn’t be truer for telemedicine: Around $3.1 billion in funding flowed into the sector in 2020 — about three times what we saw in 2019, according to the report. A health tech fund and insights company, StartUp Health counts Alphabet, Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz as some of its co-investors.

Now that people see the benefits and conveniences of “dialing a doc” from the kitchen table, healthcare has changed forever. It’s impossible to predict how healthcare institutions will operate post-pandemic, but with so many people now accustomed to telemedicine, startups that provide services around virtual care continue to be poised for success.

The state of telemedicine

Major players in the field now look at the state of healthcare as, “before COVID and after COVID,” Stoakes told Extra Crunch. “In the post-pandemic world, there’s a significant transformation that’s occurred,” he said. “It’s all accelerated; the customers have shown up. There’s more capital than ever and consumers and physicians have adapted quickly,” he added.

In the U.S., healthcare is first and foremost a business, so while there are treatment approaches that have long been proven to improve patient outcomes, if they didn’t make sense financially, they weren’t instituted at scale. Telemedicine is a great example of this.

A 2017 study by the American Journal of Accountable Care showed that telemedicine can be quite useful for managing healthcare. “The use of telemedicine has been shown to allow for better long-term care management and patient satisfaction; it also offers a new means to locate health information and communicate with practitioners (e.g., via e-mail and interactive chats or video conferences), thereby increasing convenience for the patient and reducing the amount of potential travel required for both physician and patient,” the study reads.

But as we’ve seen, it took a global healthcare emergency to drive widespread adoption of virtual healthcare in the U.S. Now that investors recognize the potential, they are increasingly pouring money into startups that promise to take telemedicine to the next level. Some of the investors backing these newer companies include StartUp Health, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia, Alphabet, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, U.S. Venture Partners, Maveron, First Round Capital, DreamIt Ventures, Human Ventures and Tusk Venture Partners.

#ec-enterprise-health, #ec-healthtech, #ec-market-map, #health, #healthcare, #insurance, #startups, #tc, #telemedicine, #video-conferencing

The battle for voice recognition inside vehicles is heating up

Once a fringe feature found only in luxury vehicles, voice recognition has moved into the mainstream as more automakers promise a seamless connection between your car, home and all the devices in between. The opportunity to reach consumers in their vehicles — and collect all that data — has automakers, tech giants like Amazon and Google, as well as investors scrambling for a share of the connected cars market.

But this is just the beginning. Voice recognition is expected to be an essential feature in future autonomous vehicles, which will see drivers ultimately surrendering the ability to control the car mechanically. Other applications for voice recognition are also emerging, including automated drones, two-wheelers and even air taxis.

The upshot? A market with significant growth potential and opportunities for investors and companies of all sizes.

The opportunity

The share of cars featuring in-car connected services, which voice recognition requires, grew to 45% in 2020 from 30% in 2018, and is expected to reach 60% by 2024, according to IHS Markit. Automakers keen to improve the consumer experience are driving that growth, said Kyle Davis, IHS Markit’s senior analyst for vehicle experience and connected car, noting that “one of the biggest aspects of the user experience is voice.”

Voice recognition is becoming more common, but that doesn’t mean the technology is always received well by consumers. J.D. Power surveys consistently show consumers complaining about voice recognition systems in vehicles, said John Scumniotales, director of products and design for Alexa Auto at Amazon. Scumniotales sees this as an opportunity to improve that experience with Alexa, and help Amazon gain an even larger foothold in the marketplace.

While there are clear giants in the voice recognition field, there won’t ever be one system or type of digital assistant in vehicles, according to Greg Basich, associate director of Strategy Analytics’ global automotive practice. “You’re going to see multiple systems,” Basich said. “So it’s definitely a growing space.”

Startups will have to contend with behemoths like Google and Amazon, Basich said, adding, “It’s a tough market if you’re a startup (…) You need to be doing something very new or very different.”

In his view, automakers prefer to work with larger, more established companies that can provide long-term support for the technology once it’s in the vehicle. Amazon’s Scumniotales agrees, as the big companies are at a huge advantage since it takes a significant amount of investment to build the technology and then to do it at the scale required for the automotive industry.

Yet, a closer look indicates there is not only room for a number of players, but automakers aren’t always placing their bets on the biggest companies.

The players

Partnerships between automakers and Amazon Alexa or Google get much of the buzz. However, Cerence, a publicly traded company spun off from Nuance Communications in October 2019, actually controls 87% of the embedded virtual personal assistant market, according to Davis.

“The space is pretty small and we’re the largest and most entrenched player in it,” Cerence CTO Prateek Kathpal said in a recent interview. He believes that his company is small enough to take risks, innovate and not be hamstrung by funding issues like a traditional startup.

In January, the company unveiled Cerence Drive, its new platform for mobility assistants that integrates cloud and embedded technologies to provide what it describes as a more seamless and accurate AI voice-recognition experience. The system can support more than 70 languages and can understand commands when vehicle occupants are speaking multiple languages at the same time. It also can comprehend complex, multi-step queries and commands like, “Find directions to Starbucks and also call my mom.”

Cerence has landed a number of customers over the years, including BMW, which has been using the company’s technology since 2000. Simon Euringer, head of personal assistants and voice interaction at BMW, is particularly impressed by Cerence’s hybrid system, which operates both via an embedded system and in the cloud, and provides answers through whichever of the two systems is quicker at the time.

#amazon-alexa, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #connected-car, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-software, #google-assistant, #mobility, #speech-recognition, #transportation, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant, #voice-recognition

The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups

In the early 2000s, Jeff Bezos gave a seminal TED Talk titled “The Electricity Metaphor for the Web’s Future.” In it, he argued that the internet will enable innovation on the same scale that electricity did.

We are at a similar inflection point in healthcare, with the recent movement toward data transparency birthing a new generation of innovation and startups.

Those who follow the space closely may have noticed that there are twin struggles taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, including anonymous patient data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data. What’s the main difference?

This sector is still somewhat nascent — we are in the first wave of innovation, with much more to come.

Anonymized data is much more freely available, while personal data is being locked even tighter (as it should be) due to regulations like GDPR, CCPA and their equivalents around the world.

The former trend is enabling a host of new vendors and services that will ultimately make healthcare better and more transparent for all of us.

These new companies could not have existed five years ago. The Affordable Care Act was the first step toward making anonymized data more available. It required healthcare institutions (such as hospitals and healthcare systems) to publish data on costs and outcomes. This included the release of detailed data on providers.

Later legislation required biotech and pharma companies to disclose monies paid to research partners. And every physician in the U.S. is now required to be in the National Practitioner Identifier (NPI), a comprehensive public database of providers.

All of this allowed the creation of new types of companies that give both patients and providers more control over their data. Here are some key examples of how.

Allowing patients to access all their own health data in one place

This is a key capability of patients’ newly found access to health data. Think of how often, as a patient, providers aren’t aware of treatment or a test you’ve had elsewhere. Often you end up repeating a test because a provider doesn’t have a record of a test conducted elsewhere.

#artificial-intelligence, #cloud-computing, #column, #drug-discovery, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-health, #ec-market-map, #enterprise, #food-and-drug-administration, #health, #health-systems, #healthcare, #healthcare-data, #machine-learning, #startups, #united-states

Outdoor startups see supercharged growth during COVID-19 era

After years of sustained growth, the pandemic supercharged the outdoor recreation industry. Startups that provide services like camper vans, private campsites and trail-finding apps became relevant to millions of new users when COVID-19 shut down indoor recreation, building on an existing boom in outdoor recreation.

Startups like Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Social media, increased environmentalism and high urbanization were already fueling a boom in popularity. There was a 72% increase in people who camp more than three times a year between 2014 and 2019, mostly spurred by young millennials, young families with kids and nonwhite participants.

But 2020 was a different animal: After months of shelter-in-place orders, widespread shutdowns and physical distancing, outdoors became the only location for safe socializing. In South Dakota, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area saw a 59% increase in visitors from 2019 to 2020. In the pandemic year, consumers spent $887 billion on outdoor recreation according to the Outdoor Industry Association, more than pharmaceuticals and fuel combined.

And it’s going to continue to grow. Hiking equipment alone is supposed to reach a $7.4 billion market size by 2027, a 6.3% compound annual growth rate. Camping and caravanning is having an even more drastic moment. Without international travel, vacations shifted from flights to exotic resorts to domestic road trips, self-contained rentals and camping. In 2020, the market for camping and caravanning was almost $40 billion and is predicted to rise 13% to just over $45 billion this year.

After the initial and extreme drop-off in engagement early as national parks closed, private camping sites shut down and domestic travel ceased, many outdoor startups have had a breakout year. Outdoorsy, the peer-to-peer camper van rental marketplace, said it saw 44% of all bookings in the company’s history in 2020.

Campsite booking platform Hipcamp said it sent three times as much money to landowners in 2020 as compared to 2019. And it’s not just experienced outdoor veterans taking advantage of the work-from-home lifestyle: in 2020, Cabana, a camper van rental startup, said 70% of its customers had never rented a camper van or an RV before and another 26% had only done it once.

But a report commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association showed that the most popular outdoor activities were ones that people could do close to home, not the traveling kind Hipcamp, Cabana and Outdoorsy traffic in. The three most popular outdoor activities for newbies: walking, running and bicycling.

But the pandemic did create a small boost for camping, climbing, backpacking and kayaking; fueled by an increase in women, younger, more ethnically diverse, urban and slightly less wealthy people pushing into the outdoors. This class of outdoor startups will need to engage the new demographic shift to capitalize on the pandemic’s outdoor boom because, according to the report, a quarter of those who started new outdoor activities during the pandemic don’t plan on continuing once it’s over.

Startups are increasing accessibility to the outdoors

But getting into the outdoors can be overwhelming: there’s gear to buy, skills to learn, exploring unfamiliar areas and the added stressor of safety. Outdoor startups are working to lower the barrier to entry to help grow their businesses.

“I think anytime you have like 2,000 articles with two dozen tips on how to use a product, that tells me that it is really, really too hard to use,” said Cabana founder Scott Kubly. “To me, that says there’s nothing but friction in this process. If you want to build something that’s mainstream, you need to make it super consistent and really easy to use.”

Kubly said only half a percent of the U.S. population takes a rental van or RV trip each year. Planning an outdoor adventure can be time-consuming — choosing a location, finding an open campsite, planning meals and water, and figuring out dump stations for trash or septic. That planning is multiplied tenfold if you are going for a road trip or backpacking and need to find new places every other night.

#airbnb, #camping, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-market-map, #greentech, #onx, #outdoorsy, #startups, #tc, #travel-activities

Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

More than half a decade ago, my Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal penned a widely read post offering advice for enterprise-software companies hoping to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

His playbook, dubbed “T2D3” — for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” referring to the stages at which a software company’s revenue should multiply — helped many high-growth startups index their growth. It also highlighted the broader explosion in industry value creation stemming from the transition of on-premise software to the cloud.

Fast forward to today, and many of T2D3’s insights are still relevant. But now it’s time to update T2D3 to account for some of the tectonic changes shaping a broader universe of B2B tech — and pushing companies to grow at rates we’ve never seen before.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

I call this new paradigm “billion-dollar B2B.” It refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

In the past several years, we’ve seen a pioneering group of B2B standouts — Twilio, Shopify, Atlassian, Okta, Coupa*, MongoDB and Zscaler, for example — approach or exceed the $1 billion revenue mark and see their market capitalizations surge 10 times or more from their IPOs to the present day (as of March 31), according to CapIQ data.

More recently, iconic companies like data giant Snowflake and video-conferencing mainstay Zoom came out of the IPO gate at even higher valuations. Zoom, with 2020 revenue of just under $883 million, is now worth close to $100 billion, per CapIQ data.

Graphic showing market cap at IPO and market cap today of various companies.

Image Credits: Battery Ventures via FactSet. Note that market data is current as of April 3, 2021.

In the wings are other B2B super-unicorns like Databricks* and UiPath, which have each raised private financing rounds at valuations of more than $20 billion, per public reports, which is unprecedented in the software industry.

#b2b, #battery-ventures, #cloud-applications, #column, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ec-column, #ec-market-map, #enterprise-software, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

In 2019, my colleague Matt Harris coined the term “embedded fintech” to describe how virtually all software-driven companies will soon embed financial services into their applications, from sending and receiving payments to enabling lending, insurance and banking services, an idea that quickly spread within the fintech community.

Vertical apps such as Toast for restaurants, Squire for barbershops and Shopmonkey for car repair shops will deliver financial services to businesses in the future rather than traditional, stodgy financial institutions.

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech.

The embedded fintech movement has just begun, but there is already a sister concept percolating: embedded procurement. In this next wave, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps, rather than through sales reps, distributors or an individual merchant’s website.

If you own a coffee shop, wouldn’t it be convenient to schedule recurring orders for beans and milk from the same software portal where you process payments, manage accounting and handle payroll? The companies that figured out how to monetize financial services via embedded fintech are well positioned to monetize through procurement, too.

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech. The salon software company Fresha is a typical embedded fintech story. Fresha’s platform is an online and mobile platform specially designed for spas and salons, encompassing appointment scheduling, reporting and analytics, marketing promotions, and point-of-sale capabilities. The software is free for salons; Fresha monetizes through payment processing.

In the future, Fresha will undoubtedly turn to embedded procurement, becoming a logical place for business owners to order and manage inventory like shampoo, scissors, brushes and other supplies. In turn, Fresha can aggregate demand from thousands of spas to place orders with its suppliers, leveraging its scale to negotiate more favorable pricing on behalf of its customers. Borrowing a concept from the healthcare world, vertical software companies will become group purchasing organizations in every sector.

#business-management, #column, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ec-fintech, #ec-market-map, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #payments, #procurement

Amid pandemic, Middle East adtech startups play essential role in business growth

The pandemic’s impact on the business world encouraged adtech startups and digital marketing agencies to collaborate more, helping brands survive the pandemic by bringing businesses closer to consumers.

Although overall spending on advertising slowed in 2020, it is expected to recover in 2021 and reach $630 billion in 2024. According to Statista, North America spends the most on advertising, with second place going to Asia and Western Europe. The rest of Europe, Africa and the Middle East lag behind.

Although overall spending on advertising slowed in 2020, it is expected to recover in 2021 and reach $630 billion in 2024.

However, the Middle East embodies great potential. According to Statista, it boasts the highest growth, with a 600% increase in digital advertising in the MENA region between 2010 and 2015. Although consumers in the region used to prefer traditional advertising channels, the internet took over in 2020, with 44.2% of the total ad expenditures, while TV dropped to 30%.

Here are several essential characteristics of digital advertising in the Middle East region:

  1. According to a PwC report, 39% of shoppers in the Middle East use social media to find inspiration for purchases, compared to the global average of 29%.
  2. Due to the existence of a shadow economy, political regulations and unofficial business, the amount of digital ad spending in the MENA region ranged from $1 billion to $1.2 billion in 2020.
  3. Paid social is the leading category in digital advertising expenditures in the MENA region. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the largest in terms of active YouTube users.
  4. There are more than 500 digital agencies listed in the region. UAE is leading in terms of big advertising agencies, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia are famous for small- and medium-size agencies. Most digital marketing talent and creative resources reside in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, while most adtech startups are born in Israel, UAE and Qatar, according to digital marketing consultant Yasser Ahmad.
  5. E-commerce is driving growth, hitting $17 billion in the Middle East in 2020, according to Statista, with many online shoppers increasing the frequency of purchases during the pandemic.

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-market-map, #middle-east, #online-advertising, #social-media, #tc

Automakers, suppliers and startups see growing market for in-vehicle AR/VR applications

Augmented and virtual reality have been used for years in gaming, design and shopping. Now, a new battle for market share is emerging — inside vehicles.

Safety-glass windshields offer a new opportunity for suppliers, manufacturers and startups that are starting to adapt this technology: AR overlays digital information or images on what a user sees in the real world, while VR creates a seemingly real experience that changes as they move through it.

Despite all of the pomp and promises about the technology’s potential, there isn’t a clear understanding of market demand for bringing AR and VR to cars, trucks and passenger vans.

The potential for monetizing AR/VR is hamstrung by a number of factors: The long, expensive timelines required to develop, tool and test an automotive-grade product has constrained development to a small subset of startups and several large suppliers.

Despite all of the pomp and promises about the technology’s potential, there isn’t a clear understanding of market demand for bringing AR and VR to cars, trucks and passenger vans. Estimates of the global market range from $14 billion by 2027 to as much as $673 billion by 2025. That wide range shows just how nascent the market currently is and how much opportunity is present.

“At the vehicle manufacturer level, companies are witnessing a complete shift of emphasis of what their product offering is, to the user. Because of that change of emphasis, there’s a whole new paradigm of what the car is,” said Andy Travers, the CEO of Ceres, a Scottish company that specializes in creating holographic glass for AR applications. “There is a huge interest in AR and transparent displays because a car is no longer really differentiated by its engine size, especially as we get into electric vehicles. They are going to be identical skateboards. The question then becomes, how do you differentiate an electric car? You push it toward the user experience.”

It’s no surprise that the implementation of automotive AR (and in limited situations, VR) has been and will continue to be slow. It will largely lag the wider AR and VR market for a number of reasons. Vehicle systems — especially those using computing power and technology needed for AR and VR — must be robust enough to handle tremendous temperature swings, rough jostling and impacts over anywhere from three to 10 years, even if Tesla says that “it is economically, if not technologically, infeasible to expect that such components can or should be designed to last the vehicle’s entire useful life.”

These systems have to be nearly indestructible in extreme conditions for a very long period of time. They must also be compact and power-efficient, especially as electric vehicles become more prevalent. You don’t want your AR or VR system draining your battery and leaving you stranded.

As an example of just how much the automotive technology landscape differs from the consumer realm, consider how long it took for touchscreens to show up in vehicle cockpits. While Buick offered a rudimentary touchscreen in its 1986 Riviera, it was not the easy-to-use interface we’re used to today thanks to the advent of the iPhone.

This is partially due to the three- to seven-year iteration cycles most vehicle makers are on and because the technology simply wasn’t familiar enough to the consumer market to make widespread adoption profitable. In their current form, AR and VR have seen a far more successful uptake rate in industrial usage and application, in part because the technology is still so pricey.

It would be a mistake to exclude a discussion about the development of autonomous driving in this AR and VR conversation, too. The technology is instrumental in the development of fully autonomous vehicles, and while there are no full-autonomous vehicles on the road today, automakers are pushing to make them more than just vaporware.

The players

Many well-established brands like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen already offer a suite of AR features in their top-end vehicles. Automotive suppliers like Continental, Denso, Visteon, ZF, Nvidia, Bosch, Panasonic and others are the biggest players in the AR and VR automotive space, supplying and making head-up displays (HUDs) and related components for a variety of established automakers.

Most of the AR features in these vehicles are focused on overlaying directional guides over camera images to help drivers navigate in unfamiliar territories or identify a particular building or landmark. Virtual reality, thus far, has been largely applied to the design, sales, demonstration and education of consumers about new technology and features in vehicles, although companies like Audi spinoff Holoride are working to offer passengers VR experiences that can help cut down on in-car motion sickness while simultaneously offering gaming, entertainment or business applications. Even ride-hailing companies are getting in on the AR and VR game, with Lyft and Uber exploring AR and VR options for riders.

#ar, #augmented-reality, #automotive, #ceres, #continental, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-mobility-software, #transportation, #virtual-reality, #vr

The return of neighborhood retail and other surprising real estate trends

The pandemic made remote work and on-demand delivery normal far faster than anyone expected. Today, as the world beings to emerge from the pandemic, location doesn’t matter like it did a year ago.

As shocking as it sounds, we could be entering a much better era for small, local businesses.

Modern society produced superstar cities filled with skyscraper office and residential buildings. Now, the populations that once thrived in these urban centers are deciding how to repurpose them for a post-pandemic world.

I caught up with ten top investors who focus on real estate property technology to get a sense of how they’re betting on the future.

They are optimistic overall, because the typically glacial real estate industry now sees proptech as essential to its future. However, they are the most unsure about the office sector, at least as we knew the concept before the pandemic.

They expect remote work to be part of the future in a significant way and foresee ongoing high housing demand in the suburbs and smaller cities. They are especially positive about fintech and SaaS products focused on areas like single-family home sales and rentals. Many are continuing to invest in big cities, but around alternative housing (co-living, accessory dwelling units) and climate-related concepts.

Most surprisingly, some investors are actually excited about physical retail. I examined the latest evidence and found myself agreeing. As shocking as it sounds, we could be entering a much better era for small, local businesses. Details farther down.

(And before we dig in below, please note that Extra Crunch subscribers can separately read the following people responding fully in their own words, with lots of great information I wasn’t able to explore below.)

When the office is more of a luxury

The pandemic combined with existing trends has made office renters “more akin to a consumer of a luxury product,” explains Clelia Warburg Peters, a venture partner at Bain Capital Ventures and long-time proptech investor and real estate operator.

Landlords who have “largely been in a position of power since the 1950s” now have to put the customer first, she says. The “best landlords will recognize that they are going to be under pressure to shift from simply providing a physical space, to helping provide tenants with a multichannel work experience.”

This includes tangible additional services like software and hardware for managing employees as they travel between various office locations. But the market today also dictates a new attitude. “These assets will need to be provided in the context of a much more human relationship, focusing on serving the needs of tenants,” she says. “As lease terms inevitably shorten, tenants will need to be courted and supported in a much more active way than they have been in the past.”

The changes in office space may be more favorable to the supply side in suburban areas.

“Companies are going to have to offer employees space in an urban headquarters,” Zach Aarons of Metaprop tells me. But many will also want to offer ”some sort of office alternative in the suburbs so the worker can leave home sometimes but not have to take a one-hour train ride to get to the office when needed.”

“If we were still purchasing hard real estate assets like many of us on the MetaProp team used to do in previous careers,” he added, “we would be looking aggressively to purchase suburban office inventory.”

Most people thought that remote work was here for good and would impact the nature of office space in the future.

Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing director of Wilshire Lane Partners, is generally bullish on big cities, but he notes that startups themselves are already untethering from specific places. This is a key leading indicator, in TechCrunch’s opinion.

“Something that has been interesting to watch over the past year is how startups themselves have begun to evolve due to newfound geographic flexibility from the pandemic,” he observes. “Previously, startups (especially real-estate-related startups) felt pressure to be ‘headquartered’ near where their customers, prospective capital sources and pools of talent were located. However, we’ve seen this change over the past few months.”

In fact, a recent report by my former colleague Kim-Mai Cutler, now a partner at Initialized Capital, highlights these trends in a regular survey of its portfolio companies. When the pandemic began, the Bay Area was still the number one place that founders said they’d start a company. Today, remote-first is in first place. Meanwhile, the portfolio companies are either going toward remote-first or a hub-and-spoke model of a smaller headquarters and more far-flung offices. Those who maintain some sort of office say they will require significantly less than five days a week. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would also not adjust salaries based on location!

That’s a small sample but as Demuyakor says, “Startups (a) are frequently the most adept at utilizing the types of technology necessary for effective remote work and (b) simultaneously have to compete ferociously for talent. As such, I think we may be able to infer what the ‘future of work’ may look like as we observe what startups choose to do as the pandemic passes.”

Some landlords (with big loans) and large cities (with big budgets) are making a push to repopulate their offices quickly, and some large companies are loading up on office space or reaffirming their commitments to current locations.

Maybe efforts like these, plus the natural desire to network live, will bring back the industry clusters and pull everyone back to the old geographies? Maybe something close to 100% of what we saw before? What does that look like?

In such a scenario, some pandemic-era changes will persist, says Christopher Yip, a partner and managing director at RET Ventures. “A populace that has become sensitized to public health considerations may well gravitate toward solo forms of transportation (cars and bicycles) instead of mass transit, and parking-related and bike-sharing tech tools may likely thrive. From a real estate management perspective, technology that makes high-density living more comfortable and healthier will also increase, as consumers will become increasingly attracted to touchless technology and tools that facilitate self-leasing.”

Here’s the other scenario that he lays out “if a large number of jobs remain fully remote.”

“In theory, retail and office properties could structurally continue to suffer, and there has been some talk from government officials in certain regions about converting office properties into affordable housing,” he details. “If market-rate vacancies in cities remain high, there will be increasing demand for short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and Kasa, which enable landlords to gain revenue from hotel-type stays even in a market where residential demand is not strong.”

Vik Chawla, a partner at Fifth Wall, sketches out a middle-of-the-road scenario. “We believe that major cities will continue to attract knowledge workers and top talent post-pandemic,” he says, “though we expect remote work to become an increasingly critical component to the work economy, meaning that there will be increased flexibility in terms of time spent in the office versus elsewhere.”

This would still mean some sort of long-term price decline. “At a city level, this means that rents should taper relative to pre-pandemic levels due to lesser demand,” he believes. “That said, the real estate ecosystems in cities that have experienced growth throughout the pandemic will enter a period of innovation, and with it, see an increase in housing density, ADUs and modular building techniques.”

Andrew Ackerman, managing director of UrbanTech for DreamIt Ventures, also sees a gentle deflation of commercial office prices over time, followed by some complex space-management questions.

“[T]he return to work will likely result in more flexible work arrangements rather than the demise of the office which, as leases renew over the next 5-10 years, will lead to a gradual meaningful-but-not-catastrophic reduction in the demand for office space. The question is, what then happens to the excess office space?”

“Office to residential conversion is tricky,” he elaborates. “Layout is a major constraint. Many modern offices have deep, windowless interior space that is hard to repurpose. But even with narrow layouts, the structural elements are often in the wrong place. Drilling thousands of holes in structural concrete so you can move plumbing and gas to the right places is a heavy lift.”

This might just lead to new types of still-valuable uses? “One of the areas that I’m still investigating is whether co-living or microunits might be a more attractive conversion option. Turning an office break room and interior bullpens into a shared kitchen, dining area, and recreation or work flexspace may be a better way to repurpose deep interior space without a very costly retrofit. And if you don’t have to reroute too much plumbing, it may even be possible to convert (and convert back!) individual floors as market demand for office and residential space fluctuates over time.”

All respondents saw proptech being a core part of the next era of big cities (of course), however bullish or bearish they may be about the office itself.

A new equilibrium for residential

Housing availability has become even more limited in most places during the pandemic, with many more people looking to buy and fewer people wanting to sell. This is even though the previously hottest cities have seen major rental price drops.

Demuyakor of Wilshire Lane is staying focused on the housing problem, and solutions to it like co-living. “Despite the pandemic, it is still difficult for millennials and Gen Z to afford to live in the most expensive cities (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.) at current wage levels,” he says. “As such, we believe that we will continue to see demand for products and solutions that can continue to help alleviate costs and burdens of living in major cities. For example, we think that at its core, co-living is an economic decision. Solutions that continue to help people live where they want to live more easily (ADUs are another example of this) will continue to thrive.”

Casey Berman, managing director and general partner of Camber Creek, thinks that “cities will continue to attract people to live, work and play because they offer density and opportunities for experiences that people crave even more now. To the extent all of this is true, there will be renewed demand for urban spaces and properties to take advantage of that demand.”

He says that the firm has been investing in products to make dense living safer and more convenient and “we expect those solutions will become increasingly popular. Flex allows tenants to pay rent online in easier-to-manage installments and in the process makes it more likely that landlords will receive payment on time. Latch’s access control devices are in one out of 10 new multifamily buildings. A lot of people purchased a pet over the past year. PetScreening makes it easy to manage pet records and confirm when a pet is a service or support animal.”

Robin Godenrath and Julian Roeoes, partners at Picus Capital, generally share this viewpoint and describe how new living arrangements in cities could allow for more radical changes to how people live.

“Flexible living solutions will allow remote workers to spend time across different cities with a fully managed, affordable and safe rental option for short-to-long-term urban living,” he says, “while commercial conversion to residential will play a key role in driving down per square foot prices enabling long-term returning residents to afford less densified space. Although co-living densifies multifamily buildings, we believe it will remain an interesting sector as the continued shift to remote work will make living communities increasingly important considering the reduced social interaction on the job.”

But modern proptech is also making the suburbs and beyond more appealing in the long run, according to many. Great new technologies for living can exist anywhere you are.

Proptech has also helped fuel the new suburban boom. “There is an ongoing trend of reverse urban migration causing an uptick in the demand for suburban-style living,” he says. “Proptech companies have played a significant role in enabling this shift, specifically via digitizing the home buying, selling and renting transaction processes (e.g., iBuyers, alternative financing models and tech-enabled brokerages). Additionally, proptech companies have played a key role in reducing physical interactions through remote appraisals, 3D/VR viewings and digital communications thus enabling homebuyers and sellers to efficiently and safely transact throughout the pandemic.”

Ultimately, the same technologies that could make cities more affordable will also help out in the suburbs. “We strongly believe that the acceleration of the digitalization of the home transaction process coupled with the significant increase in demand for suburban-style housing and evolving buyer profiles (e.g., tech-savvy millennials) opens up a multitude of opportunities for proptech to significantly impact suburban living across construction, access and lifestyle. This includes companies focusing on built-to-rent developments, modular homebuilding, affordable housing, community building and digital amenities.

Many investors who we talked to highlighted the single-family rental market trend. Here’s Christopher Yip again from RET.

“One of the unheralded trends of the past decade has been the rise of the single-family rental (SFR) market,” he says “with a significant number of major investors moving into this asset class. The SFR space is poised to benefit from the migration from cities, and the tech that supports SFR will likely have positive ripple effects across the industry.”

“SFR portfolios are particularly challenging to operate efficiently and at scale; compared with a multifamily property, they have more distinct unit layouts and are more spread out geographically,” he explains. “Technology has the ability to streamline operations and maintenance for SFR operators, with smart home tools like SmartRent facilitating self-touring and management of these distributed portfolios. We’re bullish on this space and are keeping a close eye on proptech tools that serve this market.”

Andrew Ackerman of DreamIt agrees. “Single-family has been neglected, slowly growing more interesting both from an asset and proptech perspective for some time. For example, we invested in startups like NestEgg and Abode who service this ecosystem … prior to the pandemic. COVID has been good to these startups and brought more attention to the opportunities in single-family in general.”

Stonly Baptiste and Shaun Abrahamson, co-founders of Urban.us, already see a world of options unfolding across geographies, with choices like co-living and short-term rentals letting people find new lifestyles. “Portfolio companies like Starcity are really thriving as co-living doesn’t just solve for cost, but also for a key overlooked issue — access to community. We also see room for more nomadic lifestyles. A lot of the discussion about Miami is about people moving there, but it seems like a more interesting question for a lot of places is maybe whether or not people will spend a few months of the year there. So for remote workers this might mean places near specific activities like mountain biking, surfing, snowboarding etc. Starcity makes it easy to move between city locations and Kibbo takes this far beyond the city by building communities around van life.”

Here’s how all these changes are adding up for the suburban market, as mapped out by Clelia Warburg Peters of BCV.

“The residential transaction disruption is now settling in three core categories: iBuyers (who buy homes directly from sellers and ultimately hope to own the sell-side marketplace), neobrokers (who generally employ their agents and use secondary services such as title mortgage and insurance to increase their revenue) and elite agent tools (platforms or tools focused on the top agents).”

This combination of innovations are changing residential real estate as we know it. “[C]onsumers are increasingly open to alternative financing tools, including home-equity-based financing models (where you sell a stake in your home, or you buy into full ownership in a home over time). The growth and proliferation of these new models are consolidating the whole residential market so that brokerage sales commissions and commission from the sale of mortgage, title and home insurance are now functionally one large and intertwined disruptable market.”

The surprising revival of neighborhood retail

Humans seem to love the concept of a traditional Main Street full of bustling, walkable local businesses. But the hits have kept coming to the people trying to successfully operate independent retail storefronts.

E-commerce began cutting into traditionally thin margins with the rise of Amazon and the 90s wave of “e-tailers.” More recently, art galleries, high-end restaurants and boutiques became a harbinger of gentrification in many cities. Many commercial retail landlords in these locations aggressively priced rents as more residents moved in who could afford higher prices, ultimately contributing to gluts of empty storefronts in prime locations.

The pandemic seemed to be the final blow, with even the most loyal shoppers turning to order online while local businesses stayed closed.

And yet, a range of investors are strangely optimistic. Even though the pandemic upended social and economic activity for more than a year, most agreed that IRL retail experiences are an essential aspect of modern life.

“Humans are fundamentally social animals and I think we will all be hungry for in-person experiences once it is safe to return to them. Additionally, I think the shift away from working five days a week in the office is going to create a greater desire for ‘third spaces’ — not home, not a formal office environment,” said Peters.

“I do think we will continue to see more ‘Apple store’-type retail experiences, where the focus is less on selling inventory and more on creating an environment for customers to physically interact with goods and experience the brand ethos beyond a website. Because I anticipate that retail rents are going to be meaningfully lower at the end of the pandemic, I actually think we will see even more experimentation than we did pre-COVID. It will be a very interesting period for retail.”

Many others held views in this direction, whether they are investing specifically in retail-related tech or more generally in third-space ideas.

“It’s true that retail has been in flux for more than a decade; the list of common e-commerce purchases has expanded from books and clothing to prepared meals and groceries. It’s also true that the pandemic has accelerated e-commerce’s growth, to the detriment of brick-and-mortar retail,” says RET’s Yip. “But people are still human and crave in-person experiences. Even if cities never bounce back fully, major metropolises will still have enough foot traffic to support a fair amount of retail, and innovative models like pop-up shops can be brought in to help address vacancies. It should also be noted that the public markets still have some confidence in the retail space. While the major REITs struggled in early to mid-2020, many have recovered substantially, and several have actually surpassed their pre-pandemic figures. It has been a bad decade for retail — and a very bad year — but it is just too soon to close the book on the sector.”

Godenrath and Roeoes of Picus say movie theaters are just one example of a retail sector poised for success when public life resumes at scale post-pandemic.

“Cinemas, many of which are key shopping center anchor tenants, were already reinventing the traditional theater experience by offering a more holistic experiential solution (e.g., reserved seating, 4DX visuals, in-theater restaurants, cafes and bars) and the pandemic has led to an expansion of these offerings (i.e., private theater rentals and events). We have the opinion that this trend will continue to expand across the entire retail real estate industry from restaurants (immersive culinary experiences) to traditional retail (integrated online and offline shopping experiences) and believe that proptech will play a defining role in helping retail real estate owners identify potential tenants and market properties as well as in helping retailers drive in-store customer engagement and gain key insights into the customer journey.”

The internet is also a friend these days, surprisingly! “We also see a lot of potential for hybrid models combining online and offline experiences without friction,” they say. “Taking the fitness sectors as an example we can imagine a new normal where in-studio courses are broadcasted to allow a broader participant group and apps tracking fitness and health progress throughout in-studio visits and at-home workouts.”

I have a few additional reasons to believe in the future of retail that I didn’t hear from any of the investors I interviewed.

You can also see how retail intersects with many other solutions investors are betting on, particularly to improve the appeal of cities and solve for macro problems like climate change.

“Cities have some massively underutilized assets, perhaps the biggest being public spaces that are allocated to cars,” Baptiste and Abrahamson say. “So one change we think will become permanent is reallocating parking spaces away from private vehicles to micromobility (bike/scooter/board lanes, parking, etc.). We’re seeing a lot of demand for portfolio companies like Coord (manages curb space starting with commercial vehicles and smart zones), Qucit (manages bike and scooter share operations in many large cities) and Oonee (secure bike/scooter/board parking).”

That’s just the start of the virtuous cycle they foresee.

“As [car removal] happens, the use cases like logistics can shift to electric micro-EVs. Similarly, parklets or seating areas increase social spaces. The EU is setting the pace for banning cars, but overall reduced access to streets for cars is going to be a big change. And likely will make cities attractive — yes, you give up private living space, but you’re going to get a lot more common/social space. This is also likely to drive more co-living so you can decrease the cost basis for being in a city, but get a lot more from shared spaces, which have no real comparison in lower density communities.”

Demuyakor of Wilshire Lane is betting in the same direction.

“One of the key tenets of our overall strategy has always been a focus on space utilization and identifying the best ways technology can monetize underutilized spaces. This can be seen clearly with many of our newest investments: Stuf and Neighbor (monetization of basements, parking garages and other vacant spaces), MealCo (monetization of vacant kitchens), WorkChew (monetization of restaurant seating areas, hotel lobbies and conference rooms), and Saltbox (monetization of empty warehouses). We believe that landlords can certainly use these types of strategies to help mitigate increased levels of vacancies that we’re seeing across the real estate industry today in the medium term.”

If this thesis pans out, retail may become more about shared spaces. “With WorkChew in particular, which just announced funding this week, we’re seeing a ton of demand for their product both on the demand side and the supply side. Hotels and restaurants are excited to partner with them to monetize their less-utilized spaces and infrastructure,” said Demuyakor. “And of course, employers and companies love [it] as an easy amenity that can be offered to their hybrid workforces that increasingly want to spend more time out of the HQ office.”

I have a few additional reasons to believe in the future of retail that I didn’t hear explicitly from the investors I interviewed.

  • First, millions of new businesses have been created during the pandemic, to the surprise of even economists and policymakers. A large portion appear to have a very local angle, whether food delivery (cupcakes) or services (on-site haircuts) or internet-first products with strong local followings (much of Etsy). These entrepreneurs went internet-first and now, as commercial rents plummet, they have sufficient revenue to support a physical presence.
  • Second, most local business that have sustained themselves during the COVID-19 era figured out how to succeed on the internet. To see which ones in your vicinity are weathering the storm, just open one of your preferred on-demand delivery and services apps and place an order.
  • Third, as noted by respondents and available data, landlords are already starting to drop prices, creating a renter’s market for the first time in decades.
  • Fourth, there are whole new types of financing opening up to more traditional businesses that could enable any company with a successful online side hustle, hobby (or perhaps larger project) to get funding for expansion. (This reason is perhaps the most speculative, but we are trying to figure out the future here at TechCrunch.) For example, Shopify has just invested in Pipe.com, a new “platform for trading recurring revenue.” Although the companies are not saying much now about the relationship, it’s possible to imagine a bunch of successful small(ish) businesses on Shopify suddenly getting a new kind of capital infusion right as the math is suddenly much better for a storefront location.

If you roll all of this up with other broader shifts in how we think about cities, like making them more climate-friendly through allowing density and bike lanes, you can start to see a world emerging that sounds a lot more like the fantasies of a New Urbanist than the world before the pandemic.

At the same time, these concepts are being deployed across smaller cities, suburbs and towns: All will compete to offer the highest quality of living — unless the old network effects of industry clusters return miraculously.

And let’s say the industry clusters don’t cluster like they used to. It’s possible that many landlords, lenders and city budgets will have to retrench soon, creating a drag on the economies of otherwise-attractive cities.

Even in this case, you can imagine a rebirth for places like New York and San Francisco focused around housing, retail and amenities. Maybe one day, we’ll look back at recent decades as the bad old days before we collectively bottomed out during the pandemic and had to decide on the right answers for the long-term.

And with that, I invite readers to go check out the full sets of responses from the investors I interviewed. Each person offered a lot more than I was able to fit into this already-too-long article and is worth reading in detail. Extra Crunch subscription required, so you can support our ongoing coverage of these changes.

I’ll be covering the future of proptech and cities more soon. Have other thoughts about all of this? Email me at eldon@techcrunch.com.

#commercial-real-estate, #covid-19, #ec-investor-surveys, #ec-market-map, #proptech, #real-estate, #retail, #small-business, #smart-cities, #smbs, #tc

MaaS transit: The business of mobility as a service

In 2019, St. Louis Metro Transit was struggling to keep customers. Uber and Lyft, along with dockless shared bikes and scooters, had flooded streets, causing ridership to fall more than 7% in a single year.

The agency didn’t try to fight for attention. Instead, it embraced its competitors.

Metro Transit dropped its internal trip-planning app, which had been developed with the Trapeze Group and directed riders to Transit, a private third-party app that offers mapping and real-time transit data in more than 200 cities. That app also included micromobility and ride-hailing information, allowing customers to not just look up bus schedules, but see how they might get to and from stops — or ignore the bus altogether.

The following year, Metro Transit partnered with mobile ticketing company Masabi and added a payment option on some bus routes. Now, the agency is planning an all-in-one app — via third-party providers Transit and Masabi — where customers could plan and book end-to-end trips across trains, buses, bikes, scooters and taxis.

“What we do best is transporting large volumes of people on vehicles and managing mass transit,” said Metro Transit executive director Jessica Mefford-Miller. “On the software side, there are a lot of players out there doing great stuff that can help us meet our customers where they are and make trip planning as easy as possible.”

St. Louis Metro Transit isn’t an outlier. As transit agencies seek to win back riders, a flurry of platforms — some backed by giants like Uber, Intel and BMW — are offering new technology partnerships. Whether it’s bundling bookings, payments or just trip planning, startups are selling these mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) offerings as a lifeline to make transit agencies the backbone of urban mobility.

Whether it’s bundling bookings, payments or just trip planning, startups are selling mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) offerings as a lifeline to make transit agencies the backbone of urban mobility.

Third-party platforms have become more appealing to transit agencies as they scramble to keep buses, trains and rail full of customers. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ridership and total miles traveled has declined since 2014, including a 2.5% drop from 2017 to 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic could accelerate this trend as more people continue working from home or shy away from crowding into buses and trains.

“This is like Expedia, the idea of seeing multiple airlines in one place to comparison shop,” said Regina Clewlow, CEO of transportation management firm Populus. “A lot of operators are looking at the question of whether that would give them more rides.”

But that the private growth could come at a cost, potentially injecting private concerns into what should be a public good, Metro Transit’s Mefford-Miller cautioned.

“If we let the market handle this planning on its own, a company might only do it for someone with a digital device or a bank account or only help people who don’t need special accommodation,” Mefford-Miller said. “That’s why we have as an underpinning an equitable and accessible system. It’s the underpinning before we choose any tools we use.”

The players

Amid the swarm of new startups there are a few giants. One of the biggest established players is Cubic Corp., a San Diego-based defense and public transportation company. The firm already controls payments and back-end software for hundreds of transit agencies, including in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and in January launched a suite of new products under the brand name Umo to expand their offerings.

The package includes a customer-facing multimodal app, a fare collection platform, a contactless payment system, a rewards program, a behind-the-scenes management platform and a MaaS marketplace for public and private offerings. Mick Spiers, general manager of Umo, said the goal is to offer a “connected, integrated journey.”

“We’re uniquely placed as an independent, trusted third party that can be the data broker for a journey focused around the needs of the user,” Spiers added. “The journey we create has no commercial interest for us.”

#automotive, #bmw, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-software, #maas, #masabi, #moovit, #public-transportation, #saas, #startups, #transportation, #uber, #venture-capital

No taxation without innovation: The rise of tax startups

In New York City, if you order a toasted bagel with cream cheese at a deli, you have to pay sales tax. Ask for that same bagel unprepared? You won’t. In Illinois, candy is subject to sales tax, but candy with flour is considered a regular grocery item. Meaning: A Kit Kat is tax-free, but M&Ms will cost you extra. And in Colorado, your daily coffee cup is considered essential packaging, while the lid is not, making it subject to a nonessential packaging tax.

These examples may seem trivial, but they illustrate the idiosyncrasies of sales tax — a fee consumers pay on their purchases that must ultimately be reconciled with the appropriate jurisdictions. Though sales tax is arguably the most complex type of indirect tax, businesses must also contend with other indirect taxes such as use tax, property tax and value-added tax (VAT).

Given the market needs for tax compliance, it’s somewhat shocking how poorly companies are being served by the majority of legacy software companies.

Such taxes may be easy to understand conceptually, but their calculation is convoluted in practice — particularly for sales tax, which is governed by more than 11,000 unique jurisdictions in the U.S. alone. There is no reliable methodology businesses can use to calculate annual remittances based on previous years’ accounting formulas because local tax code changes as much as 25% every year.

For large corporations, sales tax compliance drives sky-high financial planning and analysis spending, and small businesses face an even worse predicament because they can neither afford outsourced tax preparation nor have the expertise to handle this filing. No matter a company’s size, failure to pay the correct amount of sales tax can result in severe penalties and even bankruptcy.

Now, a new legion of startups is emerging to help companies manage the intricacies of indirect taxes, including TaxJar, Taxdoo and Fonoa.

Why does this matter now?

Smaller businesses have, until fairly recently, managed to limp through tax season by selling goods and services locally, and thus operating within relatively consolidated tax jurisdictions. But e-commerce changed this in at least two profound ways.

The first is that even the smallest businesses have transformed from simple brick-and-mortar ventures to complex entities transacting in multiple places online, including via their own storefronts and websites, third-party vendors such as Amazon and Etsy, and wholesale channels. Previously, a small business may have calculated a single type of sales tax — traditionally for storefront enterprises. Now, they may have to calculate different taxes across an increasing number of channels and their resulting tax codes.

Second, e-commerce expanded companies’ geographic reach, allowing them to sell across state and country lines. Until recently, this was an unqualified advantage to small businesses, which benefited from outdated laws requiring most businesses to pay taxes only where they had established nexus, or physical presence. But the 2018 Supreme Court case of South Dakota v. Wayfair put an end to that, with the court ruling that businesses with digital revenue levels above a certain threshold must pay taxes in all states and municipalities in which they sell.

To a large extent, businesses have met the resulting increase in their tax obligations either sloppily or not at all. But the economic fallout from the pandemic is making such noncompliance far less tenable as state and local governments face fiscal shortfalls. With states traditionally relying on sales tax as a primary source of revenue (second only to federal receipts), local governments are beginning not only to enforce their tax codes more vigilantly but also to create new laws that broaden the scope of taxable goods and services.

Given that the financial losses of the pandemic are projected to extend for years, it is unlikely states will revert to their previously relaxed standards of enforcement. Instead, it is far more plausible that COVID-19 will prove an opportunity for states to find new ways to capitalize on sales taxes related to e-commerce.

Small and medium businesses need more options for tax compliance

#column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ec-market-map, #ecommerce, #finance, #online-marketplaces, #startups, #tax, #tax-policy, #tc

Farmland could be the next big asset class modernized by marketplace startups

Jim Jackson developed timber and farmland in Eastern Washington, protected from coastal rains by the peaks of the Cascade mountains, building out a clutch of apple farms and other properties on the state’s sunny side for 40 years.

Traditionally, he raised money to expand operations for his farms through his existing network, which meant asking previous investors to pool together and come up with the cash.

But more recently, Jackson turned to a fundraising platform that operates entirely online. Like hundreds of other farmers, he’s using a service called AcreTrader to raise money for agricultural development projects. AcreTrader is one of a growing number of companies revolutionizing the way farm and forestland are acquired, developed and commercialized across the United States.

There’s lots of farmland in the U.S. Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and the world’s third-richest man, is the nation’s largest owner of farmland, holding roughly 242,000 acres. That number seems high until you compare it with the 897.4 million acres of land that are currently arable and used for farming in the U.S.

Another 823 million acres of forests dot the United States, the majority of which are privately owned.

Taken together, that’s a massive amount of real estate with economic potential that’s traditionally been accessible only to the ultra-wealthy to acquire and finance for development. Now, startups like AcreTrader and others including Tillable, ($8.3 million) FarmTogether ($3.7 million), and Harvest Returns are bringing marketplace models to the farming world — potentially bringing hundreds of thousands of investable acres to financiers looking to diversify.

#acretrader, #carter-malloy, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #ec-market-map, #first-round-capital, #greentech, #jump-capital, #narya-capital, #nature-conservancy, #rzc-investments, #serra-ventures, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Can solid state batteries power up for the next generation of EVs?

Lithium-ion batteries power almost every new phone, laptop and electric vehicle. But unlike processors or solar panels, which have improved exponentially, lithium-ion batteries have inched along with only incremental gains.

For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.

For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful.

A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Electric vehicles account for about 60% of all lithium-ion batteries made today, and IDTechEx predicts that solid state batteries will represent a $6 billion industry by 2030.

Electric vehicles have never been cooler, faster or cleaner, yet they still account for only around one in 25 cars sold around the world (and fewer still in the United States). A global survey of 10,000 drivers in 2020 by Castrol delivered the same perennial complaints that EVs are too expensive, too slow to charge and have too short a range.

Castrol identified three tipping points that EVs would need to drive a decisive shift away from their internal combustion rivals: a range of at least 300 miles, charging in just half an hour and costing no more than $36,000.

Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSB) could deliver all three.

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

The players

“If you run the calculations, you can get really amazing numbers and they’re very exciting,” Amy Prieto, founder and CTO of solid state Colorado-based startup Prieto Battery said in a recent interview. “It’s just that making it happen in practice is very difficult.”

Prieto, who founded her company in 2009 after a career as a chemistry professor, has seen SSB startups come and go. In 2015 alone, Dyson acquired Ann Arbor startup Sakti3 and Bosch bought Berkeley Lab spin-off SEEO in separate automotive development projects. Both efforts failed, and Dyson has since abandoned some of Sakti3’s patents.

Prieto Battery, whose strategic investors include Intel, Stout Street Capital and Stanley Ventures, venture arm of toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker, pioneered an SSB with a 3D internal architecture that should enable high power and good energy density. Prieto is now seeking funding to scale up production for automotive battery packs. The first customer for these is likely to be electric pickup maker Hercules, whose debut vehicle, called Alpha, is due in 2022. (Fisker also says that it is developing a 3D SSB for its debut Ocean SUV, which is expected to arrive next year.)

Another Colorado SSB company is Solid Power, which has had investments from auto OEMs including BMV, Hyundai, Samsung and Ford, following a $20 million Series A in 2018. Solid Power has no ambitions to make battery packs or even cells, according to CEO Doug Campbell, and is doing its best to use only standard lithium-ion tooling and processes.

Once the company has completed cell development in 2023 or 2024, it would hand over full-scale production to its commercialization partners.

“It simply lowers the barrier to entry if existing producers can adopt it with minimal pain,” Campbell said.

QuantumScape is perhaps the highest profile SSB maker on the scene today. Spun out from Stanford University a decade ago, the secretive QuantumScape attracted funding from Bill Gates and $300 million from Volkswagen. In November, QuantumScape went public via a special purpose acquisition company at a $3.3 billion valuation. It then soared in value over 10 times after CEO Jagdeep Singh claimed to have solved the short lifetime and slow charging problems that have plagued SSBs.

#automotive, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #lithium-ion-batteries, #panasonic, #quantumscape, #tesla, #transportation

Extra Crunch is now hiring for reporter, editor and project manager positions

Extra Crunch is about to turn two years old and we now have a lot of demanding subscribers. Readers tell us that they want more articles — in even more depth — about the latest trends in early-stage startups and tech industries around the world.

We’re hiring for three key additional roles right now to help make this happen, including a project manager, a desk editor and a daily reporter.

If you think one of these positions is for you, please email a resume and a two-paragraph description of your interest and qualifications to ec_editors@techcrunch.com.

Daily reporter

We’re looking for someone who loves data-driven research and reporting to help us figure out what’s really going on across the world of new startups. You’ll work closely with the Extra Crunch core team to dig into emerging topics and ideas, chase down the right data and experts and put it all together in a multi-author newsletter with us.

Responsibilities:

  • Data-driven researching and reporting as needed for daily newsletter
  • Writing assignments for daily newsletter
  • Writing other assigned Extra Crunch articles from time to time

Qualifications:

  • Proven experience in tech and business reporting or in other fields that involve a lot of research related to startups
  • Strong internal motivation to figure out how the world really works
  • General interest in startups and technology
  • Ability to work closely in a small team

Compensation:

  • Freelance with flexible structures of 20+ hours of work per week
  • Highly competitive pay rates based on your qualifications
  • Remote-only

Desk editor

We’re looking for an editor who can bring clarity and nuance to any article they touch. The finer points of editing can make all the difference in how our readers understand the ideas we’re sharing. In this role, you’ll work closely with Extra Crunch editors to produce great articles from a wide range of writers.

Responsibilities:

  • Editing article drafts line by line for clarity, relevance and accuracy
  • Managing components of our product in WordPress, including some tagging and landing page content as directed
  • Updating components of our overall editorial calendar system
  • Communicating with Extra Crunch editors, TechCrunch staff and industry guest columnists as part of the production process

Qualifications:

  • Comfort with AP style
  • General awareness of the technology startup ecosystem as it exists in 2021
  • General awareness of the U.S. and global business environment as it exists in 2021
  • 5+ years editing in a journalistic environment preferred

Qualified applicants will be asked to complete an editing test as part of our hiring process.

Compensation:

  • Freelance with flexible structures of 20+ hours of work per week
  • Highly competitive pay rates based on your qualifications
  • Remote-only

Project manager

Extra Crunch relies on a number of internal databases to help us produce insightful articles. A main one right now is The TechCrunch List, which features hundreds of investors across 22 technology industries across the world, based on thousands of founder recommendations we get about that key person who wrote the first check — but there are more active and in the works. We need someone who can manage this whole system in close collaboration with Extra Crunch editors as it expands.

Responsibilities:

  • Producing internal data views for the TechCrunch editorial staff to produce articles with, using our databases and tools
  • Updating and analyzing our startup-focused databases using information from the editorial staff, other parts of TechCrunch (events, newsletters, etc.), and other sources
  • Communicating with founders, investors and others in the startup ecosystems that we cover
  • Developing new ways to use our existing databases
  • Developing and implementing new ideas together with the Extra Crunch team

Qualifications:

  • Proven ability to work with data tools like Airtable, Google Sheets and Excel
  • Passion for great data structure and process
  • Experience managing data-driven projects from idea through to analysis of results
  • General interest and familiarity with the startup world

Compensation:

  • Freelance with flexible structures of 20+ hours of work per week
  • Highly competitive pay rates based on your qualifications
  • Remote-only

If you think one of these positions is for you, please email a resume and a two-paragraph description of your interest and qualifications to ec_editors@techcrunch.com.

#ec-market-map, #ec-media, #tc

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business

At Battery, a central part of our consumer investing practice involves tracking the evolution of where and how consumers find and purchase goods and services. From our annual Battery Marketplace Index, we’ve seen seismic shifts in how consumer purchasing behavior has changed over the years, starting with the move to the web and, more recently, to mobile and on-demand via smartphones.

The evolution looks like this in a nutshell: In the early days, listing sites like Craigslist, Angie’s List* and Yelp effectively put the Yellow Pages online — you could find a new restaurant or plumber on the web, but the process of contacting them was largely still offline. As consumers grew more comfortable with the web, marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, Expedia and Wayfair* emerged, enabling historically offline transactions to occur online.

More recently, and spurred in large part by mobile, on-demand use cases, managed marketplaces like Uber, DoorDash, Instacart and StockX* have taken online consumer purchasing a step further. They play a greater role in the operations of the marketplace, from automatically matching demand with supply, to verifying the supply side for quality, to dynamic pricing.

The key purpose of being end-to-end is to deliver an even better value proposition to consumers relative to incumbent alternatives.

Each stage of this evolution unlocked billions of dollars in value, and many of the names listed above remain the largest consumer internet companies today.

At their core, these companies are facilitators, matching consumer demand with existing supply of a product or service. While there is no doubt these companies play a hugely valuable role in our lives, we increasingly believe that simply facilitating a transaction or service isn’t enough. Particularly in industries where supply is scarce, or in old-guard industries where innovation in the underlying product or service is slow, a digitized marketplace — even when managed — can produce underwhelming experiences for consumers.

In these instances, starting from the ground up is what is really required to deliver an optimal consumer experience. Back in 2014, Chris Dixon wrote a bit about this phenomenon in his post on “Full stack startups.” Fast forward several years, and more startups than ever are “full stack” or as we call it, “end-to-end operators.”

These businesses are fundamentally reimagining their product experience by owning the entire value chain, from end to end, thereby creating a step-functionally better experience for consumers. Owning more in the stack of operations gives these companies better control over quality, customer service, delivery, pricing and more — which gives consumers a better, faster and cheaper experience.

It’s worth noting that these end-to-end models typically require more capital to reach scale, as greater upfront investment is necessary to get them off the ground than other, more narrowly focused marketplacesBut in our experience, the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.

End-to-end operators span many verticals

Many of these businesses have reached meaningful scale across industries:

All of these companies have recognized they can deliver more value to consumers by “owning” every aspect of the underlying product or service — from the bike to the workout content in Peloton’s case, or the bank account to the credit card in Chime’s case. They have reinvented and reimagined the entire consumer experience, from end to end.

What does success for end-to-end operator businesses look like?

As investors, we’ve had the privilege of meeting with many of these next-generation end-to-end operators over the years and found that those with the greatest success tend to exhibit the five key elements below:

1. Going after very large markets

The end-to-end approach makes the most sense when disrupting very large markets. In the graphic above, notice that most of these companies play in the largest, but notoriously archaic industries like banking, insurance, real estate, healthcare, etc. Incumbents in these industries are very large and entrenched, but they are legacy players, making them slow to adopt new technology. For the most part, they have failed to meet the needs of our digital-native, mobile-savvy generation and their experiences lag behind consumer expectations of today (evidenced by low, or sometimes even negative, NPS scores). Rebuilding the experience from the ground up is sometimes the only way to satisfy today’s consumers in these massive markets.

2. Step-functionally better consumer experience versus the status quo

#automotive, #column, #consumer-internet, #ec-market-map, #ecommerce, #entertainment, #exit, #finance, #health, #marketing, #real-estate, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #transportation