The Future Came Early—Here’s How Founders Can Keep Up

camera lens - looking into the future of technology in business‘Change’ is a word we keep using in talking about the shifts of the pandemic era. But ‘acceleration’ might be more accurate in describing what exactly has taken place across most corporate segments. 

It’s not necessarily the case that the pandemic inverted our corporate priorities, or caused any 180 degree turns. Rather, it brought the future forward faster—the things we were expecting to happen over the next decade happened in a matter of months. 

Small business, founders, and investors in my circle have been steadfast in their attitude, committed to remaining open and pivoting as needed. From my perspective and experience, below are the best market positions toward which early-stage founders and agile businesses can aim for smooth, post-COVID sailing.

Tech-Heavy, Asset-Light

As has generally been the case, the post-pandemic market will reward tech-heavy, asset-light solutions to the problems most pressing both during times of crisis management as well as in “business as usual” situations. Tools that make automation easy across supply chain networks will see a rapid uptake across the retail and food services sector.  

Technology that empowers better telehealth care will see massive investor support. AI and deep learning technologies will be positioned for rapid uptake. Some experts have predicted that deep learning could add $30 trillion to global market equity over the next two decades—that’s a value proposition that should make every prospective founder want to spring out of bed in the morning.

VR - future of technology in business

Out Of This World, Into The Next

Another really valuable niche market is the virtual sphere. AR and VR technologies are being integrated not only in sales and marketing, but also in manufacturing, medicine and pharmacy, and corporate training. Products or services that innovate on computer simulations of reality will be incredibly useful, as will solutions that can make those virtual worlds cheaper to make, sell, and maintain.

Digital wallet solutions deserve founders’ immediate attention. COVID-19 has accelerated contact-free payments, and banking activity is being completely upended by smartphones and in-pocket solutions. As the crypto-buzz continues into 2021 and beyond, the cryptocurrency equivalent of digital wallets is also a lucrative space for a founder that’s up to the challenge. 

Go-To-Market Model: Software over Hardware

Software as a Service (SaaS) is by far the easiest model for startups to bring to market. For the customer, it reduces the upfront investment needed to reap the benefits of the offering; clients who are still in recovery can make staggered payments and begin using the service without breaking an already thin budget. For small businesses, the model is even more advantageous. Selling their solutions as a service allows founders to have foresight into their earnings, with a dependable understanding of revenue on an on-going basis.

As a venture capitalist talking with a wide variety of new-to-market vendors, it feels ‘safer’ to back the recurring revenue models of software over the one-time-sale models of hardware due to the more predictable recurring revenue, more visibility into recurring client base, easier access to on-the-go product and service troubleshooting, updates, and much more.

This transcends the tech industry—as the world goes increasingly digital, more and more vendors have access to the SaaS model for the product or service they provide. The subscription-style sales that SaaS companies exemplify seems to be an incredibly advantageous model, and if I was an early-stage founder, I would definitely be taking note. 

The Profits of Personalization

technology in businessFinally, every business has a new post-COVID goal: make their consumer experience customizable.

The rise of e-commerce, and the accelerated uptake of digital tools, has made it so that industry leaders could conceivably offer the benefits of personalization at a larger scale.

It’s possible, for example, for every e-commerce shopper to browse a different virtual storefront—one that’s tailored toward their previous purchase preferences and viewing history.

Across multiple sectors, forward-thinking business owners are entertaining new ways of recreating and extending the Netflix model, in which a viewer’s history—their shows, habits, and preferences—are automatically reflected the next time they log on. If new-to-market vendors can focus on this market niche and make it easier for business owners to integrate more personalized options into their offerings, there will be almost no end in sight to their potential client base. 

I’ve always believed that great founders and management teams have a few things in common: the right chemistry, the necessary commitment, and the hunger for large-scale industry change. In the (hopefully soon-to-be) after-COVID market, these are market niches in which founders can change the future as we know it. I plan to watch closely, help where I can, and cheer on as those world-changing companies become a part of our reality.