Theses for 2019 (and beyond)
a non-exhaustive list of stuff I’ve been thinking about and want to invest in
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of stuff I’ve been thinking about and want to invest in. I was considering longer post on each and still may do that for some but I’m also lazy.
I hope there’s some value in just putting this out there both to force myself to commit my ideas to paper and hopefully to start some conversations with anyone (interested in) building these kinds of things.
If these are things you also care about or if these wrinkle your brain, I’d love to hear from you.
Cambridge Analytica. Russia hacked the election. Data breaches at Marriott and Target and Equifax and everywhere else. These all get wrapped up into one big flashing red warning light. Now I think there’s beginning to be enough awareness, fear, uncertainty, and doubt about data privacy and security that regular people may be getting the point where they’re willing to pay for it. Whether that means that privacy and security will be incorporated into more businesses and used as a differentiator and/or that there will companies specifically offering privacy and security as a service, I don’t know for sure.
People are beginning to care more and they can only care even more than that over time. Sure VPNs and adblockers and password managers are a good starting place, but when surveillance is the primary operating model of our economy, the change to put users back in control of their own data and safe in their digital lives will have to be profound. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this can really mean. I honestly have no idea what this will look like but I’m excited.
There’s really cool stuff happening in consumer health/digital health (like Ro, a Tusk portfolio company) but I’m especially interested in one concept in particular: condition-specific companies that focus on continuity of care for complex conditions requiring long term lifestyle adjustments in addition to medication. Quite the mouthful right? Things like hypothyroidism, addiction, diabetes, heart conditions, and mental health all require complex, specialized care that promotes substantive lifestyle adjustments and may or may not involve medication. Tele-psychiatry is especially interesting to me and, for personal reasons, tele-psychiatry for ADHD most of all. I’ll use myself as an example to show why:
I have basically the best care money can buy and yet my psychiatrist doesn’t talk to my therapist, I have to pay tons of money to see him, the appointments are inconvenient, and we then mostly just shoot the shit and take my blood pressure. So expensive, un-modern, low quality care even at the high end of the market. Literally getting the medication is the easiest part of it and is legally complex for a startup because these are Schedule II narcotics. But show me a startup that treats adult ADHD via tele-psychiatry with a referral network for therapists, coaches, and tutors; and software tools for self-care and I’m seeing stars. Similar opportunities exist for focused consumer health startups in lots of conditions.
For some detail on what I hate in this category, you can revisit this January post on Basis.
Vice (pot and porn):
I’ve written before about how promising I think “adult” content and media is, and about the prospect of “Stripe for high risk” in particular. Sex work will never go away and creating better infrastructure would go a long way to help sex workers by bringing them into the mainstream, better regulated economy. Puritanism won’t help anyone.
Conversely, regarding pot, I believe less in infrastructure and more in brands, largely for regulatory considerations. Any cannabis-tech company promising a software/logistics solution is functionally selling compliance as a service - some facsimile of participation in the mainstream economy. But laws are fickle and asymmetric market to market, imposing high regulatory risks and unique scaling challenges (you need to localize your product for each market). Worse, federal legalization will throw all the existing businesses into a tailspin as they try to reengineer themselves for compliance. So until we have adult use recreational legal at the federal level, it’s gotta be the brands. Content/brands can scale across borders and jurisdictions.
As an investor, it’s hard to know if I’ll get to participate in either, at least in the short term. But I genuinely believe we’re due for a massive reckoning in each so I’m sure as hell gonna try.
I tend to think there’s two kinds of approaches here: efficiency and value creation. To my mind, things like broker fees make rentals more expensive and replacing them with broker-less exchanges that charge less money and provide better services (like Flip, a Tusk portfolio company) make housing more affordable through productizing heretofore manual processes. Similarly startups doing innovative work in down-payment financing or guarantor agreements, for example, make housing more accessible through financial engineering. This all removes waste and can have huge impacts but, ultimately, there’s an upper limit on efficiency: you can’t get past 100%. The next big wave will have to be startups creating new supply or otherwise changing the housing denominator. Pre-fabricated housing is certainly one promising area and, as you likely know by now, I am very bullish on co-living (despite hating how it’s done today). I remain generally interested in anyone/thinking that can actually make housing more accessible/affordable - and not just paying lip service to the concept.
Seniors and aging:
Americans are getting older. Obviously. The portion of (for now) retirement age Americans has already doubled in the past 50 years and could nearly double in the next 30. We’re looking down the barrel of a demographic crisis that will force us to completely re-shape every level of our social organization and challenge its basic operating principles. Some of that is already starting to play out as Baby Boomers come into retirement, often without adequate savings or support. So we’ll need to rethink everything from retirement homes/communities (see co-living above) to how we provide social services to how keep people productive longer and engaged in retirement. How do we export innovations for the young to older generations?
The above are just what I’m actively looking for and already know I really care about. The list of things that interest and excite me is much longer (natural/sustainable consumer products, primary care, technical schools, private social networks/affinity groups, petcare, telecomm services/ISPs, financial services for the alternative economy, and so on and so on) and always changing. And each of these categories consists of tons of sub-niches/ideas/opportunities.
I’m just trying to put out some good vibes to see what comes back. Hmu.