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6 VCs share their bets on the future of work

By Megan Rose Dickey

As tech companies like Twitter and Facebook gear up for longer-term remote work solutions, the future of work is becoming one of the more exciting opportunities in venture capital, Charles River Ventures general partner Saar Gur told TechCrunch.

And as loneliness mounts with shelter-in-place orders implemented in various forms across the world, investors are looking for products and services that foster true connection among a distributed workforce, as well as a distributed society.

But the future of work doesn’t just entail spinning up home offices. It also involves gig workers, freelancers, hiring tools, tools for workplace organizing and automation. The last couple of years have particularly brought tech organizing to the forefront. Whether it was the Google walkout in 2018 or gig workers’ ongoing actions against companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart for better pay and protections, there are many opportunities to help workers better organize and achieve their goals.

Below, we’ve gathered insights from:

Saar Gur, Charles River Ventures 

What are you most excited about in the future of work?

Future of work is one of the most exciting opportunities in venture.  

Pre-COVID, few tech companies were fully remote. While it seems obvious in retrospect, the building blocks for fully remote technology companies now exist (e.g. high-speed internet, SaaS and the cloud, reliable video streaming, real-time documents, etc.). And while SIP may be temporary, we feel the TAM of fully remote companies will grow significantly and produce a number of exciting investment opportunities.

I don’t think we have fully grokked what it means to run a company digitally. Today, most processes like interviewing, meetings and performance/activity tracking still live in the world of atoms versus bits. As an example, imagine every meeting is recorded, transcribed and searchable — how would that transform how we work?   

There is an opportunity to re-imagine how we work. And we are excited about products that solve meaningful problems in the areas of productivity, brainstorming, communication tools, workflows and more. We also see a lot of potential in infrastructure required to facilitate remote and global teams.

We are also excited by companies that are enabling new types of work. Companies like Etsy (founded 2005), Shopify (2004), TaskTabbit (2008), Uber (2009), DoorDash (2013) and Patreon (2013) have helped create a new workforce of entrepreneurs. But many of these companies are over a decade old and we fully expect a new wave of companies that give more power to the individual.

Tech talent is flocking to smaller cities, but investors aren’t

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week’s show took a break from regularly scheduled programming. Our co-host Alex Wilhelm, who usually leads us through the show, was on some much-deserved vacation, so Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas took the reigns and invited Floodgate Capital’s Iris Choi to join in on the fun. It’s Choi’s fourth time being on the podcast, which officially makes her our most tenured guest yet (in case the accomplished investor needs another bullet point on her bio page).

This week’s docket features scrappiness, a seed round and a Startup Battlefield alumnus.

Here’s what we chewed through:

  • LeverEdge raised seed funding to get you and your friends a volume discount on student loans. Fintech has been booming for years now, and startups often crop up around the painful world of student loans. Yet this startup still caught our eye, and it has a little something to do with its choice to use collective bargaining power as its modus operandi.
  • Stackin’ raises $12.6 million Series B for a text-messaging service that connects millennials to money tips, and eventually other fintech apps. According to CEO Scott Grimes, Stackin’ wants to be the “pipes that port people around fintech.” We get into if the world needs a fintech app marketplace and how it targets younger users.
  • D-ID, a Startup Battlefield alumnus, digitally de-identifies faces in videos and still images and just raised $13.5 million. We’re all worried about our privacy concerns, so the funding news was a refreshing change of pace from the usual headlines we see around surveillance. Now the company just needs to find a successful use case beyond the goodness in people’s hearts.
  • ByteDance, the Chinese parent company that owns TikTok, hit $3 Billion in net profit last year, reports Bloomberg. TikTok also recently snagged former Disney executive Kevin Mayer for its CEO. This one, as you can expect, made for an interesting conversation around privacy and bandwidth. We even asked Choi to weigh in on Donald J. Trump’s recent tweet threatening to regulate social media companies, since Floodgate was an early angel investor in Twitter.
  • We ended with a round table of sorts on how the future of work will look and feel in our new world, from college campuses to offices. We get into the vulnerability that comes with being on Zoom, the ever-increasing stupidity of “manels”, and how tech talent might be flocking to smaller cities but investors aren’t just yet.

And that was the show! Thanks to our producer Chris Gates for helping us put to this together, thanks to you all for listening in on this quirky episode, and thanks to Iris Choi for always bringing a fresh, candid perspective. Talk next week.

3 views on the future of work, coffee shops and neighborhoods in a post-pandemic world

By Devin Coldewey

The novel coronavirus pandemic has disordered traditional notions of work, travel, socializing and the way we collaborate with colleagues.

It seems obvious that the future of work must evolve, given what we’re experiencing, but what will that future look like? Which changes are here to stay and which ones will revert the moment offices reopen?

TechCrunch has been a WFH employer for essentially its entire existence. Our staff is distributed across major startup hubs like SF and NYC, but we also have writers in smaller cities around the world, so we compiled reflections and thoughts from three of them about how remote work has changed our lifestyles and what we predict to see in the next few years, post-COVID 19.

Devin Coldewey talks about what’s going to change with coffee shops and co-working spaces, Alex Wilhelm discusses the future of the home office setup and Danny Crichton talks about the revitalization of urban and semi-urban neighborhoods.

Devin Coldewey on coffee shops and more flexible work arrangements

I’ve worked from home for over a decade and part of what makes it so lovely is the ability to do my work from a nearby cafe, or even a restaurant or bar. I’m lucky in that my part of the city is famously packed with excellent coffee shops, but in the time I’ve lived here I’ve seen them grow increasingly packed with — well, people like me. Some days they seem more like co-working spaces than cafes — and this is something business owners and neighborhoods are going to need to acknowledge one way or the other.

Most urban and suburban American communities were formed around the convention of commuting, which means fewer work-related resources where people live. Instead, we have all the restaurants, bodegas, thrift stores and all the other things that cater to people who aren’t working.

Zoom earnings, remote work and a terrible but possibly bright moment for startups

By Alex Wilhelm

It’s a bit gauche to talk about positive economic impacts of what may become a global pandemic, but the novel coronavirus hasn’t been bad news for every company.

Video conference provider Zoom appears to be one beneficiary; after going public in 2019, its share price rose from around $68 at the start of the year to $115 today. Why? As governments lock down cities and close borders — and companies and conferences shift to virtual for the time being — services like Zoom are well-positioned to see increased demand. (Indeed, Zoom announced today that it is rolling out select products to new territories after improving its free service in impacted regions.)

That Zoom’s shares have appreciated is perhaps not surprising.

The company quickly moved from being a relatively unknown video chat upstart to becoming a celebrated profitable IPO that today is synonymous with its product category in the startup world. Seeing rising investor interest in Zoom merely matches its growing brand; naturally, folks looking for a trade — however that makes your moral center feel — might pile their chips on Zoom.

The rise in Zoom’s value begs two questions: Are future-of-work and remote work-focused startups seeing a global increase in demand? And if so, what impact is that having on their growth? (Are you a startup building remote-work tools? Email me if the outbreak has impacted your growth rates.)

Luckily for you and me, Zoom reports earnings tomorrow. The quarter that Zoom will report, the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2020, stretched from November 1, 2019 through the end of January 2020. So it does include a bit of time in which the novel coronavirus was active, impacting work and perhaps corporate behavior. Obviously, its next quarter will be more interesting, but Zoom should provide guidance for that period. So we’ll get a look at what’s ahead, even if it is provisional.

What about startups?

If Zoom has a bullish outlook, it could lift other, similar companies.

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