It was pitched on “Shark Tank,” and while it didn’t get a deal, consumers are loving the Super Coffees.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyKitu Super Coffee (12-pack) (small)
Frappuccinos. Matcha lattes. Red Bull. A shot of espresso. Most of us have a go-to drink to help us power through long days, late nights, and early mornings. The problem is, many bottled coffees and energy drinks are loaded with artificial ingredients and tons of sugar – a recipe for a dreaded sugar crash.
Related Article Module: The best cold brew coffee
That exact issue is what led Jordan DeCicco to found Kitu Life Super Coffee. As a collegiate student-athlete drained from early morning workouts, Jordan found himself falling asleep in class. Dissatisfied with the energy drink options at his campus store – sugary, caloric beverages with little nutritional value – Jordan set out to make a better drink with ingredients like organic coffee, coconut oil, and whey protein.
With just a blender, Jordan started whipping up batches of Super Coffee in his dorm room and it wasn’t long before his teammates, coaches, professors, and classmates became interested in his healthy drinks and started buying the beverages themselves. The campus buzz was what prompted Jordan to get his older brothers on board and take Kitu Life’s Super Coffee to the masses.
Jordan’s dorm-room dream made it to the big screen when he and his brothers pitched Super Coffee to “Shark Tank” last winter. Though they left the tank without a deal, their exposure on the show garnered plenty of online sales and attracted interest from investors. Last year, Kitu Life made over $1 million in revenue with their delicious, better-for-you Super Coffees.
Super Coffee ingredients
Super Coffee is a 12-ounce bottle ready-to-drink beverage with 200 mg of caffeine (the same amount as a regular 16-ounce coffee), 10 grams of protein, only one gram of carbs, no sugar, and just 80 calories. To compare, a bottled Starbucks Frappuccino has 95 grams of caffeine, 40 grams of sugar, 46 grams of carbs, and 250 calories – that’s almost (or more) than a day’s worth of added sugar as recommended by the American Heart Association.
What sets Super Coffee apart from the other bottled coffees out there is its unique list of ingredients, which, when blended together, taste great and make you feel even better. They start off with organic Colombian coffee that’s not treated with pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or any other toxins that taint the beans’ taste, or more importantly, are detrimental to your health. MCT oil (medium-chain triglyceride oil) derived from coconuts provides healthy fats, giving you sustainable energy without the sugar crash. To get a sweet taste without any sugar, they use monk fruit, a no-sugar, no-calorie, all-natural sweetener. For that creamy taste, they rely on a lactose-free whey protein. This provides the same creamy consistency as milk without the added sugars and unhealthy fats. This also makes the beverage easier to digest for those who suffer from lactose intolerance.
Does Super Coffee actually taste good?
Plain and simple, yes. Plenty of beverages that are touted as healthy don’t deliver on the taste factor, but in my experience, that’s not the case with Super Coffee. The DeCiccos knew that in order for Super Coffee to work, people had to actually like the taste of the beverage as much as, if not more than, they liked the ingredient list.
Super Coffee offers four flavors: Creamy Black, Vanilla Bean, Smooth Mocha, and Maple Hazelnut. All are gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, and non-GMO, but more importantly super creamy, sweet, and delicious. They’re just indulgent enough, but still manage to be light – so you feel fulfilled without going into a food coma. My personal favorite is the Smooth Mocha – when poured over ice or sipped straight from the bottle, it tastes like a grown-up version of chocolate milk, making it a delicious upgrade to your plain, black morning coffee.
The pandemic made getting it on more difficult for everyone.
But now that half of American adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine, that could spell the end of a year of celibacy for many. Some are turning to sexual health and wellness startups to have more titillating and safe sex in the summer of love, startup founders and investors say.
The next several months could be boom times for companies in “sextech” and other sexual wellness businesses, from direct-to-consumer lingerie to birth-control delivery.
David Solomon, who took over as Goldman’s CEO in October 2018, has steered the bank to blowout profits and a record stock price. But with partners quitting and burnout soaring, some insiders say the executive’s hard-charging style has come at a cost:
“David reviews businesses with a dispassionate, clinical eye,” said Jim Esposito, the cohead of Goldman’s investment banking division. “There are no sacred cows.”
On paper, it’s working spectacularly. Goldman smashed analysts’ expectations and set a revenue record in the first quarter, its stock soared to an all-time high of more than $356, and its ambitious plan to slash $1.3 billion in costs is on track. Wall Street analysts are singing Solomon’s praises, as are investors who laud the transparency Solomon has brought to Goldman’s operations.
But Goldman’s top ranks have seen almost unprecedented turnover, with six members of the management committee exiting over the past year. Among them were two Goldman lifers – Eric Lane and Gregg Lemkau, a potential CEO successor – whose departures stunned Solomon.
More on Solomon’s hard-driving style – and why it may be pushing execs away:
Since the start of the pandemic, hopeful homebuyers have been subjected to a buying frenzy that’s led to bidding wars, all-cash sales, sight-unseen purchases, and other leaps of faith – and they did it all in the name of achieving the American dream of homeownership:
After more than a decade renting in Queens, Ilan and Sarah Harel decided to leave the city and buy for the first time. They ultimately scored a $329,000 property in Pleasant Valley, New York, a Hudson Valley town with fewer than 10,000 residents that is just 90 minutes north of their former digs in Queens.
But snagging their dream home was no easy feat. It was the long-labored-over result of checking listing websites all day long for three months, making offers on properties for thousands of dollars over asking price, and competing with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers like them who fled the city for greener pastures around the same time.
Their story illuminates a broader reality: The pandemic upended the real-estate market and, as a result, has pushed homeownership further out of reach.
Leadership in 2021 is marked by transformation – of business models, of workforces, and of organizations themselves. Insider’s inaugural list of the Most Transformative CEOs celebrates four executives who are best meeting the needs of their many stakeholders:
Insider arrived at this list by way of both quantitative and qualitative analysis. We considered the 100 CEOs of the largest publicly traded US companies by market capitalization on the S&P 500 who have been in their positions since at least January 2019. We ruled out executives who are stepping down.
We evaluated companies and CEOs across measures of recent financial performance, ratings on employee review sites Comparably and Glassdoor, typical employee compensation and the CEO-to-median-pay ratio, and the 2021 Just Capital ranking of companies’ commitment to social responsibility.
We believe the following CEOs exemplify the traits and achievements needed to survive and thrive in that challenging environment.
Former Netflix vice president of IT Michael Kail was convicted by a federal jury on Friday of 28 counts of fraud and money laundering, the US Department of Justice announced in a press release.
Kail, who was indicted in 2018, used his position to create a “pay-to-play” scheme where he approved contracts with outside tech companies looking to do business with Netflix in exchange for taking bribes and kickbacks, according to evidence presented to the jury, the release said.
Kail accepted bribes or kickbacks from nine different companies totaling more than $500,000 as well as stock options, according to the DOJ’s press release.
The jury also ordered Kail to forfeit to the government a home he purchased in Los Gatos, California, using the funds he obtained through the illegal scheme.
“Bribery undermines fair competition and innovation in any business arena, and particularly Silicon Valley’s highly competitive environment of cutting-edge innovation,” acting US Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a press release.
“As Netflix’s Vice President of IT Operations, Michael Kail wielded immense power to approve valuable Netflix contracts with small tech vendors, and he rigged that process to unlock a stream of cash and stock kickbacks to himself. Netflix and other companies expect and deserve honest services from its employees.”
Netflix sued Kail after he left the company in 2014 to take a role as Yahoo’s CIO, accusing him of fraud and breaching his fiduciary duties. Netflix declined to comment.
According to the DOJ, Kail faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine – either $250,000, twice the gross amount he pocketed as part of the scheme, or twice the amount of Netflix’s loss, whichever is greatest – for each wire or mail fraud conviction, as well as up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each money laundering conviction.
The founder of a company acquired by WeWork described the lessons from a whirlwind process of joining Adam Neumann’s startup in a Twitter thread on Wednesday.
Dave Fano worked at WeWork for nearly four years after his architecture and planning company, CASE, was acquired in 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. But it almost didn’t happen.
“We spent 7 years building an amazing culture of trust and transparency, and in a span of 24 hours, almost lost it all,” Fano wrote. “Caught up in trying to get the deal done, we lost sight of how this process would make everyone feel.”
Fano said CASE told its workers of the WeWork acquisition and asked them to return signed documents within 24 hours. The entire process took less than a month from when a verbal agreement was reached to when the deal officially closed.
The transaction put many of the firm’s employees in a tailspin, Fano said. CASE was given less than two weeks after the letter of intent was signed to officially close the deal by informing employees and getting the workers to review WeWork’s employment agreement.
According to data from Forbes, most mergers and acquisitions take about four to six months, but can also encompass a period of several years. Even at that rate, many employees choose to leave companies after mergers and acquisitions. Data from the MIT Sloan Management School found that within the first year of a company’s acquisition 33% of workers leave the company as compared to the standard rate of 12%.
“That was one of the worst business decisions I’ve been a part of in all my career,” Fano, who’s now the CEO of career planning company Teal, said in his Twitter thread.
Eventually, Fano said, he asked for more time from CEO Adam Neumann, who agreed to give the team several extra weeks.
Despite the extra time, he said the company still lost many employees as a result of the acquisition. But he does not regret his decision to join WeWork.
Fano said the situation opened his eyes to the importance of company values. By asking employees to make a 24-hour decision, he felt he violated a culture of trust and dependency.
“As intense as that moment was, I would not trade it for the following 4 years at WeWork,” he wrote. “Everyone experienced incredible career growth. WeWork enabled people to explore new career paths, take on new responsibilities, and build relationships that will stay with them forever.”
Spring is here, arms are getting jabbed across the country, and in Silicon Valley the mood is feverish.
Every day brings news of big-ticket startup funding deals, eye-popping valuations, and fresh stock listings. It’s not as if Silicon Valley was struggling to attract capital before. But with the tech business having proven surprisingly impervious to the pandemic, an emboldened industry now seems convinced that the re-opening will bring only more good times.
As Becky Peterson reports: “When a startup raises a smaller round at a lower valuation, whether it’s out of necessity or just a strategic choice, fast moving investors can interpret that decision as a sign of weakness.”
And because the funding frenzy means such a big range in the quality of startups and investors, Insider has embarked on a big project to separate the wheat from the chaff. The result is the Seed 100, in which Insider’s VC/startups team worked with Tribe Capital to analyze data on 1,000 seed-stage investors to identify the 100 VCs who have mastered the art of early stage investing.
The Putin bundle: Russian smartphone users will now have the privilege of using software produced by their comrades. A new law stipulates that phones, TVs and laptops sold in the country must come pre-installed with a selection of Russian-made apps alongside foreign apps. Some locals have apparently taken to calling it the “law against Apple.”
Hold the confetti:Stock trading app Robinhood has been criticized for the animated on-screen confetti explosions that occur after users make a trade, with critics saying it turns investing into a gambling-like game. Robinhood strenuously disagrees, but says it will indulge the critics by replacing the confetti with “new, dynamic visual experiences that cheer on customers through the milestones in their financial journeys.
Virgin Galactic unveiled a shiny new spacecraft on Tuesday. The VSS Imagine is the latest version of a spacecraft that will eventually carry tourists into suborbital space. Virgin Galactic said it will begin ground testing and glide flights this summer.
Hundreds of people have already paid Virgin Galactic between $200,000 and $250,000 for tickets to suborbital space, though the company recently pushed back the expected departure date for these trips to “early 2022.” Virgin’s first spacecraft, the VSS Enterprise, was destroyed in a fatal crash in 2014.
In addition to being the CEO of ThirdLove, I am an active angel investor – predominantly in consumer-focused women-led startups. As an angel investor, I am always receiving inbound pitches from founders looking to raise their pre-seed, seed, and Series A rounds.
Despite what the pandemic has done to businesses, the economy, and society as a whole, there has been no slowdown in deal flow for early-stage investors. If anything, the general consensus in the entrepreneurship community is that now is a terrific time to start a company – because there are an abundance of problems still to be solved in the world.
That said, just because a lot of entrepreneurs want to start a business doesn’t mean they all receive funding.
As an angel investor and someone who has built and is still running a company that is scaling, there are a few things I look for in every founder and startup I invest in. So if you are starting a business, thinking about starting a business, or already well on your way and looking to raise your next round, here are a few things I encourage you to do to build excitement and successfully raise funding.
1. Make your business easy to understand. Do one thing, and do it extremely well.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. One of the biggest reasons entrepreneurs struggle to raise money is because they can’t decide which one of their ideas is their “core competency” and, as a result, try to build them all.
What this does, however, is make it very difficult for customers, investors, and even employees to get a firm grasp on what it is the business actually does. What’s the goal? What’s the one thing the business will be known for? What’s the problem, what’s the unmet need, and (in a single sentence) what’s the solution? Bam, bam, bam.
If you can’t explain what problem your business solves, how, and why, in a sentence or two, then chances are you aren’t quite sure either. And if you aren’t 100% sure of what problem your business is solving in the world, investors aren’t going to know what they’re investing in.
2. Become close to profitable before trying to raise money
Almost all the investments I’ve made over the past few years have been in companies that were profitable or very close to profitable.
This isn’t true for every angel investor (there are plenty of investors in Silicon Valley who bet on companies knowing they won’t be profitable for many, many years). But since I primarily focus on consumer businesses, I expect the founding team to have already made a bit of money before seeking additional investment. The reason is that, in 2021, it has never been easier to beta test consumer products, gather feedback from customers, and start generating revenue on the Internet.
Once that milestone has been reached, and the team has gathered some data around their unit economics, customer acquisition costs, and so on, the business becomes much more investable – because now, as an investor, I know my money is being used to accelerate something that’s already working.
3. Show you have the energy and dedication to build a meaningful company
At the end of the day, angel investors bet on founders and founding teams.
I have certainly made a few investments that bet much more on the founder than on the business. I call these types of founders “hustlers,” because something about their energy tells you they are willing to do whatever it takes to build a business. They might need to go through a few different iterations to get there, but they are determined to get there.
A few signals I look for:
The founders have great energy, and a true passion for what they are building and how they are helping consumers.
The founders have some sort of unfair advantage, such as access to other influential people, a large social media following, a unique combination of skill sets, etc.
The founders are good listeners, they are curious, and they showcase grit.
That said, at the end of the day, your business needs to make sense for investors to get on board. Very few angels will “take a chance” on someone just because that person is excited about entrepreneurship (and those angels are almost always family members or family friends). The real way to determine whether or not your business is investable is if you share what you’re working on with someone and they immediately say, “I love it. How can I help?”
That’s a sign you’re on to something, and your business is ready to move to the next level.
Though a popular business strategy for new startups today is to sell direct-to-consumer through their own websites, the practice often serves as a springboard for other retail opportunities, not an outright boycott. Direct-to-consumer selling hasn’t replaced brick-and-mortar stores; rather, it has helped redefine how to create brand experiences and nurture loyal customer followings.
In a similar fashion, many online startups eventually find their way into popular retail stores that you’ve been shopping at for years, whether for a limited run or a long-term residency. It’s just another way for these startups to get their products in front of more eyes, plus it’s undeniably convenient to shop all your favorites at one site and enjoy free shipping and return perks.
Target is one such home to many direct-to-consumer startups you might recognize across personal care, bedding, food, pets, and more. It’s the perfect place to discover new and innovative brands, so it’s no wonder the following 22 online companies have decided to sell through the company.
Here are 22 popular online startups you can now find at Target:
The Mighty Patch has become a skincare staple for many, and that’s probably because these tiny dots draw out the gunk from your blemishes. All it takes is sticking them to your skin and leaving them on overnight or throughout the day to flatten your pimples. But besides the fan favorite patches, Hero Cosmetics has also created more conventional skincare products like a cleanser, toner, serum, and blemish balm — all of which you can find at Target. You can read our full Mighty Patch review here.
Thinx is known for its period-proof underwear, which now appears on the shelves of select Target stores and on Target’s site. Thinx for All is an extension of the brand’s existing offerings and uses the same design and technology, but with lower prices and a smaller selection. The cotton underwear is tagless and can soak up the equivalent of three to five regular tampon’s worth, depending on whether you get the moderate absorbency or super absorbency version. These period saviors also control odor and wick moisture to best support you during your cycle.
Initially recognized for its Billion Dollar Brow products, Billion Dollar Beauty has created a customizable makeup box that’s sold exclusively at Target. The Billion Dollar Box is a magnetic, mess-free palette that rethinks the typical makeup bag. You can fill your box with Billion Dollar Beauty products like eyeshadow, blush, lip balm, and more. Best of all, one side of the box includes a mirror that props up, making it perfect for on-the-go touch ups. The brand also puts sustainability first, and its makeup formulas meet Target’s clean beauty standards.
Popular custom haircare brand Function of Beauty sells four Target-exclusive collections that are each geared towards a specific hair type: straight, wavy, curly, and coily. Each collection features a shampoo, a conditioner, and three booster shots that match with the respective hair type. You can alternatively mix and match by buying individual products from different collections. Not to mention, these offerings align with Target’s clean beauty guidelines and are wrapped in recyclable materials. If you want to learn more about the brand’s custom haircare, you can read our review here.
Olive & June started as a nail salon in Los Angeles, and has since grown into a mainstream nail brand that’s known for its minimalistic packaging and chic colors. Building on its lacquer empire, Olive & June sells nail care products like its Cuticle Serum and The Poppy Manicure Tool, in addition to heart-shaped nail stickers. To hear from the founder and what it’s like to decorate with Olive & June’s stickers, read more here.
Perhaps one of the most widely recognized brands that you can now find in Target’s aisles is Honest Beauty. Founded by Jessica Alba, the brand covers makeup, skincare, kids, babies, and cleaning supplies, although only its beauty products appear at Target. Honest makes human health a top priority when it comes to ingredients, but also ensures the products get the job done. Some of its most popular offerings at Target include the Extreme Length 2-in-1 Mascara and Lash Primer, Makeup Remover Wipes, and Hydrogel Cream.
True & Co. makes lingerie that is seamless, wireless, and weightless. Though the brand provides bra, underwear, tank, and bodysuit options on its own site, only its bras and bodysuits have homes at Target. Not only are the items immaculately designed and constructed for maximum comfort, they are also size inclusive, with some bra styles fitting up to 3X. If you want to learn more about the brand, here’s our full review.
Harry’s success in men’s grooming led it to create Flamingo, a female shaving and bodycare brand. Like its sibling, Flamingo sports the same sleek packaging along with the same quality formulas and designs. You can find its five-blade razor, razor refills, body wax kit, and Body Moisture collection on Target’s shelves, and all at affordable prices. You can learn more about what it’s like to shave with Flamingo by reading our full review here.
Known for embedding its products with flowers and confetti, Winky Lux’s vibrant packaging and fruit-infused formulas have made their way to Target. Some of the brand’s bestselling products include the Flower Balm, Confetti Balm, Uni-brow, and Eye Cream Applicator. Winky Lux’s products are a nice treat if you’re looking to pamper yourself, or if you have a friend who loves all things beauty.
Target carries many skincare and beauty brands, but it’s a little harder to come by clean, vegan, and sustainable products. Versed, with its large variety ranging from cleansing balm to mineral sunscreen, is changing that trend. Its bestsellers are the moisturizing gel-cream, which is light and bouncy without making your face oily, and the clarifying serum, which keeps breakouts at bay with willow bark extract and zinc. The mineral sunscreen is also one we stock up on, here’s our full review.
Gravity makes our favorite weighted blanket, as well as other products designed to help you fall asleep, like a weighted sleep mask and a memory foam pillow. Though there are now many weighted blanket brands hoping to take up precious real estate on your bed, Gravity is arguably the first to kick off the sleep and relaxation movement and has the high-quality, comfortable blankets to prove it.
Partake’s cookies are not only tasty but also free of the top eight allergens, making them safe for kids (and adults) with food sensitivities. They were created by a mom who couldn’t find delicious snacks for her daughter who has serious food allergies. You’ll be able to choose from birthday cake, chocolate chip, and cookie butter flavors — or, get all three, just to be safe.
We’ve reviewed nearly all of Casper’s mattresses, and now you can easily add your favorite into your cart alongside your other Target purchases. The breathable percale Cool Sheets and soft, supportive pillow are also popular choices from the online sleep startup.
Bark, the company behind dog treat and toy subscription BarkBox, sells adorable individual pet products through Target. If you’re not sure whether you want to commit to the subscription, you can get a preview here. Check back often for seasonal themed toys and creative treat flavors like Hawaii Luau Roast Pork and Chicago Hot Dog. Profits from its Snacks That Give Back collection support local animal rescues. Read our review of BarkBox here for an idea of what to expect with Bark.
Native is aluminum- and paraben-free natural deodorant that’s safer for your body and comes in a variety of nice scents. Unlike other deodorants, it doesn’t leave a sticky residue and for some users, it lasts even longer than traditional deodorants. It’s our top pick for the best natural deodorants, check out our full review here.
Men’s grooming brand Harry’s is best known for its high-quality and affordable razors and shaving sets, though it’s also broken into haircare and bodycare. Restock on sharp razor blades, treat your skin to gentle body washes, or style your hair to perfection with putty and waxes. Its paraben-, phthalate-, and aluminum-free formulas are better for your body, while its prices are friendly on your wallet.
These sleek, stylish, and lightweight electric toothbrushes from Quip are American Dental Association-approved. I’ve been using one for more than two years and I’m still impressed. The soft-bristle brush isn’t too harsh on your gums, and it pulses every 30 seconds for two minutes to guide your toothbrushing routine.
Rocketbook makes innovative, eco-friendly notebooks for the digital age. Using its special pen, you write in the notebook, send its contents to your favorite cloud service, wipe the page clean, then start over. There are multiple styles and versions to suit your needs, whether you’re taking notes for school, business meetings, or personal use. Here’s our full review.
GIR nails the design of a common kitchen tool. Its super heat-resistant silicone spatulas are strong, flexible, and easy to clean — which is why you’ll find yourself using it for all your mixing needs and throwing out your old, inferior spatulas. Other noteworthy products from the brand are the silicone lids with strong suction and the Mini Tool Set.
Another oral care startup gracing the shelves at Target is Hello, whose claim to fame is natural, fluoride-free whitening toothpaste. They contain ingredients like aloe vera and coconut oil, and taste great, too. If you’re interested in the cleaning and whitening power of activated charcoal, it also offers charcoal toothpaste and mouthwash.
Founded by a former elite endurance athlete, Primal Kitchen was born from the inability to find healthy and delicious salad dressing. Its offerings include mayonnaise and dressings made with avocado oil, and at Target, supplement powders that contain collagen to support your bones, skin, and hair.
If you can never remember to drink water throughout the day, you might need the Hidrate Spark, a smart water bottle that tracks your water intake and reminds you to meet your daily water intake goal. It connects to fitness and health apps like Apple Health, Fitbit, and MyFitness Pal.
Post-crisis periods are among history’s most productive eras. London rebuilt after the Great Fire with grand new architecture, and Europe after the worst of its plagues underwent a commercial revolution. The Marshall Plan turned enemies into allies, fomenting peace and prosperity for over half a century. Leaders also emerge from crises. Ulysses S. Grant was a washed-up soldier without prospects until war broke out, but that war created the opportunity for Grant to save the Union and advance the cause of freedom. This is all to say: In the next 36 months, I believe our economy will birth a new generation of web 3.0 firms and leaders. Why?
I’ve started nine businesses. The best predictive signal for their success has turned out to be the phase of the economic cycle in which they were started. Put simply, the best time to start a business is on the heels of a recession. And while pandemic economics haven’t resulted in a garden-variety recession – in either its duration (short) or its recovery (K-shaped) – there are factors that make this the best time to start a business in over a decade. Specifically:
Unprecedented stimulus and savings resulting in a Nazaré-like wave of consumer spending.
A gestalt among consumers and enterprises to question the status quo, and be open to new products and services.
The emergence of new fields and the capital to disrupt traditional industries as immunities kick in and monopoles are broken up.
The massive waves of Portugal are a function of the Nazaré Canyon, a submarine valley 5,000 meters deep and 2,300 kilometers long that functions as a ripple polarizer. Ocean swells build up over thousands of miles and flow through this geological fault with a minimal dissipation of energy. I just read the last sentence and am wondering about the medium-term effects of edibles. Anyway, the greatest surfer in the world is just a freakishly strong swimmer with a fiberglass board – until the right wave comes along. The Nazaré Canyon generates the biggest waves, and therefore, the most potential for greatness.
Monster waves birth in the open ocean, but tectonic business waves begin with consumer spending. The combination of historic savings, government stimulus, and record asset appreciation is shaping a wave of consumer spending unlike anything we’ve seen since baby boomers decided consumerism was a virtue.
Similar to ocean swells barreling towards the Portuguese coast, the commercial opportunities powered by consumer spending will be shaped by business dynamics. And, as with Nazaré, there is a deep canyon that will convert this energy into the waves of change. That canyon is Dispersion, a fancy way of saying the supply chain, or route through which a product or service travels, is changing. Today, there are three big waves forming in the Dispersion Canyon.
Remote work will fuel massive opportunities. Over the next decade, we are going to see the most radical transformation of the American landscape since the freeway created the suburbs. This set will have two waves.
First, we will see a significant investment in residential real estate and communities. Commercial real estate is a $16 trillion asset class. If gross demand for office space declines by a third, we could see the GDP of Japan ($5.1 trillion) reallocated from office to residential real estate. Sonos, Sub-Zero, Restoration Hardware, and Slack – along with everything else that enables or enhances work from home – should benefit.
In addition, we will see a great repurposing of office real estate. Many offices will remain, but no company will need the square footage they previously did, and companies will look for increased flexibility. In New York City, the amount of vacant office space available for sublet has doubled since 2019 and, as of December, the commercial vacancy rate in the city was the highest it’s been since the Great Recession. In 2020, San Francisco went from the lowest office vacancy rate in the city’s history to the highest.
Some office towers will be remade as residential, while others will be flexed for multiple tenants (coming soon: Airbnb Office). Cities aren’t going away – young people and inherently collaborative activities will still want/need to congregate in person. But cities will be cheaper, younger, and more diverse, all of which are inputs for startups. At $47 billion, WeWork was overvalued; going public via SPAC at $9 billion, it might be a buy. Prediction: Look for WeWork to rise from the ashes of COVID.
The world’s most powerful lubricant of upward mobility (US higher ed) has morphed into a corrupt enforcer of the caste system. It has enjoyed 30 years of tuition increases matched only by the arrogance and self-aggrandizement of its leadership. COVID is the fist of stone coming for this chin. The pandemic moved 1.6 billion people into online education, and many will stay there. India’s largest edtech firm, Byju, is reportedly closing a $600 million investment, valuing the company at $15 billion, and Coursera is expected to go public at a $5 billion valuation.
The largest consumer industry in history is US healthcare. It’s also the most ripe for disruption. Imagine: Walking into a Best Buy to ask for help buying a flatscreen TV, only for the salesperson to hand you paperwork, for the 11th time, and ask you to wait 20 minutes before someone will help you. Only, you don’t have to imagine it, just think about the last time you went to a doctor’s office. At the doctor, you have to put up with this BS, because your health literally depends on it. Similar to higher ed, the healthcare industries have been sticking out their chin for years, raising prices while delivering worse outcomes. Healthtech startups raised $15.3 billion in 2020, up from $10.6 billion in 2019, according to Silicon Valley Bank.
This is a $1.7 trillion asset class that could be $130 trillion (the size of the bond market), disperse trust (eliminate the need for inefficient intermediaries), and reduce human bias in the financial supply chain. Every generation gets its gold rush (social media followed the web, which followed the personal computer). Young people have the edge when it comes to transformational opportunities, as their brains still have the plasticity needed to comprehend new models. In my fifties, it feels like the part of my brain that I need to understand this sector is dying – along with the part that can mimic my father’s Glaswegian accent. Strange, right? But that’s another post. For now, I’m taking fish oils and speaking to experts. This week on the pod, we spoke with crypto investor Raoul Pal, and a few months ago, Michael Saylor lobbied me to buy bitcoin despite its recent rise to $19,000. Note: I didn’t buy.
How can I help?
A year ago, it would have been harder to be optimistic about entrepreneurs addressing these opportunities, as Big Tech was likely to move in and dominate every open space. But at the tail end of the last administration, we registered serious movement on antitrust enforcement. And now, the Biden administration has signalled that it will double down, bringing two of the most compelling voices for enforcement, Tim Wu and Lina Kahn, into the administration. The breakup of Big Tech – and the limits on its offensive efforts – will birth new lanes the size of the 405 (yes, I’m in LA today). Thursday’s Congressional hearings confirmed what many of us have been saying for years: Big Tech is bad for society, these firms lied to us, and they need to be broken up.
Big Tech isn’t the only segment of society that has benefitted from the pandemic. If you’re in the top 10%, much less the top 1%, the dirty secret of COVID is that many of us have been living our best lives. The deadliest crisis in American history has meant more time with family and Netflix, coupled with an explosion in wealth. The top decile of Americans works with zeroes and ones, and this work has only been levered by remote technologies. Furthermore, the representatives of the shareholder class in government (435 in the House, and 100 in the Senate) have used the cloud cover of the pandemic to funnel trillions of dollars into the market, juicing asset prices.
One thing the shareholder class can do is to invest in early-stage (i.e., seed) startups. I don’t enjoy seed investing. Almost every business idea I hear, I think, “This makes no sense, and will never work” – I also find early-stage CEOs and firms, similar to infants, needy and impossible to predict. Regardless, I have made (in the last week) two seed stage investments: Measured, a platform for weight loss, and ScholarSite, a Substack for academics.
Despite the broader economic slowdown, we are awash in capital, at every level. Wealthy individuals have by and large done incredibly well over the past year, thanks to the stock market run-up, and are looking for opportunities to invest. Tech-focused investors have done particularly well, and crypto has generated new bitcoin billionaires. Tech companies are important venture investors, and have more capital than they can use for core operations. The result? A record 225 US companies became unicorns in 2020. January 2021 saw the greatest total in venture investments in history, with $40 billion invested, and since the beginning of the year, over 60 additional private companies have achieved “unicorn” status. Meanwhile, the public markets are desperate for quality companies to sate the voracious appetite of SPACs.
Los Angeles & dispersion
I’m currently in Los Angeles and I’m channeling Michael Jordan. Hear me out: Just as MJ loved baseball, but wasn’t great at it; there is nowhere I enjoy more, and am less successful, than Los Angeles. I meet with agents, producers, and box office superstars who show me their sneaker collection and, over lunch at their house(s), tell me, “You are a genius, we must work together.” And then … nothing. I know this trip to the City of Angels will yield the same business (non)results. But that’s not why I’m here.
My closest friend’s mom, who cooked several hundred meals for me as a child, pre-teen, and teen, is struggling with dementia. I had lunch with her and her husband, who I have written about, today. During lunch, I’d grab her hand, and she’d look at me with surprise and then just smile. I’m not sure if in these moments she knew who I was, but I am confident she knew I loved her, and that was enough. I’ve let so much bullshit get in the way of expressing how I feel for people – some fucked up sense of masculinity or insecurity that to this day diminishes my ability to express true emotions.
There is a meaningful opportunity in the dispersion of HQ, education, and healthcare. There is a profound opportunity to register the finite nature of life and rebel against anything that gets in the way of letting people know that you love them, and how much they’ve impacted your life. I am a professional failure in my hometown of Los Angeles. However, there are people here who were generous with me, and whom I love. I need to get to LA more.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Section4, my EdTech startup, aims to to make elite business education more accessible with 2-3 week intensive “Sprints.” Our upcoming Sprint, Product Strategy, is taught by my NYU Stern colleague Adam Alter.
And then other investors began distancing themselves.
As it turns out, $8 million of that funding hasn’t yet landed in the bank, and that amount is now “on pause,” a source familiar with the situation tells Business Insider.
An SEC filing from Tuesday shows that Dispo has received about $16.1 million in funding. That amount includes $4.1 million in converted SAFEs, a type of funding structure that gives investors shares after the company has raised additional funds from, for instance, a seed round.
The remaining $8 million, which accounts for the rest of Dispo’s Series A round, is listed as “remaining to be sold.” The source told Insider that investors have not abandoned the deal and that Dispo doesn’t expect its $200 million valuation to change.
Spark’s portion of the funding was about $12 million, Axios’ Dan Primack reported, and it had closed, but other investors, who have not yet cut their checks, could still seek to renegotiate Dispo’s valuation. It’s not clear which investors may be seeking to do this, but Dispo has a handful of prominent investors, many of whom have not yet publicly commented on the controversy.
Spark declined to comment, while Seven Seven Six and Unshackled did not respond to inquiries from Insider.
Since Spark cut ties with Dispo, the company has announced that Dobrik has stepped down from its board. Two of the company’s investors, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures, have said they would donate any returns from their investment in the startup to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Another investor, Lime CEO Wayne Ting, said he would not invest in any of the company’s future funding rounds.
Growth hacking. MVPs. Beta-testing. Pivoting. These strategies are now practically clichés – startup principles that drive almost every high-growth company hitting the market. I’ve experienced them all firsthand in my career, working everywhere from scrappy five-person operations to robotics powerhouses at the cutting edge of AI.
Here’s the thing: Sure, these principles can help businesses. But in key respects, these same tenets can also be used to supercharge your own career – especially at a time when the way we do business is in flux.
This has only accelerated existing trends. In the past, staying at a company for decades wasn’t uncommon; today the average person stays at a job for less than five years. Then there’s the gig economy boom in full swing, and the added impact of digitization and automation on workplace roles. The bottom line is that being able to evolve and adapt is key, during a global crisis and beyond.
With that in mind, here’s how to apply startup principles to yourself – whether you’re climbing the ladder inside a growing company, looking for a new job, or even thinking of blazing your own path as an entrepreneur.
Identify your unfair advantage
In a business sense, startups need to have that special something if they’re going to compete with the big, established players. This is something that can’t be bought or copied by competitors. Ali Ash, marketing director at Just Eat, wrote the book on “The Unfair Advantage” and has documented how the world’s most impressive startups have defined their own categories and offered something no one else was providing.
If you look at your own career, the same question applies: what’s your unfair advantage? By leaning into your unique strengths, you’re positioning yourself to offer what no one else can – just as Snapchat put its own unique spin on photo sharing and Tesla pioneered high-performance electric cars. When you lean into your own personal value proposition, you’re eliminating the competition and setting yourself up to be a monopoly of one.
I was an accounting major in college, a qualification that’s a dime a dozen. But early on in my career, I possessed a willingness to explore new fields and untested companies. Instead of sticking to my lane, I developed a diverse sales background – jumping, for instance, from selling multimillion-dollar software contracts to $9-per-month SaaS subscriptions. Ultimately, that breadth of experience, lateral flexibility, and pattern recognition became my unfair advantage.
So how can you isolate and leverage your own unfair advantage? Think about the unique intersections of your passions, training, and personal disposition. You may be trained as a lawyer but have a passion for languages and a knack for networking. That’s a combo not everyone can replicate. Once you’ve found your unfair advantage, think like a startup and leverage it every chance you get. Look for roles and opportunities where you, uniquely, can shine, and don’t be shy about your unique skill set in interviews and networking opportunities.
MVP your next role
Another tenet of startup philosophy is “minimum viable product:” the idea of testing an early version of a product in the market before investing tons in R&D. By measuring consumer response and iterating, you can either improve the offering or pivot to a new direction – all without spending a lot of time or money.
In a career sense, this means being open to testing the waters for new opportunities, even ones you may not be entirely comfortable with yet. Instead of waiting to be fully “ready” for something (a new career, a new role), be willing to dive in and learn some elements on the go. You may need to scramble, adjust, even backtrack. But – just as in the startup world – the opportunity cost of not going for it is too big to ignore.
In the middle of my own career, for example, I left business software behind to join a social media company, just years after Twitter started. Though I could see the growth potential was huge, this was a brand new industry for me. And there was always the chance social media might be just a passing fad. But I put myself out there, acquired skills on the job and grew into the role. (My unfair advantage – curiosity – definitely came in handy.)
So how do you MVP yourself? Understand that no role will ever be perfect, nor will you ever be perfectly positioned to seize it. Exploring lateral roles within your own organization is a great way to test the waters and observe what “sticks” and what doesn’t. Above all, give yourself permission to set aside perfectionism. (I’d go so far as to say you should always feel a bit unqualified for a role.) And don’t be afraid to switch gears or pivot when you need to. Just as in the startup world, career iteration never ends.
The best businesses, even when they’re all grown up, still think like startups. Netflix describes its corporate culture as one that “avoids rules.” That means the company prioritizes innovation, autonomy, and risk-taking in everything it does. Rather than resting on its laurels, Netflix is constantly exploring ideas and isn’t averse to disrupting the status quo of its own organization.
That same philosophy can be applied to our own careers. Far too many people fall in love with their product. They put themselves in one category and are unable to evolve beyond that. They get too comfortable – with a role, a company, a city – and stop being curious and pushing themselves. In this process, career prospects are curtailed or short-circuited altogether.
I continue to try to live by this self-disrupting philosophy. Case in point: I recently jumped from almost 20 years in the SaaS space to the world of AI and software-enabled robotics. A more traditional route would have been to stay in my vertical and stick to senior roles in industries I was familiar with. But I would have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity with a robotics company. And more importantly, I would have missed out on a chance to grow personally and professionally.
How do you disrupt yourself? For starters, keep an ear to the rails for the next big thing – technologies or cultural shifts that promise to upend how we live and work. Right now, for instance, automation and AI are opening up brand new horizons. Continue to push and stay curious, even as you grow more senior in your career. And I’d even go so far as to say you should be downright skeptical of your comfort zone. If you’re not moving forward, you’re bound to go stagnant.
That being said, startup principles can be taken too far – in business, and in life. “Move fast and break things” doesn’t really work in sensitive industries such as health care, security, even social media. Likewise, in life, adopting “lean startup principles” shouldn’t be about being flighty or disloyal. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be building the necessary nimbleness to thrive in a shifting terrain, but providing stability and leadership for your team even when things are chaotic.